Monday, December 04, 2006


I’ve not been on the Vaal a lot the past few weeks: I’ve been focusing on other locations more and flow rates have not been agreeable when I wanted to get on the Vaal. It seems quite a number of you have done pretty well over the past month, thanks for the feedback on what’s been working for you.


The fish have been spawning on and off for the past month in their second spawning session for the summer: the rest period between the 1st and 2nd spawns seemed almost nonexistent in some areas of the river. I don’t know if this is due to global warming, pollution, shifting natural cycles or something else, but this year the timing of the spawning events are very different from those of the past 19 years I’ve been in amongst the yellows of the Vaal.

Remember to avoid spawners, if you see people casting at spawners and they don’t respond to your requests for them to stop, please email a photograph of the culprits to me, try and get a few shots of them in the spawning habitat and a few close-ups of the angler’s face. I intend building a “name and shame” blog where we can expose the idiots to a large audience.


How and wet… well hot for sure, and a little wet with some good rains and 1 or 2 periods of high flows induced by rains. The long range forecast suggests a summer that will be hotter and wetter than average. For the angler this means being very aware of flows is key not only to knowing when the fishing will be at its best but also to avoid potentially life threatening situations: standing in the middle of the main current within 10kms of the Barrage outflow can be very dangerous if officials increase flows quickly to accommodate large volumes of storm water run off from the Barrage feeders. Watch the DWAF flows website at:

This page can be viewed by most mobile phones with access to the internet, very convenient if you are away from your PC and want an update.

If you encounter any pollution along the Gauteng portion of the Vaal River and tributaries (sewage spills, dumping, mine waste water, anything that seems suspicious), please report the incident to the Department of Water and Affairs and Forestry. The contact person is Ephraim Matseba and his contact details are as follows:

(W) (012) 392-1371

(F) (012) 392-1359/1453

(C) 082-809-5727.

If you notice anything in other provinces (Free State and North West) contact me and I will connect you to the appropriate official.

I expected water quality to take a nose dive moving into summer due to the increase in storm water flushing the sewage treatment plants due to illegal storm water ingress, the heavy rains have not come yet; hopefully the municipal officials are prepared.

Water visibility has varied quite a lot over the past few weeks from as much as 75cms to as little as 5cms, the primary cause of reduced “vis” being silt from rainwater ingress (and erosion) and increased flows through the Vaal system (brown water) and from increased water and air temperatures boosting algal growth (green water). Visibility is remarkable changeable over relatively short stretches of water with it poor in 1 location and twice as good just 10kms up or downstream…. Sometimes worth moving around a little if the vis is poor where you are and there’s been know singular large event like big rains that will have dirtied the river over a large area.


It’s all happening, loads of mayfly species are coming off still (normally they being to slow toward mid summer and pick up again in autumn and winter). Size and colour seems to be ranging from large cream and tan clinger nymphs in and around the rapids (#14-16) down to smaller, darker clingers (#16-18) in chocolate and dark coal/black.

The caddis are really in full hatching mode with pupae “in drift” 24/7 and hatches occurring mainly from late afternoon and into darkness (especially on the hotter days). Big cream caddis adults (#8-12) and little tan/slate caddis adults (#12-16) are very prolific. The larvae are typically bright green or dirty olive with some exceptions in brown and cream.

Blackfly are very common now, small black and olive larvae (#16-18) can be very effective in the rapids and slower water. Remember not to wear blue if you want to avoid the itchy bite of the blackfly!


As per October, you can catch ‘em anyway you want to really, they’ll eat most appropriate patterns presented reasonably well (make sure you are connected to your flies via a straight leader or you will miss many takes): Czech nymph, New Zealand style upstream nymphing with an indicator, “dry and dropper”, traditional wet fly, leisinring style swings and lifts, even Stillwater retrieves in the slower pools, dries and emergers in the surface film… really, this is the time of the year to catch them on your terms. In winter you will need to conform to their requirements so make hay while the sun shines.

