StreamX Fly Fishing Blog
It is on record that in 1801 an expedition was sent to what is now the North West Province to get cattle for the colony.
Unfortunately the trade goods they provided were rejected, as the locals were used to better quality from Delagoa Bay (Maputo).
They were in fact derisive about the inferior quality single edged blades offered, as they themselves made beautiful double edged blades with ivory handles.
But I digress. On the 14th of October, North west of what is now Sutherland, Sommerville and company outspanned at a drift and the forenoon was "pleasantly spent in fishing in the Riet River. The artificial fly was tried in vain". They did succeed in catching yellowfish, which one of the party sketched before they were eaten.
(The image is of smallmouth yellowfish and orange river mudfish)
A very happy fly angler
So there we have it, the first recorded fly fishing event in Southern Africa, 216 years ago.
To cut a long story short, through much research, maps new and old, the use of google earth, and many phone calls to farmers, we had the farm pinpointed.
When we got there, the friendly farmer showed us the old drift, the outspan area, and even offered us fishing rods.
The fishing rods were declined, but my daughter Sarah and I hauled out a fly rod and it wasnt long before we had both caught yellowfish. I cannot describe the wonderful feeling after all the work it took to find the place.
"I love it when a plan comes together".
But there it is, we managed to finish what was started in 1801, and in so doing, sort of made history.
Smallmouth Great Karoo yellowfish, caught on a Papa Roach variation using a Hanak saltwater hook
Casting rods vs Fishing Rods
On a recent trip to Lakenvlei I was having a chat with Tim Rolston about rods and their actions. He said a very interesting thing that had not occurred to me before, but with which I identified and had some experience with. That interesting thing was.....wait for it....hope I get this verbatim...... "there is a big difference between a rod that casts well and a rod that fishes well".
Think about that for a while.
The current trend to fish rods that are faster and faster certainly allows better distance and less fatigue for the experienced caster. I say experienced caster as a novice caster will not get the full benefit of a super fast rod, and it may actually hamper their casting. The name of the game is letting the rod do the work. Now lets assume you bought the shiniest fastest rod in the showroom and blew your kid's inheritance or school fees in the process. You take it down the lake and you get your line out far with minimal effort and you are chuffed with your 'broomstick'.
Here is the kicker, which I actually mentioned in a different context in a previous newsletter. When at Sterkfontein dam last year I managed to break off the first six fish I hooked, and blamed it mainly on the fast take-off speed of the yellowfish. But there was another factor, my rod, an expensive super fast Orvis. While this rod enabled me to cast into the teeth of a howling wind with ease, when it came to hooking a fish, there was little give in the rod, and that is partly why I lost so many fish initially. It wasn't the rods fault, it was mine; I had to get used to the rod.
If one considers that the best stream rods are quite supple for one good reason (to protect the tippet) then Tim's comment makes a lot of sense.
It is fine to aim for light fast rods, but you need to be aware that the faster the rod, the more you need to baby your tippet. If you have a slower rod, it does most of the protecting for you.
There were a lot of responses to my last newsletter regarding casting vs. fishing rods and among these were some relevant points which I would like to share with you. Ben Pretorius has a completely different take on the issue, and as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes he is right.
...... "there is a big difference between a rod that casts well and a rod that fishes well". This statement must be put into context because a rod will only fish well if it is used for the right situation i.e. Horses for courses. Bearing in mind that the sole purpose of the cast is to pull the rod into a bend, and then to unload it all at the same time - I differ with your article as follows:
If an angler was fishing a small clear stream that required very short casts with a long leader of say 8ft. he will only be able to load the rod if it was a full flex rod. This rod could make shorts casts because it would bend (load) whilst aerialising very little fly line as well as enabling a delicate presentation. The same rod would still be the right rod for the situation even in windy conditions. A faster action rod would not load by aerialising the same amount of fly line and long leader. What the angler needs to do is to change his cast to cope with the wind, not the rod.
The converse situation would be that of fishing the surf zone in SA where distance and wind were major factors to consider. Here presentation and long leaders would not be a priority so a tip flex fast action rod would be the way to go. This would allow the angler to aerialise more line and load the rod by accelerating very quickly through the casting arc.
Tippets are broken by the pressure you the angler puts on the fish, not the rod. This pressure will vary by the manner with which you set the hook, the way you retrieve and the angle at which you hold the rod. In short, use the right tools for the particular task at hand.
Tom Sutcliffe shared an extract with me from a forthcoming book that sheds good light on the subject, with special relevance to fishing small streams.
He compared fishing his sage 0-weight with his Winston 2 weight and discovered that with small fish (less than 12 inches) he lands a lot more fish with the 0-weight. This is attributed to the fact that the extra weight and stiffness of the 2-weight 'lifts the trout in the strike and this often pulls the hook free'. The 0-weight 'gives' with the fish in the strike, doesn't lift them, and they stay hooked! He points out that you should take careful note of this. Using lighter softer rods for smaller fish, and a stiffer heavier rod for bigger fish means better hook ups.
We chose to camp at Kalahari River Safaris near Kakamas as it was recommended by several people.
Setting up camp in 42C heat was not fun, but lucklily the site has lots of shade. At also has clean ablutions, ice and a bar.
