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Category: Fly Fishing

BUFFALO RIVER 2019-07-06

BATTLE CRIES IN THE SHADOW OF AMAJUBA MOUNTAIN

Every time we have met the Border Fishing Buddies had been regaling me with tales of a pretty little river they regularly fish for KZN Yellowfish aka Scalies, so when Dèhan posted some pictures of a quick but successful excursion to the Buffalo River I just couldn’t resist the temptation any more.

Some quick plans were made and the wheels were set in motion, this time for me to visit Jarryd and Dèhan on their home water in search of those pretty scalies. The excitement built up as I counted the days down and then even before the alarm clock went off the Saturday morning I jumped out of bed, got dressed and made myself a quick cup of coffee before the hour and a half’s drive that lay ahead of me. As I pulled the already packed Hilux out of the garage the cold hit me, but nothing was going to stop me from a visit with good friends and maybe even a bent rod as a bonus.

It was still dark as the kilometers rolled out beneath me and before the sun was up I stopped to get another cup of coffee in Volksrust and off again for the last bit, as I rolled through the Amjuba pass, I tried to imagine how it must have been for the English forces entrenched on the sides of the mountain when the sun also rose on them, the morning when the Boer Commando started their assault on them in 1881.

Just as the sun came up over the horizon I arrived at the arranged meeting place and is wasn’t long before Dèhan and Jarryd stopped there too, the formalities aside I followed through billowing winter dust clouds on a relatively decent gravel road to where they had arranged for us to fish. After stopping the bakkies and walking closer to look at the pretty little stream that flowed in front of us we then with shivering fingers threaded fly lines through rod eyes and tippets were tied on and attached to flies, while Jarryd tended to the coffee as a cold wind blew down the valley from the frosty sides of Majuba Hill.

After a few casts in the winter shade of the wattle trees on our side of the river, but the cold started creeping through our jackets and the three of us then launched a small dinghy and proceeded to precariously cross the river in it to fish a bit in the early morning sun. It seemed that it wasn’t just us who were suffering from the cold as the Yellows were still hunkered down. We crossed the river again for more coffee and to inflate the pontoon boat that I had brought along for Dèhan to give a test run.

After Dèhan set off I crossed the river again only after a few minutes to hear Dèhan calling to us that we should come downstream with the dinghy as he has already released his third fish, what is it with these guys as soon as you split them one starts to fish it happened on the Assegai and here again.

Downstream we row making a cast every now and then until we find a nice spot effectively cutting in front of Dèhan and making sure he doesn’t catch another. It wasn’t long before Jarryd and myself started getting the indicators to dip and dive but the wind was making it difficult. Eventually we both managed to land a fish. The action seemed to die down a bit and we made a call to try and push through a thick patch of hyacinth to a pool further down that looked very promising. With some serious effort and worse cussing we got through praying that it wasn’t for nothing.

Knowing your home water is always a great advantage and before long buddy was on to his third fish from this pool, showing me how it’s done. After a few fish the action died down again so we decided to garden our way through the cabbage back to where the others were in the hope of sustenance and refreshments. A cold one and some friendly banter lifts weary spirits and soon the guys had a small fire going for some proper flame grilled “boerrie” rolls. Since my time was short I excused myself and rod in hand headed to the spot that I had first tried on our arrival. It wasn’t long and I struck gold in a handsome, decently sized KZN Yellow. A quick photo and back it went. It didn’t take long and I was tuned into their station and another one came to the net. After a fourth one I decided to go grab a bite.

Done wolfing down some food and making the required amount of small talk I grabbed my rod and set off to make those fabled last casts, fortunately the river and its inhabitants liked me and another few fish were fooled by feathers and fluff. Eventually and regrettably I had to call it quits since I didn’t want to have to negotiate two mountain passes in the dark on my way home.

With a heavy heart I started packing my kit and soon the place looked like we were never even there. We said our farewells and made plans to get together soon again and I headed home happy to know there are good friends in life great places to fish and plans in the cooker for another get together on another water.

A final shout out goes to Bjorn who made it possible and went out of his way to make the place accessible for us.

