Posts Tagged ‘Bokong River’

8x Challenge

February 13, 2022

I have long advocated that with correct technique one can catch fish, and more than likely a lot more fish, using finer tippets; a recent trip to Lesotho proved the ideal setting to experiment a little and push the boundaries a tad further.

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt remember a piece from some time back, a somewhat mathematical exercise in evaluating the best way to play fish, particularly with light tippet in mind. https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/trout-torque-or-thoughts-on-playing-fish/

It is true that one requires different tactics and much heavier tippet in saltwater situations but in freshwater, many of the “snapped off and bent hook open” moans and groans can’t be substantiated by equipment failure, but rather by limitations of the angler.

What size fish could we safely land on 8x tippet? Apparently larger than any of us thought.

In the above mentioned article I was able to demonstrate that it is near impossible to break even 7X tippet when it is tied to a broom handle, if used in the correct manner. Of course, for the most part stream trout don’t offer up too much of a challenge on this front, although that doesn’t stop me giving all of my clients (usually nervous of the terminal tackle in use) a demonstration of the effects of line and rod angles when playing fish. After all, no guide wants clients to snap off fish, for the sake of the fish, the angler and the guide.

It may be a good point here to provide a link to another blog post from the past on this site referring to line control issues, playing fish is a package, failure on any one point can lead to tears and a dry net. It is a failing that as anglers we tend towards discussion on flies, lines, casting, presentation and more but ignore the techniques which are most likely to assist in landing a fish once hooked. https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/line-control/

A week of good company and cracking fishing

So, a few weeks back I was on the Bokong River in Lesotho chasing smallmouth yellowfish , (Labeobarbus aeneus). Here there are fish which will undoubtedly test your mettle. For one thing they can attain considerable size and equally, for those that don’t know the species, they are incredibly strong, fast and vigorous. They also tend to frequently hold in very strong currents which they put to their advantage. In short, the average smallmouth yellowfish, would drag a trout of similar dimensions about with little effort. They are remarkable fish, fit of fin and as solid as a house brick. Every trip I have done to this venue has seen me blow up the drag on at least one reel, mostly because I can’t afford a Shilton, 😦 but make no mistake that with smallmouth yellows, the hook up is only the start of the game. They will speed off and take you into backing without hesitation, if they get the chance to recover in the oxygenated waters of the pockets they are more than likely to take off and do it all again. These are not trout in another colour, they are serious quarry and can test tackle, tippets and patience in equal measure.

Head guide Kyle McDonald changes his mind about fishing light

It happened that we had caught plenty of fish, an excess of fish to be honest, and we would entertain ourselves by restricting our activities to “dry fly only” or “pockets only” or whatever distraction we might dream up to keep things interesting.

It was at this point that I suggested that I was going to catch a yellowfish on 8x tippet, and immediately some of the more experienced crew as well as the guides guffawed into their beers and coffees and declared the idea close to insane.

To be fair, my original intention was to only catch one small yellow to show it was possible and then revert to 5 or 6X which is pretty much viewed as standard in these parts.

Some video action from our 8x challenge on the Bokong River

It so happens that I really like fishing dry flies, and all the more so on long leaders and fine tippets, you just get so much better presentation and it is something that I am used to and comfortable with. I should mention that I also exclusively use Stroft GTM for my dry fly work and have immense confidence in the stuff. Plus I have great confidence in “The Penny Knot” showed to me by Tasmanian fishing guide and Master Caster Peter Hayes, it is the only knot I now use for linking the fly to the tippet. Also previously reviewed on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/in-for-a-penny/

I was quietly confident that I could manage at least one small yellow on the gear.

It turned out that the episode was as educational to me as it was to the guides, I hooked and landed a moderate yellowfish and (being lazy) carried on only to hook a larger one, and then a larger one still. Everyone (including myself to a point) was amazed by this success rate, I landed fish of all sizes and in fact never went back to the heavier terminal tackle for the remainder of the week.

The initial goal was to catch one smallish fish to prove a point

Did I break off some fish? Yes but then everyone does, (the average trout angler has little concept of how hard these yellowfish fight), and much of that is due to abrasion of the leader on the rocks in the rapids. Often times it would be the case that the leader parted in the 6x or 5x section and not at the tippet, an indication that it was abrasion more than tippet strength which was the limiting factor.

On one day I was able to demonstrate to the guides that I could, at least some of the time, steer the fish and even bully them on this fine tippet, you just need to be ready to let go if they get a bit upset, I am pretty sure that the guides had something of “a moment”, because they had not considered it possible.

The only real limitation that we found was casting to fish along a rock face about 17 meters across river, and here we experienced a number of break-offs directly on, or after the take. I was fishing half a double taper #3 fly line. I do this for reasons which are economic but also to provide additional backing on the reel (I got down to only two turns of backing on a fish earlier in the week). It also helps to reduce line drag in the water. (line drag is an issue, smallmouth yellowfish will run out line like freight trains and can quickly leave you in serious trouble)

We could only just reach the fish against the rock face, with a little bit of backing off the reel and had several fish break us off on the take. It seems that at this point, the drag of the line on or in the water, is enough to provide sufficient tension to snap the tippet no matter what the angler does. Outside of this rather abnormal situation (we are rarely casting dry flies that far on these streams), the 8X held up as well as any other tippet and many of the clients on the trip were somewhat aghast that it was even possible.

To me it simply proves the point, that we spend too much time worrying about casting, tying flies and hooking fish and not near enough on what to do when you actually do hook one. Good technique when playing fish, quality line control, a smooth drag and “soft hands” will allow you to land a lot more fish than you might imagine. Yes fishing 8x to these fish is pushing the limits but it isn’t going beyond those limits most of the time.

It was an interesting exercise and, as said, I never went back to the heavier stuff for the rest of the trip, the guides, I know, were somewhat set back by this revelation, although I doubt that they are going to recommend it to their clients.  But the upshot was that I was able to raise a lot more fish using longer leaders and thinner tippets without actually losing a lot more as a result of the fine terminal gear. All of the fish shown in this post were landed on 8x tippet, makes you think?

A few more points from this exercise:

As you will already know, I don’t believe that softer and lower rated rods mean that you land fish less quickly, in fact the maths shows that done correctly, you land them faster and can apply more pressure (so long as the tippet can handle it).

In fact heavier gear with heavier and thicker lines will provide more drag in the water and are more likely to snap fine tippet.

Young Guide Angus gets in on the action

In the end the exercise was vindication of my limited maths skills, it proved that you can indeed land large and powerful fish on light gear, as or more effectively than heavier stuff if you know what you are doing.

The angler can do little about line drag or rock abrasion, but those things which are within your control will allow you to effectively fish lighter to good effect.

A few points related to fishing fine tippets and light gear:

  1. It is crucial that the drag on the reel is smooth as silk and set at a point only just sufficient to prevent overwinds. (At one point during the trip my reel drag failed leaving me fishing with a free spooling drum, that made things interesting, but I would rather have no drag than too much)!
    I was able to assist several anglers in camp who were losing fish because their drag systems were set far too high.

  2. Additional line control/drag control applied with your reel hand becomes important, you can apply braking and release it far faster than one can adjust the drag on the reel.

  3. Sharp hooks are happy hooks, you require a lot less force to set them on the strike, always sharpen your hooks.
  4. Develop “soft hands”, the ability to hold fish and let go fast if the rod tip gets dragged downwards.

