Archive for March, 2015

Highlands Adventure Part Two

March 13, 2015

Highlands AdventurePartTwo

We had ventured into the Lesotho Highlands in search of smallmouth yellowfish, drawn not simply by the fish but their propensity, in these waters, for rising to dry flies, in particular large terrestrials.  The venue is one of very few locally, or perhaps in the world, where one has a realistic chance of tossing a dry fly at fish that could go to 8lb plus.

PierreSkatepark

Guide Pierre, hooks into a decent yellowfish in a pocket in what I dubbed “The Skate Park” section of the Bokong River.

Smallmouth yellows, with their sub-terminal mouths and generally murky habitat aren’t generally given over to feeding on the top, preferring most of the time to grub on the bottom for nymphs and larvae hidden under the boulders of the river’s substrate. However they will come to dries if conditions are right, either there is a solid hatch on the go or the water is clear enough for them to find surface food, particularly where subsurface dining opportunities are limited. The latter is the case up here in Lesotho. Outside of thunder shower induced spates the waters of the Bokong and Malibamatso Rivers run gin clear and the prevalent food source for many of the fish are the hapless hoppers and flying ants that find themselves caught in the drink.

TimLesothoYellow3The author with his first dry caught yellowfish of the trip.

The fish migrate up into the streams during the summer months to spawn and linger in the river system for some time, with new arrivals entering the system and spawned fish returning to the Katse Dam on a sort of rotational basis. Unfortunately our trip was at the back end of the season when the numbers of fish in the system was waning, the river dropping towards skinny winter conditions and the temperatures falling to a point where although comfortable enough for the anglers was getting on the chill side for the fish.

TimLesothoYellow2Another fish taken on a CDC and Elk pattern on 6x tippet. Stalking this fish took us about 20 minutes.

Fishing is always something of a gamble, in this instance go earlier and there is a higher risk of the streams being blown out by summer thundershowers which muddy the water, albeit temporarily or leave things later and see the fish numbers dwindle as the water cools and drops. Our initial foray on the afternoon of our arrival suggested that we might have left things a bit too late, few yellowfish in the river and the water getting chill in the mornings We caught a few trout and hoped for better in the coming days.

LesothoYellow3Some of the fish were quite sizable, although nowhere near as big as they can get.

Fortune favours the brave so they say and on the second morning although there weren’t hundreds of fish in the river there were some and we were able to cast our flies at sporadic chances to often difficult to spot fish cruising in the clear waters.

It wasn’t however the easy angling that we thought we might enjoy, the fish were few and far between and as nervous as long tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs. My first throw at a cruising yellow resulted in a spectacular and panicked departure on the part of the fish and it was time to re-evaluate.

MarijuanaLesotho isn’t only famous for its fishing 🙂 Perhaps a whole new meaning to the term “High Country”.

In the end we settled into a workable game plan, 20’ plus leaders (I was using a varivas flat butt leader as a base and it performed wonderfully in the swirling and ever changing breezes of the highlands), and either a dry fly or dry and dropper set up.

The fish proved to be very leader shy the shadows cast on the bottom of the stream appearing like anchor rope spooking more than a few fish as we tried to refine things. We were caught up in the all too frequent conundrum of the clear water angler, go light to get more takes and risk breakoffs or go heavier and get less takes. The guides here recommend 3x tippet, for those who don’t know, yellowfish are remarkably strong fighters and the rocks of the stream very prone to cutting through tippet during the fight. I managed to land a few fish on 6x terminal tackle and certainly could illicit more takes by going finer but equally lost more than a few fish to violent takes or abrasion from the rocks. In the end for me a moderately happy compromise left me with 5X Stroft on the end of the leader

PieterWadingSpectacular scenery, clear water and large fish eating dry flies, what more could you ask?

Presentation and caution were critical factors, curve casts to keep the shadow of the line and leader away from the fish important and all of that more than a little tricky because of the behavior of the fish. Yellows tend not to “hold” like trout do and move constantly even when feeding, so not only does one have to be accurate, delicate and precise with the presentation but one also needs to be pretty quick about it too. More than a few opportunities were lost because a slight delay, a tangle or whatever when getting into position is enough to see one’s quarry amble out of range before the angler is ready.

