Posts Tagged ‘Bokong River’

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.

 

 

 

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