Posts Tagged ‘Yellowfish’

The End of the Road

January 29, 2017

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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.

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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Preparation

September 18, 2014

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“Preparation is never wasted” that was a lesson from my youth and unlike a great deal from that era this particular phrase has stood the test of time. I am quite sure that it applies to pretty much everything but in fishing, where there are so many variables to start with, having “all your ducks in a row” becomes highly advantageous.

On the competitive scene being sure that you have all that you need and that you have back-ups of the back-ups can be the difference between success and failure, perhaps not quite so much because of the items at hand but the lack of stress in knowing that you have done all you can to be ready.

Generally for me that means having a check list when guiding, insuring that I have the client’s details, any specific food or health requirements, the correct location from whence to collect them in the morning and all that sort of thing. It isn’t just a question of rods, reels and lines.

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Albe Nel with a nice mudfish from a previous trip

I should mention that most of these preparations have been born out of the crucible of abject failure at some point. I have in the past forgotten to take the net, forgotten to take the rods (which is even more problematic) and on one occasion forgotten in which hotel my client was residing, the latter a professional faux pas I wouldn’t care to repeat. So now there are lists and lists of lists, things don’t go in the box without being ticked off and they don’t get ticked off until they are in the box. Even then I went fishing last week without the net, although to be fair that was because, being a purely social trip to the stream, I didn’t check the list.. Live and learn.

PrepMikeMike Spinola braves the midges for some more fishing time.

Right now I am in the midst of preparing for an extended camping trip on the Orange River with clients, where we intend to target the smallmouth and perhaps largemouth yellowfish. It is a remote spot, remote in the sense that there isn’t a shopping centre for miles, in fact there is, if you will excuse the expression, “Bugger all for miles and miles”. A mistake out there and you could be doing the “David Carradine, walk through the endless desert thing.” It’s all very well being well prepared in terms of the fishing tackle, but out in the desert, excepting within the narrow expanse of the river, a fly rod and waders probably come under the heading of the two most useless things that you may wish to have with you.

So everything has to be taken along, from wading boots to water and right now my check list includes amongst other things:
58 Apples
32 Bread rolls
16 Potatoes
3 Cabbages
3 Bags of Carrots
34 Cereal Bars
44 Cheese wedges
1 Large Camembert
14 Kebabs
2 Large Jars of coffee
16 Boxes of custard
1 Large box of porridge oats
30 Packets of biscuits
6 Packets of bread mix
and something in the region of 80 other items in various volumes all contained within 8 large boxes and two coolers, and that excludes any of the fishing gear.

Of course, no matter how hard one tries something will be forgotten and you just hope that whatever it is won’t prove to be too critical. If one runs out of batteries for the headlamps then camp would be near intolerable, but if I forget the 5x tippet then we will have to make do with the 4x and it won’t be quite such a train smash.

PrepTimThe Author with a decent yellowfish taken from under the reeds

To add to the complexity we are on the cusp of spring and summer here, but the vagaries of the former season haven’t quite given way to the relative stability of the latter yet and climatic conditions are due to vary from 30°C heat to near freezing temps at different times during our stay. That makes packing all the more fraught, not to mention bulky if one doesn’t have a mind to keep things minimalistic.

Of course the concept behind preparation is twofold: Firstly to allay one’s fears as far as possible and avoid that near inevitable “Packing paranoia” which will see one pulling off the road to check in a box at the back of the truck for some insignificant item you wonder if you packed. The second part of the process is supposedly at least to insure effectiveness whilst out there in the wide blue yonder. With some planning the amount of time spent fiddling about in camp is reduced and the amount of time left for actual fishing hopefully increased, that is at least the theory.

PrepCamp

Flytying “Al Fresco”, remote camps are by necessity basic in nature.

After all of this there is no guarantee that the fish will be cooperative, we have cast our plans, checked the weather and done the trip before at the same time of year, so disappointment shouldn’t rear its ugly head but it isn’t an impossibility, and that I suppose is the rub when it comes to fishing. The barometer could plummet, the flow rates could be high or non-existent and the water could be anything from crystal to chocolate. Those things you can’t foresee which is why one tries to cover all the bases under one’s control, to minimize the risk of failure.

So there are boxes of flies, pre-manufactured leaders, indicators, braided loops. There are spare lines and spare reels, a spare pair of sunglasses, (and at my age spare reading glasses too). There are maps so we don’t get lost, permits so we don’t get arrested, sunblock so we don’t get burned, water so we don’t get dehydrated and at least a small amount of scotch so that we don’t go mad.

PrepDesert

The desert: unforgiving but at the same time spectacularly pretty.

