I was on my way to visit an untested venue with sketchy information on the fishing. Planning and preparing to fish a new spot is always filled with fun and excitement. Dreams are filled with the possibility of a great find of gold bars rolling on the surface yet to be introduced to an artificial fly. In many respects I wasn’t disappointed.
This was the first time I fished in the Karoo, the magnificent beauty and quiet solitude in that part of the country is addictive. We were staying on a game farm bordering the Vanderkloof dam near the town of Philippolis. (http://www.vanderkloofdam.co.za/)
Water and Weather
As this was a stopover on the way to Sedgefield, the weather wasn’t going to make the trip happen or not. I was just hoping for something decent. First day was overcast with some serious thunderstorm activity sending the barometer all over the place. The fish were absent, but for a few carp for which I tried without enthusiasm or success. This being the Karoo I did not complain the farmers need rain more than I need another yellow.
But if you go fishing you want to catch fish, in my case at least one. I suppose I have reached a level of contentment in my fishing where sometimes one fish is proof enough. Then again when they’re on the bite and on the surface especially; one cannot offend by saying no thank you!
Fishing for yellowfish in stillwater is a summer sport in South Africa. The winter frontier is pretty much Star Trek territory – where no man (person) has been before, there is of course mystery dam X with good winter fishing. You want the fish up and close to the surface which allows for the visual pursuit of your quarry. It then becomes more like hunting than fishing - I drop my voice, walk softly and try to stay out of sight as if I’m after that elusive eland bul. Yellowfish come to the surface and shallows in warmer constant temperatures – it’s where the food is and of course where the girls hang out.
The VanderKloof dam shares the same yellowfish species with Sterkfontein dam, but does not have the same clarity. If you are expecting to see fish down to 3m or more than a decent cast away you will be disappointed. The shoreline is completely different, strewn with big boulders and guarded by Wag-‘n-Bietjie (Buffalo thorn) and Acacia Karoo. There are beautiful gravel beds for spawning, but I saw none of it – I cannot imagine all the fish migrate to the river to procreate. Yes that’s something else to keep in mind the dam is fed by the Gariep river, laden with silt, so pick your fishing spots away from the main river inlet. There’s also multiple streams feeding the dam from rain swept plains, good fishing spots, but can be discoloured overnight.
A new venue 400km from my much loved Vaal or favourite Sterkfontein, what to expect? With Sterkfontein well fished/covered by Dave Weaver, it’s a matter of one phone call to ascertain what was the go to fly last week (which is completely refused this week). I had zero intelligence and military guys will tell you it’s not the best way to start, but I had nothing to lose only to gain in experience and meeting people.
What to tie? It’s after all in a very arid part of our country so how much will be blown out from the surrounding bush? Well the mayfly nymphs are there, tiny fellows, in black and brown (nothing new) they will always be there in clean water. Size 16 or 18 in your favourite nymph pattern would do it. I didn’t see the caddis hatching, but in summer they hatch early morning and late afternoon. Being the 1st day of my holiday I didn’t have the energy to get up before dawn, besides it took another 30 minutes in a 4x4 to drive to the water’s edge.
These are still yellowfish I was after and they certainly love grasshoppers and foam beetles, just like some of the bank side vegetation – tie up enough patterns! I saw and heard the cicadas, if you’re willing to tie them, certainly a worthwhile pattern to have – works well in certain parts of New Zealand.
I did not fish with nymphs or any other subsurface patterns, except for tying on a dropper. There was enough fish on the surface to hold my interest, and when that is the situation I cannot switch. It would be like refusing a glass of 1947 Château Petrus for a demijohn of Tassenberg.
The yellows were not cruising in the quantities we are used to on Sterkfontein, these were individual fish or 3-4 in a pod. It may be that the visibility prevented the full display of what was beneath the surface. One needs to fish this venue more to become an expert even just for a day.
Approach and Technique
When visiting a new spot, even targeting a familiar species a professional guide is worth the money charged. My guide had local knowledge (which was good) but zero fishing knowledge. He certainly got me to the fish on the second day. The sun was up and the skies clear, as far as you can see and in the Karoo that is far.
I was fishing an inlet where the previous day’s rain washed in a bit of discolouration. The cliffs locked us in for the day, creating a buffer or a channel for the wind and it was hot very hot.
Even with low visibility I took my chances on a proven Sterkfontein technique, I rigged up my S3 with double taper floating line and 15 foot 5X leader. And waited or walked the bank looking for a cruiser. The remoteness of this spot and the towering cliffs closed out all sound – it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop a fish rise, a good sign at least they are feeding!
That’s when I saw the fish tight against the bank cruising straight towards me. Suddenly yellowfever took over, I didn’t wait for it to turn or go past to get an unseen cast in from behind. The fish disappeared and I casually threw the line and hopper out away from the bank. The fly was out there for a few minutes Wham! The fish was on and I was frantically trying to get line onto the reel. The fish gave a good account of itself with strong runs close to and out of the surface. I was ecstatic to have it to hand a solid beauty of gold scales.
The rest of the day the modus operandi remained the same. Get some vantage, stay low and spot a cruiser. The fly can be left drifting on the surface or next to a scum line and invariably a fish would go for it even before you spot one. The easiest was to target the fish cruising close to or parallel with the bank, getting a very long cast out straight in front is difficult unless you are adept at something fancy like a steeple cast.
Fish were holding around the few bits of vegetation, cruising along the banks about 10-30cm away and feeding in the open water (5 to 20m). In the open water you can only realistically target those fish porpoising or head & tail rise(you’ll see the head dorsal and tail when they feed) as they follow a route and you can present in front of them; a big splashy rise indicate fish but is not worthwhile covering. A lot of those fish are deep and follow caddis emergers, grabbing them just before they depart. If you do observe them constantly splashing around a weed patch, try dropping a single nymph or tandem rig of nymph and diving caddis over the weeds. Leave it to sink, BUT stay in constant contact with the flies, retrieve very slowly.
There were plenty of barbel/catfish about, and some very big ones too. A large attractor fly presented 1m in front or smack on top should get you a response and a tired arm. I did not want to test the abilities of my 5 weight, best to use an 8 or 9 weight for these bruisers.
Last Cast for 2008
Another year is gone in a flash. The news turned very bad towards the end, not so much for the fishing but certainly for the business and livelihood of so many people living off our beloved sport. I believe it’s a natural correction and we need it, I hope it will be painless for you. My only fear is that with less money around, less will be spent on and doing environmentally sound business. There is again a lot in the press about the pollution on the Vaal, same story as rainy season 2007, lack of experience or funds cannot be blamed.
The energy crisis is out of our immediate thoughts, what with petrol cheaper we can even fish more often, don’t let the pending water crisis ever be out of your mind. Do your bit to conserve and protect our water resources. I challenge you to do one environmentally positive thing everyday – even making the right choice when shopping.
Enjoy your break and festive season! I hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas and have a totally fishing filled 2009! Be responsible when driving.