Lake Gubu revisited-Summer 2016
The water of this beautiful lake in the Amatola Mountains of the Eastern Cape of South Africa shimmers in the mid afternoon sun. A light wind rustles the water surface and a group of Yellow-billed Ducks swim across the water towards the wall and the outlet that rises above the present water level. A White-chested Cormorant beats the water with its wings, an apparent warning to the duck family that this it its territory or simply giving his wings a good clean.
The two mountains that tower over the lake, Mt Gubu and Mt Thomas look on a scene that they have seen often before. The mountain slopes seem to be more green/grey than the sparkling green that one would expect as summer is in full swing. The rains that were supposed to come have been absent and the surrounding forest and the lake seem to cry out in despair. Some areas that normally get between 700 and 800mm during the summer are reporting a total of between 100 and 200mm. The lake has developed mud banks as the water has gradually withdrawn and one would expect the occasional wader to search there for food, but none is apparent.
Over the last 24 hours Lake Gubu has shown several different faces. This morning early the mountains were covered with a table cloth of white clouds and last night threatening storm clouds moved in, promising much but providing none of the rain so desperately needed. Today the African Sky is at its bluest and the possibility of that rain seems remote; but then conditions in the mountains can change quickly.
This Lake of 124 ha is situated exactly 100km from the coastal town of East London and is about 1000m above sea level. It is the home of the Amatola Fly-fishing Club and is stocked every year with trout. As a member of the club I try to get here as often as possible but unfortunately that is probably only two or three times a year. One reason I come is to draw up a bird list for the South African Bird Atlasing Program. At present my list for this trip stands on 18 and either this evening or tomorrow morning I will do a trip around the lake to add to that list.
The important birds that I have listed today include an African Fish Eagle, Crowned Eagle, a Jackal Buzzard, a Giant Kingfisher and the small Malachite Kingfisher, all special birds in this area. Water birds on my list include the cute Little Grebe (also known as a Dabchick), the very common Yellow-billed Ducks and the equally common White-breasted Cormorants that frequent both coastal and inland waters. Calling from some of the trees around the club house is the melodious sound of the Black-headed Oriol which, like the Red-chested Cuckoo(Piet-my-vrou;its Afrikaans name), is often heard but seldom seen.
As I walked down to the cement slipway this morning a large Water-monitor (Likkewaan) scuttled into the water with a splash. A discarded skin of a deadly snake, the Puffadder, reminds me that we are out in the wilds. I have not been fortunate enough on this visit to see the family of Otters that patrol the water or a Bush-buck coming to the water to drink.
Lake Gubu is a prime Trout fishing destination but at the same time yields its treasures with great reluctance. These are wild trout that have grown from fingerlings and are wary and elusive. In summer the trout seek out the deeper, cooler waters and so one needs a sinking line and a weighted fly to find them, a method that I have not really mastered. I prefer fishing with a floating line on or near the surface during the winter evening or morning rise. But then catching a trout or two is a bonus to me as I relax in these beautiful surroundings. I did enjoy a one kilogram trout cooked in tin foil on my open fire last night compliments of the local Water Bailiff Robin, who is a master fisherman and knows the water conditions backwards. He seems to be able to catch a trout or two even in the most difficult conditions.
Everyone needs to have a special place that they can escape to and mine is definitely this hidden gem in the Eastern Cape Mountains. The camp ground on the opposite side of the lake is located between tall pine trees and has the feeling of a mystical ancient forest.
As the wind dies down this evening I will don my waders and try for one of the wily fish but meanwhile I will relax with my field glasses handy and hope for a good view of the beautiful Oriol as I had of the Giant Kingfisher and Jackal Buzzard earlier on.