The fishing in the areas was reasonable, but not 'on-fire' as it gets in spring. The bathtub temperature water must make the fish lazy.
My excuse for poor results :-).
We also fished below Augrabies falls in the Park. Note that reception isn't too clued up on the fishing, pointing us to above the falls.
The walk down to the river is steep, and once you get down you need to walk a few km's upstream to find moving water.
Note that it is very hot so take plenty of water, and save some energy for the walk back up, as it is murder in the heat. Try Platteklip Gorge at 3pm on a sunny day and you will get a feel for it.
The fishing wasnt bad, with my son Isaac managing a Grand Slam from the same rock with the same fly whithin an hour. I was targeting big largemouth, so predictably I blanked for the day. Having a cast and hooking into a massive catfish was fun for a while, but it beat me about 300 to 1.
The local Holy Grail was said to be Blouputs, where "the big largies queue up to take your fly".
After an interesting drive via Riemfasmaak we managed to blank for the day, as the fish must have been queuing up somewhere else. Blouputs has a large weir with a fish ladder which some fish were ignoring, preferring to hopelessly try and jump the weir.
Outeniqua Trout(less) Lodge
The next fishing stop was the upper Keurbooms River in the Prince Alfred Pass. We stayed at the Outeniqua Trout Lodge in a charming cottage, but only found out a week or so before hand that the Lodge was Troutless, and has been for some time.
We went anyway as the Kwaai River on the farm is reputed to have wild brown trout. It turns out to be almost as beautiful as the Jan du Toits river and was chock full of redfin minnows, with the brown trout in the upper reaches. My hiking takkies decided to fall apart at the wrong time, so we did not get up high enough to find the good browns. Serves me right for not wearing my new Chotas.
Somerset East Surrounds
Sneaking a Tenkara rod in, and fishing the waterholes in the Addo park was given some consideration, but when the moment arrived I didn't have the heart to shoulder out the elephants that seemed so happy there. Perhaps fly fishing for elephant could be done if I could find a way of casting a nice juicy tree.
It is not well know that Bruintjieshoogte, the mountains around Somerset East were the scene of much frantic searching for Unicorns in the past.
How this came about, I could not find out, but while driving to and from the fishing spots in the area we did see some fantastic wild animals. Varieties of springbok, rhino, and some exotic beasts from the middle east are all to be seen for free along the roads.
While looking for unicorns I spotted an Nguni bull with only one horn. Jackpot! an Ngunicorn!. Perhaps thats where the rumour started?
Isaac being instructed by Alan Hobson on the Little Fish river.
It is quite bizarre following the dry Little Fish river up into the mountains to where it is actually flowing, and seeing some massive trophy trout. Isaac had a go at one of them in a pool, but wasnt on for long. A water monitor swimming through the pool then spoiled as badly as a family of otters would have done.
The Angler and Antelope of course was our base, and they even gave us a midnight braai on New Years Eve, when we arrived back from Mountain dam after 9pm. If you havent been, what are you waiting for?
Remember to diet first and then put on your best tastebuds, as they are in for a treat.
Remember that if you book direct and mention StreamX you will be elegible for a discount.
New Years Day Waterfall Disaster
We had planned months in advance to picnic at the Glen Avon Falls for new years day in honour of Wendys birthday. Planning well in advance however does not mean that all goes well. Wendy was looking forward to a luxury picnic, and Isaac was looking forward to fishing in the pool below the falls.
Wendy caught in the serious downpour
We drove to the parking point and started lugging the r tons of picnic luxuries that the Angler and Antelope had provided. At some stage during the walk we noticed a mean looking cloud coming over the mountain, and it wasnt long before a soft rain started.
Alan and I discussed what we should do, as picnics in the rain aren't fun, but the main concern was the road out. Uphill and slippery clay.
The words "Lets see if it blows over in a few minutes" were hardly out of Alans mouth when the heavens opened, and almost immedeatly the water colour changed and the stream started to rise.
Doing our 'level' best to run uphill in clay, encumbered by bags was a farce, as by the time we got back to the cars, most of us had fallen in the mud and looks like dirty drowned rats.
Trying to drive out with 4x2 vehicles was a nerve wracking and dangerous episode, and I must have drained my adrenal gland three times over, but in the end we made it out to live another day.
In my ongoing quest for a trophy Clanwilliam yellowfish, I recently did a trip to the upper Olifants River.
After a day of strenuous hiking down the mountain and a few km's upstream the score was zero.
The upper Olifants is another one of those beautiful places to not catch fish, and in places it resembles the Holsloot before the flood.
Space for a back cast is limited, so the dedicated swim to a rock in a pool to be able to cast at the head.
Despite the blank, later that day I was able to fish the Ratel river, a tributary of the Olifants, after an obligatory cold beer and a nap.
To my delight, I was able to add a new species to my list, a sawfin.
A pretty little sawfin, caught with Tenkara rod
To the best of my knowledge, the upper Olifants, via Beaverlac and a long walk, is the closest spot to Cape Town to target Clanwilliams, although I suspect one would have to walk much further up the river than we did. Only one fish was spotted, but that doesn't mean there weren't more.
On the positive side, we only saw a few small bass in one pool.
