Orange Fever

By the time you read this I should have one of these in my hands, at least I hope so.

Due to the wonders of modern technology, and for me anything more advanced than a slide rule is pretty wonderous I have to admit, I can post this when I am nowhere near a computer. In fact I am nowhere near anything much, or at least that is the plan.

By now we should be happily camped on the edge of the Orange River on the Namibian border with nothing to do but cast for yellowfish and perhaps tie the odd fly if the situation dictates. Preparations have been hectic, one minute we were chatting about a possible trip and the next thing we were going. It didn’t help that I found that I had the dates incorrect and had a day less than expected to prepare, but then as with all these types of things, eventually one realises that if you have forgotten something you will have to do without it and that is all that can be said.

The only real worry is that Mike, Albe and myself are all avid anglers which means we will no doubt have a plethora of rods, reels, lines and flies. Probably some alcohol and a few items of clothing and if we are really fortunate one of us is going to remember to bring some food.

Years back I did spend three days on the Vaal with little more than three bottles of beer some bread rolls and a packet of chips, but the fishing was good and I lost some weight, it is amazing what one will do to catch a few fish if you have the fishing gene.

Big Water, Big Sky, Big Desert and great fishing.

For those not familiar with yellowfish they are the unsung heros of fly fishermen in Southern Africa. Living in Cape Town we don’t have any really good quality yellowfish water near by and a trip out into the sticks is something of a winter ritual. It helps that the waters of the Orange River (it isn’t called the Orange because of its colour, although often it could be), run clear and low at exactly the same time that the Cape Streams are unfishable.

There are a number of species of yellowfish and related species which are technically not yellows but tend to be referred to under the same umbrella. An interesting evolutionary divergence is that each is pretty much tied to specific riverine systems.

The Smallmouth and Largemouths (our two targets on this trip), live in the Vaal / Orange River system, the Clanwilliam Yellowfish and the Sawfins are found in the Oliphant’s system, closer to home but hard to access. The Natal Scaly is found in the Eastern part of the country in Natal and the Smallscale and Largescales are found in the Limpopo systems and the occasional Witvis in the Breede River Catchment.

The trouble with all of that is that it makes conservation a problem, one can’t simply transplant fish from one watershed to another and whilst some of the species are not under threat the Clanwilliam and Sawfins are.

Still back to the Orange and our trip:

For those not in the know yellowfish were thought to be virtually uncatchable on fly for many years and those that were caught seemed to be some sort of lucky aberration. However advances in techniques of both fishing and fly tying saw the catch rates climb rapidly, particularly with spread of understanding of the Czech nymph style of fishing. Yellowfish are for the most part bottom feeders, focusing on larvae and pupae of aquatic insects hard on the bottom and frequently in very fast water. (The Largemouths as juveniles feed in much the same way but then become piscivorous once they gain size, and they can gain some serious dimensions).

Some of the species available on the Orange River

We will probably practise a variety of techniques, some because they are effective and others perhaps simply because they can be more fun. But the standard is to fish heavily weighted Czech nymph patterns on either a normal Czech nymph rig or even fishing with pure mono and no casting of any real sort.

The trick is to have the patterns running hard on the bottom in white water conditions on occasion and to still be able to detect what can frequently be very subtle takes. For those familiar with grayling fishing this is much the same except that the fish are far bigger, far stronger and the current and size of the rivers more vicious than most. Some Scandinavian rivers probably are of similar dimension and flow but few English rivers would be as large.

If one finds the fish and you are proficient at the methods you can literally “hammer ’em” and frequently after a while we will change to upstream indicator nymphing in the slightly slower and shallower waters, if only for some variety.

After years of competative angling where indicators other than flies are out of bounds it is going to be fun to experiment with variations and I have a few tricks up my sleeve worthy of testing out.

Then of course there is the chance if the water is clear that there could be some dry fly action, down on the lower reaches this isn’t common but it can occur and casting small dries for fish well above the average size of most trout makes for some exciting sport.

Plus we really should spend some time with streamers trying to nail some Largemouths, we have caught a good number on the lower reaches but usually as a byproduct of fishing for the smallmouths. It is amazing how large some of the fish are that will still take a tiny nymph, but to seek out really massive specimens we should focus a bit with some hard-core streamer fishing. This time we might even get around to it.

So if we don’t get lost, starve, drown or meet some equally dreadful fait such as poor fishing, there should be some more photos when we get back. Until then I am thankfully out of touch with the modern world.

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