Actually I am already questioning that last statement, we are going to all this trouble, driving for hours on both tarmac and dirt roads, burning goodness knows how much fuel so that we can eat sandy food and live in near darkness with a view to catching some fish which we have no intention of eating and for that matter aren’t really edible anyway. I suppose there is a fine dividing line between passion and insanity when you come to think of it, and we are all no doubt walking a tightrope on that front.

PrepAlbeAnother good fish for Albe, taken nymphing in the rapids

Perhaps the best reflection of such a mission came from an indigenous resident alongside the river on a previous trip. Having watched us all fly-cast from dawn to dusk for days on end, this itinerant, and relatively uneducated goatherd posed the following question: “Hoekom julle slaan de water so?”, translation.. “Why do you beat the water so?” Not a bad question really is it?

 

Note: “The Fishing Gene Blog” has now seen over 50,000 views since its inception, not a lot by some standards but a milestone none the less, a milestone that motivated me to write this when I should be checking the lists and packing the boxes. Thanks to all those readers and followers who keep me at it..

Orange River Adventure

July 17, 2014

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Right now in the depths of winter, rain lashing against the window and snow on the high ground the stream fishing season still feels a long way ahead. Of course it is a good time to tie flies, clean fishing gear and generally have a bit of a tidy up and a sorting out of the kit but it is fishing that I really hanker after.

The lakes offer some solace, the winter weather suits the fish up there in the mountains, they seem to like the chill- and frosty mornings with a bit of a breeze can provide some exceptional sport, but much as I enjoy it, lake fishing isn’t river fishing and that’s the rub.

Dreams of clear streams, dry fly drifts and rising trout trouble my sleep and no amount of flytying or tackle cleaning will rid my soul of the need to be on a river.

There is however a further alternative available, although perhaps not readily so, and that is to head out into the desert and target some winter yellowfish on the Orange River. It has become something of a ritual to include this in our fishing calendar, not only because such a trip offers exceptional fishing but also because the climatic conditions up there provide admittedly chilly evenings and mornings but rather more balmy weather during the day. Thoughts of warm days and plenty of fish when trapped in damp and chilly suburbia make a long drive and rustic camping conditions seem really rather idyllic.

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There was a time we would venture to the Richtersveld, a reasonably organized camping area within a reserve, it offered some great fishing it has to be said but these days we opt for an even more remote spot. At the limits of the South African boundary, right on the Namibian border, where you may go for days without seeing anyone but for the occasional shepherd tending his goats in the arid landscape.

BigBlueSky

This is barren land, given of rough tracks, social weaverbird nests, quiver trees, four wheel drive vehicles and a lot of space, enough space to make you wonder if you haven’t inadvertently switched planets via some unseen cosmic wormhole. On the drive in it is easy to question one’s own sanity in bringing a fly rod along at all, the scenery, spectacular as it is, doesn’t imply any possibility of water, never mind fishing opportunity.

ClassicNamakwa

This is a land of big sky, little but miles of sunbaked sand and rock and glistening quartz crystals with a primal beauty that has to be witnessed personally to be appreciated. Then, just about the time where one wonder’s if you really haven’t lost the plot, and that bringing that fly rod along would, in a court of law, indicate that you were too mentally deranged to be held accountable for your actions, you come across it. Cutting through the barren lands is a green swathe of vegetation, bordering the slightly murky flows of the region’s major river, and in that river await hoards of yellowfish. Better still hoards of naïve yellowfish, uneducated as to the wiles of fly anglers. In short something of an angler’s paradise, right out there in the middle of nowhere.

BigYellow

As the temperatures high up near the river’s source drop lower during the winter months so the fish move downstream to warmer areas and it is a fortunate happenstance that at this very time the flows of the river, generally driven by summer thundershowers in the Witwatersrand, become greatly reduced.

The entire collective, of little rain high on the catchment and cooler temperatures in the head waters contrive to produce, lower down on the river, some of the best yellowfish fishing the county has to offer, right about the time that we are hankering to cast a line on moving water but still generally limited by the flood levels of our native trout streams.

Sean's First Yellow

So we endure a long drive, pack lightly and live roughly in tents amongst the sand dunes of the river bank, and enjoy a few days of that most simple of mantra’s. Eat, Sleep, Fish…

 

EatSleepFish

 

Come and join us on a yellowfish adventure:

This September Inkwazi Fly Fishing in conjunction with Stream X will be hosting two camps in this remote spot. Each trip has space for only eight anglers and includes an overnight stop on the way up to the river to make it easier to get away after work and have an early start on the water the next day.

The camps run (including the drive) from September 19th to 24th and 23rd to 28th

Orange River Snapshots

The trip will include an “orientation” evening in Cape Town to appraise anglers of what to expect, what to bring, suitable tackle tactics and flies for the trip and as such represents an ideal starting point for those who have not experienced yellowfish fishing previously. It is of course also a fantastic trip for those who already have yellowfish angling experience (most of the bookings to date are from people who joined us previously and want to experience it all again). In past years fish numbers have been very good and there is still much water to explore which has been previously untapped. If you would like to enquire about joining us please drop me a line on the following link:

Orange River Yellowfish Camp 2014

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.