Why Flyfishing is like Rugby
A chance remark on the water got me thinking.
On being congratulated on hooking a fish, the gent replied "let me see if if I can convert this fish first", meaning that it only counts when he has it in the net.
Having dropped the ball on four fish that morning so far, it became obvious.
Four tries and no conversions!
Competitive fisherman will espouse that the drift boat technique is the most effective way to catch fish on stillwaters.
However, it usually followed buy the caveat "if you find the fish". But it is also the most effective way of finding fish, they say.
No, the most effective way of finding fish is with a fishfinder!
And the most efficient method of fishing is from a float tube, [HERESY ALERT] and trolling / trawling a streamer.
Whether it is the steadily moving fly (witness the amount of fish caught while reeling in your line), or the wake created by your fins, something makes it unbeatable.
Not very sporting you cry. Yes, it is'nt exactly drifting a dry fly downstream, but my point is about efficiency and effectiveness.
What you want is not a streamer that looks like a baitfish, but something fish hate, and will not hesitate to attack.
Blobs and other monstrosities are best. My WPLJ fly (White P@3n and Lemon Juice) was just the ticket.
Olive / white versions in the morning, Blue at midday and Orange / Yellow at dusk could not go wrong.
Blue on a bright day in clear water has always worked for me.
Only when my last WPLJ was brutally snatched from me, did the fishing slow down.
What a relaxing way to fish, sitting comfortably in an armchair, with beautiful scenery on a warm sunny day.
Sitting on the bank, slow retrieving damselfly imitations is also very good, but not as good.
Lakenvlei is fishing well at present, but remember due to cost of having to stock big fish, it is catch and release only.
A few weeks ago I was sitting peacefully on the rocks near the pump house, waiting for a fly to sink, or perhaps contemplating my navel.
Then, under the blue, a MONSTER fish comes out of the water at my feet and looks at me for a second.
OK, it wasn't a monster fish but a young otter, and as soon as it had seen me, it shot off again in the direction it arrived.
It is always the case of who got the bigger fright.
Last weekend I was fishing towards dead wood bay when I picked up a bass. It was duly dispatched and 'released' back into the water.
About an half hour later I was fishing near a friend when I pointed out a fish eagle above us, which was slowly descended to above dead wood bay where it commenced circling.
"Go on, find my bass" I called to it as it circled.
After a few circuits I remarked that the bass had probably sunk, when the eagle dropped again,
casually put out one foot and picked up the bass.
Now that is awesome....I fed the fish eagle.
In a paper by O'Brien et al* (Habitat preferences and movement of adult yellowfishes in the Vaal River, South Africa) a study was made on yellowish movements using transmitters attached to some fish.
Following is a summary of the study of items that will be useful to flyfishers.
Largemouth Labeobarbus kimberleyensis
Movement - Home ranges can be between 1.5 to 12km, with the majority between 4 to 7km, also showing high use areas from 2 to 4km in extent. Movement increases during Spring.
Habitat – Slow flowing pools and glides were more popular in winter, but in warmer periods their use of runs and riffles increased. They avoided fast flowing rapids.
Changes – Water flow or quality changes distrupted the above patterns, with fish moving to refuge areas. It is significant that new home areas were sought after these events.
Atmospheric pressure – High pressure systems in winter led to fish heading for deep water refuges.
Spawning – usually 4-6 weeks later than smallmouth (see below).
Smallmouth L. aeneus
Movement - Home ranges up to 5.5km, with the majority between 0.8 to 2km. Movement increases during Spring.
Habitat – Pools and glides were more popular in winter, glides in spring, and in summer, rapids. Very little rapid use was seen in Spring.
Changes – Water flow increases reduced movement.
Atmospheric pressure – Rapid increase in pressure led to less movement, especially in winter.
Spawning – usually when temperatures reach 18.5C in September/October.
*O'Brien GC, Jacobs F, Cronje L, Wepener V, Smit NJ. Habitat preferences and movement of adult yellowfishes in the Vaal River, South Africa. S Afr J Sci. 2013;109(7/8), Art. #0095, 8 pages. The full paper can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/sajs.2013/20120095
You may also find the following interesting: Mulder PFS. Aspects on the ecology of Barbus kimberleyensis and Barbus holubi in the Vaal River. Afr Zool. 1973;8:1–14.
I found this image in the July 1981 issue of Piscator (July 1981)
It would highly unusual to see a fly fisherman in a speedo, rayban aviators, and takkies today.
Most of us are in wading boots, waders, and in fancy jackets with gadgets hanging from everywhere.
There appears to be a snake in his right hand,
but I cannot see the significance, unless it came from the trout's stomach
Henri Nel, you look fantastic.
What were you wearing on the river in the 80's?
My gear was an old army jacket with the sleeves cut off,
and a slot cut in the back to put my fish in.
Catch and kill has also gone out of fashion
Thats right, fly fishing wants to kill you. I know this because it tried to kill one of my companions on our trip to the Orange River.
But, if you just apply some sensible rules, you will be safe. Story follows later.
Early morning Sun south of Springbok. It's hard to beat a road trip
NEVER fish alone. Not being in sight of a partner counts as being alone.
Make sure someone knows where you are going and who to contact if you don't come back.