The fishing is so easy this time of year that many anglers over do it, in my view, by catch and releasing 40, 50 sometimes 100 fish in a day, that’s a lot of fish with holes in their mouths. Please consider trying something new when the fishing is really easy, move to another spot, see if you can get them on dries, do some bird-watching, do something to drop your catch rate. It is not difficult to catch lots of yellows in summer, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone, least of all at the expense of the fish that you “love” so much… let’s walk it like we talk it and be the conservators and stewards of the river we claim to be.

I will be out of range of the Vaal a few times over the next few weeks, out of the country a few times and then down on the KZN South Coast staring at the sea over my belly for a while. I won’t be focusing on the Vaal but will post a report at the end of December.

Feel free to email me over December and let me know how’re you doing on the water, we all learn from each other.

Happy happy,







Monday, November 06, 2006


I’m a little late with my monthly report…sorry… I’ve been away on business in the UK and Zimbabwe: I got some nice grayling and browns in the UK, no fishing in Zimbabwe.


Seems some yellows have already started their 2nd spawn for the summer in the Vredefort dome area, boy this season is getting weirder and weirder! So once again, please try and avoid these fish and abide by a few basic principles of respect as outlined here:


I’ve not been on the river much this past month. It seems the flows have been a little up and down but largely fishable. This time of the year the Vaal dam and Barrage will both increase flows to coincide with canoe races, be aware of these releases in advance to avoid disappointment on arrival to find your favourite piece of water flooding.

Visibility is averaging around 25cms at the moment, better in some areas, worse in others dependant on local rains and discharges (sewage, industrial effluent, fertilizers etc) which often add silt or create algal blooms.

Flows will probably go up over the next few months given the long range forecast suggests above average rains: also the Vaal Dam is sitting at virtually full so there is no buffer to absorb run off from rains.

Make hay while the sun shines and monitor flows over summer to take advantage of low flows as they occur.

Of course the increased rains will result in raw sewage discharges as most of the sewage works around the Middle Vaal (and the rest of the country for that matter) are already at or above capacity and moves to fix the problem are in the “tool little too late category” on the whole… is this sewage contaminated water harmful? You buys your day ticket, you takes your chances.


Hot weather has brought on dense mayfly (mainly clingers with a few swimmers) and caddis hatches (the little tan ones and big cream ones): hotter weather, later hatches and vice versa… don’t leave the water before the fat lady has sung [in the dark].

Small caddis pupae are thick in the water column this time of year… capitalise on this.


The fishing is typically so easy this time of year and the fish so forgiving you can pretty much apply the technique that appeals to you on the day. Last few weeks I have heard from guys who are upset because their fishing “buddy” against which they were competing on the water got 56 fish and they only got 49! This would be impressive in mid winter, this time of year it is gluttony, proving nothing but a desire to swell the ego with little regard for the fish or a real desire to grow as fly fishermen. When the fishing is that easy try changing techniques, see if you can get them onto dries, go super small, experiment with swinging flies, try anything to increase the degree of the challenge! Hey, stop and have a cold beer.

There are 2 types of fishing condition that are best suited to thinking out of the box: when the fishing is really difficult and when the fishing is really easy… enjoy the latter because before you know it you will be faced with the former

Thanks to all the guys that kept me up to speed on my favourite river while abroad,


Monday, October 02, 2006

more on spawning: Identifying spawning habitat and fish

Thanks for the post Steven,

Good question, how do you recognise spawning fish and spawning habitat?

smallmouth yellowfish spawn where their eggs are exposed to well oxygenated water, typically this is up in the fast water at the eye of a pool or in long stretches of rapids. This water is usually shallow (less than 30cms). The fish will often not spook until you are right on top of them. They will probably be rubbing against each other (unless they have dropped back a little to rest): the males use their rough textured gill covers to stimulate the females to release eggs. When the female releases her eggs this is often done with a wild thrashing sometimes sending water spraying a meter into the air.

bottom line: when in doubt, relocate.

respect the fish,

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Spring has sprung and the spawning’s begun!