 

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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Orange Fever

August 4, 2010

By the time you read this I should have one of these in my hands, at least I hope so.

Due to the wonders of modern technology, and for me anything more advanced than a slide rule is pretty wonderous I have to admit, I can post this when I am nowhere near a computer. In fact I am nowhere near anything much, or at least that is the plan.

By now we should be happily camped on the edge of the Orange River on the Namibian border with nothing to do but cast for yellowfish and perhaps tie the odd fly if the situation dictates. Preparations have been hectic, one minute we were chatting about a possible trip and the next thing we were going. It didn’t help that I found that I had the dates incorrect and had a day less than expected to prepare, but then as with all these types of things, eventually one realises that if you have forgotten something you will have to do without it and that is all that can be said.

The only real worry is that Mike, Albe and myself are all avid anglers which means we will no doubt have a plethora of rods, reels, lines and flies. Probably some alcohol and a few items of clothing and if we are really fortunate one of us is going to remember to bring some food.

Years back I did spend three days on the Vaal with little more than three bottles of beer some bread rolls and a packet of chips, but the fishing was good and I lost some weight, it is amazing what one will do to catch a few fish if you have the fishing gene.

Big Water, Big Sky, Big Desert and great fishing.

For those not familiar with yellowfish they are the unsung heros of fly fishermen in Southern Africa. Living in Cape Town we don’t have any really good quality yellowfish water near by and a trip out into the sticks is something of a winter ritual. It helps that the waters of the Orange River (it isn’t called the Orange because of its colour, although often it could be), run clear and low at exactly the same time that the Cape Streams are unfishable.

There are a number of species of yellowfish and related species which are technically not yellows but tend to be referred to under the same umbrella. An interesting evolutionary divergence is that each is pretty much tied to specific riverine systems.

The Smallmouth and Largemouths (our two targets on this trip), live in the Vaal / Orange River system, the Clanwilliam Yellowfish and the Sawfins are found in the Oliphant’s system, closer to home but hard to access. The Natal Scaly is found in the Eastern part of the country in Natal and the Smallscale and Largescales are found in the Limpopo systems and the occasional Witvis in the Breede River Catchment.

The trouble with all of that is that it makes conservation a problem, one can’t simply transplant fish from one watershed to another and whilst some of the species are not under threat the Clanwilliam and Sawfins are.

Still back to the Orange and our trip:

For those not in the know yellowfish were thought to be virtually uncatchable on fly for many years and those that were caught seemed to be some sort of lucky aberration. However advances in techniques of both fishing and fly tying saw the catch rates climb rapidly, particularly with spread of understanding of the Czech nymph style of fishing. Yellowfish are for the most part bottom feeders, focusing on larvae and pupae of aquatic insects hard on the bottom and frequently in very fast water. (The Largemouths as juveniles feed in much the same way but then become piscivorous once they gain size, and they can gain some serious dimensions).

Some of the species available on the Orange River

We will probably practise a variety of techniques, some because they are effective and others perhaps simply because they can be more fun. But the standard is to fish heavily weighted Czech nymph patterns on either a normal Czech nymph rig or even fishing with pure mono and no casting of any real sort.

The trick is to have the patterns running hard on the bottom in white water conditions on occasion and to still be able to detect what can frequently be very subtle takes. For those familiar with grayling fishing this is much the same except that the fish are far bigger, far stronger and the current and size of the rivers more vicious than most. Some Scandinavian rivers probably are of similar dimension and flow but few English rivers would be as large.

If one finds the fish and you are proficient at the methods you can literally “hammer ’em” and frequently after a while we will change to upstream indicator nymphing in the slightly slower and shallower waters, if only for some variety.

After years of competative angling where indicators other than flies are out of bounds it is going to be fun to experiment with variations and I have a few tricks up my sleeve worthy of testing out.

Then of course there is the chance if the water is clear that there could be some dry fly action, down on the lower reaches this isn’t common but it can occur and casting small dries for fish well above the average size of most trout makes for some exciting sport.

Plus we really should spend some time with streamers trying to nail some Largemouths, we have caught a good number on the lower reaches but usually as a byproduct of fishing for the smallmouths. It is amazing how large some of the fish are that will still take a tiny nymph, but to seek out really massive specimens we should focus a bit with some hard-core streamer fishing. This time we might even get around to it.

So if we don’t get lost, starve, drown or meet some equally dreadful fait such as poor fishing, there should be some more photos when we get back. Until then I am thankfully out of touch with the modern world.

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.