Do you know the appropriate numbers to call, and are they programmed into your cell phone.
Does your fishing buddy have the numbers of your next of kin or are they ICE'd on your phone (ICE numbers are useless if they are password protected).
2. Think and be prepared
What possible emergency scenarios could arise, and how will you deal with them.
Emergencies could be medical or weather related
Have you done a basic first aid course?
4. Appropriate gear
Wear a lifejacket in stillwaters, and the correct weather and footwear for your day or trip.
Where there is no cell phone reception, special arrangements need to be made.
Never fish with anyone heavier than you. Catch 22 :-)
One of my companions was not doing so well on the fishing front so I offered to fish with him the next morning.
We had been fishing for less than an hour when he said he didnt feel well, and headed for the bank.
He lay down and I checked his vitals. Everything seemed OK, but he could not explain what was going on. As he had a past history of a stroke, it was my major concern.
Shortly thereafter he went into a grand mal siezure, so all I could do was make sure he was comortable.
When it was over he fell into a deep sleep, so I felt it was safe to go and get help. Luckily one of our party had a late breakfast and was still in the camp nearby.
He brought a vehicle closer and we dragged our heavy brother to the car and got him in the front seat.
We were 2 hours from the nearest tar road or cell phone reception, and the drive felt much longer as I was in constant fear of a recurring seizure.
It was not possible to go faster than 60 as the tyres were below a bar for the sand driving.
After regaining conciousness, my passenger kept trying to climb out of the car while it was moving, and he gave me carrots for not wanting to let him out.
About an hour later he was fully awake and had regained all mental faculties (the ones he had originally).
As we got close to the N7 I made some calls and his PA arranged for an ambulance to leave Springbok and meet us on the road.
The ambulance was met and they took over. While they were busy I pumped the flattest wheel, and the backup vehicle arrived.
It was decided at the camp to follow me in another vehicle in case something happened to the first one.
They had been delayed as they were stuck in the sand.
Just as we arrived at Springbok Hospital the 'flat' tyre gave its last gasp of breath. It had to be replaced.
The patient came out of the situation fine in the end, but we did learn some valuable lessons for future trips to the Orange river.
The two most important were that; firstly, you need some form of communication that is not cell tower reliant.
Secondly, two vehicles are essential.
The what ifs?
After the event the 'what if?' scenarios were played out around the campfire.
If he had been in the river alone and had the seizure he would have drowned. Even if someone was close, crossing a current takes time.
If we had a sat phone, who would we have called?
How would you, man alone, carry a person for a few kilometers over rough terrain?
Options and lessons
1. Take a sat phone or EPIRB device. I had a nice satellite gadget with a big red button that calls in the calvary, no matter where you are.
It could also be used to communicate with the control centre or send emails via your smart phone. It unfortunately died last year.
See http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/topics/camping-and-hiking/best-personal-locator-beacon for some ideas.
2. If you have a phone, know what numbers to call to arrange a Medivac. If you are dealing with a heart attack, time is critical and giving constant CPR is very tiring.
3. Make sure that medical aid and ICE contacts of all parties are available.
4. Hand held radios are useful but fishing alone is not an option.
We are out in nature, and there are risks. Snakes, broken bones, cliffs, deep water and medical risks. It is not nearly as risky as the city, but in the city help is close at hand.
The water on the lower orange was running cold and clear. There was quite a bit of slime around but it was not much of a problem.
Water level was about 40 cumecs, which is nice comfortable level for fishing in the area.
In the mornings the rapids were devoid of fish, but they seemed to come on the feed in the afternoon when the water warmed up.
Water temperature did not seem to bother the bigger fish, largies were active all day, and nice fat smallies were taking the streamers fished for largemouth.
Although I tied more than a box full of flies for the rapids, I used only 4 flies, which are all back in my box.
In fact the only fly I lost was squirmy worm to a catfish, which I had no realistic chance of landing.
An orange river grand slam was again within my reach (smallie, largie, mudfish), but the muddies were not playing fair. On the last trip I was short of largemouth, this time it was mudfish.
With the water so clear, you could watch them sucking on the rocks a rod length away, but they would not take a fly. A fly placed in their path on a rock would be pushed aside.
Thus I came to the conclusion that mudfish are only caught by foul hooking them (all feathered flies are fowl hookers).
There seems to be two camps on this issue, with many agreeing and others saying they catch muddies on the mouth regularly.
However, no-one has actually seen a mudfish take a fly. If you have please let me know the details.
Largemouth yellows were caught regularly, but the big ones must have been somewhere else.
Please excuse the poor qulity of the fish pictures, but I was, ahem, fishing alone.
A lovely soft sandy campsite, next to the river. The tents all featured 'installations' to hang and dry clothes
Camping is so much better with luxuries such as ice, cold beer, good coffee,
and freshly baked bread.
We tried a good cooler box with dry ice for the first time,
and it performed very well.
After 5 days some frozen beers were discovered.
The mask was brought along in case we got sand storms
like we experienced on our last trip.
There were no sandstorms, but the mask was a huge help in easing my hayfever.
As mentioned, I tied a lot of flies for the trip, but my most hopeful fly was this shrimp imitation for use as a control fly.
