By Vagabond Fly
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… well maybe not so dramatic but it breaks your heart to watch the most perfect sight-fishing conditions turn to chocolate milk from an incredibly powerful high altitude storm. This was the exact scenario we faced on our January 2017 Vagabond Fly Hosted Trip to Makhangoa Community Camp in Lesotho with Tourette Fishing.
Fly fishing nirvana awaits those who tackle the winding journey to the Makhangoa Community Camp on the Bokong River, Lesotho. We wish you could hear the commentary of first time visitors when we take our customary stop on the bridge above the ‘aquarium pool’ – being greeted by a wall of Yellowfish moving through the pools & up toward their spawning grounds in the headwaters certainly draws out imaginative speech patterns.
This is the perfect rev your body needs after the drive to get the blood flowing for a ‘blow the cobwebs’ first session.
A full day in heaven
The first morning session had us all whooping & high-fiving at not only the quantity but quality of Yellowfish – we picked off the larger hens from the slow pools & challenged ourselves with more technical casts in the faster riffles. Life was good & bragging sessions picked up momentum so fast during the lunch break that the entire tour was pumped for the evening session & set about tackling technical sections for bigger fish. The game was on & more stories were spun over evening cards… big fish, slow eats, refusals & camaraderie! Bring on day two.
The hike in!
Traditionally & if the weather allows day two on our Vagabond Fly tours are spent high upstream tackling big single fish holding in New Zealand like lies. Single casts & spooky fish certainly brings out the A-game and ultimately improves you as an angler, and isn’t that what you’d expect from a fly fishing tour?
We drove as far as the dirt tracks would allow, piled out of the Tourette Fishing Bakkie (pickup for the non-South Africans) loaded with lunch packs for the day & headed into the waiting mountains. It’s a spectacular walk; long & taxing on the legs but the rewards are worth it… we all knew it; so higher into the valley we went. At intervals we separated to fish our beats assigned to us for the day & the reports that came back were of fresh, hungry & huge fish readily taking terrestrials. After day one, how could the Bokong get any better? Well, it just did.
Drones were up, cameras were clicking furiously & we were all so focused on the next sight-fishing opportunity that we missed a slow build up of cloud on the escarpment. You know the feeling; you’ve been there!
The rumble in the jungle
Lunch on day two was spent on the bedrock resting two, tank hen Yellowfish we’d spooked before making a cast. They were holding in a slick tail out between two boulders, but after a few fish from the last run we were in no hurry. Homemade bread, deli meat & homegrown veggies in a tinfoil wrapped sandwich you’d pay exorbitant fees for in town made it impossible to gaze skywards… and then she rumbled, met almost immediately by a few guffaws as we all came to the same impending & wet conclusion.
The sky was smeared black & grey, and bulged menacingly in our direction. This storm had given up on hoping to be noticed… she was coming. We were trapped, we knew it and made plans to ride it out.
At first the rain spat, we were ok & the thunder overhead felt far above us. Then the first wave! You could hear it coming. A wall of water pounded down from the heavens & we took shelter against the granite cliff walls hoping to create an overhang if we pressed ourselves hard enough against it. We were wasting our time… sheets of water blew in from every direction & so did the cold. At this altitude the rain arrives close to freezing, and then it did freeze. Hail!
We all had the gear. Rain shells & waterproof packs, but there is little you can do to save yourself from the pelting of marble sized hail pellets. 20-minutes had past by now and things were not letting up. The first high water marker had disappeared within the first five-minutes of the downpour & the second, a puddle of rainwater in the stone wall about half-a-meter higher was about to disappear also when we decided it was safer to climb out. By this time the river was thick chocolate brown & unrecognisable from the start of the day. Swollen & menacing we turned our back on the Bokong River & made our way up a sheer wall of rock & mud to the path we knew loomed some 100m above us.
The mountains were alive! They spewed water from every crevice & crack, mudslides gained momentum in the undulating funnels & everything ended up in the river. We took stock, catching our breaths, on the path & took in what seemed like a hundred waterfalls that 30-minutes previously never existed. It was a magical sight.
The river blown & freezing cold we knew all the Yellowfish would retreat to the stable water temperatures of Katse Dam. We turned for home. The fishing parties gathered together to hike out as a group. This was not what we came for, but it certainly was an adventure worth telling your friends about and everyone made the same comments toward enjoying the challenge of facing such elements. It turned out that we needed to hike in numbers; the trickle feeder streams we passed on the hike in were now torrents of spitting fury, hurling debris into the river below. They were not wide, nor deep but the speed made us think twice before crossing unaided. We helped each other cross, sharing glances of relief & amazement in equal measure as we did so.
You would think spirits would be low after being caught out by mother nature like that. On the contrary, we are invigorated. We faced the elements & took what Mother Nature threw at us & made the most out of it.
We went to find the wild in the backcountry of Lesotho & the wild found us!
Needless to say our sight fishing was over, in fact the following mornings’ fishing was a bust too. The water temperatures were far too low. It was not easy to wait but with little option we busied ourselves tying new leaders, talking through the adventures of the day before & sharing photos from past trips. By the afternoon however, clear skies & a hot sun raised the water temperature back up into the low 20-degrees, the perfect conditions for moving fish.
We knew the fish would be back, we just had to find their holes with a little persistence & imagination. That final afternoon we all caught fish, and we landed some of the best fish of the trip despite the visibility. Once again the final session was cut short with an afternoon thunderstorm (of the more normal variety) and we retreated to the confines of the Makhangoa Man Cave at camp to slowly pack away our gear & relive the stories of sight-fishing mayhem & the day adventure found us.