Exploration and Paydirt.

Visiting new places on the Orange River:

I think that maybe my mates and I should join “The A Team” cos hell I love it when a plan comes together. We had been talking of exploring parts of the Orange River, previously unknown to us for some time. The debates of when to go, should we go and even should we perhaps settle for something more known to us dragged on until the decision was made. Fishing time is precious and one doesn’t want to waste time and energy in the wrong spot. But then there is also the question of forging your own path and taking some risk and in the end that is exactly what we did.

Hitting paydirt, the results of exploration on the Orange River

Armed with maps, GPS and plenty of fishing gear we headed out into the desert some 600 odd kilometers from home, not sure that we would even find the river. Deserts are not the places most people consider as venues for quality fly fishing and although we knew that the Orange River was there there was little guarantee that any of the trails would put us close enough to reach it.

Desert Landscape, not exactly the place you expect to find fish.

Previous trips to the Richtersveld reserve nearby have been productive, but the landscape there is scared by monuments to man’s unassailable greed, massive mine dumps the result of the search for diamonds and as a consequence it lacks something of the raw splendor of our new destination.

We hit the desert after an all night drive and were greeted with a spectacular dawn, low angled winter light softening the harshness of our surroundings. First stop was a small settlement called Henkries where one can obtain the odd essential item from a shop that is little more than a house’s garage, sparsely stocked with a coke fridge and the odd bar of soap, the nearest thing to a town that we would see for five days.

The trail requires that one loop around the mountains to touch with the river here and there and at the first stop we found both a wonderful campsite at the water’s edge and what appeared to be a decent rapid. The fishing was however disappointing, we got some fish and at least didn’t spend the first night under canvass with blanks on the scoresheet but it wasn’t as good as we had hoped.

Fly Tying Alfresco: Albe and Mike whip up a few nymphs at the waterside camp.

The next morning some exploration brought us to three new rapids further upstream, all virtually unreachable on account of the depth and speed of the currents but determination won the day and we eventually crossed higher up, taking some considerable risks in the strong flow. Of the three stretches of good looking water only one really produced but it produced fish in style. My own definition of hitting a “honey hole” is that you get one of the following three occurrences:

You hook two fish at the same time.

You and your partner both hook fish at the same time.

You hook fish on consecutive casts.

Albe Nel, trying out for the Al-Qaeda fly fishing team, with a baby largemouth Yellowfish. The "Buff" was actually an anti fly swallowing measure.

On this stretch, after several hours of trying other water for only a fish a piece we managed all of the above in short order and proceeded to “hammer em” for several hours. Odd that other good looking water nearby produced very little but this stretch really did hold huge numbers of fish and we were well pleased with the results. A lengthy walk back to camp through the bank-side vegetation and the flies that inhabit it virtually terminated my long standing vegetarian status and the numbers swallowed would no doubt have added up to a decent steak in terms of protein but we were happy, we had found fish and been able to test out some tackle and various rigs to good effect. Mike and Albe returned to the hot spot for the afternoon whilst I decided to play with some alternative methods in the water nearer to the camp. The result was that I took only a single fish for the session whilst they had bent rods for most of the afternoon until they tired and returned for sundowners much later.

The morning saw us once more on the trail, this time another loop around the hills, driving in an environment where one seriously questions the wisdom of being in a solitary vehicle. The chances of walking out alive should there be a mishap not appearing particularly good, miles and miles of sand, broken rock and shattered quartzite which looks for all the world like broken glass. In fact the illusion is of driving over a massive land fill site.

Camping desert style, this is probably the biggest tree for miles.

We reached our new destination by late afternoon and were able to see a glorious rapid not far from the camp. Again the results were disappointing, some fish but not a lot of them and treacherous wading in the lower sections. It was however the first time on the trip that I was totally out of control, a good sized mudfish taking yards and yards of line down the raging currents necessitating a precarious chase over the sunken boulders.

We fished the same rapids the following morning, did a bit better having located a few nice holes but still we were taking fish by the dozens and we wanted more. An almost desperate search higher upstream where the water looked flat and wide however revealed a maze of small channels amongst a smattering of islands and here we found fish. In fact we found fish in abundance, that first evening we landed over thirty fish a man in less than a couple of hours and returned to camp in the near darkness, not wishing to stop.

Mike with a nice fish from one of the channels.

This proved to be the highlight location of the trip and we returned to explore the channels and islands several times. We still never got to fish all of the water available however and there is good reason to return. It is difficult to estimate and we didn’t keep count but at a guess the three of us took somewhere between 700 and 900 fish including the slow days when we were searching for the right water. By the time we were finished we had learned a lot , refined our tackle, methods and perhaps most importantly where to locate numbers of fish. This was some of the best yellowfish fishing I have ever enjoyed anywhere, the only possible lack was that we didn’t land any that were truly massive although I think we all lost at least one real lunker at some point.

Part of the journey, consider having to walk out of here.

The final mornings fishing was an affair of mixed emotion, we continued to catch fish in numbers, in fact a day or so before I had managed to take nine yellowfish on consecutive casts if that gives some indication of the quality of the venue. In the end we had to pack up camp and head back to civilization. It is hard to walk away from that kind of fishing, all the more so when you know that it could be a year before you return but the experiment paid off, we worked hard, covered a lot of ground both in the vehicle and on foot and in the end the plan came together. Absolutely awesome fishing, the only crowds the occasional herd of goats, the only competition from the resident fish eagle and the otters which had left tracks all over the sand bars and which we actually saw on one mornings excursion.

I just had to put in one "rod in the mouth" image, apparently it's expected if you are a serious angler. 🙂

Highlights of the trip?

The incredible desolate scenery.

Myself and Albe taking two largemouth yellowfish at exactly the same time.

Catching nine fish on consecutive casts.

Albe catching a fish with the leader in his hand and not attached to the line.

Sharing such an amazing venue with incredible anglers and good friends.

Collectively taking seventeen fish from a run the size of two bath tubs.

The desert stars at night and the amazing sensation of space.

Spotting Otters in the river.

The list of firsts:

First person to take a fish… Mike

First person to take the grand slam: Largemouth, Smallmouth and Muddy….. Albe

First person to take a Muddy… Me

The bizarre looking mouth of an Orange River Mudfish.

First person to take the royal flush: muddy, smallmouth, largemouth and barbel.. “currently vacant”.

First person to catch a fish with the collar of his shirt (it’s a long story)… Me

First person to knock a sand martin out of the air with his rod… Me (we all did this by the end of the trip)

First Largemouth.. .Mike

Best landed fish of the trip… Albe.

Albe Nel with what was almost certainly the best fish landed during the trip.

So there it was seven days, nine hundred odd fish, some great exploration, and the gamble of either a watery or firey death in the river or the desert if something went wrong. I think by the last day we would have gone in peace, this was the fishing trip of a lifetime, or until we return it will be.  Best wishes from the “A Team”.

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One Response to “Exploration and Paydirt.”

  1. Ian Says:

    That sounds indeed special!

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