Warmwater Bends

ASSEGAI RIVER 2019-06-08

THE ANNUAL BORDER BUDDIES FISHING TRIP

Good times, better friends, cold winter nights around a fire and awesome fishing, is the only way to describe the last time I was out on the water with the Border Buddies as we have started referring to our merry group of fly casters.

The annual trip to the Assegai River for the Border Fishing Buddies has become one of my highlights. As the time gets nearer the WhatsApp messages become more and more animated and every day the excitement grows.

This year like the last looked like it would be no different (ASSEGAI RIVER 2018-09-01), a cold front had rolled in the night before, to me this spelled bad news as smallscales can sometimes develop some serious lockjaw when the barometer readings start hopping all over the place.

Once at the river it did not take the guys long to get rigged up and they were shortly making their first casts. I had hardly set up my own kit when I heard that all to familiar sound an angler makes when he sets the hook on a fish, I grabbed my net and rushed down to find Dèhan fighting a fish.

In no time he had the fish close and I was able to net it quickly, a few snaps and it was sent of to call its mates. At that stage I thought that it could only get better, man was I wrong. We hopped from one pool to another with no luck, eventually at the furthermost point of the river Jarryd managed to land another fish.

We decided to turn back and fish some of the pools on our way back to the cabin. But the cold front had done its work and the yellows had sunk to deeper places to wait out the weather, after a couple of absolute last casts, we called it a day and made our way back to the cabin to get a fire going and supper prepped.

Needless to say, we had a blast around the fire until late that evening, but knowing that there were fish waiting and that they could prove a bit difficult we hopped into warm beds and fell asleep dreaming of fish and personal bests, well I did at least.

The next morning I was up early and while my mates were still rising I walked down to the river to see if I could get a fish on. Unfortunately the smallscales were not cooperating, so I walked back to the cabin to put the kettle on, the guys were up and ready to go by now, another quick cuppa and of we set. I had a spot in mind but at the last minute decided to go to another productive section of the river. The guys made their way to the water and flies sailed through the air in no time. We heard Jarryd mumbling something and by the time we could hear what he was saying, he informed us that he had already released his third fish.

Well the day only got better as the guys and myself started catching them nearly one after the other, eventually we had to call it quits after about 32 fish in three hours. We headed back to the lodge to pack and say our fare wells

And so our weekend came to an end, with smiles all round.

Until next time on the Assegai

ASSEGAI RIVER 2018-09-01

ASSEGAI RIVER, SMALLSCALE YELLOWFISH

The Dept. of Water Affairs had opened the sluices of Heyshope Dam a few days before the arrival of my guests Dèhan Bezuidenhout and Jarryd Bach. Making the Assegai rise a few inches, this also affected the water clarity. During the night lying in bed I could hear the water flowing stronger and the sound of the water coming down louder. When we woke up for coffee I could see from the deck of the cabin that the water was flowing much stronger than the previous day.

       

For the first days fishing I had managed to gain permission from the land owner that a very productive section of the Assegai River flows through and has bigger and larger sections than those close to the cabin where we were staying on the river. This section had been closed off to fisherman for about two years and I believed that it would produce some spectacular catches for my guests.

On arrival at the planned honey hole we were informed that we were not to drive to the place I had in mind to fish first and that we should walk if we wanted to fish it. I ran this by Jarryd and Dèhan and they were keen to make the hike. After setting up our kit, we took a brisk walk to the pool. It looked clear enough and I placed them on the most productive spots letting them cast into deeper waters from the sandbank we had waded out onto.

       

After about an hour with not even a take from a yellow we decided to move, the reason for fish being scarce becoming apparent as we came across a number of operations where sand for building was being pumped out of the river. Since it was not too late we packed up and returned to the waters in close proximity to the cabin.

Here on the first hole where I placed Jarryd he went tight, with a smallish but healthy Assegai Smallscale, the next moment we saw Dèhan who was upstream on the same pool’s rod bend and his reel complain as what looked like a decent fish really put the screws to him.

