Straight from a freezing European winter, into a scorching Southern Africa drought.
The drive up from Cape Town to Lady Grey went quickly, cruising up the N1, time ticking by like the different flora biomes from Fynbos, to Karoo bush, to the grassy highlands of the North Eastern Cape.
Lady Grey is the epicenter of my small stream life. It is where I have spent many joyous months exploring pastoral streams, and deep gorges. I usually head there in April/May when the thermometer had dropped and the summer rains were settling down before winter.
I was very excited to fish with my father again, not having seen him for many months while I was overseas and especially to show him a part of the country that had such a big impact on my life.
I had heard about the extent of the drought but I really wasn’t prepared to see the once glowing Karnmelkspruit depleted to nothing but green, stagnant pools and sandy runs. I spotted two big fish sadly and lethargically circling in the oxygen-starved water below the camp and decided to leave them alone. No one should be hassled in such conditions.
The whole experience was heartbreaking.
Note: Since the trip in December 2015, the rains have returned, but sadly, at a cost.
We met Fred Steynberg the next day to head up the hill, into the “New Zealand” of Africa – Lesotho.
For those of you who don’t know Fred, you should. I think Fred lives the idealistic outdoorsman life that so many aspire to. Fred grew up in these mountains horse riding, hunting, wing shooting and fishing; there are not many people with as much experience and knowledge of this terrain.
Driving into Lesotho was a bit like a scene from Mad Max 2 – beautifully built tarmac, with brown dust-devils sucking up what remained of the topsoil for as far as the eye could see. Our lifeline was a thin blue vein of a tailwater with barely enough flowing water to keep the Yellowfish moving up.
Long leaders, small flies, no flash and no indicators were to be our weapons in this harsh, hot waste land.
We stayed at a rustic lodge next to the river where we could watch spooky Yellowfish skittishly darting around the pools, shying away from any flash or movement. Fred is an incredible host. We were well looked after and learnt a huge amount from him.
We had to, under the circumstances, bring our A-game and have some additional tricks up your sleeves.
The wiggle lift
The wiggle lift which mimics the action of an ascending nymph proved to be an essential tactic for inducing a take from incredibly finicky fish. The action involves throwing a long cast into deep slow water, mending the line tight and then slowly raising the rod tip, wiggling as you do so, then dropping the tip in a sudden stop to let the nymphs drop back down the water column. The fish often take on the drop so it is crucial to keep that line tight.
While the fish were not as numerous as we hoped purely because of the lack of flow stifling their migration, the fishing was technically rewarding. Making every single fish feel like a huge achievement in the challenging conditions.
We went to Lesotho in December, it’s the following November now, and there doesn’t seem to be much relief on the way. I know the streams in the North Eastern Cape are flowing again, and there are still fish around. If the gods are good, we will see some good late-summer rains to hold over the rivers through to the next season. Then we will go back to look for the trout and yellows that were so pressured by the low water conditions.