From source to mouth
I was asked by a reader if I’d fished any rivers from their source to their mouth, or confluence as the case may be, and I had to do some quick thinking to reply. I came up with three rivers; the Bokspruit in the Eastern Cape Highlands, the Eerste in Stellenbosch and the Lourens in Somerset West, both flowing into the sea near the Strand.
Click in images to enlarge
The source of the tiny Lourens River in Somerset West
I did miss out on fishing a fourth river from mouth to source, on a trip my nephew Clive Will did when he fished the Orange from the ocean to its spongy origins on the summit of the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho. Being a professional film maker he used the opportunity to shoot an entertaining documentary on the entire trip titled Against the Flow. See http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing/my-fly-fishing/item/80-traversing-the-entire-length-of-the-orange-river-a-dvd.html
Against The Flow
There are a couple of rivers where I almost qualify in the Western Cape; like the Krom and the Kraalstroom and a few more in the Eastern Cape, like the Bell and the Riflespruit.
Near to the source of the Kraalstroom stream, but not quite there!
Though I’ve fished a lot of their course, I haven’t actually fished any of these streams to their source. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting exercise to ponder and I include it here because it’s sure to get you thinking.
Very near the source of the Bell, but again, not quite.
The Riflespruit where it flows into the Bokspruit just downstream of where this picture was taken
The anatomy of the Bokspruit River
I’d rate the Bokspruit as one of the greatest fly waters we have, the more so if you enjoy fishing the dry fly. I have twice dusted the source of this river on Albert Hall at the summit of the Drakensberg where it’s a sinuous and strangely luminous stream with a good head of heavily spotted rainbows. Then on a few occasions some years back, I fished the very last section of this river, on the farm Black Rock, where it joins the Sterkspruit as a river of some size.
The source of the Bokspruit on the summit of the Drakensberg
The water in the upper Bokspruit seems strangely luminous
A trout take a dry fly on the summit of the Drakensberg
Trout as speckled as if they’d been under a peppercorn grinder
From Albert Hall the stream drops steeply into the gorgeous cascades-and-pools dry fly water on Gateshead and lower down, on Brucedell, both sections of the Bokspruit plenty of anglers know well and rate among the best dry fly waters around. In some years these beats are stiff with tiny trout, but there are many seasons when small fish are scarce and 16 inch fish aren’t rare.
Typical dry fly water on Gateshead
Brucedell (George Brits photo)
Typical of a ‘good season’ Brucedell rainbow (Net by Steve Boshoff)
Further down the valley, on farms like Birnam and Knockwarren, and even further downstream on the Carabas section, the Bokspruit becomes more a river than a stream, where the gradient flattens in pastoral country where the river flows through landscapes just as pretty as they are in its higher reaches, its flow often stitched tight against tall sandstone cliffs.
The Carabas beat under a typical hang of sandstone
Other than after storms, the Bokspruit retains its radiant clarity throughout the season , never better evident than when it flows over the pale-green sandstone bedrock on farms like Birnam, or where the water runs over sheets of the apricot-coloured bedrock that you find on the Carabas section.
The Bokspruit on Birnam. Note the pale green sandstone riverbed
In underwater images on Birnam, the green sandstone reflects its colour into the water
The Bokspruit on Carabas flowing over apricot-coloured sandstone
It’s interesting, but the trout don’t really get much better or bigger or fatter anywhere along this river’s course, meaning there’s always the chance of a decent rainbow – by stream standards anyway – right up at Gateshead and all the way downstream to where the Bokspruit flows into the Sterkspruit. And its trout are invariably as pretty as paint.
I doubt that you will find 16 inch fish on the summit water but after only two visits I would be the last to want to pronounce on this.
A Bokspruit trout as pretty as paint
Pete Gray’s 1000th Jvice
Pete Gray lives in New York and bid successfully on Jay’s 1000th vice. He just sent me pictures of the flies he is tying on it.
The jaws of the 100th Jvice
You can’t help but notice that the quality of the superbly finished Damascus steel jaws is simply out of this world. As are his flies.
Fly tied by Pete Gray
PJ Jacob’s thoughts on fly fishing New Zealand - Images by Lizelle Jacobs
Well, back from NZ, I find myself in reflective mood. This last trip marked our 14th journey to the South Island, each between four and five weeks of non-stop fishing, weather permitting of course. In NZ, weather has always, and continues to be, the deciding factor on where and how you get to fish. Years of experience have taught how to decipher various websites, TV news and newspapers, all proclaiming slightly different versions of the same forecast, and though while generally accurate, can still be momentously wrong. Sometimes I feel guilty that I probably know more about NZ and its fishing than I do my own country. Still, as each year creeps towards its end, I long to fish their stunning rivers, full of educated trout. That said, at times, they can be unbelievably gullible as well, and that helps to give the old ego a boost if you’ve been skunked by spring creek fish that seem to know more about fly-tying than you do.
In reflection, my approach to fishing NZ has changed markedly. Fishing for trophy fish only is no longer the driving force.
These days we focus largely on the quality of our experience and I find myself more and more fishing smaller streams, albeit for smaller trout, and with fly boxes that now overflow with small CDC and minute subsurface patterns. Now and then we get lucky, for even small streams can produce fish of legend, and I’d be a liar if I told you I don’t like to catch huge trout. It’s just that it is no longer important to only target big fish, for I’ve learnt that you miss out on so many other magic experiences.
In summation, while it is getting prohibitively expensive, rivers are more crowded every year and finding waters not fished to death is increasingly difficult, I will keep going back as long as health, circumstances and finances allow. NZ is everything – and more – you have ever heard about it.
(PJ and Lizelle, among much else that occupies their variously busy lives, publish The Complete Fly Fisherman, a world class magazine on fly fishing, a sport most of their many readers love to a point of religious devotion. Yet they have successfully preached to the converted for more years now than I can easily remember. Well done to them both and the good news is the digital version of TCFF is now out.
Images – Riverbed tapestries
Riverbed tapestries are a feature most anglers enjoy from time to time, varying as they do from river to river, some dark and sombre, others dancing with light and colour. The pictures here I’ve taken over the years in streams in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Highlands and they make me realise I haven’t photographed nearly as many riverbeds as I should have. That’s often because a camera didn’t come to mind at the time, or if they did, it was too much hassle to sling the backpack off to haul it out. I have made shooting more riverbed patinas my chief New Year’s resolution. (You have to be hard on yourself choosing New Year’s resolutions, you know!)
Two philosophical quotes
‘… when the lawyer is swallowed up with business and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we anglers sit on cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams …’
Izaak Walton The Compleat Angler (1653)
Fly fishing is solitary, contemplative, misanthropic, scientific in some hands, poetic in others, and laced with conflicting aesthetic considerations. It is not even clear if catching fish is actually the point.
John Gierach Dances with Trout (1994)
Two practical quotes
‘… the very best fish in small streams sometimes aren’t in the prime spots where you think they should be.’
Ed Engel Trout Lessons Stackpole Books 2010
(I’ll say amen to that wise counsel! TS.)
And Al Troth on bright colours on flies…
Paul Arnold: Does it detract from a fly to add a bright color, like a fluorescent post on a parachute fly?
Al Troth: Not really. It’s rare now that I tie up an order that I don’t do some fluorescent pinks along with the white posts and black posts. And if they don’t buy any white, they buy pink. People need all the help they can get in seeing where the fly is. And I haven’t found that the bright colors detract at all from the fishing.
Paul Arnold Wisdom of the Guides Frank Amato Books (1998). This is really a must read book!