I first saw these shrimps in the water as a 13yr old fishing for yellows with pap in Potchefstroom.
This version is a tungsten offset bead on a Hanak H310 hook, with thread for the body.
The body is covered with Solarez UV goo, and then the legs are layed across the body,
glued on with the UV glue and then the back ends trimmed.
And for some odd reason I didn't try it, but then again I probably spend an hour fishing with nymphs in total.
When you drive out to Lakenvlei and have turned off to Bo-Swaarmoed, you seldom see much traffic.
Unless it snows! Then the hordes come out, line both sides of the road and generally create havoc, especially when cars are stuck in the mud at regular intervals.
The weather on the morning before the snow was fantastic, no wind, no fish. But quite cold
The afternoon weather was even colder with strong winds pushing the boat at about 4km/h even with a big drogue out.
Fishing was far better, but we lasted just over an hour and a half before we chucked in for a warm hut and a hot stew.
How we handle rejection says a lot about ourselves.
There are not many among us who can sustain high levels of rejection for long, as eventually we will crack. While this applies to relationships, I am actually talking about fishing.Having a thick skin is good for a fly fisherman, chiefly because it helps us handle rejection, and also comes in handy as something to bounce hooks off. Being rejected by fish after fish, after changing fly after fly and after hundreds of presentations can be demoralising. Fishing a stream or river you can sometimes justify it - too much drag - can't get the fly in the right spot, downwind gale, and so forth.
In a well stocked still water you know your fly has swum past a fish or two without even the slightest nibble. Or worse, they have been sucking it in and spitting it out without you even knowing. You experience rejection, but at least you are spared the visual experience of seeing it.
Now bring your imagination with me, and join me at Sterkfontein dam. Yours truly has spent a morning sitting above the water watching countless yellowfish reject his fly (or presentation). At first cruising fish were actually being alarmed by my presentation. Then as it improved the fish started to give it a wide berth, and then after much improvement it got to the point where they ignored it completely.
It was progress, but not good enough.
With some perseverance and a goof helping of patience I finally got some fish to actually move towards my fly.
OK, they had a sniff and a look then headed for the horizon at warp speed, which isnâ€™t easy for a fish, especially when there is an opposite bank. It was far away, but I swear I saw a fish or two making their way up the hill.
Eventually a fish come up and nosed my fly, decided it wasn't anything edible, and slowly moved on, no alarm. Joy swelled in my chest, or maybe I got that wrong. THEN, the guide called us and said we were moving to a different spot.
Finding ourselves at a spot they call North Pier, I really thought I was in the sea. The wind was howling in from the water, and waves were bashing against the cliff. Fish were moving around the point I was standing on flashing as the moved sideways to feed at my feet. Other fish were doing splashy rises out in the 'surf'.
Not a bite. Rejection sinks in as a fish rises confidently at your fly and eats something next to it. Rejection sinks in even deeper when you realise that you are being outsmarted by a fish with a brain the size of a pea. Thus day one ended with a rejective blank.Day two had me in a different group (I think the previous group complained about my tourettes like language) with PJ Jacobs as the guide. He took us somewhere out of the wind and parked us on a steep hillside where we could see the fish cruising past. It was the perfect spot to watch fish reject your fly. After all the rejections in the dam were used up, a fish came up and took my fly, only to spit it out before I could react. The fish were nervous, I was frustrated, but I did learn that if you duffed your cast and the fly landed behind the fish with a plop, they would turn around and investigate.
Having two anglers on either side of me was probably putting the fish on high alert before they got to me, so it was time to move. Far!
After finding a good spot which was relatively windless, I ate my lunch on the hill above so I could see how the fish were moving. There was a nice point between two small streams where the fish were being forced to go shallow and close to the bank.
Flattening a spot in some tall grass, I put on my gillie suit, made a parting in the grass for my rod and was almost invisible to the fish who would pass less than a rod length away.
The bonus was a large rock, which I could use for hiding my cast. The fish would swim past me on the left, go behind the rock and I would cast ahead of the rock, a perfect system. So perfect that I managed to lose five fish in a row, the last one being at least a meter long.
From rejection to acceptance, bliss filled my soul, but hang on....I still hadn't landed a fish!
For those of you who haven't fished at Sterkfontein before, you are in for a surprise. When the fish feel the hook they accelerate at the pace of a rocket sled, so if you don't do it right (like try and strip strike or lift your rod) it's "good bye fly it was nice tying you".
After those five, I finally hooked and landed the first one, a nice long sleek Sterkfontein smallmouth yellowfish. They don't surrender easily.
The next day went much better, I kept myself invisible, made sure my tippet sank , followed all the rules and I was rewarded with good fish. If you haven't been to Sterkfontein, put it on your bucket list. Going with the TCCF team or to one of the Tourettes challenges is recommended, as a boat is essential (a big one), and a guide indispensable.
Thanks to Tempest Car Hire who got me to Sterkfontein in a brand new Nissan.
Fishing on ones own every now and then should be important to every angler, especially the contemplative type. Fishing with a companion has its merits, but is only when fishing solo that the 'Zen' moments occur. Fishing alone allows you to focus on what you are doing without interruption, and is hard to beat. When a solo trip coincides with one of those days when the weather is good, the breeze is upstream, the fish are willing, they love your fly and you can do nothing wrong, it is even better.
