Tuesday, April 03, 2007

APRIL 2007 Middle Vaal Report

Let me start with the good news. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is conducting an environmental study on the impact of flow rates on fish survival. We all prefer a fishable rate in summer and think nothing of the flows in winter. But flow rates certainly do have an effect on yellowfish – the condition of the fish this year is much better than last autumn when flows were in excess of 500 m3/s. This is a simple example, there certainly are wider ramifications on the food source and breeding habits of yellowfish in particular. We will keep you up to date with reports and progress of the study.

Water and Weather

The long-term forecast is still predicting lower than normal rainfall. With the natural tapering off of the rainy season flow rates should remain at safe and pleasant levels for fishing.

We all must have noticed the change in season, since the cold front two weekends ago. The days are shorter and the minimum maximum temperatures have dropped considerably. The water temperature at the Barrage is still around 20 C, downstream it’s colder - not bone jarring yet, then again you don’t actually have to wet wade to catch fish at the moment.

Insect Activity

The caddis hatches are certainly tapering off, although the egg laying flights after dusk is something to behold. The odd Vaal caddis will still be fluttering around during the day announced by big splashy rises by chasing fish.

Mayflies are the dominant emerging insects from now right throughout winter. Be on the lookout for drifting nymphs, emerging adults or the returned spent adults. Try to spot the adult naturals and imitate them- colours range from cream to black, combined with a dark brown or hare’s ear nymph you should cover the surface and sub-surface cycle. The mayflies hatch anytime during the day; be on the look out there’s lots of fun to be had.

Approach and Technique

The water clarity is great up to 100cm visibility in some areas. It’s not Sterkfontein but then the average size of fish is much bigger. If you want to catch your first Vaal river smallmouth on dry now is the time. Those guys looking for the constant intravenous flow of adrenaline offered by high summer in the rapids better stay home to earn brownie points. The action is slower but the visual aspect and at times the quality of the fish makes this the ultimate chase on the Vaal.

We all do go through various stages of fishing – starting off with “please can I catch just something” to nailing 50+ plus in the rapids or looking for the next biggest mark. Dry fly fishing in the right conditions on the Vaal is the most exiting thing you can do with your waders on. Think about it, it actually is!

I was fortunate enough to enjoy two sleepovers at two different venues in the last three weeks. First trip was to Elgro, the water was flat and clear and we battled to locate fish. I knew the key to success was to find them first. We waded 500m upstream and crossed several islands before spotting a pod holding around a rock. The fish show up as dark grey shapes, only revealing the telltale golden flash when feeding. A dry (Hydrolater) and dropper approach produced this fish.

Late afternoon we explored the glides and pockets just above the rapids. I was casting a large deer hair popper and getting explosive takes from the smallmouth. The Sunday morning I was working the same area with a Hydrolater and Klinkhammer. The fish were actively rising but very spooky. It required long and accurate casts. Do some casting practice during the week it will make your day more enjoyable on the water.

The weekend of 31 March/1 April we fished a venue close to Parys. We paddled upstream in search of the fish. I cannot emphasise this enough, don’t just walk up to the nearest rapid and start plugging away. From around 9:00am to 15:00pm the clarity affords you the opportunity to find the fish even when they’re not rising. My buddy landed the first fish on an Elk Hair Caddis, which I let him do. This was in a glide with deep channels cutting through.

The next stop was the belly of a large pool, I was standing upright on the inflatable when I spotted the dark grey shapes of 2 fish holding just below the surface. The lead fish took the dry without hesitation. The extra elevation does give you a better chance at spotting it also require balance and sobriety. Fishing blind with a team of nymphs produced in the same area, so there were fish holding deeper.

The Sunday morning I “discovered” a tail-out in the smaller channel created by a very big island. The fish were head up on the surface feeding hard on #16 spent mayflies. As an April Fools joke they decided to take the #10 Hydrolater with gusto. I also had a dun coloured dropper of this fly on http://www.flytyingworld.com/PagesA/au-graylingspaleeveningemerger.htm and a diving CDC caddis http://www.danica.com/flytier/hweilenmann/hweilenmann.htm on the dropper. I wasn’t wearing waders but the 6 fish over 5lb on dry was a magnificent experience.

Presentation again required long accurate casts, on most casts I had only a few turns of fly line on the reel. That said I took a beauty of a fish cruising 12 feet away from me.

I like to use Keith's Hydrolater because it’s such a big visible fly that floats really well (it's also his blog so I have to say this ;-). Have a look at this style for a variation to tie the Hydrolater –
http://www.danica.com/flytier/aconba/aconba.htm Just substitute the materials of the Foamback Sedge. To view the Hydrolater have a look at the fly patterns here www.yellowsonfly.com

If I can give you one bit advice to take to the river: “get out of the rut, try something new.” Here is a great article by Philip Monahan “Think Outside the Swing”. http://www.midcurrent.com/articles/techniques/monahan_swing.aspx


The improved clarity and fairly warm weather is an opportunity to target largemouth yellowfish without donning neoprene’s. Fishing exclusively for Largies is slow and tedious, but the movement of larger smallmouth into generally the same holding area can break the spell. Smaller attractor patterns or a tandem rig with one being a mayfly nymph will give you a shot at both.

These fish do use sight to hunt coupled with the other senses, their large upward facing eyes always scanning the water in front and above for prey. Find them around structure, deeper holes/channels, undercuts or in the tail outs just above the rapids.

The tail out is a great place to prospect after sunset. Choose large bulky flies like zonker muddlers in the low light conditions. They create a lot of disturbance, which registers on the fish’s lateral line. This also translates into a careful approach by the angler.

I prefer to use an intermediate line because you can cover the surface and deeper water with it.


During the weekend of 13-15 April 2007 the annual Yellowfish Working Group will be held at Elgro River Lodge. More details are available at http://www.fosaf.co.za/ .