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Category: Warmwater Fly Fishing Magazine

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 SMALLSCALE FLY SELECTION

SOME FLIES THAT WILL CATCH SMALLSCALE YELLOWS ON THE ASSEGAI RIVER, BUT WILL ALSO WORK ON OTHER RIVERS AND YELLOWFISH SPECIES.

At some stage I became tired with lugging numerous boxes of flies to the water, so I summarized the years captured data, determining that I mostly used about 16 different patterns on the Assegai River for most of our Smallscale and Largescale Yellows. The same flies and sizes had also fooled quite a number of Smallscale Yellows in the Pongola, uHlelo and Ngwempisi Rivers too. Also noting that on visits to the Vaal and Orange River I had had relied on my same trusty Smallscale selections to catch the Smallmouth Yellowfish and Muddies of these two systems. The same bunch of flies had also proven themselves on KZN Yellows on the Buffalo River.

So one evening I pulled all the flies from the boxes except those that had proven themselves and set out to fill the rows in only one of my fly boxes with the flies that have worked for me over the years. There were nine rows on each side of the fly box I chose to fill and each row has 28 slots. Between orders and time on the water I spent some serious time behind the vise, slowly but surely filling the rows of flies, sometimes replacing a couple I had lost on an outing to the water. Eventually I was done and happy with my efforts.

Many times when I take first time visitors to the Assegai River or any of the other rivers in the area, I am often asked what flies work best and now that I have crunched the data, I am able to confidently say what mostly works for myself on the river and would like to share at least ten of the most effective of these patterns here.

No 1: Peacock Caddis

Peacock CaddisThis fly was shared with me a few years back, by none other than the Smallscale Master Horst Filter who guides on the Assegai and Pongola Rivers, its a simple tie and doesn’t take much materials or time at  to wrap up a few of them. In the smaller sizes such as #14 – #16 it is absolutely deadly. I often fish this fly ahead of a Dragon Bugger pattern New Zealand style, but it is just as effective on its own fished tight up against standing growth such as reeds bordering the water. Cast it and let it sink then give two or three short twitches and let it sink watching the point of the leader that enters the water. At any untoward moment strike, smallscales can be very sneaky at picking a fly up and rejecting it.

No 2: The Peeping Caddis

Cased CaddisShortly after obtaining Dean Riphagens excellent book The South African Fly Fishing Handbook one of the first flies I tied from its pages was the Casemaker Caddis by René Harrop. As the years went by and new materials and hook styles became available I started tinkering with this particular fly, the first change was the substitution of the Gold Crystal Chenille for Gold Ice Dubbing in an effort to keep the body slimmer. I later saw a similar pattern incorporating a small split shot crimped onto tippet and then tied in at the head to flip the fly over similar to modern jig hooks it also had a small chartreuse burnt Peeping Caddisyarn head to simulate the head of a caddis peeping from its case, surrounded by a turn or two of hen hackle to imitate the legs, this all made sense and was put to the test with good results. When jig hooks became more available it naturally progressed to them, eliminating the Split shot head procedure. I mostly fish this pattern in #14 and once you are familiar with the tying procedure it is another quick no nonsense fly to tie.

No 3: The Hot Green Brassie

Hot Green BrassieWhether green rockworms are around or not, this one in the faster waters will often produce the goods, the concept is based on the South Platte Brassie by Gene Lynch when tied on a #14 – 16 hook with a hot orange head it seems to trigger both Small- and Largescale Yellows to having a go at it. It has also become one of my favorite Vaal and Orange River flies due to the slimHot Green Brassie (Jig) profile and heavy wire abdomen it gets down fast and stays down for most of the drift, it is also very effective combined with a small PTN dropper just above it. Recently I’ve been having success with it tied on a jig hook instead of the caddis/grub style hook, eliminating it getting stuck to rocks and other structure.

No 4: The  V-Rib Caddis (That Ugly Brown Worm)

V-Rib CaddisAnother one from the stable of super flies from Mr Filters vise, this one is not a fly that will win prizes for its looks, but man does it catch fish over and over, on nearly every water I have presented it to yellows. ItHot Orange V-Rib Caddis uses minimal materials and takes less than a few minutes to tie. I fish two versions of it, one with a gold bead and another with a hot orange bead, especially when the fish seem less inclined to and one size seems to work best a #10 TMC200R nothing smaller. It gets down quick to where the fish seem to often be and takes are often quite visible right after a few quick twitches.

