Posts Tagged ‘Smallmouth Yellowfish’

Die Antwoord

January 29, 2017

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Die Antwoord,

We have just returned from five days of fishing on the Bokong River in Lesotho. The water levels dropped each day, cleared each day and the fishing got better each day, although as a result the fishing equally became a tad more technical with the passing of time. On day four the “Balbyter Ants” which had proven to be highly effective during slightly higher flows were getting a good many refusals. Too many refusals really if you were taking things seriously and that we were. So seeking an answer I moved over to a different and more imitative ant pattern. It is well understood that trout like ants and it appears that yellowfish like them just as much if not more. In fact previous days on the water the fish reacted to ants far more positively than any other dry fly.

campThe Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River

Throwing an ant pattern at a feeding yellowfish cruising the clear waters of the Bokong was, as Peter Mamacos rightly put it, “like throwing a joint at a crowd of hippies”… or words to that effect.

bokongriverFishing a section of the Bokong

Ants seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of yellowfish just as they do trout and a quality ant pattern proved to be “The Answer” as they got more wary and selective.

This ant pattern is an amalgamation of a number of different ones and was tied up specifically with the Bokong River Trip in mind, although I am quite sure that they will work well in ant falls anywhere in the world. Like most of my flies, they are simple to manufacture even if they may at first glance appear complex and time consuming. Truth be told, although I like tying flies; I like fishing more, so time at the vice has to be efficient.

balbytersuccessThe proof of the pudding, they say… is in the eating.

Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?

I am very much a believer that fly patterns are pretty much caricatures of the real thing, a sort of cartoon style emphasis of key features or what you might call “Triggers” because we really can’t imitate insects properly if we intend to have a hook exiting their bottoms.

(For further exploration of super stimuli and key triggers read “ The Cuckoo and the Trout” on this blog.)

Perhaps the key trigger for ant patterns is their segmented body structure, a feature emphasized to great effect by Ed Sutryn’s McMurray Ant pattern. Named incidentally after his home town in Pennsylvania.

mcmurrayantThe brilliantly simple McMurray Ant pattern, pure caricature, and deadly to boot. 

What Ed cottoned on to was that the presence of two distinct “blobs” of body separated by a very thin “waist” identifies the pattern as an ant. In fact more to the point he realized that the number of “blobs” wasn’t critical and for the most part two were as good as three.

However the real brilliance to my mind of the McMurray Ant is the reduction to a bare minimum of the thickness of the waist, emphasizing what I imagine to be the most important trigger of all. All too many commercial patterns have a nice segmented body which is then cluttered with hackle losing that critical waist and ridding the fly of the one trigger or super stimulus on which I believe their success rests.

comparant1For tiny ants on Cape Streams I rely on the Compar-a-ant.. Clear segmentation in miniature.

With this in mind, for tiny ants, (size 18 and 20) I use a pattern called the “Compar-a-ant”, a dreadfully simple construction designed to maximize the trigger effects of both the waist and the “blobs” of the body parts in miniature form. No hackle and no legs.

balbyterantThe robust “Balbyter Ant” worked well when the water was higher.

 

For the yellowfish on this recent trip though I used two different patterns, a larger and to a degree less imitative “Balbyter Ant” with a poly-yarn wing and hackle legs and a more imitative and slightly smaller pattern with three body segments, black crystal flash legs and translucent “Clear Wing” wings.

clearwingantThis smaller and more imitative pattern produced the goods when the water cleared.

Both those patterns worked but the more imitative one came into its own as the water levels dropped, clarity increased and the fish became more wary or selective.

yellowfishSolid Gold, an ant caught Bokong River Smallmouth Yellowfish.

As an interesting aside, it appears that the European Barbel ( luciobarbus Sclateri) undergo similar migrations and can be taken using identical methods to those we used in Lesotho, including the presentation of imitative ant patterns to them… Link to Video Spanish Barbel on Fly

It was just another reminder that ants can be dreadfully effective, fish seem to instinctively respond to the segmentation of an ant, and often, whether they are currently feeding on ants , or you are simply trying to “break a hatch” which you can’t copy, a well tied ant pattern frequently proves to be “Die Antwoord”, (The Answer)

 

Caviat: For non South African readers an explanation: Die Antwoord directly translated means “The Answer”, it also happens to be the name of a Rap Rave group featuring Ninja , and Yolandi Visser. So don’t get confused if you Google it.

dieantwoordYolandi Visser and Ninja: “Die Antwoord”

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.

