Seeking something – a change, distraction, connection, relief – some might say Nick Ferreira came to fly fishing late. But as he describes how it has made an impact on his life, he might argue it found him at just the right time.
It’s been one of those nights in a tent with the wind flapping and rain spattering the canvas, kept half-awake by the noise. The constant drumbeat is ominous for our plans to fish up the gorge tomorrow.
At some point the steady percussion on the tent changes tone, and I think the rain is easing. But, when I stick my head out, rain has turned to snow, settling rather than thudding onto the tent.
After sunrise I try some conversation around the fire, but I’m driven back under canvas by the wind and sleet. I give up the idea of fishing for the day, and retreat to my paperback and sleeping bag.
Around noon, water stops falling from the sky. The sun emerges and my tent warms. Outside, the valley is blanketed in white but the grass around our campsite is back to a damp yellow, and plumes of white mist rise from the ground like an army of ghosts. The sky clears, and the guides tell us to rig up.
Within an hour I’m casting a dry dropper up the bubble line and striking as 10-inch rainbows joyfully attack both dry and nymph.
Johann du Preez, international guide of mystery, raises an eyebrow at my beloved 7-foot 3-weight glass rod. Soft action, almost impossible to break a fish off, but does it have the backbone to deliver a nymph with precision?
Before we set out on the hike down to the river, Johann hands me a 10-foot 4-weight graphite rod. “Let’s see how you go with this.” My casting improves instantly – better control, more distance, easier to turn and straighten the long leader.
The river is flowing due to the melting snow and rain. The water is crystal clear, and we can see plenty of fish. But they are fussy today. The previous couple of days, any likely looking drift down a bubble line drew a strike. But today they chase and then turn away, regardless of fly, depth, or drift.
Just before lunch, Johann and Ruhan Kruger bring me up to a large, shallow, still pool where they know some monsters live. They instantly spot two fish doing a slow circuit of the pool. One good fish. And one very good fish.
We go into stalking mode, with Johan watching the fish from high on the bank and talking us into position on a two-way radio. We crawl into place, moving only when the fish is cruising upstream away from us, and freezing whenever we are in its line of sight. After 45 minutes of crouch, crawl, freeze, Ruhan is satisfied.
“OK, vat jou skoot [OK, take your shot].”
He wants me to cast the dry fly and dropper nymph into the middle of the pool in front of me. Timing is everything, as the cast must land ahead of the cruising monster-fish, but the delivery must happen out of its line of sight.
I am aware of being watched by three guides and one client, sitting high on a cliff behind me. The line and rig sit on the ground on the bedrock beside me.
A gusting wind starts blowing into my face. I blow the first cast, short of the middle of the pool; I pick up immediately and cast again, this wind, short again. Both fish spooked, another chance gone.
We stop for lunch. Chicken wraps and silence.
It’s about a 30-metre cast from where we are, to my 11 o’clock. Blessedly, there is no bush behind me, nothing but clear air for a straight back cast over the river. I can feel the wind at my back. Somehow, the previous failures have freed me of anxiety.
I make two false casts, then release. The line unfurls. The luminous orange post of the dry fly lands, to the left and slightly short of target. I let it drift back past the fish, then pick up, cast again.
Better this time, but still too far left of the bubble line. Drift back, pick up, cast again. FUCK, short again.
I don’t think. I lift the line again, watch it straighten behind me, punch forward. It unfurls, leader uncoiling at head height.
The dry lands in the middle of that tight, dark seam of water, about 1,5 metres ahead of the lie.
Time stands still. For an eternity, there is nothing in the universe but a bright orange piece of poly-yarn accelerating into a seam of current like a miniature white-water raft entering a rapid. I see, hear nothing else.
Impossibly, almost imperceptibly, as it drifts over the lie, the orange post disappears under water.
I lift my right arm and tighten the line. There is a solid, heavy pull on my left hand.
That big river fish took the nymph. And now she is on.
Read Nick’s full Lesotho fly fishing story in issue 38. As always, it’s free.