Tuesday, July 01, 2008

July 2008 Middle Vaal Report

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to enjoy a day’s great fishing on the drift at Elgro Lodge. They run a professional operation, safe & clean facilities, boats in perfect condition and the trip gives access to some of the best sections of the Middle Vaal. We were rewarded with world-class fishing – I nailed the smallies on dry and my mate got stuck into the largies and bigger smallmouth.
A group from the Flytalk.co.za forum got together for a trip on the 28th and they more or less blanked. I won’t mention anything about their abilities with a fly rod ;-). Jokes aside it certainly highlights the true nature of the river in winter. If you blank you may give up on it, if you get into the fish you are forever converted to the supreme fishing experience of the Vaal river.

Water and Weather forecast
Flows are still basically a gamble, I mention a number and the next day it is up by 10. Monitor the flows on the two sites. Rand Water and DWAF or contact a reliable landowner. It seems Goose Bay and Schoemansdrift are producing data, but neither of them tie up or reconcile back to the Barrage. That said the flow is certainly fishable and the latest report on visibility is from 100-150cm in the Dome.
Winter solstice is behind us so the days are getting longer but alas not warmer. The next two months will be the coldest but the fish will still eat!! Our recent trip coincided with the antitheses of the Perfect Storm – the perfect fishing weekend. On the Saturday the high pressure system remained over the centre of the country, it was balmy 20C and we had no wind.

Insect Activity
Looking back at the archives of Middle Vaal reports for winter it’s fairly obvious that mayflies are the main food source you need to imitate now. Mayflies hatch in the rapids or in the open water of the large pools – but fish will feed for several metres below these spots. Be vigilant and you’ll notice the little sail boats on the water or in the air (too late for the fish, for now). The water flowing past you will be a soup of nymphs, shucks, spent, hatching and trapped adults, giving a clear indication of what must be imitated. I would err on the small size when tying or buying flies.
Caddis imitations in smaller sizes are also important the adults and pupae more than the larvae. I haven’t fished midges/buzzers/chronomids but these insects are abundant in the Vaal during winter and do form a large part of the diet of smallmouth. They hatch in very slow moving water, where the larva lives in the muddy substrate.
I tend to have cover for every insect on the Vaal and Sterkfontein dam in my flybox. Before every trip I add to it and after the trip new patterns and shared ideas find slots.
Approach and Technique
As mentioned earlier we picked a good weekend for the last trip – I guess the more you go out the luckier you get.
I started the morning searching for largemouth but when I noticed the first signs of surface feeding smallmouth I switched. I always take two rods on the boat both loaded and ready. The dry fly rod had an indicator dry with a small mayfly emerger on the dropper. I battle to keep track of size 18 dries at 30 yards. This “indicator” was a Vaal caddis tied with a thick stack of white CDC.
I prefer to use my own boat, it allows for 2 rods and going solo allows one to stand on the pontoons of the boat. There’s only one captain and you can go where you want to – plus you get all the exercise of rowing.

Once you clear a rapid and the major rocks it’s fairly safe to stand up on the pontoons, which gives you the required elevation for spotting fish (don’t forget the hat & Polaroids).
Keep an eye IN the water, a bump against a rock can send you into the 10C water! Follow the main flow and scan the eddies or quieter water for rising fish or the dark shapes holding or moving just below the surface. Yellowfish on the Vaal do not present as the golden beauties you see in Sterkies or held up for photo’s.
When entering a new pool it is a good idea just to pull over and spent a few minutes resting while scouting the surface. It is amazing how a barren stretch of water comes alive. If you are familiar with hunting or game viewing you’ll know how rewarding it can be just to sit on a kopje and scan the bush.
Bertu landed and released this beauty first thing in the morning around 9 am. This after three boats passed thru the pool. Flies that worked for him were all dark coloured which made sense considering the low visibility – black provides a better contrast.
Barend also used a dark coloured fly to contribute this beauty to the Largiebase
– plus he threw some cash at the problem and made use of the guiding services of Ian Couryer. The money spent on a good guide is an investment in your future fishing pleasure. Even if you hit a bad day in terms of weather etc. you will learn so much that will stay you in good stead for the future.
Unless you can get onto the river with a very knowledgeable buddy who is willing to forgo some fishing time and show you the ropes (NOT!) a guide is the only option. Of course there are some dodgy guides out there, but in general if you go with a word of mouth recommendation you are safe.

Keith is launching a new Blog sharing his experiences in the UK http://fliesandstuff.blogspot.com/. I’m sure it will be filled with his passion for fly fishing and great new fly patterns to inspire us.
Cheers got to go fishing!

Carl & Keith