 

Desert Fishing

September 29, 2015

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It’s an act of faith going fishing in a desert, but then sometimes one simply has to follow one’s heart (or gut for that matter) and take the plunge. I have fished the Orange River flowing along the Namibian/South African Border for more than a few years and there is always the same mix of excitement and trepidation.

Of course if you get it right it is wonderful, even, as with this past trip, spectacular, but then again there are plenty of things that can go wrong. If the water is high wading is limited, fishing less good and water clarity can be reduced to that of cocoa. The wind can howl, sandstorms can wreck the camp and dump grit on everything such that microscopic quartz crystals become a recognized condiment, sprinkled liberally over all that one eats.

It is a long way off, remote with a capital “F”, and no matter how many times one undertakes the drive there is a point, under the desert sky without sign of water , that you feel something of a twit carrying a fly rod at all.

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When this is the view out of the window you wonder if bringing the fly rods was such a good idea.

I have however spent enough time out in nature to know that the only certainty is if you don’t go you will miss out. Simply being there is an invitation for something wonderful to happen. This is one of those, fortunately numerous, venues where nature puts on the play and all you have to do to enjoy it is buy a ticket,a place where the motivation is fishing but in the end the rewards come from much more than that.

AlbeNiceYellowAlbe with a superbly conditioned Smallmouth, taken Euro-Nymphing in the rapids.

Whilst out there this time we caught fish, a LOT of fish, something in the region of a hundred or more per man per day. We caught smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, Kurper, Barbel (Catfish), and Mudfish. But we also saw Giant Kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Herons, Otters, Scorpions, Social Weaver birds and a mindboggling mudfish spawn which left the river black writhing sexually charged bodies.

MudfishHandOrange River mudfish, most were too preoccupied to eat a fly. Odd to look at but they fight like hell.

AlbeLargemouthA baby largemouth Yellow, when he grows up he will be a serious predator.

BarbelMike2The barbel hunted the mudfish , so Mike hunted the barbel, seems fair.

7X Challenge for FBSmallmouth Yellowfish were our primary target

We watched barbell hunting the spawning muddies and in turn we hunted the barbell. We fished dry fly with success, French/Euro-nymph techniques, mono indicators, yarn indicators, Czech style and more and caught fish on all of them. We walked, waded and swam. Fell in , or at least I did (three times), my more sure footed colleagues managed to avoid the unplanned bath.

Barbel5Barbel entered the shallowest of runs in pursuit of the spawning mudfish.

The water levels rose and fell but all in all the clarity was beyond expectation, we sight-fished much of the time, something rare on this water, and we experimented. One of the great advantages of such a place is that there are plenty of fish and no pressure. So one can play with leader setups, indicators, techniques, flies and more.

The “Three Weight Challenge”:

Before departure I was encouraged to take on this limitation, the idea? That you only fish other gear having first caught a yellowfish on an AFTMA #3 rod. For those not in the know, fishing for yellows is frequently a lot like fishing for grayling, but don’t make a mistake. These are “grayling” with an attitude and they can fight like demons, particularly in fast water. Such tackle as described above is generally viewed as seriously under gunned. Still we rose to the challenge and added our own corollary.. only 7X tippet. We didn’t intend to stick to that very long but as time passed and the fish count mounted it was hard to stop. The fine tippet provided exceptionally good sink rates on the nymphs and better bit detection such that in the end we fished much of the first day like this. Somewhere between 50 and 100 fish landed I changed up to 5x, just in case I hooked into something unstoppable. I didn’t however switch to the five weight outfit, not for the entire trip. Fishing with the lighter gear was just too pleasant. Better control and sensitivity, less weight in hand and a pleasure to fish.

