Friday, March 30, 2012

March 2012 Middle Vaal Report


During the last few weeks the Vaal has been in the news for all the wrong reasons again. The culprit is nothing new but due to lower rainfall, warmer water, higher levels of organic matter the algae bloom is out of control. The Barrage is now starting to resemble Harties (a fishing paradise when I was a kid) and judging from reports is fast becoming irreversibly damaged. And it is not so much about the fishing but more about the quality of strategic water supply and the future use of it – think food for a growing population.
The state of the river has left most fishermen depressed and avoiding the river. I do not foresee an improvement in the quality of Barrage water in the next few weeks so the outlook is bleak. Talks of flushing the Barrage system is short term and will not improve the quality of water in the open system downstream – in fact the opposite will happen. Continued pressure is the only way we will get the required changes. Instead of launching a lone crusade a good idea would be to join up with the guys from SAVE
If you need to get the fix my suggestion is to travel or explore the lesser know rivers and tributary streams of the Vaal. I can see and feel the onset of winter, the changes are very subtle but enough for you to have to start making changes to your approach. The fish will be out of the shallow riffles and rapids, only venturing there late afternoon if the food is there. Start a bit later in the morning and search the deeper water below the rapids. It will require better line or fly control to connect to the fish.

Update! Since my post to FOSAF I've received some very positive reports on the river. Photo evidence suggest visibility is cracking - around 1 meter maybe more. That means one thing, get out and onto the river in the following few weeks. Don't forget to pack the dry flies, conditions will be perfect for sight fishing.

Over the years I've been trying to improve the quality of the photos on the Blog, and I think I'm getting there. But Chris and his mates have upped the bar with this video of a day out on the Vaal. Awesome work guys, like the editing

Carl & Keith

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 2012 Middle Vaal Report

Blanking is not a concept I’m used to in fishing. Certainly not when the other members of the party are successful – my son, my wife and my complete novice mate Hennie weighing in with a 1.8kg trout. 

Driving to Dullies I was reminiscing about my introductory days to fly fishing. I was the same age as my son - 10 with tons of enthusiasm and a real love for the veldt I got from my dad. Boy how much has changed since then and how much have I learnt over the years. 

I very rarely blanked in the early days because I was relentlessly pursuing the trout knowing that they have to eat at some stage. I think I was better prepared and focused in those days - I only had to pack MY gear, now it's food, wine kids stuff, photographic equipment etc.

No subdued colours
yet the fish take the fly?
In mitigation I did not use a sinking line and the successful members of the family held onto the only intermediate. These days I very rarely fish for trout so the usefulness of a sinker in my tackle bag literally disintegrated and I never replaced it. If I blanked with free rising trout all around me I would consider it a failure in my fishing ability :-).

The conditions dictated that I relent and get down where the fish are. Warm water due to a few weeks of hot weather and less rain than normal, meant the surface was void of feeding fish. I just hate those days when the visual aspect of fly fishing is taken out of the equation so I improvised and spent some of my fishing time taking photos. Reading Peter’s report on Dullstroom this week I’m not feeling so bad.

It is a good thing the Vaal is in great condition compared to the corresponding months the last few years. Flow rates are within the fishable levels and the spawn is over in most areas. 

Fishing reports are sketchy and some guys are battling to get the fish on the hook and in the net. I think it is a temporary thing as traditionally this is the best time of the season, leading into the early autumn when the smallies start moving out of the rapids.

If you are blanking, take a step back and just re-evaluate your tactics. Or take up another hobby until you get your mojo back and the fish start jumping into your landing net.

Sunset in Dullstroom

Carl & Keith

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 2012 Middle Vaal Report

Apologies for the hiatus over the December holidays. Work and holiday got in the way of fishing reports, mostly work. I trust you had a good rest and enjoyed fly fishing possibly in some other part of this country covered by the many reports on the FOSAF site.
Sedgefield late afternoon fly fishing
I had one decent session with the Garrick at Sedgefield, small fish but on light tackle it was exiting. For the rest of the holiday success evaded me due to some obscure reason only saltwater fish know about.

Through some cunning planning and negotiation I managed to convince the family to stay over at Rooipoort near Kimberley on the way back home. It has always been on my bucket list to visit this unspoilt part of our country and to fish for the Yellowfish in the Vaal bordering the reserve.

A magnificent Red Hartebeest bull, Rooipoort
We arrived late afternoon on New Year ’s Eve, not enough time to fish but I did get to drive down to the river. This place is big, it’s 7km on a good dirt road to get to the river! I inspected the water in the last rays of 2011 sunlight. It looked promising but I did not see a rapid at this spot.

