© Wolf Avni August 4, 2004
A SPACE BETWEEN THE WIND
August is upon us and as if heralding the change of season, a wind begins to blow off the high berg. For a night and a day now it has rattled out of the north- west, dissolving in hours that cladding of snow in which the towering peaks have been mantled for weeks. For the first time since May, night temperatures have lifted back above freezing. Still, August can be as fickle as a first love and it is well within the bounds of probability that the hard frosts of winter might return, if only for a last hurrah. These early signs of spring are sometimes more deception than substance - and the old-timers say that the wind must blow for a week or more before summer showers can begin. They also say up here that there are only two kinds of people who can predict mountain weather with any certainty; strangers and fools!. We then shall be neither.
Still, in this kick of wind, Nature has given clear intention of those first stirrings of renewal. The pulse begins to quicken all around us. In the orchid, a lone peach has begun to flush with blossom on what yesterday were bare branches, never mind that this wind will likely shred every one of those early fragile blooms. All around there are sure signs that the back of winter is broken. Driving back onto the farm from an appointment in town this morning, I had to jump on the brakes to avoid running over a rhombic skaapsteeker, refulgent in new skin, lying indolently across the track. Last night, a chirping of frogs could be heard above the whistling wind. Soon, tadpoles will begin to hatch. Dragonfly larvae will stir from their winter hibernation as the lake begins to soak up the heat of lengthening days. Gradually the sun’s vast energy will suffuse to all but the deepest holes and in a matter of weeks the shallows will be all a-jostle with conspicuous signs of an emergent spring. The harsh blocks of blackened breaks burned along their boundaries by prudent farmers will soon begin to tinge with green. Anxious eyes will scan the sky for the first signs of summer showers.
Up in the river, herons, hammerkops and kingfishers of every kind are harrying the shoals of trout-fry crowded en masse around the edges of every shaded back-eddy off the thin currents of snow-melt. Steadily, they prune the wild stock down till none but the fittest remain, leaving a mere remnant of tiny fish to make their way into the perilous first year of their life. Often we are asked by concerned anglers - as if it were a problem - what might be done to limit the severe natural predation upon each season’s wild-spawning fish. What can be said to one whose comprehension fails to fathom that fine and perfect tuning of Nature’s forces acting out within a healthy and stable environment?
In a natural process, all the energy within a living system is in a state of continual re-cycling. In an authentic fishery, the sport fisherman’s target is but one small link in a wondrously elaborate web of interlacing elements and inter-dependent life forms. In the beginning, at the start of their lives, the hatchling fish form a significant source of food for many of the creatures with whom they share the water. Many they will outgrow and as they move up the food chain they will overtake in ferocity many of the creatures that once predated on them. Most of the forms that feed on baby fish will in time become forage for mature fish; frogs, crabs, predacious beetles, bugs, dragonflies and stoneflies to name but a few. Trout and just about any other freshwater game fish which one might name, are themselves super-predators, usually finning close to the top of whichever food chain they occupy. Still, in the scheme of things, there are any number of wild and wondrous creatures which follow the fish right through their maturity to the end of their lives, pursuing them with a zeal far greater than that of your average obsessive angler. Fish eagles, otters, herons, cormorants; they all pursue fish with the same crocodilian intent and with a great deal more efficiency than might be mustered by even the best of fishermen. . What is more, they are entitled to a share of the spoils by virtue of their survival within a generally hostile landscape. Their mere presence enriches and improves not only the fishing, but equally, the very core of the experience of it.
In the context of a recreational fishery, the trout is but a small component of a far wider energy web and any number of artificially managed fishing destinations might do themselves and the quality of their fishing a favour by adopting unintrusive management styles. The notion - far too popular among many who should know better - that just because good old Joe Soap built a pond, or perhaps bought a piece of land through which flows a river, and stiffed it to the brim with trout, or any other hatchery reared fish, that he therefore assumes the right to protect his investment by annihilating any creature that might be perceived as a competitor for the trophies so sought after by some-time anglers, is not only ethically moribund, but worse, is short-sighted in the extreme. No amount of investment, be it in good faith or not, should entitle anyone to behave in any way which leaves an intact environment diminished, or impoverished.
But I digress and all that is at a tangent. The point I meant to make is only this. All those hotshot fly-fishers who have spent the past couple of months whingeing at how lousy the fishing has been of late, had better look sharp. Now, with water temperatures creeping upwards towards that window of ideal between twelve and eighteen degrees, is not the time to blink. Over the next few weeks, in gaps between the blustering of berg winds, we might expect better fishing than for many a month past, Now is the time to fish every stolen moment that one might. Fish long, fish hard and fish often. Otherwise, before we know, high summer will be upon us, and with it a chance of the same dry pattern of last summer, and we run the risk of again spending a season whingeing at how crappy the fishing can get when the air is too hot almost to breathe.