By Vagabond Fly
Editor’s Note: This is our third trip to this world-class fishery and each trip has been as unique and memorable as those before it. This is the report of trip 1 of 2 for the season hosted by Vagabond Fly’s Pieter Taljaard.
The music was loud enough to make our ears bleed and walking into the local tavern, lit by a lonely duo of One-Arm-Bandit machines, donning sunnies certainly made us look like a crew of drug-dealers. The locals stopped their game of pool and abruptly enquired why these tourists were photographing their daily activities. Beers and be gone. We marched in there purpose driven to acquire a case of the local Maluti brew though, never letting on, half the group was simply relieved to take a break from their passenger seats – following the undulating curvature of Katse dam as you head into the Lesotho’s backcountry punishes those with a weak constitution. Squeezing your abs as you cut through 3-hours of blind bends with intermittent sharp swerves as you attempt to dodge yet another domestic animal (dogs, donkeys, horses, cows etc.) you find yourself fluctuating between nausea and a gym workout.
Slipping past Katse Village the tarred road fades into a respectable dirt road which, along with modern civilisation, 20minutes later you trade in for a Basotho Donkey-Cart trail that meanders up the Bokong River Valley to reach the far strewn out villages. You are greeted like close relatives as you leave local villagers behind in your pick-up’s dust cloud, with each kilometre that ticks over your Urban-Jungle-Death-Stare dissolves and you employ a friendly nod and, when the path allows it, let go of the steering wheel to reciprocate with a wave.
Running low and transparent we had to pull over at the last foot-bridge that crosses the Bokong. Surely those shapes we have been gasping at from atop cannot all be fish?
Our strides resemble more a sprint as we rush to get to the best vantage point, but before we even reach it our doubt is obliterated as the pools and runs below the bridge is alight with Yellow flashes.
Flowing with and in unison thousands of Smallmouth Yellowfish pulsate in the currents below as, not unlike their gob smacked onlookers, they are making their way up the Bokong valley in search of cooler waters. Though these infinite schools lower in the system are there to spawn and it is somewhat futile to fish for these the prospect of targeting and sight-fishing to those solitary fish who are there to feed after the long dry winter has us all rubbing our…uhm…hands.
As accurately as it was related to us and quoting Jeff Currier who had previously also fished the Bokong, “Look at all those fish! Let’s go f@ck up their day.”
The Annual Return to Tourette Fishing’s Makhangoa Community Camp
Surely you cannot improve on paradise? Rolling into camp for the third year in a row the latest set of tweaks/improvements was glaringly obvious. In front of the communal kitchen and lounge there is now a new wooden awning and pizza oven but the most noticeable was the new deck. Aptly renamed to “Man Mountain” overlooking home-pool and the Bokong Valley, with its camp chairs, wooden benches and fire-pit we would soon identify it to be the ideal spot to catch-up with the group after a long day on the water, gaze at the infinite stars and take a breather when fines-evening gets out of hand.
Our hosts and guides for this trip, Johann du Preez and Stu Harley from Tourette Fishing, were equally focused on getting us into fish and making sure we left a few pounds heavier. We are simple folk and have reported on it before, but if we were in the position to make it happen the Kitchen at Tourette Fishing’s Makhangoa Community Camp will receive a Michelin Star rating. Now with its new massive gas oven and stove the meals to follow were going to stun this predominantly Bokong-virgin group.
THREE FULL DAYS OF PAYING SCHOOL FEES & COMING RIGHT
During these low-water conditions that the Southern tip of Africa has been enduring over the past 18-months it is certainly fishing-unusual and every week on the Bokong has the potential to be completely different from the next. The week before we arrived there was a massive storm pushing 120mm of much needed icy-rain into the system. The result of this was that the Smallmouth Yellowfish dropped down the system closer to Katse Dam but also flipped the switch for more fish to start moving out of the dam into the river. With each passing day we fished higher up the valley as fish started to move back in the direction of the headwaters.
DAY 1 – Fishing in the desert
Jumping onto the newly acquired camp Toyota Hillux and strapping the forest of rods to the Vac-Rac the two guides, host (Pieter from Vagabond Fly) and 7 guests headed down the valley to fish the area close to the estuary with Katse. Katse Dam itself is, at a guess, 15 meters below its full capacity and the area we were fishing would normally be well under water. It is amazing to see how the river quickly cuts its way through the fine sand and gravel to resemble the river it was long before the dam existed. There is very little, if any, plant growth in this area and when the wind picks up you are engulfed in a sand storm and if not for the river stacked full of fish you would think you are in the desert.
Splitting up into two groups and placing two anglers on either side of the river our group slowly and meticulously worked our way upstream. Fishing long hair-thin leaders and terrestrial patterns we would attempt to spot those solitary feeding fish amongst the hordes of spawners casting the majority of our actual fly-line on the bank or over boulders with only the leader on the water. Despite your fly drifting over at least 10 fish every cast we had countless refusals and even more enquiries that did not result in a solid take. Your knees dip, eyes squint and glutes clinch as a fish effortlessly veers off from its lie and glides towards your fly. Nudge – no. Nudge – maybe. Nudge – not yet. Splash – @$!#!!! Missed it! After the umpteenth time of this happening we started to relax our grip on the cork, got more parallel to the water’s surface and watched the actual fly like a hawk. A splash and your fly dipping is not indicative of a positive strike, you still have to watch out for any unnatural movement on the tippet before you go for the firm yet delicate set. After nailing this we had to retrain our winching-arms to take it easy and guide the fish around obstacles – 6 X tippet simply does not endure a bullish approach.