I really enjoy these outings, not simply for the fish but for the solitude, the abundance of nature around one and the opportunity to experiment. Guiding for trout in the Cape Streams one always has to consider the client and with that the simplest and most pragmatic means of hooking up. Here without such pressure one is free to play, change tippets, change leader setups, experiment with different mono, coil, yarn and mud type indicators. Sharing those experiments, innovations and theories with like-minded friends in such a spectacular environment, well that simply makes it all even better. So thanks to Mike and Albe for joining me; the days have passed, the fish have all been released and I have finally got the sand out of my fishing gear, but the memories will live on, and isn’t that one of the main reasons we go fishing in the first place?

 

Join us:

Our next planned excursion for yellowfish will be a hosted trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho (at the very top of this same river system) in February, staying at a superb camp run by Tourette Fishing and aiming to get some terrestrial dry fly action on large smallmouths in this crystal clear river.

If you would like to inquire about joining us click here for some further information. Click Here

 

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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

Fly Fishing Foreplay.

September 18, 2013

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To those of us with The Fishing Gene, fishing and in my case fly fishing holds plenty of opportunity for passion, excitement and ultimately one hopes fulfilment, but in a world of instant gratification there is nothing that builds one’s ardour more than a bit of foreplay. Right now I have a hot date on Friday and I am metaphorically tarting myself up in preparation. Exciting times filled with hopeful expectation, a dash of concern, fond memories of past liaisons and graphic mental images of our previous parting embrace.  The object of my desire ? A sultry temptress perhaps; but a river and not a person.

ForeplayImage4Thoughts of the desert fill my mind.

We are heading out shortly to a remote spot on the Orange River, South Africa’s largest waterway and one filled we hope with willing and hungry largemouth and smallmouth yellowfish. It can provide wonderful fishing but equally requires a good deal of planning and preparation. Not only because the location is a remote, rugged, barren and desolate spot, but equally because the methods used and the flies required are considerably different to our everyday trout fishing. I suppose one might consider this a bit of a barrier but equally it offers great opportunity for some “preparing to go fishing” experimentation and with that a gradual growth of excitement as the day of departure looms.

ForeplayImage3Memories of past success drives the process.

It helps of course that I have been there before, memories, as though of a long lost paramour dance in my subconscious mind. I can recall the tempestuous rapids and the evocative curves of the river’s meander. If I close my eyes I can smell the heat of the desert and shiver involuntarily at the thoughts of chill evenings and then of course the fish. That gravel delta that previously offered such great sport, the narrow channel where “yellows” fed all day in a swirling back eddy and with each fly tied, with every leader knotted in preparation my passion and excitement grows.

ForeplayImage2Some impromtu fly tying on a previous trip to the river.

We have by now packed all the food boxes, the camping necessities, the logistical bits and bobs, maps, permits and such but I haven’t quite got to the point of locking away the fly boxes, you never know I might just feel moved to add one more killer pattern or a wayward experimental concoction to the quiver. Analogous I imagine to that last splash of aftershave or a quick adjustment of one’s tie before heading off to the Friday night dance.  Past history tells me that the patterns tied in extremis, moments before departure often prove to be the most effective; it is a necessary rite of passage to overdo this preparation lark and it all helps to build the excitement and focus.

ForeplayImage5You can never be too thin, too rich or have too many flies.

The journey is a long one with an overnight stop, which will no doubt be filled in equal measure by excitement at the prospects and concern that it might not be quite as good as we hope. We shall fret over the weather and bother our minds that perhaps we have forgotten some essential piece of equipment. In particular that fly box that we left out expecting to add to at the last minute and open to misplacement should it fall behind the cushions on the couch.

I am in part driven by horror stories, such as one related to me of an angler, dropped with his guide by helicopter in a remote section of New Zealand, a five day hiking and fishing trip on the cards, only to discover that he had left his reel at the hotel.  So the lists are checked and rechecked, items are ticked off, labelled, packaged and accounted for and all the while the passion builds.

ForeplayImage1Looking at that stubble, just as well it’s a fishing trip and not the Friday Night Dance.