While I may not understand the true deep meaning of Zen, I believe it is that moment on the river when you are confident about your set-up and fly, you stop concentrating, stop thinking, and just be in the moment, rhythmically casting into all the right places without a conscious thought. When a fish takes your fly while you are in that 'auto-pilot' mode, there is no thought process that says 'lift your rod', or 'do this', it just happens seamlessly and effortlessly.
You snap out the reverie only when the fish is tight on the line. Suddenly the world comes back into focus, your senses are heightened, the sound of the river rushes from the background, back into your ears. The light sparkles brighter off the water, and the splashes of the fish launch bright stars into the air. You sense the coolness of the water as you slide your hand down the leader to release the fly. The fish looks prettier and better proportioned than any you have ever seen, and you watch in quiet reverence as it swims back into the current.
You realise the good moment wasn't when when you hooked the fish or even when you released the fish with a spoken or inward 'thank you'. You were 'in the moment' or experiencing 'Zen' while you were fishing confidently, but more so at the moment you stopped trying to catch fish and just fished.
This is the moment when your mind is clear and you are at peace with yourself and engrossed by your surroundings, when the background sounds of the river and the birds kind of fade way into the distance; your focus is on your fly but also everywhere else at the same time. You are not moving your casting hand or arm, it is just happening; the fly is landing where your mind would say it should be if it was working. At that point you almost become a spectator to yourself from within yourself. At that moment, you are in a meditative and enlightened state and part of the environment that surrounds you.
Isnâ€™t that why you go fishing?
Aside from getting into the Zen moment and the Nirvana it encompasses, the fishing overall was pretty good. When you pull around a dozen fish out of the first pool, things can only get better.
The thought that came to mind is that what I was experiencing was 'ZenKara' which could actually be translated from Japanese into the English phrase, 'out of Zen'. Perhaps I will make it my personal mantra while fishing Tenkara style. Certainly it was an exceptional day on the river in more ways than one, and I was pleased that I shared it with myself.
Fishing in Cape Streams is synonymous with falling in. The old actors adage "break a leg" has been replaced by my fathers comment "hope you fall in the water", which more often that not happens. Mostly, falling in the water is a spectacular but undignified event, and because falls can be so creative, I have decided to try and categorise them. In all cases, the effect of falling in is two fold. One, the fish don't like it and bolt, and secondly a wet fisherman is not necessarily an efficient one
The overbalancing pirouette.
This classic maneuver is usually caused by too much forward speed. You step onto the rock you want to stand on, but your momentum carries you forward. However the deep pool in front of you means you cant keep going and so you try and turn around to go back, you cant so keep spinning. You execute the perfect pirouette but end up in the pool in front face first after going full circle. You realise there was a suitable rock just under the water, because your knee just found it.
The triple forward stumble.
You have just made a wide jump, and again have excess momentum. This time there is a rock in front of you, and you head for it. It required a bit more movement so you keep going to the next one. Out of the corner of your eye you see fish darting away. You get to the next one, which is just a little to far to one side, and ...... sploosh! Your pants start leaking blood in the shin area
The stuck foot slow motion fall
This is the most common one. You have spotted a fish and keep your eye on it while stepping forward, but the spot was a little deeper than you expected, but not to worry. You bring you next foot forward, but it wedges between two rocks, so you slowly fall to the side, watching the water coming up to face. You unwedge yourself and frantically dash downstream to collect your spilled gear
The wobbly rock face plant.
A familiar scenario, the big flat rock you just stood on is actually pointy underneath and you are in serious trouble. You aren't really falling yet, but your arms are windmilling like crazy, trying to get you to fly but it is not working. Eventually after what seems like an age, gravity wins and you you start going forward, slowly at first, but gathering sufficient momentum so that the water gives your face a good smack. It takes a while to get up and you wish you had a snorkel. The advantage of this fall is that your cuss words are muffled.
Fast water, foot wash dunker.
You have a narrow channel of water to cross, that is just too wide for one jump. All the water in the stream goes through here into a pool below and there is one high rock in the current. A quick dash across is required and you know you need to step a little upstream of that rock to hit it, as the water is fast.
The current is hopelessly underestimated and your foot is washed completely past it, and you follow your foot into the deep pool. In this case, no one is spared the cuss words that erupt when your head clears the water and you start stroking downstream to get your rod and hat.
The back step and upside down turtle.
Sometimes you want to move a little back, usually to execute a fantastic cast under a low hanging branch that will impress your partner. You step back and lose your balance, which is usually followed by another step back, and possible another. At times you could end up at the start of the beat before you lose you balance, which you inevitably will. You fall on your back, and invariably can't get up, you are on your back with your arms and legs waving about in the air, your rod floating downstream. The more your struggle to get up the more you look like an upside down turtle, especially if you have a big rucksack on.
The only impressing you do now, is the sound of your partners laughter, impressing itself on your brain.
Edging close to the bank around a deep pool, while trying to keep your family jewels dry you rely a bit too much on some handy vegetation. Either you are too heavy or the branch too weak, but the result is the same. A crisp 'crack' and your jewels and the rest of you are under water, rod in one hand and a branch in the other.