The fish started spawning on many parts of the middle Vaal around 20 September, in many places they have already finished their first spawn of the season, expect the second spawn around mid summer in December and the third spawn normally at last summer rains in late Jan early Feb. typically the first spawn occurs in early October so this year they’ve spawned a little early relative to the calendar we humans follow. Also the various species normally don’t spawn simultaneously in the spring spawn. The normal sequence is carp, smallmouth yellows, mudfish and barbel last: this spring the yellows jumped the queue and went first. Also I have noted yellows and muddies spawning simultaneously in separate rapids this past week: this is not natural, fish tend to avoid spawning at the same time as other species to avoid potential cross-breeding. I’m not sure why the confusion has occurred this year and hope it is not a sign of the river and its inhabitants swinging even further out of balance.

Please avoid the spawning fish. I write about this every year and I still see guys sneaking into a spawning bed for a few easy fish… you know who you are. I think I’ll buy a high powered paint ball gun with a permanent bright pink ink. I’ll stalk around the better know spawning grounds and fire upon you idiots…

Please respect the fish and treat them carefully, here’s a brief guide to how to effectively catch and release, these principles apply even more strongly at spawning time!


Weather and flow rates are pretty much as good as it gets for this time of year: flows are averaging between 15 and 22 m^3/s and the water temperatures are already averaging around 19-20 degrees (dawn minimum).

Looks pretty rosy doesn’t it?

I’ve received a lot of email requesting my views on the Vaal river water quality situation especially in response to the article in the October issue of The Complete Flyfisherman (TCFF) magazine. Those of you that have been visiting my website for a while will know that I am quite involved in understanding and remedying the water quality issues surrounding the Middle and Upper Vaal River and its tributaries. By reading through previous monthly reports on you’ll see regular mention of water quality issues.

The TCFF article is fundamentally correct in its analysis of the water quality situation on the Midddle Vaal River by stating that the recent fish kills earlier this year were the result of large amounts of partly decomposed matter being lifted off of the river bed and into the water column by high flows. However, organic matter moving off of the substrate and into the water column and thereby trapping the available dissolved oxygen is only half of the story, raw sewage entering the river system is also a massive factor, read the press release I posted at the time of the fish kills here

I am concerned that the sewage treatment plants that contributed to the disaster in January are still operating at above capacity (>100%) and the first major rains will force huge volumes of raw sewage into the Middle Vaal once again.

Driving over the Klip River on the N1 traveling to the Vaal is becoming extremely unpleasant as the amount of untreated and partially treated sewage entering the river at this point is so large that I smell the sewage through closed windows… I believe we are a few weeks from a major disaster.


It’s really all happening at the moment: almost every time I’ve been on the water in the past few weeks I’ve experienced strong hatches of a variety of caddis (Hydropsychidae) ranging from the big cream adults to the small dirty grey/tan chaps. The spring mayfly hatches are in full force with the overlapping activity of the winter Baetis species (swimmer crawlers), that have emerged a little later this year than normal, and the spring and summer Heptagenidae (clingers). Also the blackfly are emerging in large volumes (and biting in larger volumes). Remember to avoid blackfly bites (the nasty itch that last for days) avoid wearing anything blue, natural tones such as olive, tan and brown tend to keep the blackfly off of your back.


With the weather as hot as it is the caddis are emerging into the evening quite often now so don’t leave the water at dark, hang around the river bank in casting range of a tongue of current entering a pool: as the dusk descends drift large adult caddis patterns across the surface and be ready to give line when the big ones bite. Mayfly emergers are also very effective at dusk, try to get the fly within a foot of the fish’s nose as it rises… I know this sounds difficult; you just need to practice a little… a good reason to go fishing more!

I’ve had a lot of fun swinging soft hackles (flymphs) with my 10’ 4 wt Greys Streamflex this spring, what a magical way to fish: this technique is extremely effective now with all the insect activity in the water column at the moment. If you are new to this technique may I suggest you visit for a little background info? There is a huge amount of info on the internet about soft hackles and techniques to tie and fish them and it is an absolutely brilliant way to catch yellows and muddies. You’ll never tie on an indicator again!