No 5: Beams Wooly Worm

Beams Wooly WormA true South African fly in its own right originally tied by the Late John Beams, often one of the first flies I tie on when I visit new waters or when the gong gets tough. This little no in #14 tied on as a dropper has deceived more Smallscales than I can count, even in a local stillwater it delivers when fished just below the surface on its own. The hot orange butt acts as a trigger, combined with peacock herl and a sparse hackle for movement yellows will confidently inhale it.

No 6: The Dragon Bugger

Dragon Bugger (Original)I go through these like its nobody’s business, a very productive fly from American fly tier Andy Burke with a few small tweaks, such as the small hotspot and a strand of crystal flash on either side of the tail. This fly produces solid and very visible takes and is often a fly I give to first time visitors to the Assegai River who are not familiar with how sneaky Smallscales can be in picking up a fly.  Fished on an active retrieve takes usually come between jerks as Dragon Bugger (Hot Spot)the fly stops and slowly sinks, since dragonfly nymphs can spurt away quite quickly I believe that yellows hammer this pattern before it can get away, resulting in very visible and positive pickups by the fish. Another one size fits all for me pattern with #10 being the only size I carry and the dark brown colour also being the most effective.

No 7: Hot Spot PTN

PTN Hotspot (Natural)A yellowfish selection without the trusty PTN would be incomplete, it is just one of those patterns that seem to work everywhere for yellowfish not to mention a couple of other species to. A pattern that can imitate a variety of mayfly nymphs found in most river PTN Hotspot (Black)systems. On the Assegai and other local rivers that small bright thorax seems to trigger the less aggressive fish to pick it up, when the water is off colour the fish seem to key in better on the black version and for clearer waters the natural brown pattern doesn’t shine and put them off like a light bulb on a dark night. The most effective sizes on the Assegai River are #14 – #18

No 8: Craven’s Cased Caddis

Craven's Cased CaddisThis is one of those patterns that when I open my fly box it draws some attention, the first question I often get is “is this one of your own patterns” the answer is “nope” its probably because not many anglers are familiar with it. This one comes from master tier Charlie Craven’s vise and the first time I saw it I tied up a quick couple of them and was on the water the following day. This little pattern proved itself and has found a permanent row in my fly box. A very versatile pattern that can be fished in fast and slow water, on its own or with another fly as a dropper. Tied on a #12 TMC200R is probably the most effective size. If the fish are rejecting it, I have come to believe its not a size issue, but a different pattern that they are keyed in onto.

No 9: Scruffy Nothing (Roadkill Scrape)

Scruffy Nothing (Roadkill Scrape) Living in a small town for away from fly fishing shops prior to the availability of online shopping leads to one using what is available, I started tying this fly about 15 years back. I gifted a Slender Mongoose pelt that had met its untimely end while raiding eggs, for quite some time the skin was left nearly forgotten until one day I was looking for slightly longer and spikier fur due to the lack of squirrel fur for the thorax on a Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. After tying a couple of Red Fox Squirrel Nymphs with the mongoose hair I started playing around with this material over time until I settled on this pattern. The tail comes from Golden Pheasant tail I had picked up and the body was from another road kill victim, this time an unfortunate hare that crossed the road at the wrong time. The bead is a clear glass bead. When the caddis are diving back into the water or rising of the surface this is the first fly I tie on, the hot orange collar and the clear glass bead work well together with the spiky thorax simulating movement and a small air bubble. I tie this fly in #12 and fish it mostly with an audible plop and long strips. Takes are often solid as the fish slash at them before they can get away. It also works well as a dropper fly and has caught some decent yellows on the Vaal and Orange River systems.

No 10: Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear (Variant)An old favorite that probably will keep on working for ever, it is a great searching pattern on the Assegai, it represents a whole range of things from small dragon fly nymphs to mayfly nymphs. Fished on its own or with another heavier pattern rigged New Zealand style it does very well when cast close to standing vegetation or submerged structure where yellows like to hang out. I have over the years made some proven changes to it, to simplify the tying of this pattern. Such as using Peacock Herl for the thorax cover as advocated by Randal Kaufmann and using pheasant hen for the tail. I predominantly use hot orange thread for tying since I believe it doesn’t hurt to have a small hotspot incorporated in the fly for added effectiveness. Sizes 12 to 14 seem to be the most effective.

These ten flies are what I have come to believe in over the years on the Assegai River and other local rivers and wherever I go if there are yellows this box comes along with me.

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.