A weekend up on L. Alice was, therefore, planned. Initially, Belinda, patient companion on many obscure fishing trips, had decided that this was to be a solo affair. She did not think that the best place to be reading the latest thousand page novel was in some high, remote, spot, reminiscent of Scotland in the rain, with the extra possibility of being stuck millions of miles away from civilisation halfway up a mountain track and getting devoured by a lion or charged by a buffalo. (Mind you, we aren’t terrorised by midges up there). So… I could go up alone.
However, a couple of friends, Eamonn and Susanne, who were soon to be leaving Kenya, and were keen on hill walking and ‘frontier living’ were anxious to visit Rutundu before they left and Belinda decided, now that there was a chance of some company, apart from the silent and obsessive companionship of a fishing fanatic, she would come up as well. Nevertheless, on the Wednesday before the weekend that we were due to go up, we were going to cancel our trip. With all the rain in the previous two weeks, we did not think that there was the remotest possibility of negotiating the 35-kilometre track up the mountain, which even in the best weather takes two hours to drive and is still hazardous in places, when it is dry. We could not contact Eamonn and Susanne, though, who were already on holiday and on Thursday when we were about to cancel, we were told that the track was OK. Even then, we were sceptical, but there was a last minute dash as we prepared food, drink, and other essentials, (including fishing kit), to go up there, for a couple of days. We told ourselves that at the smallest hint of difficulty we would turn back.
Anyway, we set off, slightly late on Friday. It was raining all the way up to Nanyuki, and Belinda was becoming increasingly anxious about this safari. We met Eamonn and Susanne at Nanyuki airstrip, to take them up in our 4 WD, whilst they left their car at the bottom of the mountain. After Nanyuki, the weather changed and it became quite sunny and looked relatively dry. By the time we got to the turn-off to go up Mt. Kenya itself, things were looking a bit more optimistic.
The final drive up actually turned out to be straightforward, particularly as some work had been done to repair the track since we last went up. When we got half way up there, the vegetation became very sparse so we saw a lot of game, which would usually be made invisible by the height and thickness of the bush, particularly large herds of Kudu and Zebra. The reason for the sparseness of vegetation is that an enormous bush fire, started by unscrupulous poachers who had been trying to flush the game, had burnt all the undergrowth away – it was, apparently, burning for a month before it finally went out.
We arrived safely, unloaded the car, and then whilst Belinda was organising everybody, I slipped away to catch the last half an hour of the evening rise on the small lake, Lake Rutundu, outside the log cabins. I tied on a muddler minnow and a ‘Bob’s bits’, and, with the slightest twitch of the flies, on my first cast in the fading light, I hooked an extremely vigorous rainbow trout of about a pound which required much effort to manoeuvre through the weed bed that lay between the end of the jetty that I was fishing from, and where I hooked the fish. Having eventually landed it, on my second cast, I put the flies into the vegetation behind me, and not having my reading specs with me, or a torch, it was impossible to tie on some new flies – so that was that for the evening.
On the following day, I set off on the climb up to L. Alice, which at 12,500 feet is another 2,000 feet higher, with proportionately less oxygen. I had left the comfort of a cosy bed and a warm fire in the log cabin, early. The others had decided to have a leisurely breakfast, and then follow me up at a gentler pace, a pace more suitable for people who don’t have the pressure of perhaps missing a vital feeding time for trout. If it was not for the prospect of an early morning rise, that never really seems to materialise on L. Alice, (or maybe I’m never early enough), I, too, would go up much more slowly.
It is amazing, though, how the anticipation of fishing motivates you and this time I completed the walk, with Cosmos, my guide, who has a faster pace than David, my usual guide, in the time of 44 minutes, with only two breaks. These breaks, although mostly spent recovering one’s breath were also an opportunity to admire the panoramic views that one gets from being on such a high point. You really have the feeling of being on top of the world.