I have had a lot of email from guys new to the world of throwing fake flies at creatures with tiny brains: To assist you in getting started I have posted a piece on my website that I wrote for the FOSAF/Nedbank guide to fly-fishing venues of Southern Africa: this was the chapter on the Middle Vaal. I would strongly recommend buying the guide if you are in search of new waters and species, you can find the piece here

I think that’s all I had to say this month (I lost my notes in migrating between laptops). Please feel welcome to email me if you require assistance, information or just want to talk about fishing, or you could post a comment on my blog site and throw the conversation a little wider so all of us can join in.

Enjoy the next few weeks, they could be the best of the summer,







Friday, September 22, 2006

Spring is in the air and the fish are spawning!

Hi guys,

The smallmouth yellows have spawned early (even earlier than last year's early spawn). They should normally spawn on 1st rains in early October when water temps hit a dawn minimum of 20-21 degrees (in my experience). Well we saw them start spawning in early evening a week ago in the Vredefort dome so they should be almost finished by now in that area.

Please be nice to the spawners and their eggs by not walking through shallow riffles and thereby trampling eggs.

With summer upon us your catch rate will probably increase massively, please check out this brief guide to safely catching and releasing fish.

I've managed to get on the water a few times in the past week or 2 and the fish have obliged nicely from the bottom of the deep runs, to the shallows to the surface on dries in the evening...get out there and have some fun!

keith (remember to post your comments)

Monday, August 28, 2006


Sheesh, it’s not been an easy winter!


Base water temps are on the up, which means we are right on the edge of spring time action. Water is exiting the Barrage at 13 degrees this morning which means it should be circa 16 a few kilometers downstream: 16 is typically what it takes to send the fish into the shallow, faster water foraging for food.

Flows have been unusually high over the past 4 weeks or so: this is due to releases from the Vaal Dam sitting at 22m^3/s (normally around 10-15 m^3/s in spring before rains come) to dilute relatively high TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) levels in the Barrage (more here

This high flow may result in a Yellowfish spawn as soon as water temps reach 20 degrees because yellows are triggered to spawn by a combination of flows and minimum water temp (water temp at dawn).

Visibility has been below expectation all winter, one of the theories is around high populations of diatoms (more here resultant from the floods last summer: regardless of the cause, clarity hasn’t been great and I don’t see it improving over summer with the increased heat and storm water run-off.

Hopefully the cold fronts are almost behind us and we can start looking forward to spring and summer weather. See the latest long range forecast here:


Finally the winter mayfly hatches have made an appearance (better late than never) although the fish did not really respond with much interest. Reports in from the past few days suggest flyfishers have seen increased mayfly hatches but only the odd fish making a real effort to capitalise on the easy meal.

The summer may hatches will kick-off soon and are often a combination of sizes and colours, you need creams, rust, olive, medium dun in a variety of sizes from 12-16, and don’t forget emergers!

Caddis hatches should start developing from now… be warned and arm your boxes with smallish cream adult patterns and lots of olive and green larvae and pupae. A report just in from Dirk Human in the Bothaville area suggests the first caddis hatch has come off, probably the large Hydropsychidae caddis (whitish cream adults, green larvae and pupae).

Oh yes, don’t forget the blackfly larvae, they are always around and the fish love’em! Basically they look like midge larvae, black and olive in colour and in sizes 16-20. The pupa are those little cone shaped cases on the rocks that look like caddis pupae.


Well if you dig nymphing you’re gonna love the next few months! Try to rely less on a yarn indicator this summer, you will develop more intuitive skills around where your flies are and what they’re doing and detecting takes, also fishing without an indicator allows for a more rhythmic approach to nymphing: Fishing into the swing at the end of the drift, fishing teams of soft hackles and fishing a lot closer in through the use of Polish/Czech/short line nymphing… trust me, you won’t be sorry… leave the yarn at home or in your pocket for a few months.

