©Wolf Avni 18/6/2005
From there the party made its way across the country to the mid reaches of the Orange river where things just fell apart. Though there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the weather or the fishing conditions that they found, by then, the simmering tensions within the group had reached more than one point-of-no-return and the assemblage had irretrievably divided itself into irreconcilable factions. Guilbert’s foul moods, specifically, had reached that critical fissionable mass where they would infect any who strayed within the burgeoning fields of fallout. Where Guilbert led, the rest of the group - or at least a majority of them -followed and he and his alignment of sycophantic acolytes had found lines of fault in every single arrangement made on their behalf.
So there I was, with an audience of trouble-waiting-to-happen - and the less said about the seismic days that followed, the better, though I can share that they stretched the bounds of even my famously sainted patience. To cut a long story short, part of the trout leg was to include an overnight stay in Lesotho; fishing the upper reaches of the Tsani and the Malibametsu rivers. In line with the factionalism which had become structural to the party, I departed with a reduced group of sulking participants for the Lesotho border, leaving a sulking group back on the farm with Caroline.
If only a problem halved were a problem solved. We later found out that the separation of the coalitions did nothing to improve the humour of either faction, but that is another story. Up in Lesotho I led my anglers to a remote stretch away from the beaten track. We piled out of the Landrover and my clients turned to me for guidance. “Oh great feeshing guru, what le’ mouche eess ze right one?” they implored.
“Well fellas,” I told them, “look at all these fluttering caddis coming off the water. Perhaps a small nondescript floater fished with some drag, across current, will bring the fish up. This pool right here is a good place to start,” I said, pointing to the stretch of river right at our feet.
“Oui,” said Frenchman no 1, Guilbert. Ignoring me as if I had not spoken, he shouldered his kit and set off over the rise as if undertaking a military route march.
“Try this piece of water right here,” I said as Frenchie no 2 came down with rigged kit to the river bank. “Oiu,” she said politely, then set off over the ridge where Guilbert had but recently absconded. And so it went, until all six of the anglers who had made the trip up, one by one had disappeared either up or downstream.
What was I to do? In the hinterland of Lesotho, an unattended vehicle can be stripped down to its chassis in the time it takes to change a tippet, and someone would need to stay close and mount guard. While doing so, dutiful to a fault, I flicked a fly into the pool which all the anglers had so disdained. After a couple of casts, with no fish rising to my dry caddis imitation, I switched to a small sub-surface pupal imitation. On four consecutive casts I caught a trout each time, including one magnificent hen just shy of 1.5kgs. Suspecting that proof may be required, I dispatched the fish, cleaning and wrapping her in wet grass to keep sweet. Then I took myself off to the shade cast by the vehicle and dozed off while awaiting the return of my far-wandering anglers.
As the sun set, they began to dribble back, one at a time; sun-ravaged, physically wrecked and completely fishless. No one had so much as seen a fish all day. Once all the anglers had re gathered they began to unstintingly verbalise their shared scepticism as to whether there had ever been any trouts in such Godforsaken surroundings. It was time to retrieve my fat prize from the coolth of the wheel-well.
“Sacre bleu,” exclaimed Guilbert, “from where you find such feesh?” he demanded belligerently.
“Right there in that riffle,” I shared, pointing to a spot not more than a couple of rod lengths from where we were gathered.
“Sacre merde,” said Antoine, “what le’ mouche she eats?
I flipped open my fly-box and all clustered around, as, pointing to the small, nondescript #16, I smiled helpfully.
“Kushec avec moi?” Guilbert asked. “Deed not you tell we must use le dry caddis from zees morning? All day we feesh wis zat fly because you tell us eet ees gud!”
“Well yes,” I agreed, “but that was about eight hours ago and in the interim, in the face of incontrovertible evidence that the fish were not interested, I retreated into le’ logic of le’ flexibility. You should try it sometime!”
#1. Bob Dylan