Petroglyphs, Rooipoort. Glad they're not in the Vaal anymore.
Next day I was back at the spot closest to the house. There were some fishy activity but as far as the eye can see it was flat open water. I walked the banks trying to spot feeding fish, while my efforts was unsuccessful I spotted a new species for me, some very big. Grass carp with their yellowish bodies almost confused with our beloved yellow – a flat head and black markings on the tail showed them up. They also refused the fly. I continued downstream stopping whenever the riverine bush allowed but a walk along the banks proved futile. The only fish I saw were the grass carp cruising and the occasional catfish.

The long flat piece of water continued for at least 5km maybe even longer. Eventually I could spot a change in features downstream – islands with channels and reeds. As I walked out of the bush I could hear the murmur of the river and then the full force of destruction hit me. This whole area was being mined by the “community” bordering the reserve. Full on earth works right in the middle of the stream bed, damming up and channelling the flow and a big 3X2m oil spill left right there. Some very large and powerful machinery was used here. I walked to the spot where I could hear the water, it was gushing through 2 or 3 storm water pipes. I got one yellow there.

I drove further downstream looking for a place that resembled a natural stream bed, something like the middle Vaal. The next drift (shallow section) looked better at least the mining was done on the banks clearly by a large contract mining operation. Being 1 January all looked quiet only a few people moving about and the tell-tale string of 2 litre bottles across the river. Obviously holding up a gill net supplying someone with protein or income. I wish it could selectively catch the hundreds of grass carp that I saw during the day. I got a few consolation yellows from the deeper channels. The river at this place was nice and clear affording me an opportunity to search for feeding yellows but the only fish visible in the shallow water was grass carp. After a disappointing day I called it quits and started the long trip back.

The reports I get to see from the middle Vaal are positive. Beginning December the water was still clear, with the moderate rainfall it should remain like that. If you time your trip with decent flows you will fish one of the best pieces of fly fishing water in the world.

New Year Milkyway

Cheers from

Carl & Keith

Monday, November 28, 2011

December 2011 Middle Vaal Report

That is it, it is a month before Christmas and the irritating jingles are playing in the shops so another year is gone. The fishing season since the end of winter is one of the best we’ve experienced in a few years. The fish were eager to take the fly and the water clarity was great. I hope you made the effort to get onto the water.

Panning for gold
I’m so thankful the summer rains has started - in moderation I believe it is good for the fishing. It is a lovely relief from the heat wave and the farmers in the middle Vaal must’ve sighed a sigh of relief. We are still getting reports of trophy kudu bulls dying on the farm in Alldays, the last decent rain was in Febuary this year and therefore I never complain when it rains. The weather forecasters are predicting a wet summer with La Nina conditions, so fishing trips will require good planning, a bit of luck and some weekday sneaking out! Also just remember grass will grow faster if you mow it frequently skipping a Saturday is good for the root system to develop.

The Doctor's medicine
I’m off to the coast in a few weeks, hopefully the Garden Route will heat up and the leeries or skipjack will show themselves. Last year I didn’t even bother to pick up a rod. But knowing the fickle nature of the weather and sea I hedged my bets. I booked a sleepover on the return trip on the Rooipoort Nature Reserve bordering the Vaal near Kimberley.
We wish you and your family a blessed Christmas and a happy new year. Enjoy your break, drive safely, don’t drink and drive, watch out for the lightning and just relax :-)! Seriously just enjoy the fishing!


Carl and Keith

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

November 2011 Middle Vaal Report

Sunrise on the way to the Vaal
The red-chested cuckoo calling was a sign that the summer rains were on the way. This is the call for all fly fisherman to get to the Vaal and enjoy some of the best fishing we've had in. Kobus and I headed the call, took a Friday off to fish the Vaal far from the maddening crowds, only to run into a Bells festival in full swing at Elgro River Lodge. I was glad for a river and not a dam, we would’ve been stumped, next venue was perfect not another fisherman in sight. Since my previous trip on 1 October clarity improved to a meter, perfect for a bit of sight fishing and I think the limit when it comes to close in fishing. I could cast to feeding fish and watch them react to the fly coming into sight.

The fish get excited and one can clearly see the eager head movement of the take, while there is no sign of movement on the indicator. A timely lift of the rod connects to a very surprised fish shooting off to deeper water. This particular section has one of the prettiest runs on the Vaal and when clear reminds me of famous rivers in Montana.

The channel cuts between 2 islands, long strands of water grass gently undulating in the reduced flow, occasionally opening up to reveal the gold of a yellow. I wish the Vaal could always look like this. This is the 3rd week of October and it certainly feels like summer is here. I’m hearing all the summer migrant birds in the garden – paradise flycatcher, cuckoo and purple-backed starling. We are experiencing a heat wave in Gauteng at the moment, not great for fishing and fisherman. From our previous trip we had one younger member with some serious sunburn, my advice always cover up as much as possible, long-sleeved and legged trousers are the best option. I try to avoid adding sun cream while fishing – some foreign oily substances get onto your flies – opting instead to cover up early in the morning. Baseball caps although they look cool is another thing to avoid, rather get a wide brimmed hat with a dark under brim fabric, makes spotting fish a lot easier. A Buff is a handy sun protection garment, although fairly expensive. I was standing in the queue at Woolies and noticed a similar piece of material at R30, unfortunately in feminine colours. I have a feeling of being ripped off when I paid 5 times that. Next time you see a guy with a mauve buff it might be me☺.