I suppose that the next best thing to actually fishing is preparing to go fishing, which probably explains why most of us have far too many flies, too many bits of equipment and the fly fishing equivalent of the Library of Congress stacked on groaning shelves somewhere in the house. But you can’t overemphasise the value of foreplay, for people like us fishing doesn’t start when you head to the river, fishing starts when you wake up, assuming that you managed to get any sleep in all the excitement.

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Exploration and Paydirt.

August 9, 2010

Visiting new places on the Orange River:

I think that maybe my mates and I should join “The A Team” cos hell I love it when a plan comes together. We had been talking of exploring parts of the Orange River, previously unknown to us for some time. The debates of when to go, should we go and even should we perhaps settle for something more known to us dragged on until the decision was made. Fishing time is precious and one doesn’t want to waste time and energy in the wrong spot. But then there is also the question of forging your own path and taking some risk and in the end that is exactly what we did.

Hitting paydirt, the results of exploration on the Orange River

Armed with maps, GPS and plenty of fishing gear we headed out into the desert some 600 odd kilometers from home, not sure that we would even find the river. Deserts are not the places most people consider as venues for quality fly fishing and although we knew that the Orange River was there there was little guarantee that any of the trails would put us close enough to reach it.

Desert Landscape, not exactly the place you expect to find fish.

Previous trips to the Richtersveld reserve nearby have been productive, but the landscape there is scared by monuments to man’s unassailable greed, massive mine dumps the result of the search for diamonds and as a consequence it lacks something of the raw splendor of our new destination.

We hit the desert after an all night drive and were greeted with a spectacular dawn, low angled winter light softening the harshness of our surroundings. First stop was a small settlement called Henkries where one can obtain the odd essential item from a shop that is little more than a house’s garage, sparsely stocked with a coke fridge and the odd bar of soap, the nearest thing to a town that we would see for five days.

The trail requires that one loop around the mountains to touch with the river here and there and at the first stop we found both a wonderful campsite at the water’s edge and what appeared to be a decent rapid. The fishing was however disappointing, we got some fish and at least didn’t spend the first night under canvass with blanks on the scoresheet but it wasn’t as good as we had hoped.

Fly Tying Alfresco: Albe and Mike whip up a few nymphs at the waterside camp.

The next morning some exploration brought us to three new rapids further upstream, all virtually unreachable on account of the depth and speed of the currents but determination won the day and we eventually crossed higher up, taking some considerable risks in the strong flow. Of the three stretches of good looking water only one really produced but it produced fish in style. My own definition of hitting a “honey hole” is that you get one of the following three occurrences:

You hook two fish at the same time.

You and your partner both hook fish at the same time.

You hook fish on consecutive casts.

Albe Nel, trying out for the Al-Qaeda fly fishing team, with a baby largemouth Yellowfish. The "Buff" was actually an anti fly swallowing measure.

On this stretch, after several hours of trying other water for only a fish a piece we managed all of the above in short order and proceeded to “hammer em” for several hours. Odd that other good looking water nearby produced very little but this stretch really did hold huge numbers of fish and we were well pleased with the results. A lengthy walk back to camp through the bank-side vegetation and the flies that inhabit it virtually terminated my long standing vegetarian status and the numbers swallowed would no doubt have added up to a decent steak in terms of protein but we were happy, we had found fish and been able to test out some tackle and various rigs to good effect. Mike and Albe returned to the hot spot for the afternoon whilst I decided to play with some alternative methods in the water nearer to the camp. The result was that I took only a single fish for the session whilst they had bent rods for most of the afternoon until they tired and returned for sundowners much later.

The morning saw us once more on the trail, this time another loop around the hills, driving in an environment where one seriously questions the wisdom of being in a solitary vehicle. The chances of walking out alive should there be a mishap not appearing particularly good, miles and miles of sand, broken rock and shattered quartzite which looks for all the world like broken glass. In fact the illusion is of driving over a massive land fill site.

Camping desert style, this is probably the biggest tree for miles.