I managed to make my way around the pool to, help him netting the fish, after a good fight and numerous attempts to get the fish closer, for the net to come into play I managed to net a proper sized Smallscale Yellow, that would have easily pulled a scale past 2,5kg and even a bit more. A few quick photos and we set the fish back in the river.

The pool had been spooked by now so we moved to a couple of other pools, here Jarryd managed another Smallscale Yellow, but with the river running turbid it was difficult fishing, yet the guys pushed on until it was nearly dark and we decided that a cold beer at a fire with a couple of steaks would be a better idea.

The next day we were up and out early again, the water still flowing strong, at one of the first pools where we stopped I managed to land a good sized yellow in faster water.

But that was it for the day, I really gained a lot of respect for these two enthusiastic anglers the weekend, even in sub optimal conditions and the fishing being really difficult they never lost heart, kept on plugging at it and were at least rewarded with a few fish for their efforts. What really set them above some of the anglers I have fished with was the fact that after I tried to slip a portion of their guide fee back to them it was discovered and returned to me. Absolute gentlemen they were about it, no griping no complaining.

The flies that were productive on this outing were Brown V Rib Caddis, Emerging Caddis, my Sand Dragon now renamed by Dèhan as the “Bytjie” (bee) and A Green Bodied Brassie with a hot orange bead. These flies stood out in the murkier water.

Till next time on the water

Warm Water Bends

EXPLORING THE NGWEMPISI RIVER

 

Ngwempisi River

The most fishable section of the Ngwempisi River lies on the road between Piet Retief and Amsterdam as it flows through some really beautiful surroundings winding its way through a gorge of steep cliffs known as Skurwe Rantjies to the locals and then it opens out into a series of kloofs as it flows towards Swaziland. Unfortunately its waters have been off limits to even local anglers, except a few privileged foresters of the local forestry company that owned the property that it flows through. Recently the ownership of this section of water switched hands and fortune smiled on me, as the new owner and myself have been friends for some time and finally after many years I obtained permission to fish the waters to my heart’s content.

It has been running full and quite turbid making fishing nearly impossible thus only increasing the anticipation to get to it, since fly fishing for Yellows in the Piet Retief area is mostly done in clear water during winter, with longer leaders as compared to some of the methods used for yellows across the country it has been virtually unfishable with it being swollen from the runoff.

Every time I crossed the river I would slow down and gaze down at its waters longingly, anticipating the days for it to clear out enough to get a line over its flow. Finally it looked like the waters had cleared up a little and I could not resist. I pulled over and walked down to the edge of the river. The visibility seemed okay even though it wasn’t optimal, following the river downstream I found more and more small fish flashing in the glides and small rapids, but no decent fish. It was getting dark and I needed to get out of the kloof before I couldn’t see, so I left planning to return a few days later but this time with rod and flies.

A couple of days later on my way home I was prepared, stopping under the bridge, I got my kit rigged up and made my way downstream. Even though the water hadn’t cleared up much from my last visit I stayed optimistic and started searching for the telltale flashes of activity. Directly under the bridge the vibrations of heavy vehicles crossing the bridge seemed to put the fish of, but the fish started showing themselves more and more, tying on a small #16 PTN to the bend of a #14 DDD I swung the flies out into the fast water. The first few runs didn’t even register a take at first but I kept at it.

The further I worked my way downstream the harder the going became, the river passes through the last of the gorge, even though it was difficult the beauty of the high cliffs and indigenous trees made it all the more worthwhile. As I came out of the gorge the river widens into a larger pool, hemmed in by stands of high reeds. I worked my way out onto a shallow section of the pool and after having to free my flies couple of times from the bushes, I finally managed to get a cast slightly upstream a small fish rose to the DDD but didn’t commit itself. Another attempt at a cast and I cussed and swore at myself for not bringing the spare spool with the Single Handed Spey line on, as that would have been perfect in these surroundings. The flies broke of to high to reach behind me and I then retied the tippet and changed tactics, this time I tied on a Dragon Bugger followed by a Cravens Jack Flash.

