Posts Tagged ‘Lesotho’

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.

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

Anticipation

March 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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