There is a lot more information about playing fish in other articles featured on this blog and I would recommend that you review the articles mentioned previously:

Trout Torque https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/trout-torque-or-thoughts-on-playing-fish/

Line control: ttps://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/line-control/

The Penny knot: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/in-for-a-penny/

Thanks to the guys from African Waters who looked after us so well and the other anglers on the trip who provided great company, entertainment and encouragement.

Lesotho Diaries Part One

February 7, 2022

After literally months of planning and interruptions related to COVID regulations last year we finally got our moment ‘in the sun’. Our trip to the Bokong River in the highlands of Lesotho was on.

It’s a long trip from Cape Town, on the Southern tip of the African continent to reach the “Mountain Kingdom”, even longer to reach the Makangoa Community camp on the banks of the Bokong River, tucked away on the furthest corner of the massive and convoluted Katse Dam.

The Journey from Cape Town to Makangoa Community Camp is a long one, we are praying it will be worth it.

Katse is part of the “Lesotho Highlands Water Project” which supplies both hydroelectric power and water to the Witwatersrand area of South Africa. It is a truly massive impoundment with a maximum capacity of 1950 Km3. That is a LOT of water; enough that during construction the mass was sufficient to cause “induced seismicity”, that’s man-made earthquakes to you and me. Causing your own earthquakes seems a bit extreme but then there is the positive side, a lot of water available in a country rather devoid of such resources, and a pile of yellowfish trapped within the system and nowhere to spawn but to run up the Bokong River.

If you have ever fished the Bokong when the yellowfish are running up river, you would have to ask yourself if at least a few cubic kilometers of the above estimate are not in fact simply fish. Not two years back the dam dropped to 17% of capacity, during one of the worst droughts on record, and one has to wonder exactly how much of that 17% was really water. It might not be a far fetched fantasy to imagine some soccer mom in Sandton, turning on the faucet and having fish drop into the sink. Put plainly the system holds a lot of fish!!

Smallmouth Yellowfish running the Bokong River

So, phase one of the plan, after exhaustive fly-tying sessions, truck servicing, brake disc skimming, packing and more, was to drive for 12 hours to Bloemfontein. It is serious commitment but, in some respects, the easier part of the journey, at least the road is pretty straight. (There is no such thing as straight road once you enter Lesotho).

Our overnight stay was at “Tuff Top”, a grass turf growing and accommodation/wedding venue which offers far more comfortable and friendly lodgings than one might expect from the less than romantic name. That said we really only needed beds and a shower, the focus was on sleep and moving forward with our journey in the morning.

Sleep on these trips can be something of a fitful affair, one is tired from the journey, but excited and worried about the prospects at the same time. The mosquitos did their best to interrupt our fevered sleep and we all said silent prayers for good conditions on the river.  Fishing the Bokong is a crapshoot, too much rain and you are crying into your beer for days on end, too little and the river runs low and the fish depart. It is a gamble, as are many fishing trips, so we scratched “mozzie bites”, dreamt of crystal clear water and had nightmares about raging floods.

It should, of course, be pretty apparent that a watershed which can fill a dam of nearly two thousand cubic kilometers gets a lot of rain, we were simply hoping it wouldn’t fall during our stay.

The following morning, we were off before dawn, on our way to Ficksburg and the Lesotho border post, armed with, apart from tons of fishing gear and donated clothing and other paraphernalia for the community, a plethora of paperwork proving our citizenship and more importantly COVID test negativity. We had all needed to be tested within 72 hours of crossing the border and after last year’s debacle it was a relief to test negative. The alternative, would have been another year lost and possible a good deal of money too. A fishing trip with great mates can be one of the most relaxing things one will ever do, but the price is untold stress prior to departure, especially in this day and age.

Ficksburg is a small town, showing plenty of evidence of decline, the roads have more pot-holes than tar and traversing the town we frequently had to dodge vehicles on the wrong side of the road. The drivers, with good reason, more afraid of the gaping crevasses than the prospect of head on collision. You need a four-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance to drive all the way to the fishing camp, but then again, the same functionality proves pretty darned useful just driving through Ficksburg.  That said, the town has more than a few upsides, it boasts a “Cherry Festival” for which it is famous, and one of the best “Fresh Stop” shops where we always pick up a breakfast of toasted sandwiches and crispy chips. (although generally a “flexitarian” who normally eschews fast food I have to confess that junk food is near mandatory on a road trip, on a fishing road trip, doubly so.)

Crossing the border, although we have done this trip more than a few times, can prove taxing. There is no apparent order to things, and little or no signage. Cars park all over the place, an entirely haphazard array, it is less than apparent which window you need to go to with your passport and COVID paperwork, and of course, apart from the vehicles there is a good amount of foot traffic too. Having crossed the Mohokare River and once again dealt with paperwork and payments we were in Maputsoe, the Lesotho border town which effectively twins with Ficksburg, unexpectedly the roads here, whilst bad, showed some improvement compared to those on the South African side.

Maputsoe on the Lesotho side of the border is an exercise in organised chaos.

The strip, of what is officially titled, Sir Seretse Khama Road, is a hive of low-level entrepreneurship. Tiny tin shack “shops” with scribbled signage in fading paint; offering everything from walking sticks and hats to cooked “Mealies” (corn on the cob). There are endless hovels selling Vodacom airtime, haircuts, ladies’ fashion and of course more “mealies”. Mealies appear to be especially popular and numerous little barbeque fires line both sides of the street roasting them ready for sale.

Apart from the low level, but bustling, roadside commerce, one becomes immediately aware of fleets of taxis, designated, and I can’t find out why, by yellow stripes down the sides of the vehicles and little “taxi” light up signs on the roofs. Lesotho is a poor country and vehicle ownership (other than ox wagon), is for the privileged few. As a result, there are yellow striped taxis everywhere, that means not just in all locations but all over the roads as well. Whether the roadside piles of wrecked vehicles, most of them sporting yellow stripes and lights on the roofs, are a result of bad driving or the mountainous terrain isn’t easy to tell.

As we drive we think on the fishing prospects, we hope we will be fortunate

One thing is for sure, once you head to the central highlands, it is obvious that this is mountainous country, there is no such thing as a straight road in Lesotho, not too much by way of level road either for that matter. One seems to be perpetually traversing hairpin bends, gut wrenching climbs or brake smoking descents.

There are few places where one could safely exceed 60km/hr and thus as we near our destination progress slows as anticipation builds. We passed through several police check points and it seems, from the pressed uniforms and hospitable interactions, that the cops take more pride in their appearance than do their South African counterparts across the border. In fact, the Basuto people seem to be remarkably friendly, happy and proud of their country, we were frequently asked in broken English if we were happy to be there, and indeed we were very happy. The weather was looking good and the fishing prospects more than promising.

A brief attempt to capture some of the elements of our tortuous journey and the sights and sounds of glorious Lesotho

Having traversed the verdant lowlands past Pitseng, we headed into the hills, and the geographical barrier of the Mafika Lisiu pass. It is the most glorious, if terrifying, drive, with serpentine climbs, amazing views and water and rock falls in equal measure. The apex is some 3000 metres above sea level and the truck struggled a little in the thin air and progress was slow. Even up here you will find shepherds and their flocks wandering the roads, sheep and cattle provide as much of a road hazard as hair pin bends and taxis, but goodness me it is spectacular.

