For more images of my trip to Rhodes follow the link at the bottom of this page...
End of the Western Cape season , the Kraalstroom and a Chinese Ferrari
Graeme Field on the Kraalstroom
The end of season here in the Western Cape didn’t so much tail off, as it usually does, as go out with a bang. I’d had a few days hunting fussy fish in thin water, sometimes blown apart by wind, sometimes blessed with gentle breezes and blue skies laced with puffy clouds and then all of a sudden the rains came, in two heavy cold fronts, lifting the rivers, dropping temperatures and all but putting and end to the hatches and the fishing. Even our last resort down here in times like this, the Holsloot, a tail-water fishery, was unreliable and miserly with its trout. There was a perfect day on some private water, the Kraalstroom, a tributary of the Elandspad, that we fished only a day or two before the first rains fell. I was with Ryan Weaver who manages the farm Fizantakraal and Graeme Field who runs a company called Liquid Horisons. The stream was bare bones and the trout spooked just lifting the rod to cast. In some bigger pockets we took a few trout on deep nymphs, but the Kraalstroom is such a magical place – ferns, ancient trees, gnarled roots, moss-covered stones – that it wouldn’t have mattered even if we hadn’t caught a thing.
Moss, rocks, roots, mystery...
There was also a day when I fished one of our regular streams with rod maker, Steve Boshoff, and a friend from London, Frederick Mostert. We caught more than a few trout on a day that Frederick described as one of the best he could remember and he got all his fish on a big dry fly, which sounds sort of counter-intuitive in a low stream but I will expand on that later. How I got to know Frederick, though, and what he does for a living is a whole story on its own, but let me just say that he has a Ferrari, a limited edition of only five ever made, and he owns the sixth – made in China! So, of course, you can sort of guess his profession. He’s a patent rights, intellectual property and brand protection lawyer working for one of the biggest companies in the business of high end, luxury products, Richemont. He spends plenty of his time in China closing down factories making Cartier watches, Mont Blanc pens, Purdey shot guns, yes, even Ferraris. Steve and I agreed that he was the most interesting man we ever spent a day fishing with.
The Coq de Leon saddle hackle RAB and Bear Lodge Angler
As for the big dry fly, well Frederick was new to the dry fly on fast streams and if there’s one essential ingredient to doing that well, it’s that you have to be able to see the fly. The big RABs I tie stand out like quivering haystacks so that’s what I gave him. I call them High Water RABs, and I tie them with ultra-wide, dark speckled-bronze Coq de Leon (CdL) saddle hackles. I tie them for rough riffle water when the rivers are up where they are hard to beat. Frederick couldn’t miss seeing the RABs and they worked. In an hour or two he landed half a dozen nice fish.
The CdL saddle I got from Ed Herbst who in turn brought it in through Bill and Kathi Morrison of Bear Lodge Angler in Wyoming. Both Ed and I have been doing business with them for years and I rate Bill as one of the most effective locators of fly tying materials I have ever come across. You’ll find his business at www.bearlodgeangler.com. Their prices are very reasonable, the range is outstanding and delivery is sharp.
Rhodes, Branksome and Gateshead
A beautiful run. The upper Bokspruit on Gateshead
Rhodes this year was close to heaven. The rivers were perfect and clear, although Tony Kietzman who guides in the area, told me that the level in the Bokspruit had dropped maybe six inches from the previous week and the bigger fish had been replaced with slightly smaller ones in greater abundance. How that works I don’t know, but I don’t argue with the wisdom of the locals. I was planning to fish alone, which I did for a few days, but chance encounters with a couple of anglers who happened to be up there at the time, meant that I got in four or five trips with company.