Your knees dip, eyes squint and glutes clinch as a fish effortlessly veers off from its lie and glides towards your fly. Nudge – no. Nudge – maybe. Nudge – not yet. Splash – @$!#!!! Missed it!
DAY 2 – Reading the Emotions
Despite the number of fish pumping into the system it was not the carnage and destruction the guys initially hoped for – A-game tactics and humility was still essential. Somewhat humbled but schooled we headed down to the desert for the morning session and it was glaringly obvious that the boys were on top form. Taking our time to pick out specific fish, experimenting with various terrestrial patterns, stepping down the tippet diameter and lengthening leaders – the Yellowfish did not know what hit them!
The fish had also started to spread out a bit more throughout the system (you could now actually see the bottom) and though there were less fish above the camp we were stoked to take on the more technical eats and drifts required. With more bedrock, deeper slots and a much darker bottom this area requires you to really read the water and be able to spot fish through flashes below the surface, flat spots on the choppy wind-blown surface and shadows holding just off the streambed. EPIC!
Takes were a lot less (by Bokong standards) but once hooked these fish pumped up by the cooler and oxygen-rich water would erupt in a golden flare, thrash the surface to a froth and rip line from your reel with aggressive runs hell-bent on making you bleed.
We are still scraping together the funds to conduct a clinical trial but there is reason to believe that the combination of the crisp high-altitude air, hiking several kilometres in the wild backcountry of Lesotho and releasing spans of indigenous Smallmouth Yellowfish induces reckless behavior, a spike in testosterone-fueled stupidity and a complete disregard for socially acceptable conduct. How else do you explain a group of grown men (of which one turned 70 on the day) starting the evening with a 5L box of rosé and then proceed to alternate between Gin-Cider and Cider-Wine shots to conduct the days’ fines meeting? (Editors’ Note: I got fined for using a nymph, clearly this meeting had no structure and was out of control! – Pieter)
Mere hours before the sun started to light up the valley the aristocrats amongst the group capped the evening off with a bashful selection of fine Scotch paired with half-peeled pineapple, soggy crisps and a splash of Tobacco sauce. Boys will be boys!
DAY 3 – Hangovers make for focused fishing
Precisely the type of group you want to have on tour – the kitchen and lounge was spotless in the morning (thanks probably should go to our guides, Stu and Johann) and we had breakfast and were on the water at exactly the same time as the previous days. Not sure if the guides were getting us back but we walked a lot further on this day. Walking amidst towering mountains, energised by paracetamol and with the whiff of Gaviscon and Scotch in the air the troops marched up the valley ecstatic to be alive and ready to further refine our Yellowfish sight-fishing skills.
This section around 3 kilometers from camp is known for deep crystal clear deep pools fringed by cliff faces and sections of slippery ivory-colored bedrock. Fish would hold in water just deep enough to cover the olive of their backs and would create telling bulges on the surface as they cruise around searching for food. Casts were much longer than before and leaders were extended beyond 20ft. It was a sight-fishing-fest and we absolutely and unashamedly reveled in it. You would pick a specific fish amongst the smaller males, wait for her to glide to the side and then land the fly far enough as not to spook her but close enough that she simply needs to tilt upwards and suck it off the surface. The line burns through your sungloves and you start sprinting long before the hook is set – on the shallow bedrock sections they run with frightening speed in an attempt to find deeper water and current to use to their advantage.
Casts were much longer than before and leaders were extended beyond 20ft. It was a sight-fishing-fest and we absolutely and unashamedly reveled in it.
The afternoon session was preceded by a solid afternoon nap and much needed coffee and rusks. Dark and threatening clouds rolled into the valley announced by deep and shuddering thunder – most of the group opted to fish in-and-around the camp with only four of us deciding to brave the trail to the water below the Makhangoa Village.
The start was slow and infuriating with howling winds blowing your casts back in your face and the only way you could spot a fish was by spooking it. But then as if the universe could sense our disappointed on our last session of the trip, blue skies were revealed, the water’s surface melted to glass and a later afternoon hatch began. The fish lined up in a golden streak against the cliff face with small dimpling rises giving away their position – a drag-free cast tight against the bank with a black #18 Klinkhammer was all it took to go tight. Things got so out of hand that we eventually bounced one rod between three anglers making silly bets as to what happens when you fluff your attempt. It was world-class dry-fly fishing and the Bokong River at its finest.
CHANGED BUT BETTER FOR IT
You NEVER leave Tourette Fishing’s Makhangoa Community camp without making at least one new friend and the bar raised on your own fishing skills and ability. We casually joke that a trip to this venue has the ability to ruin all other Smallmouth Yellowfishing for you and, at a stretch, sight-fishing in general. It reminds us that the journey is as important as the destination and once there that you are a guest and that long after you drop off this mortal coil the Bokong river will still cut is path through the bedrock as it flows towards Katse and, as long as they will oblige, host spectacular numbers of Yellowfish through the summer months.
We will most definitely be hosting another set of trips to Tourette Fishing’s Makhangoa Community Camp in the 2017/2018 season so keep watching our Hosted Trips tab and Social Media Pages or head over to Tourette Fishing’s website for more information on this and other trips they offer.