Once we summited the pass, we crossed the very top of the Bokong river, but are still hours from our final destination at the Makangoa Community camp. Katse dam isn’t simply large but boasts a complex and extensive coastline. It is in effect, a combination of two flooded and very large river valleys, made up of the Malibamatso River and the Bokong River, meaning that driving around it to reach camp takes a LOT longer than you might imagine.

The size of Katse Dam is deceptive, but it is huge. The camp lies at the top end of the Bokong arm on the left of the image.

We are on the long descent now and pass-through small hamlets and increasing numbers of donkeys, horses, sheep, cattle and remarkably school children. The children all dressed in neatly laundered regulation uniforms. Anyone considering complaining about walking to school should check out the distances and terrain these kids endure, all at an altitude equivalent to a third of the way up Mt Everest.

We stop at a “Shebeen” (informal liquor outlet) to buy a few cases of Maluti Lager, parking the truck between half a dozen donkeys whilst we go inside. As always, the proprietor is cheerful and pleased to have visitors. The shebeens are easy to spot, the primary indication being locals lounging on the front porch sipping out of beer bottles and of course the taxi rank of donkeys outside. These hamlets all appear somewhat disheveled in a quaint sort of way, but one never feels threatened or unsafe. When it comes to minimalism the Basutho have it aced.

Maluti Premium Lager - Maluti Mountain Brewery - Untappd

We pass through Lejone and are on the final leg to Katse Lodge and the kidney juddering track around the western arm of the dam to the camp. We are almost there. The dam and surrounding countryside is breathtaking, all the more so now that Katse is once again full. Levels rose from 17% to 100% in less than two years, we start once more to worry about the rain.

Coitus Interuptus

January 9, 2022

Almost a year ago we had planned to revisit the spectacular fishery of the Bokong River in Lesotho. Even in normal times this is something of a crap shoot, the water can be too high or too low, the fish may move in or move out and probably like many destination fishing adventures the entire enterprise tends to be fraught with risk of failure.

Most anglers simply accept that risk, it is part of the game. Your flight into Alaska might be grounded by bad weather, your trip to the Seychelles may accidentally coincide with Hurricane Hilda or your exhaustively planned trip into the Rio Negro could be interrupted by civil unrest. Let’s face it travel is a gamble, fishing trips probably doubly so. But we tried. We tried because this venue, when you hit it right can provide you with the fishing of a lifetime.

So, our fervent attempts last year, in this era of Covid lockdowns, governmental intervention and panic, nonsensical regulation and more resulted in what? Nothing; no trip, no flights, no entry into the country and more to the point no refund of our expenses. It was a disaster not simply financially but emotionally too.

The scenery is almost as good as the fishing

One sees the images on line of fly-fishing destinations, almost all of them far too far outside of my budget. Fly fishing on line has become the theatre of the wealthy; exotic locations and even more exotic fish. Sure, I wouldn’t sneeze at giant trevally or schools of bonefish on a tropical flat, I don’t begrudge those who can wet a line on “Jurassic Lake” or chase “Golden Dorado” in the jungles of South America, but those things are not within the realm of my existence. Lesotho, and its spectacular fishery for yellowfish is (just) within the scope of my financial limitations and it isn’t any the less special for that.

To be honest, the main reason I can afford to go (giving up some creature comforts in the course or the year to do so) is that Yellowfish are yet to hit the headlines. Thankfully, a remarkably ignorant public with eyes on the media, have yet to cotton on to just how magnificent these fish are or how spectacular the fishing on the Bokong can be. It probably won’t last; this blog may even lead to the downfall. This place is special, and for those of us who have chased it, there is something of a love/hate relationship. When she rewards you, you are on cloud nine, but the system is an unforgiving mistress

Yellowfish are almost unknown to most fly anglers but they are a spectacular quarry, solid muscle and they like flies.

She can give you a glimpse of her stockinged thigh and leaves you for dead when you attend the party, she can tempt you, offer up just enough that you become enthralled, leave the sweet scent of that first kiss on your lips, only to draw back again. The waters may run gin clear on arrival only to flood in rampaging spate just as soon as you unpack your bags or alternatively there is just not enough rain to bring the fish into the system

Yes, it is madness, it is addiction, it is the gambler’s chant that “this time I will win”, it is the addict’s mantra “one more time”, it is the ingrained hope of every lover, every wallflower at the town dance that somehow, this time the God’s will favour us, and I can’t argue with that. Because when she rewards you, when the river runs clear and the fish move in, when large yellowfish in their hundreds pick and choose over your dry fly, when your reel screams and you are well into backing, all those slights, all those inconveniences and sacrifices burn away like morning mist on a hot day.

Small mouth yellowfish are really carp which have been redesigned by Enzo Ferrari

So, in short, I am planning a return; I thought that my previous trip was the last, then we planned another, interrupted by foolish Covid regulations which had little basis in truth or reality. Equally I had planned to be off this continent by now, but again viruses and regulations push one back and it is easy to feel like Sisyphus eternally pushing his boulder up hill. Governments will do what they do, they need not explain, they don’t have to consider the emotional or indeed financial costs to others, they simply impose and, in that imposition, they have contrived to ensure that I am still here, at the tip of Africa, and my best shot at amazing fishing is to once again, hope against hope, plan a trip to the Bokong.

The emotion is worthy of consideration, there is massive excitement, anticipation and planning but with them equally, the sweated dreams of potential failure. In the past I have been rewarded, perhaps just sufficiently to maintain the addiction. When it is good, it is out of this world, the scenery, the people, the friends and the fishing, but the entire affair spins on a pin head. One thunderhead too many, one last minute governmental mandate and all is lost. In short it is a gamble. I feel like some piscatorial meth head, knowing that I am addicted, knowing that perhaps I should focus my efforts on less ephemeral objectives but unable to tear myself away from the perceived prize. As I said, when it is good, well it is better than you might ever imagine, so hope springs eternal. With all the interruptions and disappointments, perhaps this will be the year?  I have previously been welcomed into that embrace, I have touched that stockinged thigh and I want more, I am prepared to risk all and perhaps humiliate myself in the pursuit of happiness, because make no mistake, if you are a dry fly angler and you catch the Bokong on a good day, happiness is assured.

On a good day, happiness is assured.

Chasing the Dragon

January 31, 2021

Apparently (and I admit to having no first-hand knowledge of the subject) those unfortunate enough to become addicted to narcotics spend their lives in continuous and inevitable decline in an effort to “reproduce their first hit”. Attempts to once again experience the intoxication of that first exposure, which according to the pundits will inevitably be unattainable, can lead those afflicted into an increasingly desperate downward spiral.

There seems to be no indignity that those unfortunate enough to have been caught up won’t be prepared to suffer to continue their quest. They will in time give up everything, lose jobs, homes and incomes as well as their health. They will sleep rough, cover miles on foot and exhaust all of their physical and financial resources in a desperate attempt to indulge their passion or addiction. They will lay waste relationships with family and friends, even circumvent the laws of the land if that is what it takes.

As said, I have no personal or intimate knowledge of narcotics, but in my world, my “first hit” was watching a carefully stalked yellowfish rise up in the crystal clear waters of the Bokong River to inhale a tiny and carefully fashioned ant pattern. That slow and deliberate adjustment of the fins, the golden flash of the sun on a scale-armoured body, the kiss like slurp as the fly was inhaled and the screaming of the reel not moments afterwards. Those images and sensations are burned indelibly upon my conscience.