This one is special to streams or rivers with big smooth rocks. You are standing on a sloping rock just like the others you have stood on all day, and for some bizarre reason gravity grabs your feet and shoots them forward down the rock. It is so fast you land smack on your coccyx so hard you hear three cracks, the first is your coccyx breaking, and the second the pain exploding into your brain. Because you just reacted and tried to get your hands down to slow your descent the rod in your right hand took some of of the impact, and the breaking butt section was the third crack. This is an extremely painful maneuver and is not recommended for the novice faller. It is also extremely painful to watch.
Drown and across.
This is reserved for bigger streams or rivers and is a good reason to tie your hat on with a chin strap. You are usually waist high or deeper, and after making a cast towards the other bank you do a little misstep, only to find that the current is strong and that it is deeper than you are.
Proceeding to float downstream with your hat as the only indicator, your line snags on something, causing you to swing like a wet across the current to the other side.
This is best performed in front of a crowd.
The bank-slide nut cracker
Eddie Gerber described how he decided to bum slide down a gentle bank into the river. Halfway down his one leg went through a loop created by a tree root. This caused a sudden stop, with most of the stopping power being transferred from his family jewels. It would have gone a bit smoother if he were able to plunge the hurting bits in the cool water, but unfortunately he was trapped. He couldn't go up or down, as there was nothing convenient to pull himself up with and gravity kept in the grip of the root. Eventually some squirming and tricky maneuvers allowed him to free himself, but the lesson has been learned. Check for obstacles before sliding down an embankment.
Drew Kennedy's favourite fall is the splits. You are stepping from one slippery rock to the other and have slightly over-reach your forward foot. The result is that it keeps sliding forward, and at the same time you rear foot starts sliding backwards. You know you are in trouble when the seam of your pants start to groan, just before they rip.
Don't be deceived by rocks that appear flat. Sometimes they have just enough slope to get you sliding very slowly into the water. Eddie Gerber realised that lifting a foot to try and walk uphill results in an ungainly moonwalk that just gets you deeper. In vain you start to use your hands as oars, and as you get deeper its starts to look like a geniune doggy-paddle. There is no way out of this dilemma, so just go with the flow and start swimming.
Look at my new non-slip boots prat-fall.
Everyone knows that showing off while fishing is a sure way to invite trouble. Daryll Lampert says that the easiest way to fall is to show your fishing buddy how much grip your new boots have. You are sure to push the envelope just enough to reach critical mass whereby you become gravity's bitch.
This fall can also happen during a 'look-at-me-I-have-a-fish' moment.
Loose Rock & Roll.
This a slighhtly different take on the moonwalk, and usually happens when trying the exit the river up a gravelly bank. Every step forward sends you foot shooting back like you are trying to walk on marbles. Your steps keep getting faster until your body starts moving forward without your legs and you end up sliding down the slope in the push-up position. This is great for spectators, except those directly behind you.
All of the above maneuvers have been tested by me personally, except for the drown and across which was invented and field tested by Korrie Broos.
Mitigating measures are to use a wading staff and/or wading boots with good grip.
A serendipidous meeting with a farmer in the shop led to me dragging my family to the upper Oliphants river in the heat of December.
He has accommodation on the upper Oliphants in various forms, campsites, forest camps and farmhouses.
Best of all, he has two nice dams stocked with clanwilliam yellowfish, as well as pristine stream containing 9 indigenous fish species.
The question of where someone could target these fish is often asked in the shop, and my answer is usually vague,
as reliable spots are either hard to get access to or even harder to get to.
Now we have a potential fishery only 2.5 hours from Cape Town on reasonable roads.
We chose to stay at Tree Top Cottages which has wooden cottages on stilts connected by walkways,
and is situated in a mature black poplar forest. Thus even in the heat of midsummer, the cottages are cool, and if you feel a little hot
you can jump into the river. And if it is cold, the hot baths are just down the road.
(Note that you need to book a day in advance for day visits to the springs)
Gerrit (the farmer) gave me a tour of the dams and river and we had a chance to briefly fish them.
How fishing access will work still has to be decided, but I will let you know via this newsletter as soon as there is news.
My first clanwilliam yellow.
The stream is a tributary of the Olifants, and is clear of alien fish.
A wier has been put up by Cape Nature to prevent them moving upstream, as the Olifants is full of smallmouth bass (as well as some monster clanwilliam yellows).
For those of you visiting the Infanta side (not infantacide) of the River the new shop on the left just before the Mudlark turnoff now has a liquor licence.
That means ice cold beer from a sixty year old fridge that is nestled amongst the eclectic collection of junk that makes up the bent head.
Well worth a visit, and has a screen for those who cannot miss important sports events. The proprietor, Mark, is the son of Hilary of Mudlark.
Fishing for grunter on the Breede can be fickle, as has been proven on my last two visits. Firstly the grunter were 'coming up short' on the fly and then according to the locals, the water was too clean. Nonetheless, I will be back in a week or so to give it another go.
The sun had just hit the water, and I was standing knee deep in the water, which usually means 'more than ankle deep' in the mud, that I finally spotted a plume of mud, indicating a feeding grunter.