Thanks for your feedback via email. I know a lot of you had problems commenting on the blog, all is working now, it is easy and quick to post a comment, please do so! Your regular blog posts ensure everyone benefits from your experiences and not just me J

Yay, spring is on the way!







Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The River is starting to stir from her slumber…


New spills reported, facts not forthcoming: 2 alleged pollution related fish kills have been rumoured in the past week, 1 is immediately below the Barrage and the other on the Mooi/Vaal confluence: I have not spoken with any eye witnesses and do not know the size of the problem, or if there has infact been a pollution/kill at all. Keep an eye on the blog for more news if/when I get it ( for those that are reading this report on the FOSAF website). In South Africa as a whole it is currently safe to assume that most municipalities are discharging untreated or under treated sewage into their local river: The fish are in the sh1t…it’s just the concentration that varies.

A survey has been undertaken to capture water user’s views on pollution in the Vaal River system, please visit the following link to participate:

On the whole, water conditions seem to be gradually improving through winter with clarity improving toward a meter in visibility in the upper region of the middle Vaal (between Barrage and Potch). Visibility in the lower end (Potch to Bloemhof) seems to be a little worse and rather inconsistent. I am not absolutely sure what is causing this: I have a theory that the discharge from mines and agriculture in this area has a large impact on water quality this time of year because of the lower flows and therefore lower potential for dilution… but that’s just a theory… (see 1st paragraph in the report for an alternative theory)

The past week or so has seen slightly warmer air temperatures which have translated into warmer water temperatures and in turn the fish seem to have been a little more active with a few fly fishers reporting some action over the period. Water temperatures climbed by over a degree at the barrage outflow in the past week and a bit which took water downstream of the barrage close to 14 degrees in the shallower pieces of this part of the river.

It looks like we are in for another hefty cold front this week which should take us back to the typical 9-12 degree water temps for winter.

On the whole it is likely that we will have an early spring as both meteorological forecasts and animal and plant behaviour corroborate the view: Plants and trees are budding already, peach trees in some areas have been blossoming for weeks, black wattle are almost all yellow with flower, masked weavers in my neighbourhood have been building nests for the past 2 weeks …hopefully this is a good omen for the Vaal and a really good spring season.

Flow rates are still pretty steady at around 15m^3/s with occasional blips to 20 or 25. You may have noticed some higher flows on the DWAF Hydrology website; that was due to equipment malfunction. The Goose Bay and Schoemansdrif sensors are creating endless grief for the DWAF team in charge of this data, rest assured they know the information is important and make every effort to keep us informed.


Most of you probably find the discussion of aquatic insects at species level pretty unimportant: I have spent about 4 years now documenting the aquatic insect activity of the middle Vaal river and for that reason have been trying to better understand these bugs at least to Family and Genus level. In this process I ended up with a view (through misunderstanding some scientific literature) that Baetis mayflies do not exist in the Vaal River: Baetis is not synonymous with Baetidae, Baetis is a Genus in the Baetidae Family. Anyway, I was misguided, if you visit you will get a view of how this whole thing hangs together. You will also get a look at a few examples of what the winter mayfly nymphs in the Vaal look like. Slender nymphs tied mottled in sizes 14-18 are what you need.

Mayfly hatches have been coming off in slightly greater density in the past few weeks probably due to the upward shift in water temperature. But the insects remain pretty quiet; I think this might be due to the very cold weather, regular frontal systems and a river that is still stabilising after huge floods just 4 months ago. Hopefully it will all pick up in the next few weeks as we move into spring. Use this time to tie flies if you are not willing to brave the cold for the odd fish.

Tie lots of adult caddis patterns (12-16) for the caddis hatches that should start mid august and be at full speed in early September. Remember these insects hatch after dark on the hot days so as we move into summer don’t pack up when the sun sets… I usually get on the river at that time for a few hours of mind-blowing dry fly action without another angler in sight. Check out the Hydrolator on my website for a pattern that works for me and is pretty robust:


It’s tough at the moment, really tough. Guys are having the occasional good day with a few largies and smallies each, but this is rare at the moment. I won’t lie to you, this winter the middle Vaal has been unwilling to offer us the easy pickings of winters past.