Apparently you can never reproduce that “first hit” but it doesn’t stop one trying

I can close my eyes and see those images as though they were yesterday, I can hear the gurgling of the river and the slight burping noise of the take. I can smell the grasslands of the high country and self-induce salivation and tachycardia at the merest thought of returning.

That is my addiction, and right now I am chasing the dragon again. Plans have been afoot for almost a year to return to the Bokong. It isn’t just that the place is spectacularly beautiful and remote. It isn’t that the camp is superbly well run and the guides great people who work tirelessly to try to provide the best of it.  It isn’t just that (if you get it right) the river is host to hundreds if not thousands of small mouth yellowfish very willing to eat a fly, but more so, that when conditions are right, they will happily gulp down patterns on the surface.

Gorgeously remote, scenically spectacular, but the addiction lies with dry fly eating yellowfish migrating in these waters.

That is my passion, my addiction. We would, of course, tolerate catching them on nymphs and Euro-style rigs if the going isn’t good, the reel will scream just as wildly and the rod will bend just the same, we will still dash precariously over the boulders after our prize, but that is still only a shadow of the experience we are aiming for. A high to be sure but a mildly unsatisfactory and disappointing one, not quite managing to match up to that original “hit”.

I am only learning now to what lengths I am prepared to go in search of that dragon, only scraping the surface of what troubles and indignities I am prepared to suffer. Having rescheduled airline tickets, car hire agreements, covid tests and more over and over again I have still not resolved to quit.

Where is this addiction going to lead?

We have changed arrangements from driving to flying and changed flying from one day to another, one week to the next. For over a fortnight sleep has been fitful, interrupted by the palpitations and sweaty brow of the addict. Prospects of rejuvenating rest laid waste by dreams and nightmares of further governmental impositions, and worries that tropical storm “Eloise” may have blown out the fishing even if we get there. With my eyes closed I can see the fish, I can feel the river, but in my imaginings the fly pulls free, the tippet breaks or the backcast hooks up on in the mealie fields. I can’t rest, I am equally obsessed and determined, hopeful and yet resigned.

Jobs have been put on hold, finances stretched, and relationships strained, Valentine’s day preparations have already been postponed, just in case we can make the trip. I may not have any narcotics flowing through my veins but I recognize that I am heading down a slippery slope, prepared to suffer near any set back or indignity in my quest. I haven’t quite reached the point of abject lawlessness, theft or prostitution to feed my habit, but I am not sure that is too far off. The camp has agreed to accommodate us even if we arrive two weeks late, the airlines are still negotiating amendments to our schedule and there is at least the possibility that the governmental policies which keep interrupting our journey are going to be relaxed. There is still hope, perhaps the false hope of the addict, only time will tell.

Please do note that this post is a little bit of relatively lighthearted writing, conjured up during a stressful point in time with plans assailed by government regulations and protracted lock down. It is in no way meant to minimise the true horrors of homelessness or narcotic addiction or to denigrate those sadly so afflicted.

A Throw of the Dice Two

February 4, 2020

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part two

We encounter rain as we sit for a spectacular supper, the guides do as good a job on the catering front as they do on the water. The only problem is that the rain pours as much as the whisky and the clouds are gray and threatening. Eventually the skies open up and the deluge lifts the river levels to a point where we know fishing would be hopeless if not dangerous. But we are HERE.

Supper time, the rain pours down and we hope for better weather in the morning.

Sleep is undisturbed in the comfortable rondavels, but the morning dawns with the roar of a river in spate. The ice rats which live in the wall around the camp don’t put on their normal morning entertainment, they are hiding from the weather.

The Ice Rats didn’t come out in the morning, the weather wasn’t to their liking, or to ours for that matter.

Things are not looking good and we elect, with input from the guides, to drive the hour long track around the dam to fish the Malabamatsu below the dam wall. The Katse dam hasn’t been full in years and thus the rains don’t negatively affect the fishing lower down. Not our first choice but the opportunity to throw a line and hang onto a decent trout, the yellowfish are for the most part absent.

At least it is hot, the skies clearing and perhaps tomorrow will offer up what we hope for, we catch some trout and I lose a good fish in a weedbed. The river here hasn’t had a blow out in a long time and weedbeds predominate, offering both sanctuary for fish food and equally easy escape for decent trout. It is only day one, a lost trout isn’t the end of it.

Dense weed-beds on the Malibamatsu make it tricky to land larger trout.

We return to camp, not unhappy, but perhaps disappointed, this was good fishing, but not what we came for.. Perhaps tomorrow will be better?

Morning and the river is in full spate, well not quite, it appears to have cleared a bit and we elect to target the yellowfish with Euronymphing techniques. There are two problems however, this isn’t the method of choice on these trips and the fish know exactly how to take advantage of the high water. Hooked fish, and there were a lot of them, scream line off the reel, with no distinction between pools they head downstream at astonishing speed and one finds oneself  rapidly out of control.

Peter Mamacos fishes heavy Euro-nymphs in the fast murky water. We are catching fish, but this isn’t what we had hoped for.

Sure we landed some fish, even good fish, but I was becoming overly familiar with my backing, the reel was sticking a bit and I lost more fish than I would normally be happy with. That said, it was great fun, if somewhat sobering.

Tales of lost fish abound around the dinner table; everyone has hooked and lost a Bokong Bus, often without so much as seeing the fish in the turbid waters, but the skies have cleared. Hope springs eternal.

Things improve the next day, a few of the crew take some fish on dry flies, but not sight-fishing, really, just seeking out slower water in the tail-outs of large pools, but again it is encouraging, the skies are still clear, the water levels are dropping and things are clearing up. Fish in the lower sections have run back to the dam on account of the cold water and we had to work hard for fish. You quickly realise that fly fishing isn’t just about catching fish but catching the way you would prefer to. For us this means sight-fishing with dry flies and the weather isn’t being kind.

We sleep, praying for no more rain.

We know that things can get really good really fast if the rain stops.

 

After breakfast the next morning we hike up river, the water is for once looking clear, the spate has finally abated and the water is gradually getting that blue/green clarity that makes a fly angler’s heart sing. Today is the day, it better had be, this is the last throw of the dice, it is now or never. We have caught fish, even a lot of fish, but not what we hoped for, what we hoped for was sight fishing with dry flies to large smallmouth yellowfish. Was today to be the day?

We walked hard up the donkey track to an area known as the “Skate Park”, named by me on a previous trip on account of the sloping rock sides reminiscent of a “half pipe”.

We come across a couple of fish in shallow but fast water and try the dry fly, they don’t look up. It is often the case that in the mornings the fish are less inclined to rise to dry flies, when the water warms things may well change. In the meantime we resort to nymphs, I cast out  a dry and dropper rig and hook a fish on the bead head brassie nymph. After a spirited battle it throws the hook, was this to be a disappointing day?

We started taking plenty of powerful fish but they were still reluctant to come to the top.

We had discussed luck and my view is that luck has little to do with things; it was an opinion that was to be threatened in the next hour. I lost fish after fish on the nymphs, over hit the takes and snapped the tippet on three fish, calmed down and hooked a nice yellow which took me into the backing before another fish grabbed the dry fly I was using as an indicator and pulled the hook out.

After an hour or so I was nil to seven down, the fish winning easily and James my great guide for the day, laughing as much as professionalism would allow at my misfortune.

All I can say is that after that seven I never lost another fish for the day, karma!!!