NickLesothoYellowNick with his first ever yellowfish on fly, taken on a dry in clear water, what a way to start a love affair with these fish. The grin probably says it all.

It could all have proven more than a little frustrating but for the total excitement of seeing a very large fish gently hone in on the fly and take it off the top. Because yellows have whose underslung mouths the take of a dry is frequently rather awkward and splashy, for any dry fly aficionado, to see a massive boil where moments before one’s hopper pattern rested gently on the mirrored surface of the stream is enough to get one’s heart racing. Perhaps even more dramatic would be those occasions when the fish would spot the fly, cruise over with a purposeful demeanor only to nudge the pattern with its nose and turn away. If the rarified atmosphere at 3000 meters isn’t enough to push up your pulse rate, those refusals will definitely do it. One had the impression that cardiac arrest might not be too far away on some occasions.

WayneLesothoYellowWayne with a solid yellow from the Bokong River.

The yellows weren’t the only available targets, some of the crew sought out large trout that inhabit the dam and others spent time targeting surface feeding yellows along the cliff lines casting from a float tube to rising fish or likely haunts. For me , it was the river that I wanted to fish and although the fishing could have been easier and the fish more prevalent, one could hardly suggest that it was poor.

TerryLesothoRainbowRenowned Catfish and Carp fly-angler Terry Babich proved that he no slouch at targeting trout too.

Perhaps some of the most exciting dry fly fishing that you could ever experience, analogous one imagines to the stonefly hatches that bring large fish to the top in the Western streams of the US or the Cicada hatches that offer similar opportunities for large trout in New Zealand. In the end though, whilst this trip might be seen as going to the end of the world, for us at least, one need not travel half way around it to find some exceptional fishing.

Technical stuff:

Rod:
I fished a #3 9’6”-10’00” Grays XF2 Streamflex Plus mostly with the extension piece fitted.
Line/Leader/Tippet:
A RIO Gold #3 double taper floating fly line with 15’ Varivas super Yamame flat butt leader with a coloured indicator section buit into it and a compound tippet of 4,5 and sometimes 6X Stroft. The colour of the Varivas leader was toned down by soaking overnight in tea. The tip of the RIO Gold LT line was cut back as I found the long front taper didn’t work well with the long leaders I prefer to use.
Reel:
A sage click III reel.
Boots and wading:
Vision Loikka Gummi sole wading boots and lycra pants or easy wading.
Sundry:
Waterproof Back pack from ATG
Venue:
The trip was organized by Pieter Snyders from Flyloops and we stayed at the Torrette Fishing Three Rivers Camp on the Bokong River in Lesotho.

 

The author runs Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris, Cape Town’s only dedicated flyfishing guiding service.
For some great fishing on the streams of the Western Cape, or perhaps a trip after yellowfish on the Orange River check out the Inkwazi Flyfishing Website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za

 Brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Cape Town's best fly fishing guiding service.

You can find more literature from the author in downloadable eBook formats on Smashwords, Nook Books, Barnes and Noble and from the Inkwazi Bookshop

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Highlands Adventure (Part One)

March 10, 2015

Highlands Adventure Part One

We hiked along a tiny track high in the mountains. At 3000 metres above sea level our breathing was somewhat labored on the upward gradients, but the look of the crystal clear river far below in the valley kept us going at a pace. The journey to reach this magnificent spot included air travel, 4X4 vehicles and Shank’s pony and looking down on the wide clear waters of the river, and watching the moving shapes of huge fish one could easily imagine that we were embarking on a South Island fishing adventure. Certainly we were in the Southern Hemisphere and to be sure there were some trout in the river below, but salmonids weren’t really our target and New Zealand wasn’t the venue despite initial appearances.

SouthIslandMaybeThis might look a lot like New Zealand but it isn’t.

We were traipsing along the main highway between two villages in the highlands of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a land locked enclave entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and oxymoronically the country with the highest lowest point of any in the world. That is to say that there isn’t a piece of Lesotho below 1000 metres above sea level and the highest peaks reach up to around 3500 metres.

