SOME THOUGHTS ON THE UNITY STREAM - A tributary of the Karnemelkspruit
The back page of the Lammergeier Reserve brochure has a picture of a Bearded Vulture soaring above the words, ‘It’s not just another destination, it’s another world…’ and for once the white man is not speaking with forked tongue here. Too many brochures massage the truth to the point where you’re inclined to believe you only have to pitch up to enter the gates of paradise, which, of course, mainly you don’t.
Typical Karnemelk country - taken on Lammergeier Reserve water
Not so for Lammergeier, not that the surroundings here are that different from many other pretty places I know in the Eastern Cape Highlands. It’s equally loaded with those grandly carved, rugged sandstone landscapes and the clear mountain streams that thread this part of the world. It’s just that the landscape is almost flawlessly pristine and this farm somehow always feels about the size of England.
The Karnemelk in low water conditions - deadly clear
As a river, the Karnemelk – the Isteds have14 kilometres of it – has its ups and downs of course, as all rivers do, but when it’s running right it’s probably the finest fly stream in this country. The downs come on the back of droughts and years when really small trout are in over supply and the ups come on seasons preceded by regular, steady rains and heavy snowfalls.
The Isteds put us up in a cottage alongside the river. In fact the driveway up to the cottage starts on a low causeway that crosses the stream under an inch or two of water. As you cross the drift the flow is close enough to open the door of the truck, lean out and fill a thermos with water. No exaggeration. We actually did exactly that whenever we ran out of drinking water up at the house. But consistent with the nomadic personality disorder most fly fishers suffer from we chose to fish nowhere near the cottage; instead we fished miles upstream, and then not even on the Karringmelk, but on one of its tributaries called the Unity Stream.
Ordinarily we would have just driven the truck up the track that runs more or less alongside the river as far as it took us to pick out a pretty enough section to fish, but the Isteds had offered us a 4-wheel drive all terrain little buggy they said would get us as close to the Unity Stream as made little difference.
Eight kilometres and three river crossings later we were in sight of the confluence, bike parked and hiking down the left bank of the Karringmelk, planning on fishing upstream until we reached the waterfall that marked the start of the Unity proper.
The confluence of two tributaries. The Unity is on the left
We caught a few trout, but in the end skirted the falls and fished up the tributary that comes in from the right, going up far enough to see what the stream was like and to catch enough trout to satisfy ourselves we weren’t missing out on anything really special.
The trib coming in on the right
(Later someone told us when this little tributary is on song it produces fish of 16 inches, and in this part of the world you quickly learn to accept revelations like that.)
Darryl and I are both camera crazy and waterfalls are must-shoot places, so by the time we’d done the smaller tributary and finished taking pictures of each other fishing below, above, alongside, up against and almost in the waterfall, it was well into the day before we actually got to throw our first few casts into the Unity proper.
The stream was exactly as I thought it would be; pretty, smaller than the main river (naturally), but not too small, bright, quick, clear, willow-lined in places and productive.
The trout were bigger than we’d expected, and in good condition and they looked at surface flies, not just our nymphs.
By the time we got to a section where a fence sp
That’s when I really started wondering about the wisdom of lugging 15 kilogrammes of camera equipment around rivers because I was getting twinges of backache, the sort of twinges where you know your back might suddenly lock up while you’re doing something as simple as brushing your teeth or tying a boot lace.
Next day we fished the main river a few kilometres above the cottage. We drove up along the track in the quad bike looking for just the right place, but quite honestly I’m not sure why we bothered. The whole of the Karringmelk above the cottage is beautiful, all the way up to the Unity Stream.
From the track we looked down on mile after mile of grey-green runs bordered by emerald-coloured shallows and mid-stream rocks trailing tongues of inviting white water and in retrospect, could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble if we’d just started fishing upstream of the drift right alongside the cottage. But at least we now know the layout of the place, and the section we did eventually settle on was one of the best I’ve seen on this river.
It was a morning where the trout seemed a little undecided and we reckoned a front was probably coming in, which is the conclusion anglers come to whenever the fishing is slower than expected in pretty water with a high reputation. We caught a few fish on deep sunk nymphs, a couple of them decent sized rainbows, but we saw too many bigger fish either sitting deep and not interested in the fly; or they slowly swam off into cover as soon as we arrived. This was typical Karnemelk water, with deep slots washed out of buttermilk-coloured sandstone.
Then on the way out as we drove by a pool I saw a trout leap clear of the water. We parked off and had a better look. The pool was alive with rising fish. We took more than I can remember on dry flies, all small fish, and left only when it was way too dark to tie on a fly.
That evening we lounged around a braai fire feeling pretty good about life. Partly that was because we were in a remote part of Africa under a black, star-studded sky within sound of a trout stream – and you don’t need more than that to make most fly fishers feel pretty content – and partly because although we were leaving the next day, we were at least not heading home, but spending a few more days fishing rivers like the Bokspruit, the Sterkspruit and hopefully also the Bell and the Luzi on Donie Naude’s place, Vrederus.
And the reports were that the rivers in the area looked perfect after a spell of steady rain. All I had to do was work out how to go a little lighter on camera gear so as not to put my back out, but at the same time, not miss out on taking the picture of a lifetime, which is okay when that’s the extent of the more serious problems you need to solve at any one time.