After the problem with the dry fly being taken or hanging on the rocks I elected to switch to a yarn indicator in the hope that would improve the chances of actually landing one of these speedsters.

We fished on until lunch with the indicator rig, the water was still high if clearing, at one point I hooked and landed five yellowfish in six casts. That sounds rapid, but in reality each fish required a considerable run down river and five to ten minutes of battling to get into the net. At least I didn’t overcook the strike or break off during the fight.

By lunch time I had landed close to twenty fish but now it was decision time. Peter and I decided that this was it, we would forgo the nymphs and focus on dry fly, seeking out suitable water and visible fish, the decision would surely reduce the numbers of fish caught but provide perhaps the entertainment we had traveled all this way to enjoy.

Finally the water warmed and the fish started looking up, time for some dry fly fishing with ant patterns. Game on

The first was a sighted fish just above a cauldron of white water, it took the dry on the third drift and all hell broke loose. Driving downstream and into the rapids, James carefully kept the line from wrapping around the rocks as the fish bored down into pocket after pocket. The battle was exhausting, not just for the fish but for me too, but finally a dry fly caught yellow in the net.

It was Peter’s turn as we had pretty much decided that it wasn’t productive to both fish , better to take turns targeting sighted fish as the opportunities arose. The water continued to drop and clear.

Peter took a couple of great fish on dry fly on the side of a long run, I had ended up on the wrong bank with too much fast water to be ideal and headed upstream, leaving Peter and James to tackle a number of fish in the shallows on the far (for me) bank.

Peter getting in on the act, a nice fish from the bedrock runs of the “Skatepark”.

Once we had reunited it was “my turn” and there was a good fish moving along a shallow run underneath the overhanging grass. James (The guide) couldn’t see the fish but could still see my floating parachute ant and on my call of “he’s seen it” the fish moved out and inhaled the ant with quiet determination. The fight was epic, the real screamed and then stopped screaming as the drag mechanism failed under the strain. Another great fish on dry in the net and smiles all round.

The other anglers also started to enjoy some dry fly action. Piers with a superbly fit Bokong Yellowfish.

The day progressed like that for both Peter and I, sighted fish, dry fly fishing in clear water, all to fish between probably two to four or five pounds.. By now the water had both cleared and warmed further and some fish were actively holding high in the water seeking out food on the top.

Several times fish were spotted and taken on the first cast at them, each hook up followed by a sensational battle to get them into the net. Although it was day five, the power and stamina of these amazing fish still impressed.

Smallmouth Yellowfish are incredibly strong and have amazing stamina, putting an extreme bend in my #3 weight outfit.

The day was coming to an end, and our trip with it, I found myself a little ahead of Peter and David, above a conspicuous waterfall named “The cascades”.. James joined me and we were on our way back to join the others, it was time to go.

Then a yellowfish showed, swimming in the shallows not two feet from the grassy bank, it was going to be a tough call. Either I would catch the grass, or catch the fish, there weren’t other realistic possibilities. The cast laid out just between two potentially problematic tufts of herbage, the yellowfish continued quietly, showing no indication that he had seen the fly, or thankfully seen us either. He swam slowly upstream, encountered the ant pattern and promptly inhaled it, the strike was well timed and for the last time on this trip the reel sang. After some battle we netted the fish, took a photo and released him, as we do with all of the fish in this stream.

A photograph of the photographer. Plenty of pictures and smiles all round on a brilliant day on the water.

What a perfect end to a pretty perfect day, perhaps the best day’s fishing I have ever had, not just the fishing, the change of fortune, the great guiding , stunning scenery and the wonderful company of my fellow anglers. Lesotho is something special, I am not sure that I will ever be back, things change and life moves on. But I will always have memories of the trials and tribulations on the Bokong River, the highs and lows and what may well be the best day’s fishing of my life.

Many thanks to James, our guide for the last day, fish spotter extraordinaire. We appreciated his enthusiasm on the water and his culinary skills in camp. In fact all the guides were superb and made the trip that much more enjoyable for everyone.

 

 

 

 

A Throw of The Dice One

February 4, 2020

Throw of the Dice Header

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part one.

For those anglers not familiar with them, Smallmouth Yellowfish, (Labeobarbus aeneus) are rather like river carp which have been redesigned by Enzo Ferrari. They are what grayling turn into when they imitate the Incredible Hulk, although of course going more yellow than green.

Smallmouth YellowfishThe Smallmouth Yellowfish is similar to the European Barbel, geared to negotiating fast water they are full of fin, perfectly shaped torpedoes, and look at that tail, it simply spells POWER.

They are South Africa’s premiere freshwater sport fish, particularly for the fly angler, they are large, super fit, have stamina and strength to burn and occasionally, in special circumstances they will keenly consume a well presented dry fly.

Rather like the European Grayling, (they look more like European Barbel, but feed rather like Grayling), they have underslung mouths better suited to subsurface feeding, consuming nymphs and invertebrates on or close to the bottom, particularly in fast flowing streams. It takes something a bit special to bring them to the top: clear water and either a hatch or hunger to make it worth focusing on the upper layers of the water column. But when they do the results can be magical.

It is the possibility of those magical moments that had us driving 1500Kms into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and roll the dice in the hope that the fishing Gods might find us in favour.

The mountain kingdom of Lesotho isn’t just about the fishing, an amazing place with animals and people living together in happy simplicity..

We were to be targeting the smallmouth Yellowfish of the Bokong River; fish which for much of the year inhabit that massive Katse Dam (38.5 square kilometer surface area/2 billion cubic metre capacity).

However during the summer months, when there is sufficient flow, they migrate into the Bokong River to feed and spawn. The key words right there are, “sufficient flow”, too little and the fish don’t arrive, too much and the river is in full spate, its muddy waters unfishable and unwadeable:  Oh, and just to add another level of complexity, if the water temperature drops the fish have a tendency to return to the relative warmth  of the dam, water temps can drop fast when you are at 3000 metres.

Too little water and no fish, too much and the fishing isn’t at its best.

Whilst the stream drops and clears rapidly, in typical spate river fashion, its headwaters lie in a catchment dominated in summer by thunderstorms. Massive conglomerations of warm air which can dump more water from the sky than you might imagine possible. Rain like you have never seen rain, rain that isn’t so much raindrops as a sheet of water falling from the clouds to the land in an impenetrable wall. (It takes a lot of rain to fill a 2 billion cubic metre capacity dam).

What that all means in short is that you need a massive thundershower or two before your arrival, and of course weather systems are notoriously unpredictable, thundershowers all the more so. Rain in the next valley and no fish, rain in the valley and poor fishing.. it is a roll of the dice and not much to be done about it. Then you hope for sunshine and stable skies for the next four days or so.

The camp overlooks the Bokong River and each morning we would check conditions in the hope that things had improved.

The Makangoa Community Camp on the banks of the Bokong is run by African Waters (Previously Tourette’s) accommodating a maximum of eight anglers at a time and holding exclusive rights to the fishing on this particular river. https://africanwaters.net/

One wishes and hopes for the prescribed conditions, it is a selfish wish, because in effect the party in camp before you really needs to have poor ,rain soaked , fishing if you are to get exceptional dry fly fishing the week later. (The best fishing we ever had here was after the previous group watched rain fall and drank beer for five days in a row, it’s a crap shoot)

The twelve hour drive to our overnight stop in Bloemfontein provides plenty of time to chat, worry and pontificate about the possibilities, the weather, the fish and the flow rates. At least we knew that there were both water and fish in the system. It may sound odd, but on this fishery those basic parameters can’t be taken for granted and only a month previously the river was little more than a cobbled path of broken dreams.