We reached our new destination by late afternoon and were able to see a glorious rapid not far from the camp. Again the results were disappointing, some fish but not a lot of them and treacherous wading in the lower sections. It was however the first time on the trip that I was totally out of control, a good sized mudfish taking yards and yards of line down the raging currents necessitating a precarious chase over the sunken boulders.

We fished the same rapids the following morning, did a bit better having located a few nice holes but still we were taking fish by the dozens and we wanted more. An almost desperate search higher upstream where the water looked flat and wide however revealed a maze of small channels amongst a smattering of islands and here we found fish. In fact we found fish in abundance, that first evening we landed over thirty fish a man in less than a couple of hours and returned to camp in the near darkness, not wishing to stop.

Mike with a nice fish from one of the channels.

This proved to be the highlight location of the trip and we returned to explore the channels and islands several times. We still never got to fish all of the water available however and there is good reason to return. It is difficult to estimate and we didn’t keep count but at a guess the three of us took somewhere between 700 and 900 fish including the slow days when we were searching for the right water. By the time we were finished we had learned a lot , refined our tackle, methods and perhaps most importantly where to locate numbers of fish. This was some of the best yellowfish fishing I have ever enjoyed anywhere, the only possible lack was that we didn’t land any that were truly massive although I think we all lost at least one real lunker at some point.

Part of the journey, consider having to walk out of here.

The final mornings fishing was an affair of mixed emotion, we continued to catch fish in numbers, in fact a day or so before I had managed to take nine yellowfish on consecutive casts if that gives some indication of the quality of the venue. In the end we had to pack up camp and head back to civilization. It is hard to walk away from that kind of fishing, all the more so when you know that it could be a year before you return but the experiment paid off, we worked hard, covered a lot of ground both in the vehicle and on foot and in the end the plan came together. Absolutely awesome fishing, the only crowds the occasional herd of goats, the only competition from the resident fish eagle and the otters which had left tracks all over the sand bars and which we actually saw on one mornings excursion.

I just had to put in one "rod in the mouth" image, apparently it's expected if you are a serious angler. 🙂

Highlights of the trip?

The incredible desolate scenery.

Myself and Albe taking two largemouth yellowfish at exactly the same time.

Catching nine fish on consecutive casts.

Albe catching a fish with the leader in his hand and not attached to the line.

Sharing such an amazing venue with incredible anglers and good friends.

Collectively taking seventeen fish from a run the size of two bath tubs.

The desert stars at night and the amazing sensation of space.

Spotting Otters in the river.

The list of firsts:

First person to take a fish… Mike

First person to take the grand slam: Largemouth, Smallmouth and Muddy….. Albe

First person to take a Muddy… Me

The bizarre looking mouth of an Orange River Mudfish.

First person to take the royal flush: muddy, smallmouth, largemouth and barbel.. “currently vacant”.

First person to catch a fish with the collar of his shirt (it’s a long story)… Me

First person to knock a sand martin out of the air with his rod… Me (we all did this by the end of the trip)

First Largemouth.. .Mike

Best landed fish of the trip… Albe.

Albe Nel with what was almost certainly the best fish landed during the trip.

So there it was seven days, nine hundred odd fish, some great exploration, and the gamble of either a watery or firey death in the river or the desert if something went wrong. I think by the last day we would have gone in peace, this was the fishing trip of a lifetime, or until we return it will be.  Best wishes from the “A Team”.

Well That’s Torn It.

July 28, 2010

A phone call and thoughts switch from browns to yellows and this isn't snooker.

Well that’s really torn it, there I was churning out dry flies in preparation for the coming season. Caddis Caddis, Caddis….. Parachute Parachute… and really rather getting into the swing of things. I had already got down the some of the micro patterns and given that I start with the larger sizes first that indicates some sort of progress. In fact I probably had well over two hundred brand new caddis patterns in the box and was about to move on to the mayflies when the phone rang.

Now it isn’t as though the call was an unwelcome intrusion, not at all,  it is just that, as I was saying,  I was in the swing of things and rather looking forward to starting the season on the rivers with a well stocked fly box and spoiled for choice no matter how ornery the fish were being.