It was well past my casting range, so i ventured into deeper water to get closer. Yes, even beyond that level where the cold water seeps up into your jocks and causes a sharp involuntary intake of breath, making the dawn air seem so much colder.
Venturing to about waist deep (knee deep in the mud) I was about to cast when...
...right under my nose I saw a plume of mud.
While I was contemplating how in the name of the fish god I was going to cast to fish half a rod length away, when I noticed something strange.
This mud plume was moving against the current!
It kept moving, and kept moving, and a brief estimation in the primitive part of my brain said that this mud plume was longer than my height, and most likely had its origins in the Zambezi.
The primitive part of my brain also said run, while my adrenal glands pumped a bit of juice to assist it. But the rational part of my brain stopped it, because if it had its way, there would be a lot of shouting and splashing, and given that my feet were in the mud, would likely result in my being completely submerged during flight mode.
Thus the tale of the guy rushing and splashing and screaming and falling and swearing, while throwing babies behind him did not happen.
Instead, a calm, dignified and very brave (if I may say so) retreat was effected.
A month ago I was sorting out a tangle at the tip of my rod, and when II clipped the last bit off, my rod butt and reel went 'gloomp!' into Lakenvlei dam.
After some dithering I dropped the anchor to mark what I thought was the spot and because the water was so clear and I could see the bottom, tried to find it. Not realising the water was so deep I was looking for something the size of a reel, when I should have been looking for something the size of a bottle cap.
Once I saw how small the anchor looked I realised my mistake.
The next day I tried again but was hampered by low light and a choppy surface.
Being of Scottish descent, there was no way I was going to let this go and buy a new rod and reel, so tied a coke bottle to a rock to make a temporary bouy.
Three weeks later I was back with my scuba gear, and it wasn't long before I found it. Also in the same area was a broken oar, but no treasure. It was still in good condition, but oddly the tip of the line and leader were missing. Crab?
By now most people are aware that somehow bass got into the dam. Whether it was an intentional or accidental stocking is unknown.
Having retrieved my goodies, I took a drift up to the main inlet and managed to lose quite a few trout on the way.
Bending a rock-bent hook straight again does not work.
Anchoring up at the inlet I proceeded to catch bass after bass after bass. No Trout.
Eventually, after 34 bass I caught a trout. What a relief, but the ratio did not look good.
The bass (smallmouth and largemouth) seemed to have congregated in the warm shallow weedbeds, and were primed to spawn, despite being so small.
My son Isaac joined me towards the end and made out total bass bag 42.
We left the bass overnight on the shore next to the hut for the otters, which had eaten at least 30 by the next morning.
If you do go out there, please spend some time removing bass at the inlet. We will never get rid of them completely, but can keep the numbers down, as they are competing with trout for the same food.
If anyone knows where we can buy some big browns, please let me know.
If you want to sight fish for yellowfish, you either have to get lucky in KZN or the Eastern Cape, or you could plan to fish at low tide in the Karoo.
Every winter, the tunnel that feeds water from the Gariep dam into the the Fish River is closed for maintenance.
This means that the water slows down rapidly, clears up, and the fish concentrate in pools.
The 800 km from Cape Town seems far, but the journey is not long if you stop for breakfast, coffee, coffee, lunch, and tea.
Our intrepid group settled in for the evening at the Angler and Antelope, we went through the options available to us over the next three days.
While there are some excellent trout still waters in the area, we opted to give those a miss and concentrate on the unique fishing that the area offers .
Waiting for the man, and for the sun to warm us up a little.
- Picture yourself having a game of tennis. Your opponent without your knowledge switches the ball to one a third bigger.
- When that ball comes your way it will appear closer than it is and you will swing too early. If the ball were to be switched for a smaller one you would swing too early, and again, swipe air. Miss!
- If we apply this analogy to fly fishing we come up with a possible scenario for missed takes.
- If a fish is feeding during a heavy hatch you are faced with the challenge of making your fly stand out among the others to get the attention of the fish. Usually a bigger fly would be used, and rarely, a cluster fly that looks like a whole plate of food.
- If we apply the tennis scenario above, the use of a bigger fly may cause the fish to completely miss the fly, as it will open its mouth too early, and too you it would look like a last second rejection. If a fly is smaller than those around it, the converse may happen, and the fish could have its nose out the water before it opened its mouth.
- Using a trout rising to a dry fly as an example, it will spot the fly, rise to it, and at the critical moment when it opens it mouth to suck the fly in, it looses sight of it. At this point a misjudgement of size is critical.
- This theory does not just apply to dry flies during a hatch, but can be at any time or scenario where the fish misjudges the size of the fly.
- Ever wondered why booby flies get sucked in so deep?
- So have I, but I will think of something one day.
The area looks rather post-apocalypic as the fire left very little behind.
It is eerily silent, without the calls of birds or insects, or the rustle of leaves.
There are few animal tracks other than porcupines, and probably the only hare to survive was munched by a leopard.
Along the river bed some vegetation survived and the thorny asparagus bushes and ferns are starting to show.
Other than the odd bit of green, the only other colour is the red of the paintbrush bulbs and lillies.
The rocks that are sheltered from the small spatter of rain since the fire have quite a bit of ash piled on them