The Koi Pond at our overnight stop kept us thinking about those Bokong Yellows and we struggled against the temptation to cast a fly

We are carrying thousands of flies between us, heavy nymphs in case the God’s are not kind, fashioned with 4mm tungsten beads and lead wire, and delicate dry flies, ants and mayfly copies just in case we get lucky. (Ants and terrestrials are a particularly good bet if the waters are clear and the fish have arrived).  A lot of preparation has gone into this and the entire trip hinges on a weird combination of unpredictable rain and no rain, flow and low flow, dirty water and clear and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  We are rolling the dice and we know it, but if it is good, well then you would happily crawl there.

On a trip like this you control what you can, full fly boxes help and after that you are in the hands of the Gods.

We slept fitfully in an oven baked Bloemfontein, stressed dreams of feast or famine, flows or droughts, fish or no fish were interrupted only by the click of the air con and the bite of the mosquitoes and we knew all too well that tomorrow was going to be another taxing drive of hours and hours.

(As an aside we stayed at Tuff Top, an odd name for a great facility, their main business is growing roll on lawn, but the accommodation is spectacularly adequate, with a pool, Koi pond, lovely gardens and very reasonable rates.. Just in case you are traveling that way.. https://www.tufftop.co.za/ you can interpret that as a blatant punt.)

Waking early we were on the road at five am, it was barely light as we climbed into the trusty Toyota Hilux and headed back in time. The two and a half hours which took us to Ficksburg was still reasonably civilized travel but on crossing the border one steps back into an entirely different world.

Lesotho is a landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, unconquered primarily as a result of the terrain. This place is hilly………… hilly in a way that you can’t imagine hilly, it isn’t called “The Mountain Kingdom” in jest. There are few roads and those that there are wind like a snakes with St Vitus’s Dance, wiggling and wending their way over mountain passes,  making your ears pop and your brakes smoke.  Lesotho has the “Highest lowest point of any country on the planet”, once you have gotten past the apparently oxymoronic linguistics of that statement you realise that this place is at least unusual. Lesotho is the ONLY country in the world that exists entirely above 1000m above sea level.

 

The 130Km drive from the border at Ficksburg to the Katse Lodge takes a mind numbing four hours to complete and even then there is another hour of bone jarring 4 x 4 trail around the dam’s periphery to reach the camp.

The unspoiled natural beauty of Lesotho does something to take one’s mind off the flow rates and threatening thundershowers.

All eyes are on the river as we drive the last leg, all eyes except the driver’s, who is concentrating on not sliding the truck off the road and into the flows tens of metres below. It looks a bit high, and we fail to spot the shoals of fish we might have hoped for. There has been rain, as evidenced from the slippery track and the waters below look a little more turbid than we might have wished.

It is midday by the time we arrive to the warm welcome of the guides , two James’s and Greg, who run the operation ably assisted by David and Levina, the Basotho ranger and camp chief. (There is another “David”, the camp pet pig and garbage disposal, and I can’t help but wonder that some of the millennial “save the planet types” would do well to explore the simplicity of this system. Not a lot goes to waste in Lesotho, having a pig to clean up makes economic and environmental good sense.)

But we are HERE, after twenty odd hours of motorized conveyance we will now resort to Shank’s pony for the next five days. Roads don’t exist beyond this point, donkeys and leg power are the only options, and we don’t care a jot about that. If the fishing is as good as it can be we are prepared to walk for hours in the rarified and oxygen deficient atmosphere. For now time for a drink, a catchup on the conditions and the obligatory “Biosecurity wash” of our gear.

(Biosecurity is becoming an issue around the world and African Waters take this seriously, as they should. All water contact gear, waders, boots, nets etc are cleansed to avoid bringing in organisms which may prove damaging to the environment. The unwanted spread of Didymo, (Didymosphenia geminata) into many of the rivers of New Zealand has given the angling community a wakeup call to be more careful. Here on the Bokong the guys thankfully are quite strict and necessarily so).

We are hoping for clear water like this, but for the present we have to work around things with some heavy nymphs in murky water.

The fishing for the afternoon isn’t inspiring, Euro-style nymphing holds sway but I tie into the first five Bokong yellows despite the murky water and tricky wading. Their power, speed and stamina had been near forgotten over the past year. They post a timely reminder that trout anglers are softies and that you are in the REAL game now. Runs of over 60 metres aren’t uncommon, if your reel is sticky or your knots poorly fashioned it is time to bring out your hanky. The reel sings, the line peels off reminiscent of saltwater struggles, fingers are burned and sadly tippets are broken.  No this is fly fishing at its best………… well not quite at its best, there is more to come.

 

 

 

Micro-Movement in Slow Water

January 28, 2019

We have just returned from a tough, low water trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho, targeting Yellowfish which we had hoped would be in the runs in a faster flowing stream. That wasn’t the case, the rains hadn’t come,  and the flows were minimal , the water gin clear and the fishing tough.

Of course that leads to experimentation and the sort of anally retentive fiddling that can only arise within a group of dedicated anglers and fly-tyers faced with tough low water conditions.

All those flies so lovingly prepared ahead of time, trying to cover all the possible bases were mostly ineffective. The preparations had expected high water, or good flows, but not really the slack water with which we found ourselves confronted.

Preparation is frequently the key to success, but sometimes you get it wrong.
Dozens of ant patterns remained nearly untouched.

It became apparent that the fish were fussy and being “locked” in the pools for the most part, were easily hammered by group after group of anglers and they weren’t going to easily escape the situation until the thunder showers returned and put some water in the river.

Despite low water conditions we achieved some success. A very pleased James Leach with a Bokong Yellow from the “Cascades pool”

Some of the fish could be taken on dry flies, (our preference really) when the going was good,  but for the most part subsurface patterns provided more fish. The trouble was that the traditional nymphs which we would have expected to work well were less than totally effective and in the end small patterns with split thread CDC collars proved to be the hands down winners.

The author with a cracking fish taken in stillwater with a CDC soft hackle

On one occasion, having caught a fish or at least elicited a take every cast (including three hook ups in three casts) I eventually used up the couple of CDC collared nymphs I had,(break offs due to a  sticky reel drag not helping the situation)  Once limited to non CDC nymphs, the sort of faster sinking, slim profile flies that would be the mainstay of Yellowfish fishing on moving water, I didn’t get any more takes on the nymph.

Variations of this fly worked for all of the anglers .

It was obvious that there was something about these patterns which the fish wanted, or at least something that triggered a response that the less mobile flies didn’t.

The working hypothesis was that with such little flow there wasn’t much to cause the nymphs to “look alive”, but the mobility of the CDC provided, even in dead water, enough movement to suggest life and elicit a strike.

A remarkably calm Gordon van der Spuy, admires a dry fly caught yellow.

I have used CDC collars on a lot of soft hackle patterns on trout streams to great effect, and have always considered that their very “helplessness” might be a trigger to the fish. (see: https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/vulnerability-a-super-stimulus/) .But here I think that there was more going on. What we had in effect were “Ultra-soft” soft hackles and they worked like a charm.

