Stefan Ooshuizen is a South African geologist working in western Africa. As with professionals of this ilk, he works for a few weeks non- stop and then gets a useable amount of leave. Often on these occasions he comes up to Rhodes to spend a few days with me on the rivers.
Earlier in the season, there seemed to be a paucity of hatches; happily this trend has reversed over the last six to eight weeks. The extended period of warmer weather we were experiencing may account for this. There are midge and mayfly hatches virtually every day now, should the wind allow. The area is experiencing quite strong winds almost every day, but I suppose that's good as it blows the moisture in for us to experience our first snowfalls of the winter and the rivers could certainly use some snowmelt to raise levels and scour the dead algae out.
One of the first things Stefan asked about was catching bigger fish. I told him it would be unlikely as we don’t really fish for them, as Ed says......’big fish eat small fish’. We want to fish in a more delicate way using light tackle, small nymphs and dries. I offered to help him target some larger specimens but he declined saying that he wanted to only fish dry flies.
Click in images to enlarge them
Stefan on Hillbury on the Bokspruit
I informed him that long leaders and stealthy approach would be essential when fishing the low, gin clear waters. On the first day we visited Hillbury on the Bokspruit. Recently my clients had caught fish in the shallows and I hoped that they would still be around. We parked at the forest’s edge on the middle section of the property and walked down to the river. Stefan was using the 10ft 2wt. Sage with a long leader. I suggested that he have a few casts to see how the outfit worked for him. He had never before attempted to cast a 20ft leader and could not believe how this wand handled one. He was soon into a few, smaller 10-11” fish. These fish were fat, strong and fit; in fact of a very high condition factor.
Stefan fell in love with the rod and we moved downstream intending to examine the waters that we would fish on our way back upstream. We arrived at a shallow riffled section where my previous clients had done very well, although the water was now about 30cm shallower. I had been explaining to Stefan that he must look for the areas with the cleanest water and most oxygen as the fish should be feeding there. At this stage the wind started to blow and fortunately it was in an upstream direction at this stage. I stayed back out of the water and Stefan sneaked in, he took his time, moved with stealth. He soon identified the right areas and was getting takes from fish no longer than the depth of the water they were feeding in. Stefan hardly needed to cast the long leader. He let the wind carry the fly out and by moving his rod tip allowed the fly to alight. I’m surprised that no fish came out of the water to take the hovering fly before it landed.
We moved further downstream and fished some runs and riffles that normally produce many fish...no go.
Where one expects fish but got none
Some of fly-fishing’s realities are; there will always be wind, probably blowing from the wrong direction; there's a twig to hook up on with your name on in every pool and trees are magnetic.
Downstream with the wind getting unbearable and blowing from the wrong direction we elected to move back up. Stefan said that he had missed a fish against a large rock and would like to try for it again. This location was sheltered from the wind which was by now starting to abate. He went down into the water and was soon getting a take on nearly every cast. Why now, when an hour ago the water seemed dead? We moved upstream fishing likely runs and riffles, taking the odd fish, but not where I had expected them to be found.
We ended up back where we had started and saw the odd rising fish. Stefan caught a few.
When deconstructing the day we worked out that the larger fish all came from the shallower water. Other smaller fish were found in what could be termed holding water, that is with depth and some structure, the sort of place that will never dry up. The day’s experience reinforces the importance of the formula ... cleanest channel...current.....food.....oxygen.....Fish!
Stefan had never fished the Kraai so I took him down to Lekkerbly the next day. By mid-morning the wind had started blowing. But, there was another serious test for Stefan...slimy river bottoms. All the streams of the area drain into the Kraai. Dropping levels have resulted in the river depositing its load and this includes dead and dying algae. Well done to Stefan. Not once did I see him fall. Slide he did, but he never filled his waders.
Stefan fishing the Kraai on 'Lekkerbly'
Once again it was all about the cleanest water. Stefan found it and was soon getting takes in shallow water. We moved up through the rocky sections and fished the wider slower sandy bottomed river with undercuts and a reed-lined bank with very limited success.
A Lekkerbly rainbow
I had a good look at the water and will be back here in summer targeting yellowfish.
A rocky , pothole section of the Kraai on 'Lekkerbly'
Stefan once again provided the delicious lunch, made with locally unobtainable ingredients like Serrano ham and fresh bread rolls. We drove down to below where we had begun. The river has a bedrock bottom here with slots and grooves forming channels. Soon Stefan was into fish. One specimen seemed to put more of a bend into his rod and he nursed it to the bank. While I was getting the camera ready Stefan said “Tony, now I believe you”.
‘Well I told you to cast there”
“ No, you said big fish eat small fish, this one has a fish hanging out of its mouth”!
A fish hanging out of its mouth!
The fish was about 16” long and it regurgitated a partially digested trout of about 4“ in length. We photographed the fish and its stomach contents and released it. It turned out to be Stefan’s biggest stream fish to date and he was elated.
Stefan’s biggest stream fish to date
This however raises another issue. How old is a 4” fish? Surely not 10 months, especially when there are relatively few fish sharing the available food. I think that this just goes to show that our fish here spawn pretty much year round. The day ended with us driving past a herd of Mountain Reedbuck helping themselves to the fodder crop.
Stefan’s last day dawned and he wished to start early and leave after lunch. We went to Clontarf on the Bokspruit and walked all the way downstream to the beginning of the property. I’d been saying that there wasn’t much point in fishing till the sun hits the water. The first few pools were quite low and still in shadow. Stefan got nothing. Once the sun hit the water he still got nothing. At this stage the wind was starting to blow and changing direction. Stefan fished some lovely looking water with no success and we did not even see a fish. We worked our way upstream and the constantly turning wind was becoming a problem. Stefan ventured that he had heard the local folk talking about wind from a certain direction when one doesn’t even bother to fish.
Stefan on Clontarf on the Bokspruit
I replied “Yes Stefan. This direction. A southeaster”. Fortunately on this stretch the river makes a number of 90 degree bends. When casting became nigh on impossible we skipped fifty meters or so of river up to the bend and Stefan was then able to fish with the wind from our backs. We still saw no fish and I was able to talk Stefan into trying a nymph. Watching from up on the high bank I saw fish chasing his fly as he lifted it to recast. There turned out to be a pod of five fish who would examine the fly then run away spooked on every cast. They would not even eat when the fly was a stripped. We gave up and moved upstream to where a willow hung over the water.
A beautiful pool on Clontarf
Stefan shouted ”Look at the size of that fish”.
A fish of over 20“ ran downstream obviously spooked. We paused and planned the next cast, I had been watching from behind the grass up on the high bank and had seen nothing. Then, another two fish of the same size ran downstream and that was the end of it. Three fish of that size? Surely this must be pre-spawning behaviour? We moved upstream where Stefan caught a few little fish and called it a day.
Stefan’s visit highlighted some issues. Big fish do eat small fish. Do our fish spawn all year? The 10ft Sage ESN 2wt is probably the finest stream tool around, but I’m sure I said the same about the Sage SPL 0wt? The Horizon breathable waders from Frontiers are great and virtually the only flies that worked were the RAB and Edhåmer (Ed Herbst's Klinkhåmer).
Stefan has hired me on a few occasions. He’s a dream client. He wants to learn and he listens. Watching him on the water over this visit shows that he did indeed listen to me and that he can really fish now.