Fly fishing for our indigenous Yellows must seriously be one of the most under-rated fly fishing experiences in the world. Having only fished for Scaleys in Natal on bait and later on fly, I have always wanted to go and fish the Vaal, Orange or whatever river to try to catch a Mud Fish, Small Mouth and a Large Mouth. When the offer of a trip to the Orange came up, I jumped at it. An old school friend, Craig de Villiers, now living in Gauteng, Peter Drake, my rock and surf fishing buddy and I joined a group of guys from all over the country for four nights at a lodge hosted and guided by Jacques Marais and his team.
Having never fished Sterkfontein, Pete and I decided to stop overnight in the Harrismith area and spend the afternoon checking out Sterkfontein. We had some inside info on secret spots from an ex-Shamrock and Capers owner, Keith Mathias. After eventually managing to find a spot, we were quite disappointed to not see a single fish anywhere in a place that was supposed to be bubbling with them. Too cold we were told on the cellphone, still too early. Making our way along the bank we found a spot with a high advantage point and managed to see some fish holding quite deep down. All these fish however, had lockjaw or us rock and surf fundies did not have the right stuff.
After some two and a half hours and many new strategies later, I managed to hook into a serious fish. I very quickly realised it was one of those once in a lifetime things and the fear of losing it turned my knees weak and my mouth dry - too dry to shout instructions to Pete on the net. The fish took a good 100 plus metres of my backing, got me around a few bricks, gave me back a sight of my fly line only to take it back again and so on for a good twenty to twenty-five minutes. When we first caught sight of the fish I could not believe what I was seeing. I was seriously expecting some good sized Carp, but it was the biggest metallic, golden-coloured Yellowfish I had ever seen. After Pete falling in the water, my heart jumping out of my throat and a lot of sweat, we eventually slid the fish into the net. Had a quick photo session and I could not help just keeping the fish in the water and admiring its beauty. At this stage I knew it was a Yellowfish, but was quite confused and overwhelmed. Only after we had let it go did I say to Pete, “I think this might be a Large Mouth”.
Jacques Small Mouth
Modern technology saw to it that as soon as I started fishing again and before my knees had actually steadied, my phone started to go mad. My dearly beloved had received a picture from me via WhatsApp that she posted onto my Facebook page, little realising that it is hard to fish with a vibrating, pinging, ringing and singing cellphone in your pocket. I lost comms at this point (finger on the right button) and tried to see whether we couldn’t catch a bigger one.
This made for a lot of talk and banter on the rest of the trip the next day and I started to wonder whether we shouldn’t just have stayed at Sterkfontein rather than the Orange, but I still needed to catch a Mud Fish, a Small Mouth and hopefully the river Large Mouth that had been on my list. After arriving and meeting at a little hotel in Douglas, we followed the convoy for about an hour and a half until we arrived at the camp on the banks of the Orange. Some quick refreshments, a briefing by Jacques and his team and a quick practice session on the river before dark, gave us a taste of what was to come. To say that the fishing was amazing is an understatement. I have never caught so many fish so quickly on a fly in my life. There were ten of us and whilst some guys were really chilled and some fished very conventionally, there were a couple of us that fished hard. I don’t think I have ever had that many metres taken off any form of light to medium outfit in a day anywhere. These Yellows will take 15 metres upstream against a serious current, turn around, take twenty downstream and then come back at you so fast that you can’t catch up and just when you think you are winning, his mate will grab one of the other flies, break off the tired fish and you start all over again. There were very few places that did not hold an abundance of fish.
Peter with Mr Lips
On one of the days I managed five Mud Fish of which only two were foul-hooked. This is evidently the most common way of hooking them. The other three were fair and square in the mouth and fought very differently and harder than the Yellows. We caught a couple of small Largies up to around two kilos. The Yellows were going to as much as three and a half and the Muddies were up to three kilos. There were Barbel that must have been 30 kilos, but we ran out of time and didn’t target them as we were having such a good time with the rest of the fish.
The bird life was amazing and we saw plenty of Oryx, Red Hartebeest and even Otters in the river. The evenings were filled with the day’s stories, the handing out of the Yellow Cap (which is a camp tradition), wonderful campfires and great camaraderie. The evening meals were amazing traditional South African bush-veld cooking.
Having arrived on the Wednesday and gotten a taste of the fishing, we had a full day’s fishing on Thursday with a braai on the banks at lunch and another full day a different set of rapids on the Friday, with sandwiches for lunch and some wonderful cold drinks. Saturday we spent on rubber ducks having launched them quite a few kilometres up the river and fishing our way back to camp. Very scenic and we saw some amazing parts of the river, but I felt a little bit of a waste of fishing time being in the duck travelling. My favourite part of the trip was in the afternoons when the rest of the gang were absolutely bushed and leaving back for camp at around 15h30-16h00. Pete, Craig and I would stay on, have a beer or two, chill and wait for that quiet time just before dark. On both occasions the fish came really thick, really close to the edge. One could sight-cast to chosen fish from the dry land.
The camp is located below the Conference of the Orange and the Vaal Rivers and about an hour down-river from Douglas. The nice thing about this is that should one be faced with adverse conditions in the main Orange, one can always travel upstream and then fish the better of the two rivers depending on where the problem is coming from. It is nice to have options when fishing. I thought I knew a little bit about Czech Nymphing. Jacques proved to me that I was right, that was all I knew, a little bit. The time he spent with me was unbelievable. He is an extremely competent angler and has had plenty of experience in these waters. His guidance immediately set me off on one of the most wonderful fly fishing trips I have ever had. I cannot wait to go back and do it again and also to take what I have learnt to rivers like the Tugela, Umzimkhulu and even the Umkomaas when it is pushing a lot of water.