During these hot spells the fish are also at risk. Oxygen levels drop in the warmer water impacting their recovery time after a fight. Make sure you spend more than enough time to revive the fish in the flowing water. If you struggle in finding fish in the regular spots, realise that they do not like the direct harsh sunlight. Find shaded areas under the willows or against the bank undercuts shaded by vegetation. Try fishing in the cooler times of the day, spend the hottest times resting up for the afternoon session. I’m noticing the small black ants are becoming very active, moving nests and collecting food. Although I do not have this down to a science, my experience from previous years is that this indicates the big rain is about 10-14 days away. Get yourself onto the river!

Cheers Carl
There is still plenty of beauty on the Vaal

Friday, October 07, 2011

October 2011 Middle Vaal Report

After an almost 12 month absence it was absolute bliss getting into the Vaal on Saturday. The weather wasn’t particularly great with a strong upstream wind and with a grumbling cloud cover overhead. The wind was “predicted” to die down towards the afternoon prompting me to swing the boat’s nose upstream. Flows were very low and with the wind in my back I travelled like a Frans Steyn penalty kick, effortlessly with the wind.

The floods have certainly “cleaned” up the river. The substrate is cleared of debris and mud, a few spots even had nice pebble beds. Visibility is not great, I would say 50cm but it is good enough to spot the odd flash of feeding fish when the sun is right. After such a long absence from the river I find it very difficult to fish blind. The mojo of just knowing where a fish lies in any given stretch of water is gone. That is when I spend a few minutes at every rapid or run to scan for fish activity - a head breaking the surface, a tail wagging up in the air or the telltale flash of gold. This also helps to identify any spawning activity, in most cases spawning will be a very visible splashing and trashing.

It took a while before I found the fish. Paddling through the glides normally spook fish and it’s easy to spot the bow wave of a departing fish, but I saw nothing. So the fish were somewhere else, very difficult to see anything in the deeper pools, due to the strong wind there was no surface activity. My gut feel was that they were in the faster rapids, aerated water, with lots of food. I kept on going until I reached the first big rapid above Elgro lodge. Even with the flows around 15 cumecs my unpractised hand could not get the fly into the zone. In the slower water I got strikes on the NZ-rig so I knew the fish were there and active. I removed the strike indicator and with a good mend and control a feisty male grabbed the fly in a pocket. It does help to know the fish are there but when you’re not getting takes the most likely problem is your flies are not in the feeding zone.

The fly that worked for me was this caddis, tungsten bead, but you can use lead in the body.

I recently bought a macro lens and was trying to have a closer look at the naturals in the Vaal’s larder. The photos are not great, I battled without a tripod☺. But the pupa shows nicely what the key triggers would be to include in an imitation-black wing buds, long legs and antennae bright green abdomen.

A great top fly to swing down and across when the big Vaal caddis are emerging. There were plenty mayfly nymphs and these smaller caddis larvae on the rocks.

Earlier in the season a friend reported a buddy and he fished together – he blanked. He made one comment that got me thinking, every time his friend switched to another fly he would get a few fish. My theory is that the fish were feeding higher up in the water column and a new fly sunk slower due to air bubbles trapped in the dry body, this put the fly in the zone for longer. Until it got completely water logged, and sunk out of sight too quickly.

On a sadder note we’ve received reports of some venues along the Vaal allowing jig fisherman to target spawning fish and also killing fish. Unfortunately this is a battle not easily won. Most venues along the Vaal have certainly been approached by us, Yellowfish Working Group and various other conservation bodies. How do we go about solving this? Education does work, there are still people who do not realise the threat faced by yellows in the Vaal some will listen and change their ways. Unfortunately the moral fibre of SA society is shot, on a daily basis I rage against people in Rustenburg driving over stop streets with impunity, but nothing changes. So there will always be people who will ignore your plea to change their ways. Try having a good chat with the venue owner if that fails I would suggest vote with your feet. Just keep in mind money keeps the person in business, their income is not solely from fly fisherman especially in winter!

This is the reason I support Elgro Lodge because they walk the talk when it comes to yellowfish conservation.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Wylye Monster

I know this blog is about yellows but if you feel like seeing what I am getting up to on the chalkstreams of Southern England have a read about the 28" brown I got last week
what a day!