The reason for the fly rods on our backs and in our hands though weren’t the trout but the indigenous smallmouth yellowfish which migrate high up the headwaters of the mighty Senqu River (Orange River in South Africa) during the summer months. The river at our feet, the Bokong, which runs now into the massive Katse Dam (part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project) effectively trapping the yellowfish and trout of the upper reaches.

TimLesothoYellowThe author with a Bokong River Yellowfish

Surrounded by unspoiled hills which will be covered in snow during the winter months and trekking along a main highway which was only a couple of feet wide the scenery was surreal. The only traffic donkeys and horses of the local Basotho people. There are no roads up here, just donkey trails and paths used by the herd boys to reach the upper pastures which tower above our heads in undulating waves of green. In the relative lowlands donkey and ox carts are not uncommon, up here there isn’t a path wide enough accommodate such luxury and the paths are as thin as the rarified air with which we laboured to fill our lungs.

 LesothoVillageA typical village of stone and thatch rondavels in the mountains.

The villages are spaced along these pathways, remarkably tidy enclaves of local stone and thatch rondavels, apple trees and the occasional vegetable patch, peach orchards and livestock. Dogs, chickens, pigs and of course the ubiquitous donkeys wander apparently unrestricted. Flocks of Angora Goats and the occasional sheep graze on the hillsides, tended for the most part by small and universally smiling children.

 BasothoBoysBlanketsBlankets, sticks, Wellington Boots, no apparent pockets.

The people of Lesotho highlands live almost entirely under the international poverty line ($1.25 per day), but for all of that they seem happy and almost completely untouched by the modern world. They survive on subsistence farming for the most part, growing maize, and tending goats and cattle. One had to wonder if we weren’t intruding, likely to spoil a contented people with dreams of modern convenience and materialist capitalism. Already, amongst the de rigueur blankets, wellington boots and sticks could be seen cellular phones. Lord knows how they hang on to them, few people seem to possess any clothing that might harbor a pocket.

KamikazeDonkeyRiderA typical “Kamakazi” donkey rider on the narrow path above the river

We would occasionally scatter out of the way of a Kamakazi donkey rider, no reins, no saddle, no stirrups, careening along the path with thirty metre drop on one side, “steering” by means of whacking the unfortunate beast on one side or the other with a stick. Every man and boy in the highlands appears to have a stick in the same way that each of us has a watch. That the ability to wallop something, or someone, is more important than knowing the time probably says as much about the different views of our two cultures as anything.

I was enchanted by the place, a hard life to be sure with winter temperatures plummeting a long way below freezing, but an existence which one couldn’t in some way hope would be allowed to continue. If Chicken Little ever proves to be right, the sky falls in and the world comes to an end it will take a long time before the people of the Bokong Valley notice.

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 A variety of books from the author of this blog are available for download from Inkwazi Flyfishing, Smashwords , Barnes and Noble and Nook Books

Anticipation

March 1, 2015

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A year or so back, as part of a program to publish something worthwhile each day on one’s blog, a challenge from the guys at “How Small a Trout” I wrote a piece entitled “Bucket List”. The titles were preordained by the organizers and were random but for a very much fly fishing theme for the most part. “Bugs”, “Greenery”, “Safety First” and many other subjects were covered, one per day. I confess that I only joined in late in the process so wrote every day for approximately two weeks. It was a discipline that I have allowed to slip of late with few posts this year, the fishing hasn’t been worth writing about never mind writing home about. Hopefully that is all to change because I am due to tick off one box on my own bucket list.

It all started when I was notified by the guys at “Flyloops” that they had a cancellation for a trip to Lesotho fishing dry flies for yellowfish with Tourette Fishing. Although the last minute booking proffered some benefit in terms of reduced costs the real kicker was simply that I had to make up my mind quickly and on considering that I really should “fix the garden”, “complete the work on the patio” or “Go to the dentist” along with numerous other pressing financial commitments, I allowed the hedonistic fishing gene mentality to override more logical expenditure in favour of grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Of course the accomplished fly fishing nut can justify anything given a little time to come up with an excuse and mine was simply that if I didn’t do it now I might well never get around to it.