After a couple of tries I managed to lay another cast out and get the flies drifting down the current, as they passed a large rock directly in the current the end of the fly line hesitated for a brief moment and instinctively I lifted the rod, the hook bit and I kept pressure on for a short while to ensure the hook pulled deeper, then I gave its head as it turned downstream and made a good strong run. After working it out of the main current I managed to slip the net under it and a healthy Smallscale of about two pounds lay gleaming in the net. After quickly snapping a few pics I set it free again. I was quite chuffed with landing my first Ngwempisi Yellow.

DCIM101GOPRO

I then climbed out of the water and worked my way downstream to the tail of the pool, after finding a suitable spot to make a cast, I sent the flies upstream and let them sink, as the flies drifted back I would give them a twitch or two, the line jumped forward as the flies sunk and I set the hook, fish on! It wasn’t very big and didn’t put up much of a fight, I unhooked it and let it go to grow a bit bigger for my next visit.

Time was once again against me and against my will I had to call it a day before it was to dark to see. There wasn’t much time to fish as I worked my way upstream to the car but I did make a few casts in the more promising pools, even though I didn’t get anything more I was filled with a sense of hope for when the waters became clearer and the fishing would become better as winter came closer. After packing up I drove home looking forward to my next visit to the Ngwempisi River.

BANDED BANDITS

Often when out on the water the smaller species get overlooked for let’s say the more glamorous species such as Trout, Bass and Carp. Yet those little guys can really make the difference between a slow uneventful day, or just help to let time pass.

For the last couple of years from January to late February when going out for Carp and Bass in some of the local large impoundments such as Westoe and Jericho Dam I have started taking my 3wt with a floating line along, armed with a selection of tiny #12 poppers, that I originally tied up for Bluegill. But bluegill are far and few between from where I live and I kind of forgot about those tiny poppers.

It came about one day while waiting for carp to start coming onto the flats, I tied on a #02 popper in the hopes of tempting a bass or two while stalking the edges, when I noticed large schools of Banded Tilapia holding in the shallows, as soon as the popper came close to the fringes or passed close to some standing grasses, a horde of tilapia would rush the popper and the larger ones in the group would slash at it. Some would even manage to pull it down by the tail.

Well since the bass were not willing to hit the popper and the carp were skittish, I clipped the popper of and tied on a section of 4X tippet, rummaging through a fly box for something appropriate I found those small poppers, tied one on and made a short cast along the fringes. I then let the tiny bug sit a bit until the ripples died away then gave it a sharp pop.

Let me say a #12 popper doesn’t make much of a noise but it was enough to draw the attention, the popper was rushed down and it was fish on, well on the seven weight there wasn’t much of a fight but it did try its best. After a quick photo I unhooked it and let it go to join its mates.

I then made another few casts, letting the fly sit after it had fallen on the water a while, then give it a twitch or two. The water was very clear and it was easy for me to see how these tilapia reacted to the fly, as soon as the fly hit the water or was popped the school would rush up to it and stare at it. Eventually the suspense would become too much and one would have a go at the popper. If left to long they would lose interest and start to turn away, a small twitch would elicit a strike from the larger fish in the school. Sometimes while the school would surround the popper, another larger fish would out of nowhere charge the fly and take it before any of the others can decide if they want it or not. I nearly forgot about the carp, as I walked along the edges catching one after the other.

There are some bull sized ones to you just need to find them, these are territorial and they will hammer anything that enters their proclaimed territory. Keeping them out of the weeds on 3wt and 4x tippet becomes a challenge.

Bull Banded Tilapia.jpg

Yes I know it’s not rod bending, adrenaline pumping stuff, but it’s fun and relaxing, plus the visual aspect of having a fish hit a surface bug, to me is just addictive. As I said I now don’t leave home without my 3wt and those dinky sized poppers. Just in case the fishing is slow, or so I tell myself.

 

EXPLORING CZECH NYMPHING METHODS ON THE ASSEGAI RIVER

JBSC1On one of the supposed last trips to the river with new friend Jarryd Bach we found us on one of my favorite stretches on the Assegai River. While crossing the river we noticed a lot of fish in the faster glides and rapids in water hardly deeper than knee high, these fish were actively feeding in this really shallow water and didn’t seem to bothered with our presence, but we passed them up, in favor of the better waters, that I believed would be more productive, after a short hike upstream we came to the pool that I had in mind for the afternoons fishing, within a short space of time I made one or two casts and gave a few pointers to Jarryd, quickly realizing that the fishing here in the pool would not be to good due to the water being off color, I suggested we move back down to where we had seen the fish earlier in the glide.