The call was from my very good mate Mike and the essence of the phone call was to say “we’re on”.  There is a lot that can be conveyed in a few words and those two admittedly foreshortened gems changed the pattern of my thinking and the pattern of my fly tying in one fell swoop. You see we have been talking about heading back to the Orange River in pursuit of Largemouth and Smallmouth Yellows and now after months of debate and false starts it appears that all the potential participants had managed to get ducks in a row, gain leave of absence from work and loved ones and we were going.

A sudden switch from Elk Hair to Tungsten Beads was needed.

For those unfamiliar with Southern African fly fishing, we have a number of unique aspects to our fishing amongst them several species of Yellowfish. If you don’t know what yellowfish are let’s just say that they are like giant carp designed by Enzo Ferrari. The smallmouths can reach well over ten pounds and the Largemouths well over that many kilos. They love large rivers and fast water, they have massive tails and pure muscular bodies and they take flies. In fact they take flies really rather well so long as one has the right techniques.

The Author with a decent Largemouth Yellowfish.

Which conveniently brings me back to the disruption of the fly tying, not only were we going but we were going in less than a week’s time and here I was tying micro caddis patterns when now what I needed were Czech nymphs and lots of them, preferably sporting lead and tungsten accoutrements. Of course I am excited to be going, we are headed for the Orange River at a point where it is the border between South Africa and Namibia. One of the few disadvantages of living in Cape Town is that we are not near good yellowfish fishing, the guys up in the big smoke of Johannesburg have yellows on their doorsteps, but then they don’t have good trout fishing and we have better scenery.

Smallmouth Orange River Yellowfish.

So in something like six days time we are going to be driving for around eight or so hours and ending up in a desert where there are no facilities at all. That means that I have less than a week to wind up work commitments, write at least one newspaper column, pack tent, utensils, cooking gear, rods, reels, lines, boots waders .. etc etc etc and of course those flies. So the size 20 dry fly hooks were put back into their place and I started strapping Czech nymphs with abandon. The fly tying room, only recently tidied out now looks like a bomb hit it again and in less than two days I have managed to add about a hundred and ten yellowfish flies to my box. Whether that is enough I am not sure but pretty soon I am going to have to focus on other stuff, flies are important but I need to buy some food too, Oh and pack some clothes as well I suppose.

What makes it tricky is that although the fish are frequently not that selective, having the correct weights and sizes of flies for various water conditions is critical and a few flies of different styles or colours , in a few sizes in a few different weights pretty soon adds up to a boxful. Not only that but Czech nymphing on the rocky sections of the Orange River which the Yellows just love can see you loose six flies in two casts without too much trouble if things go wrong, so quantity is pretty much an essential.

Anyway I already have more flies than Mike, I have found my neoprene waders, the tent, the sleeping mat, the large fishing net and a couple of different reels that don’t get hauled out that often and progress is being made.

Now I will have to focus on work for a day or two and hopefully by then I will have found a few moments to tie a couple of dozen more patterns and then that will have to do.

Darn I am excited; there is not always a great deal of finesse in fishing for yellows, at least not to the degree required on our catch and release, crystal clear trout streams. But at the same time one can do serious numbers of fish in a day, end up with sore arms, sore legs and soaking wet from the odd swim for that matter. This is exciting fishing and the possibility of hitting a real lunker is always with one, even if the fish are of more moderate dimensions, five pounders are far from unusual and you will hear your reel scream far more often than on most trout waters.. Then on top of that the scenery is truly spectacular, totally remote and wild in the most glorious sense. We are planning on exploring some new waters, or at least new for us and to be honest we aren’t exactly sure where we are going so it is something of an adventure.

Anyway there are flies to tie, prepare for some great images and fish talk on our return.

Whilst I am away there is time for you to update your own trout fly box and sorry but I cocked up the previous link so that you could download this for free. In case you want to get a copy and were unable to please try again by clicking the image below or this link

New Free E book Published.

I am really sorry that the previous link didn’t work, sticky fingers more than anything so if you didn’t get what you wanted to please try again. Thanks.