Low numbers perhaps , but a few quality fish were taken once we had worked out the system

It has long been recognized that movement and even micro-movement in flies can provide a real trigger to the fish. Brushing out the dubbing on your hare’s ear nymph, adding a marabou tail and such seem to improve effectiveness and it would seem that when there is so little water movement, the more mobile the fibres the better.

So then it was that we all, virtually to a man, ended up fishing a dry and dropper rig with the dropper a lightly weighted and simple CDC collared fly that did the business.

All the fish were carefully released.

Well worth consideration next time you are on the water, particularly where there is little movement, perhaps a lake or a slack stream pool, that addition of micro-movement may well save the day.

Certainly I am going to consider this in some of my stillwater flies, it seems likely that micro-movement in flies fished static in still water may be a very good way to go.

Fishing trips are often a gamble, but the ability to work things out, to experiment and learn something are often the defining memories of  tough conditions.

 

CDC is frequently seen as a dry fly game changer, but inclusion in some of your sinking patterns is well worth consideration.. particularly for those fishing low flows or stillwaters.

Author’s note: The Bokong fishery at the Makangoa Community Camp is run by Tourette Fly fishing the camp provides exceptional comfort, both yellowfish and trout angling at different times of the year, quality guides and the sort of vibe that makes for a great fishing trip. The location is remote and at high altitude, hiking abilities are pretty much essential , the road ends just above the camp. But if you are up for some spectacular angling and beautiful scenery, combined with some big fish and clear water check it out.

 

 

 

A Gamble

January 8, 2019

I have three vices, smoking, drinking and one to tie flies with, I never gamble. I am not sure why, perhaps too much the pragmatist I realise that one has about the same chance of winning the lotto whether you own a ticket or not. Statistically speaking the difference isn’t significant.

Equally I subscribe to the view that gambling is simply a means of impoverishing people who don’t understand statistics, that in itself should be enough to encourage at least rudimentary concentration in maths class.

Anyway, I think that my life contains enough gambling without roulette wheels or packs of cards. There is the daily risk on our roads, which to my mind is a whole lot more of a gamble than climbing mountains or venturing up distant rivers.  But there are , like the motoring issue, some gambles that one cannot avoid unless limiting oneself to a sedentary life in front of the TV. Which could well prove to be the biggest gamble of all.

The current throw of the dice which is occupying more of my time than it should is a forthcoming trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the accompanying risks of long distance road travel and potential mechanical failure in the distant “Mountain Kingdom” the real gamble is the weather.

If it rains too much the river will blow out and the fishing will be poor to impossible, if it rains too little then the river will be too low and contain few if any fish. The ideal, and we are talking the absolute, rarely witnessed perfect ideal, is to have lots of rain the day before you arrive and then non after that. I don’t suppose that it is too much to ask, but fishing Gods are notoriously fickle and we hit it once like that in previous years. One has to suspect that it would take great fortune to repeat things quite that good. (Of course a true statistician would tell you that the fact that you won once in no way influences whether you will win again, the odds are the same, and for once I hope the maths boffs have got this right)

The fact that the odds haven’t changed just because we hit all time conditions on a previous trip doesn’t however mean that if we repeat the near impossible I may be moved to purchase lottery tickets on my return.

That is the way of fishing trips, there is of course the weather, then the hatches and myriad other elements which may or may not conspire to give one a red letter trip or a drinking holiday with fishing rods. In the past in various locations I have experienced, rain, sleet, flood, drought and sandstorms and the truth is there is nothing you can do about it.

Because these things are entirely out of one’s control one tries to control all those elements which one can. The fly boxes being one, and as of Boxing day my limited free time, and wonderfully indulgent few days off from the grindstone have seen me tying flies and more flies. More of a gamble still because most of them would be useless on my home waters, if they don’t work up in Lesotho they will, like their previously tied brethren from other trips, be relegated to the back of a cupboard until we can go again.

The primary word up there is “ANTS”, fish like ants and yellowfish not to be outdone will generally respond very well to ant patterns, all the more if there is an ant fall, which is far from impossible. So I have large ants and small ants, red ants, winged ants, hi-vis ants and sinking ants. Foam ants , fur ants, parachute ants, compar-ants and more. Balbyter ants, for high water and imitative ants for low. No sooner have I completed the 147 odd ant patterns required to fill the new fly box then I am overwhelmed by a thought..what if there aren’t any ants? What if I need something else?

 

So in a state of moderate paranoia I start with CDC and Elk patterns, (I like large Elk-hairs more than the unwieldy foam hoppers , although I have some of those too). Then I shall have to sort out the nymph box, if the water comes up the only option might be Euro Nymphing so I need to have a good boxful of those. Thrashing high water with heavy nymphs wouldn’t be my first choice, but then again I don’t really wish to spend four days drinking either.

In the end you realise that you are heading for the gambler’s curse of buying more and more lotto tickets in the mistaken belief that it will improve your chances. Statistically speaking, it will, but probably not by much, and no amount of fly tying is going to influence the weather. If the fish are there, we will no doubt catch some and if they aren’t, well no number of flies is going to help.

But then again, better prepared than not, so I continue to churn out flies, not so much because I will use them all, but because I don’t know which ones I will use. Fishing trips almost always end up with one fishing the same two or three effective patterns on the day. But you never have a clue which of the hundreds are going to be the winners.. I suppose that if the lotto published the winning numbers in advance it would improve one’s chances, and if the fish posted on Facebook what they intend to eat in a few weeks’ time it would take the worry out of things. Neither of those things are going to happen, so I tie flies and fret over climatic conditions, say prayers to whatever fishing Gods I can think of and tie some more flies.

I have made up leaders, matted down rods, fitted new backing to a reel or two and although the preparation is necessary much of it is merely to take one’s mind off the situation at hand and imagine that one has at least some control.

We will not know until we get there, and then we will either find ourselves in the winning circle or perhaps (and I hope not) sitting around the loser’s bar, drowning our sorrows.

Fishing trips are a gamble, and there is really very little one can do about that.

Now, time to tie up a few more hoppers perhaps?

 

The End of the Road

January 29, 2017

endoftheroadhead-fw

If you follow the road out of Cape Town and travel north for long enough, if you wind your way over mountain passes that make your head swim and your brakes smoke. If you wend your way past dam walls and dirt roads, ox carts and donkeys. If you push on, heading higher into the hills and back in time you eventually come to the end of the road, literally. From here on in it’s donkey tracks only, remote Basotho villages, and shanks’pony. As a reward you look down on the crystal waters of the Bokong River, one of the two primary feeders of the massive Katse Dam , the pride and joy of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

basothoA Basothu man in traditional hat and blanket rides his pony along the path above the Bokong River

It so happens that in constructing this dam indigenous yellow fish were trapped behind the concrete barrier of the dam wall and now, isolated as they are, the fish travel up the Bokong River to spawn during the summer months. Thousands, or tens of thousands of these hard fighting fish migrate upwards into the remotest reaches of the Bokong River, swimming past the Makhangoa Community Fishing Camp, our home for the past five days.

timyellowfishIndigenous Yellowfish, our target, and the what brought us this far. The chance to catch these wonderful fish in clear water and on dry fly.

It makes for something of an odd journey, miles and miles of straight road heading out of Cape Town and through the arid expanse of the Karoo. As one puts in the miles and the hours eventually the vegetation changes, you reach the summer rain fall areas to the north and semi desert gives way to verdant cattle pastures and then mile upon mile of sunflowers and corn.

sunflowersSunflower fields as we drive the last sections of straight road before hitting the border.

