Posts Tagged ‘Makangoa Community Camp’

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.