A quick change of leader and flies and we made our first casts, shortline nymphing to the yellows that were actively feeding in the fast current, it wasn’t too long before I was on with a small but decent sized Smallscale Yellowfish, it accounted well for itself with a short but spirited fight, I managed to slip the net under it, after popping the hook from its mouth I let it go back into the stream.

Now it was Jarryd’s turn, Pointing him to a spot on the water I moved upstream to spot for him, the fish were so close I could poke them with the rod tip if I stretched my arm far enough out. The first few drifts of the fly were pretty exciting as I grunted and made all kinds of noises every time I saw the indicator bob or slow down, instead of yelling strike or hit or some other profanity, but it didn’t take too long and soon he was on, it fought well enough for its size and used the current to its advantage, not to long and out came the net and in the fish went, even though it wasn’t a trophy sized Smallscale it was his first one and that to me is just as special, a quick pic, or two and back it went.

JBSCRelease1The rest of the afternoon went pretty much the same, grunts and curses included, as we missed the quick takes of the yellows picking up and rejecting the flies like lightning, but all in all, by the time it became too dark to see and we were packed up, he had managed to land at least four more fish I can recall including a Largescale to add to another first on fly for him. We headed home and later after a good meal, we parted ways.

Well that night I sat around thinking as to what would be the most effective way to target these fish, after looking into the various methods of fishing nymphs in a fast current, I decided on giving Czech Nymphing a go. It wasn’t too long before I found myself on the water again and the fish were still there in the same shallow section again, a quick leader change and of I went, note I have never Czech Nymphed before so this was all new to me, at first the lobbing of flies that were nearly heavy enough to knock you out if they did hit you felt strange, but it did not take too long and they quickly fell where I wanted them, now to learn how to control the drift and stay in contact with the flies at the same time, after some trial and error this to snapped into place and the sighter of the leader straightened and I lifted into the take, that first run with such a short line out was so direct it nearly caught me of guard, but I managed to stay on without breaking a rod or leg in the shallow water on slippery rocks as the fish at first powered upstream and then suddenly turned and flashed passed me as I frantically tried to keep tension on the barbless hook.  Stumbling like a frightened hippo I managed to keep everything tight and I managed to get the fish close enough to lift a healthy but not too large Smalscale out of the water with the net. After sliced bread I think barbless hooks are the next best thing and often after the first two or three flops in the net the hooks normally just pop out and it’s just a matter of sinking the net below water level and helping the fish out back into the current.

After disturbing this section with my previous antics I took a few paces upstream to where I could see a few more fish holding in the current and lobbed the flies up into the stream and tracking them downstream again, this time I let them sweep past me and sure thing there that sighter bobbed again, I set the hook and let the fish run, this one turned around and used the current against me, but since the water was slightly of color I had stepped up the fluorocarbon tippet section and was able to put some pressure on the fish and work it upstream again. The rest of the afternoon blurred into a one as I by trial and error on my own learned how to control the drift of the flies and stay in contact with them as I worked my way upstream, fishing likely spots. By the end of the day I returned with sore arms and a content smile.

All things considered at the end of the season Czech Nymphing seems to be quite effective for targeting Smallscale Yellows and even the odd Largescale that have moved into the shallow riffles and runs to feed in the slightly clearer water, the sunlight seems to penetrate easier into the lower water levels, in comparison to the deeper slower pools, this I believe increases visibility slightly making it easier for the yellows to pick up nymphs and other aquatic creatures drifting by.  The number of wish taken was quite surprising but no fish over a kilo and a half were caught.

The rains have come full force now as I sit typing this out and the river is flowing brown and strong, thus the Czech Nymph experiment will have to wait till next year. Still it extended the season a little longer and if that’s the case then even a small yellow is a good yellow, when normal methods don’t work