For over a month we hadn’t seen a single cloud dotted amongst the endless blue skies. The water temperature at Cassien kept rising to the point where it was no longer refreshing to swim in. It had an effect on my fishing too. After a week of very little sleep in super hot conditions, my enthusiasm for early mornings started waning, along with my catches. It all coincided with a much-needed change of scenery, a new focus and somewhere that permitted night fishing.
Via a short visit to the ironically named Nice, we drove west until a deep body of emerald water materialised before us. Why we hadn’t considered it before I don’t know. Maybe the allure of a Cassien giant had kept our attention for much to long or perhaps we had just become too comfortable. Either way it was uplifting to be someplace new and free from hoards of anglers. After a good look around we settled beneath a cluster of oaks at the top of a steep bank, which quickly dropped away into deep margins. It looked like a good place to try for our first night.
The sun swiftly slipped over the hill behind us, dappling the earth like a huge mirror ball as light passed through the dry coniferous forest that scaled the hillside. Geckos rustled through the sunbaked leaves as they licked at passing flies. The all too familiar whine of ravenous tiger mosquitos shrilled in the inescapable evening heat, and all I could think to do was lower myself into the soupy margins to wash away the grime and sweat that is so much a part summertime angling in the South.
In the fading light we secured ourselves firmly behind mozi mesh panels. I watched the little buggers dance on the other side, occasionally piercing their proboscises through the mesh in the hope of a quick sip of our blood. If we had to leave the sanctuary of the bivvy at any point during the night, they would be waiting. We lay on the bed chair; clammy, uncomfortable and unable to sleep a wink. Eventually we must have passed the line, separating dream from the immediate because I woke to a series of bleeps to which I naturally reacted. Skipping and sliding down the gravel bank I connected. It was Patricia’s rod and she hadn’t noticed a thing. I shouted for her. She moaned vaguely from the top of the bank while I went about freeing the fish from a weed-bed not far from where it was hooked. The fish didn’t seem to be putting up much of a fight at all. I handed a sleepy Patricia the rod and she gently led the fish to the mesh after it made a few short runs. It looked like half decent in the twilight as it slid like a giant bream into the net.
Resting in the mesh amongst weed fronds lay Patricia’s prize, a dark oldie in excess of fifty pounds. Its flanks, fins, mouth and body were immaculate. I was astonished. That kind of good fortune is not something I come by often on new waters, but Patricia had managed it. It was such a beast I had to help place it in Patricia’s arms. It obliged while I took a few shots then gently swam off up the margins towards the twisting weed beds. With such a good start we felt sure another bite would befall us before we left. Over confidence can be a humbling experience at times. Just like the slowly evaporating lake our confidence vaporised in the sun’s unforgiving heat. There was no point in staying so we opted to go for a walk in the hope that we might find a new angle.
When walking, one thing we nearly always do is look out for wild foods, not just because we have inexhaustible appetites but because it also draws us closer to that which we seek; a deeper connection to the earth, the lake and our quarry. Alongside a few offerings we spotted a tree full of juicy purple figs just out of reach. After some ingenuity we had several each. It wasn’t until I took a big mouthful that I noticed that the insides were dehydrated and totally inedible. No doubt the result of a rather lengthy dry spell.
We continued the trail down beyond the dam at the end of the lake, which brought us to the edge of a small river. I had heard rumours of fish passing over the dam wall during floods in recent years and upon seeing it I knew it was where we should try.
The sun soared high in an empty blue sky as we navigated a narrow lane for several miles, reaching the small river we discovered during our walk. High above the river a large tree canopy converged. Huge vines twisted and climbed their way through the treetops, some reaching back to the floor. It looked more Amazonian than small wooded riverside. We set up camp quickly to minimise the amount of blood loss from the blasted flying hyper dermic needles.
I cast a rod to the far margin, a short underarm flick to a dense lily bed. It was the only rod that saw any action for the remainder of our trip. The bite came mid morning as a heavy mist drifted over the small bronze river. It headed straight for the lilies. I could feel the line passing them but with a bit of oomph I coaxed it out into the middle of the river where it bounded up and down energetically for several minutes, its bright orange belly occasionally illuminated by a single ray that passed through the dense canopy above. The fish made for a nice snap by the waterfall just downstream, and like before I was sure that we would catch another fish. But it never came.