Writing ‘Matching the Hatch’ saw a young university student, Ernest Schweibert, join the pantheon of fly-fishing greats, but by serendipitous accident I discovered that a similarly analytical approach to imitation and selectivity is being used here in South Africa – but with minnows.
But to get back to my story. At the beginning of the year, my friend, Andrew Ingram, was planning a winter trip to fish the Orange River in the Richtersveld and I decided to tie some flies for him in anticipation of the trip.
A typical fly fishers’ camp on the Orange River in the Richtersveld. Photo by M C Coetzer
MC Coetzer, one of the country’s leading competition fly fishers, has often fished the area so I approached him for advice on what nymphs to use, because Czech-nymphing the rapids can provide days when dozens of yellowfish are caught.
His answer surprised me. He said,
‘The fish in the Richtersveld are not picky at all. It’s generally more a question of finding them as some rapids are devoid of fish while others are jam-packed with them.
‘After my last two trips I have switched to fishing streamers for large- and smallmouth yellowfish. A 6-wt rod with an intermediate line, and black, tan or grey streamer patterns, works extremely well. This avoids the smaller fish and you will still end up with 20-plus fish a day.’
M C Coetzer with a typical yellowfish from the Orange River which separates South Africa and Namibia
Alan Hobson, one of the country’s most innovative fly designers, guides lucky anglers to stellar fly fishing for trout, yellowfish, bass and barbel in beautiful surroundings from his Angler & Antelope guest house in Somerset East.
When I approached him for advice on streamers for Andrew Ingram’s trip to the Orange River, I discovered that he has adopted a similarly analytical approach when it comes to imitating our indigenous minnows.
His journey started when a guest gave him a poster produced by a Knysna company, Korckposters, which produces big and beautiful natural history posters.
He found that there is a significant colour range within a single minnow species depending on the water conditions it is found in. Alan says,
‘My minnow patterns originate from either catching minnows at an actual venue, or observing what I see at the water's edge and then using the appropriate materials to match the hatch – shape, size, colour and movement. It is actually a lot more difficult than it looks.
'The Chubby Head Barb is very prevalent in many waters throughout South Africa. What is interesting is how the colours vary from water to water. For example, the Chubby Head Barb in Somerset East - DSCF 5757 on the poster - differs enormously from of the same minnow species found in the Winterberg waters.
'The more the water colour looks like rooibos tea with milk, the more silver the minnow appears and, in the Winterberg, where the water is dark brown, the minnow is more golden.
‘The same phenomenon is found in the Orange River system, with the Orange Fin Barb and the Namaqua Barb.
‘These area-related minnow patterns definitely excite largemouth yellows and bigger trout.
‘The internet’s ‘Global Village’ enables people from all over the world to order my bespoke patterns. I receive a lot of orders for the customised patterns from anglers doing trips to the Richtersveld, Van der Kloof dam, KZN waters and our trophy Eastern Cape waters and have the flies couriered door to door.’
Alan Hobson’s Chubby Head Barb imitation for Thrift Dam, a legendary large trout venue in the Eastern Cape.
The Chubby Head Barb
There are subtle material and design differences between Alan’s imitations of the Chubby Head Barb (above) and the Namib Barb (below) which is prolific in the Orange River in the Richtersveld.
The Namib Barb
Matching the Minnow – the Eastern Cape Redfin which is common in rivers and dams close to Somerset East
One of the staples in the diet of both yellowfish and trout in South Africa is the tadpole of the African Clawed Frog – known colloquially as the ‘Platanna’ – and Alan’s HOT Fly (‘Hobson’s Original Tadpole’) is a justifiably legendary imitation. He is now selling an articulated version which is receiving excellent reviews.
The articulated version of Alan Hobson’s Platanna Tadpole imitation
Another veteran Richtersveld visitor is Richard Wale who, with his partners, bought the Upstream shop from John Yelland and moved it to new premises in Main Road, Kenilworth in Cape Town.
Richard Wale (left) and Andrew Apsey outside the new premises of Upstream in Kenilworth, Cape Town
Richard says that gold materials have proven particularly effective on the Orange River yellowfish and the way he incorporates dumbbell eyes into his streamer is innovative. These flies are available from Upstream as custom ties.
Richard Wale’s Zonker for the Richtersveld yellowfish features gold materials and an innovative way of weighting the fly
My own contribution to Andrew Ingram’s trip to the Richersveld was designed for largemouth yellowfish, which is a 'wait-and-ambush' predator. It was based on the smaller version of the Mangum Dragon Tail which has exceptional movement in the water.
I tied it on a #6 Hanak H950 BL streamer hook and, between the tail material and the dumbbell eyes, I palmered in some Zonker fur trapped in a dubbing loop of 12/0 Nanosilk thread. I tied some foam rubber beneath the tail to stop it from wrapping around the hook.
The author’ Mangum Tail streamer which targets largemouth yellowfish
MC Coetzer pointed out another advantage of fishing a streamer down and across rather that high-sticking a heavily-weighted nymph in the rapids is that it is not as tiring as constantly wading against the current.
Sadly, the Orange River was in spate when Andrew got there and the water was too high and too swift to fish safely. This was a useful reconnaissance trip however and he is planning another trip in spring.
Thanks Ed for a delightful piece, as always, from South Africa's supreme investigative fly fisher !