For some insight on technique peruse the previous reports for the winter months on my website at the left hand navigation bar has links to downloadable reports in the archive.

Hang in there, it’s gonna get better!







Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Flow rates update

hi guys,

Online flow rate data is not accurate at the moment:
The Rand Water site is out of date
and the DWAF site is registering erroneous flows at the Goose Bay sensor and no data for the Schoemansdrif sensor

In winter it is generally safe to take a flow rate reading from the next sensor upstream which in this case is the Vaal outflow sensor currently reading 12m^3/s and add a few tons for water entering at the barrage to arrive at an estimated flow of between 15 and 20 m^3/s.

hope this helps,

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Middle Vaal Report July 2006

Once again I am getting this report out later than I should have; sorry about that…

I was on the river today, the barometer was climbing all of last night, the weather was nice and stable, the wind was a very light occasional West North Westerly: The conditions were better than they have been in months.

I didn’t catch anything.

I saw a few nice largies moving in a little bay I was exploring for the first time. One of my anchors was lost to a sunken tree; I got a flat tyre while making my way back to the dirt track that leads off of the farm: It was an eventful day I suppose, as mid winter days go when the river is in deep slumber. Frankly I didn’t make too much of an effort to wake her, I just enjoyed the calm weather and spent my time slowly moving over a kilometre or so of river looking for active fish, made a few casts, lifted a few rocks, took a few photographs… pretty much remained in “standby mode” in case the river woke up… it didn’t wake up.


This has been a seriously cold winter, the coldest in a good few years, my Clivia at home have been hammered by frost; but then they are right next to the stream so I shouldn’t be surprised.

We’ve had a steady stream of cold fronts over the past 4 or 5 weeks, although none as bad as that whopper in June. Water temperatures are hovering between 9 and 13 degrees, which is not unusual for winter…the fish are cool with that.

Flow rates are pretty steady now at around 15 with occasional blips to 20 or 25 and troughs to 10. Remember the Vaal used to stop flowing in winter so the ecosystem is evolved to handle no flow in winter. The winter flows we experience are due mainly to discharge from industrial, residential and agricultural use.

Water quality is a little “off” at the moment but may not be as a result of human activity. I recall the same conditions after the floods in the late 90’s: high levels of diatoms, tea coloured water, a white foam on the surface downstream of broken water. Hopefully these are all a result of the river rebalancing after the floods and not from pollution. I’ve spoken to the parties responsible for monitoring water quality along the middle Vaal and no report any new pollution.


Caddis are all but non existent now as we move through mid winter, the mayfly are starting to pick up although pretty slowly. There were a few #14/15 dirty brown duns on the water around mid day today, not a lot, probably a 2 or 3 out of 10 score for density, but I still have hope we’ll see some dense hatches later in winter. There are a lot of small nymphs under the rocks that should mature and emerge in a month or 2: Hopefully that will coincide with some stable weather and the dense emergence will bring the fish on.

Blackfly larvae and pupae are about in large volumes (as always) and a few vacuum lines on the rocks today confirmed that the fish are feeding on this ever-present staple.


I am not going to regurgitate last month’s content here, suffice to say that the same advice certainly still applies and can be found here:

I came across a great article on swinging flies, this is a very effective approach year round on the Vaal, check it out here:

Large and smallmouth are being caught, not in great numbers and not everyone is being rewarded for their hours of hard work on the water, but the fish are coming to the fly.

This is a beautiful time of the year to be on the river, even if the fishing is patchy you should treat yourself to some quite time on the Vaal in the next few weeks, even if just to reflect on the spring fishing which is only 8 weeks away. Today I watched 3 woodpeckers (couldn’t make out species) working in amongst a grove of pecans while I waited for fish to move.

If you are not on my email list and want to be alerted when I post these reports please send me your email address.

If you have requested to be added before and have not received my emails please ensure my email address is not in your junk email list, my email is not reaching a number of you because your email servers have added my email address to the spam list.

Look after the river,