It was all worth it, and within minutes of setting up my kit and wading out to the fringes of the weed bed, I had succeeded in hooking a trout, which after a robust tussle had come off, just when I was sure of landing it. I had hooked it on an orange booby fly. Contrary to my usual practice of starting off with a floater, and a couple of dries, which is normally provoked by seeing a couple of rises as I descend the hill to the lake side, this time I didn’t see any rises and because the weather was cold, I decided to build up my confidence by trying to at least catch a trout, early, using a fast sinking line and a booby fly. Then, confident in having caught at least one trout and examined the contents of its stomach, I would tackle the fishing in a more scientific way. I had also decided that to counter the problem of the weed bed around the fringes of the lake I would cast a longer line, and lift it off the water before it got caught up in the weed, by using a double handed 12’ 6" rod. It was also far less tiring to use in a headwind than most of the single-handed rods that I had and the heavy sinking line was kept well away from stinging contact with the back of my neck. This actually worked extremely well, and I was able to cast the Teeny sink tip line with ease, and further, using the big rod. I am finally going to buy a stripping basket, though. Having now done much fishing on sandy beaches, and having used shooting head lines, I cannot understand why I have not invested in one before.
I had decided to build up my confidence a bit more and so I continued to use a booby fly, although I had changed to a black version, because, I thought that this would at least be a more natural representation of what might be on the trout’s menu. Although I’m personally very fond of booby flies, I have no doubt that the key to this fishing is using a deep sinking line, and that any black or orange or white lure, tied with gently sinuous marabou fibres would do just as well.
At about midday Belinda and the others popped over the horizon and started to descend the slope to L. Alice, bringing with them the picnic that I was, by now, so looking forward to. I even managed to catch three trout during the time that it took them to walk from the far end of the lake to the area near the middle where I was fishing. But despite being in full view all the time, they say that they only saw me catch the third trout – so they were not as impressed as they should have been. We had an excellent, if somewhat chilly, picnic by a little waterfall that enters the lake. It was remarkably pleasant and reminiscent of a cold day’s fishing in the Scottish highlands. They all walked back after the picnic, missing the rain that descended on me. But... I had such good sport and was wearing the better than average Gore-Tex fishing jacket that I had bought last year for Kayaking, that I didn’t really notice, except for a damp head because the cotton baseball cap was not so waterproof. I suppose that what they say about there being no bad weather, only bad clothes, is true.
After catching enough rainbow trout in L. Alice to keep me happy, I eventually left quite early, in the hope of catching the evening rise on Rutundu, which also didn’t materialise, although I caught a couple of small trout. There was something that satisfied my primordial instincts though, in eating a couple of the trout for supper that evening, cooked under the ashes of the fire in the log cabin. The dry white wine that we had with the fish may not have been quite so elemental, but it certainly lent to a feeling of glowing satisfaction (even self-satisfaction) for the day.
On Sunday, because we were leaving at midday, I only fished on the lake at Rutundu, and took out Susanne, who having done a little sea fishing was keen to try for trout. She succeeded in catching her first ever trout (actually she was just handing me the rod, so that she could put on some sun tan lotion, when a trout rose to take the fly, and I managed to hook it) and so she was pleased. We caught a couple more and lost one or two others on dry flies, and had a lot of fun. It is interesting that, although only 2,500 feet apart in height, the trout on L. Rutundu seem much more prepared to rise to a dry fly. There seems to be no better way to introduce a beginner to fly fishing than using dries on a lake, because all you have to do is hand them the rod after you have cast the flies out and instruct them to watch for trout rising to the flies. Beginners always enjoy the visual aspect of this even if they quite often fail to strike successfully when the fish takes.
We drove back down the mountain again safely under the operational direction of ‘Mission Control’, although there was a sticky bit right at the bottom just before we got to the tarmac main road, which a number of farm trucks had churned up. L. Alice had lived up to expectations, even if I had been idle and unadventurous in experimenting in fishing techniques.