Having spent in the region of twelve hours driving virtually in a straight line one reaches the final outpost of the Republic of South Africa at Ficksburg, paradoxically at present a town without water, which is odd because we were hoping to be heading towards water, and some pretty special water at that.
From Ficksburg, and having enjoyed a breakfast of toasted sandwiches and some of the best fries on the planet, we crossed the border and within a matter of a few hundred metres leapt back in time.

deloreanIf you want to head back in time, perhaps a Toyota 4×4 is a better bet than the DeLorean.

Doc Brown’s modified DeLorean time machine couldn’t transport you back into the middle ages as quickly as a trip across the Lesotho border, and as the road winds on the calendar spins backwards to a simpler age of basic agrarian living. Up to this point progress is swift, but once one hits the winding roads of “The Mountain Kingdom” it is snail’s pace from here on in. Those luxurious straight highways of the Free State give way to the most tortuous mountain passes and the 130km to Katse take nearly four hours of nerve wracking and brake smoking driving.

passThe top of the Mafika Lisiu Pass and close to the source of the Bokong River

Winding up, and then back down, the Mafika Lisiu pass, over a high point of some 3090 meters above sea level one eventually crosses one of the arms of the massive Katse Dam before once again heading uphill past Lejone and Thaba Tseka before passing downstream of the massive wall of the dam itself.

It is but a short hop now before even the vaguest trappings of modern western living are left far behind. The yellow striped taxis are no more and even the ox carts are less frequently seen as the roads become too narrow for their use. You won’t find a shop here, or a garage,
From here on in. as the tarred road gives way to dirt, vehicular transport becomes a rarity and donkeys and horses hold sway.

camppanoramaPanoramic view of the Makhangoa community camp.

A final thirty odd kilometres of winding gravel and one reaches the Makhangoa Community Camp, perched majestically atop a spur above the Boking River. Down in that river are thousands of yellowfish, migrating upstream and given over to eating terrestrial insects to sustain themselves during their journey.

They are what we have driven all this way to find, hard fighting, bright coloured indigenous fish willing to cleave the clear waters to take a well presented dry fly.

We were at the end of the road, but our journey had only just begun.

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

 

This Blog is brought to you by Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris. www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za Cape Town’s best full service fly fishing guiding operation.

Flyfish Lesotho

October 21, 2015

LesothoHead

What if you could choose where to spend your last moments?

There is that old saw that appears on social networking pages now and then where it is stated
“I should like to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather: not screaming in panic like his passengers”– Yes, ha ha, an amusing paraprosdokian (you can look that up if you need to- I did) but there is equally a message hidden in there. We as humans have more personal choice and more control over our existence than any other species inhabiting this mortal coil.

So what if you could actually choose the moment of your demise, I mean other than choosing it with a fateful self-inflicted wound of some description. I am not talking euthanasia or suicide here, I am asking the question that if there was a right moment and a right place what would it be for you?

FFLRiver
Certainly for me, the ideal spot would have to be next to a clear stream

I suppose that, were one to know in advance it would solve a lot of financial worry for many. Just imagine that you could waste away your last few bucks on some wanton extravagance without concern. You could even blow it all on cigars, booze and lines of cocaine for that matter. You would hardly need to concern yourself with the risks to health or the possibility of addiction, not if you knew for sure that you were going to kick the bucket, shuffle off this mortal coil and pop your clogs all within the next half an hour.

Of course it isn’t likely that you are going to know, and there aren’t many who would put sufficient faith in soothsayers and crystal ball gazers to take their word for things and blow all their cash on the “hypothetical maybe” that they won’t need it anymore. In reality it isn’t likely then, that one would enjoy the luxury of authoritative premonition.

But just for laughs, what if you could decide?

Oddly, which is no doubt what started this thought process in the first place, I have had a few occasions where I was so content that I thought to myself “well you know what; if you had to keel over right here and right now it would be just fine”. Don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t a concept based in melancholy, it is entirely driven by peace and serenity, that all is well, that the day has been worthwhile, challenging but productive and there are few loose ends. There is nothing pressing in the inbox of tomorrow such that one might pass through without worry.

FFLNetThe net would ideally be at least damp

I have only ever had such a thought on a trout stream, the sort of day which is balmy but not hot, the fish have been sufficiently cooperative to make for enjoyable fishing and tricky enough such that one felt that one earned their capture. The breeze would of course be light and tending towards upstream, the water clear and the fish visible. The net would be wet but drying out after an extended rest on a rock to enjoy what of course would be spectacular and unsullied scenery. Doing exactly that on more than one occasion it has crossed my mind that if this was the end then it would , as the native American’s are wont to comment “a good day to die”.

FFLLesotho
And of course the place should be unspoiled, quiet and beautiful.

Recent events have changed my view slightly though, because I rather think that keeling over on the Bokong River in the highlands of Lesotho might just trump fading away on one of my normal and local haunts. The water is to be sure, crystal clear, the fish both visible and large. They are challenging but catchable and more to the point they eat dry flies. I really wouldn’t want to move on to the netherworld knowing that my last fish ate a nymph, there is something mildly tawdry about such a thought.

FFLBokongThe clear waters of the Bokong River would be perfect.

No the Bokong River could really be the place. No doubt highly troublesome for anyone left to pick up the pieces, considering the remoteness and elevation. But doing one’s final head plant in those spectacular waters having just released a six pound smallmouth yellowfish which has taken one’s ant pattern wouldn’t be the worst way to start one’s celestial journey.

Actually it isn’t anything to do with one’s demise in reality, it is to wonder where does life feel the most perfect, the most in balance? For me that has to be on a river and the Bokong touches my soul in a way that few other waterways do.

FFLFallsThe Bokong River touches my sole.

I suppose that is why I am aiming to return to the highlands in the early part of next year, late February, when, if the Gods are kind, the river should be in perfect condition and filled to capacity with surface feeding yellows. Perhaps not well known in many fly fishing circles, yellowfish are prime fly fishing quarry. They love flies and fight like crazy things, they are strong, beautiful and most importantly of all, the ones on the Bokong will feed on large terrestrial insects, and their imitations, with gusto.

FFLGold2
Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish

So I am putting together a trip to return to this fly fishing paradise, and if anyone would like to join in please drop me a line for more information. Although I am hoping to create a group primarily sourced from Cape Town, because down here we don’t get the chances at yellowfish that some of our more Northern based countrymen do, participation isn’t limited by your location.

FFLGoldFebruary on the Bokong should produce clear water, rising yellow fish and dry fly fishing that is World Class.

I would refer you to a couple of blog posts from the trip this past year, which might just set the scene and whet the appetite. For now though I just need to dream about it for a while. That last trip was a game changer for me, despite fly fishing most of my life. The scenery, the fishing, the fish, the local people and the absolutely out of the world scenery just means that fishing the Bokong has to rate as one of the most special of special things to do. I am not planning on keeling over, although at that altitude it wouldn’t be an impossibility, but I am planning on making the most of my time and there is no way on this planet that I would happily meet my maker without fishing Lesotho at least once more..

 

If you might be interested in joining a party of avid anglers on this most beautiful of venues, staying in the very well-appointed Tourette fishing camp and catching some yellowfish on dry flies over seven days in February please drop me a line on this link: Tourette Camp Yellowfish February 2016

Other posts on the Bokong River:

https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/highlands-adventure-part-one/

https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/highlands-adventure-part-two/

 

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

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