I have caught hundreds of yellowfish, and for those who don’t know the species I shall provide some insight later. Suffice it to say that they are wonderfully strong fish which in most of their home range are targeted with nymph tackle. The opportunity to selectively aim at them with dry flies is something just a little bit special, although I have done that on occasion.

TimLargemouthYellowThe author with a largemouth yellowfish taken whilst nymphing, Largemouths become increasingly piscivorous as they grow and they can get a good deal larger than this specimen.

For those unfamiliar with Yellowfish, (of which there are several species) they are like riverine carp re-engineered by Enzo Ferrari. They also hold a remarkable resemblance to various species of Mahseer the legendary target fish of Asian anglers, not surprising; they come from the same biological family. Yellowfish like most if not all the Cyprinidae have sub-terminal mouths best suited to sub-surface dining, but in clear water and with sufficient food availability on the surface they will rise to the fly.

TimSmallmouthYellowfishThe author with his best ever Smalmouth Yellowfish of 5.2 kg. (A much younger author it has to be said)

Yellowfish species are watershed specific such that the Smallmouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) are primarily located in the flows of the Vaal and Orange River and its tributaries. The species can however be found in other waters these days having migrated within man made water transfer schemes. Other related species can be broken down into home river systems such that the Largemouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus kimberleyensis) also inhabits the Orange/Vaal system. Small Scale (Labeobarbus polylepis) and Large Scale (Labeobarbus marequensis ) Yellowfish are to be found in the Limpopo, Pongola and Inkomati drainage and the Natal Scaly (Labeobarbus Natalensis) in the waters of Natal. Clanwilliam Yellowfish occupy much the same ecological niche in the waters of the Oliphants river drainage in the Cape Province.

The targets on this trip, together hopefully with some trout thrown into the mix are the Smallmouth yellowfish, one of the most beloved species of the South African Fly Fishing community.

The rivers of the highlands of Lesotho are the headwaters of the system which flow into Orange River, joined by the Vaal River at Douglas, ultimately pouring into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay and Labeobarbus aeneus can be found along the entire length of the river from mountain to sea. The primary focus of heading to the mountains is that the headwaters tend to run a good deal clearer than the lower reaches of the system offering potential sight fishing and surface action of much higher calibre than in the slower moving and murky waters lower down.

To date most of my fishing for yellowfish has been nymphing those slower and more silt laden reaches, predominantly in the winter months, using Czech nymphing and Euronymphing styles. The hope is that for this trip we will be aiming to catch the fish on dry flies, particularly terrestrial insects on which the fish focus their attention in the headwaters.

FoamBugsNumerous large terrestrial dry flies have been tied in anticipation. I was told to “go big”, they look ludicrous to someone who has been throwing #20 emergers at trout for the past three months.

There has been fervent activity at the tying vice, dozens of large terrestrial patterns, CDC and Elk flies, Beetles and Ants have been manufactured in anxious anticipation. Leaders have been manufactured, indicators twisted and boiled, loops changed, reels serviced, camera batteries charged up and airline tickets purchased. Now it is just a case of packing it all up and waiting in the hope that the weather and the fish will come to the party.

NymphsA new nymph box has been filled in case the thundershowers ruin the visibility and we are forced to ‘go down’ after the fish.

So if the plane leaves on time, doesn’t crash and arrives when it is supposed to and the car gets us into the Lesotho highlands without incident. If the rains stay away and I haven’t forgotten anything vital in the packing there should be a fun filled few days ahead and some hopefully interesting and inspiring blogging material coming soon.

Currently my dreams are filled with images from this video produced by Keith Clover from a previous trip to the streams of the Lesotho Highlands. Well I say dreams, but actually I am not sleeping much.. 🙂

I have watched that video over and over, I think I can skip the Viagra for a week or two.. 🙂

The author of this blog also has a number of instructional and entertaining electronic books available from the website www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za and offers fly fishing guiding on the streams of the Western Cape out of his base in Cape Town.

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