The fishing was not as typically good as it gets in this part of the world, but then there wasn’t a day when we were anywhere near skunked. I’d have said that in the colder water a nymph on an indicator would work better than a dry fly, and I probably would have used little else, but two of the lads I fished with were dry fly fanatics. They caught plenty of fish, but I suspect if you were after the bigger fish, say 15 inches and over, a slow, deep nymph was the way to go. To hook the better fish up here you need to concentrate on the deeper slots and fish them really well – meaning to take your time on getting more than a few drifts into likely places and then making sure that the fly was coming through deep enough. That’s how you catch the big fish here. You hunt them. The honey holes are those deep, darker green looking spots under root-bound banks. If you dead drift through the shallower runs and riffles you will always get plenty of fish, but they are likely to be smaller. Then, of course, if the fishing is slow a Leisenring Lift helps. All this does is add movement to induce a take. The LL amounts to a slow, even lift of the rod tip to bring upward movement into the fly.
The landscapes were spectacular this autumn, particularly on Branksome, Basie and Carien Vosloo’s farm just upstream of Birkhall. I had a lovely day here fishing with Ritchie Morris and Mark Ransome. In places the river was alight with the incandescent yellow reflections of poplars, but the willows were still hanging onto their greenness. The veld too had turned a deep russet red and in the clear air the distant mountains were pretty shades of pastel blue and purple.
Gateshead and Tony Kietzman
The Bell on Glass Niven
Tony Kietzman on Glass Niven
I ended up fishing the usual waters – the Sterkspruit, the Bell and the Bokspruit – all of them lovely, but I came to the conclusion that if there is a dry fly stream designed by God for himself and his Saints, it is the Bokspruit at Gateshead. I was with Tony and four guys from Cape Town, Paul Mukheiber, Dave Lefeuvre, Jeremy Duthie and Guy Sampson. Again we met up by chance and sort of guided them a few times on this trip (not that they needed much instruction). We told them that our usual guiding fee of R600 an hour and R600 per Coq de Leon-hackled RAB, was a steal! They reciprocated with some of the better river lunches I have known. My friend Agostino Gaglio from Klerksdorp does a good riverside Mediterranean spread – salamis, Parma ham, rockets, sun dried tomatoes, cheeses, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crusty rolls and so on – but these guys were the pasta kings. At times I had two dinky gas stoves burning on the tailgate of my truck, one with a pot of water on it for the pasta, the other with a pan for the sauce. The pasta was served hot, even sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. And their coffee was real, not the sort of instant stuff I normally drink on streams.
Poplars in autumn colours, the Sterkspruit on Branksome
Mark Ransome on the Branksome section of the Sterkspruit
Rainbow from the Sterkspruit on Lindesfarne
Maclear, Richard Viedge, Vrederus and the Diepspruit.
On the drive up to Rhodes Lionel Reid, called my cell phone waxing lyrical about the fishing they had in the streams around Maclear along with Richard Viedge, a guide in the area. Lionel was in his car at the time on his way to fish the Diepspruit on a farm called Ross Trevor. The Diepspruit is in the New England district twenty odd kilometres west of Barkly East. This is a relatively unsung stream and it shouldn’t be. I remember Ed Herbst and I once fished a section after walking a fair way downstream where we found something of a gorge. We got a few pretty trout and over the years we have had some good fishing in the Diepspruit on the farm Millard. Lionel called me the next morning. Sadly, they were leaving to head home to Johannesburg otherwise I would have driven across to fish the Diepspruit with him, but he said the fishing had been sensational – very strong trout, excellent condition and relatively big fish.
It sounds as if the streams on the Maclear/Ugie side of the southern Drakensberg are really doing well. I must say I long to get back to this area – onto streams like the Wildebeest, the Mooi and the Upper Pott. I had hoped to get there this trip, but a flu-like bug put an end to that. Ed Herbst and Tony Kietzman recently fished a high section of the Wildebeest and said it was as good as heaven. As it happens I have just put the phone down after chatting to Richard Viedge. He said the rivers have never looked better in this patch on the Planet and last week a friend of his took a 16 inch rainbow from the Upper Pott, a tiny, beautiful stream on a dry fly! I told Richard I’d be seeing him come September!
Landscapes from heaven. The Bokspruit valley