There is no denying it ………
There is quality fly fishing to be had in regions such as the Western and North Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal – from small mountain streams, to classical rivers and magnificent lakes where double figure trout are not uncommon. Then there are rivers where the fyfisher can cast to the powerful indigenous yellowfish, or if it is your preference, the game fish of the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a land of sunshine and wide-open spaces, of unforgettable scenery and wildlife. It is also a place to get away from it all and where you can enjoy the hospitality and rich cultures of the people of this country. I suspect that little of this is known internationally.
However, this is more about my back-garden; the KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg mountain region of South Africa, known locally as “The Berg”. A World Heritage Site: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park covering some 243 000ha situated at altitudes varying between 1280m and 3500m. The Park boasts two major Heritage Site criteria – cultural, having one of the world’s greatest collections of rock-art with over 35 000 San paintings in some 600 known sites and, the vast natural environment, providing the visitor with breathtakingly beautiful and unique mountain landscapes rich in indigenous fauna and flora, much of it endemic to the area.
Out of the deep folds of the earth below the towering majestic peaks, many sparking streams rise and begin their long journey towards the warm Indian Ocean on the eastern seaboard. These high altitude waterways range in diversity from diminutive brooks like the Nkosasana, Delmhlwazini and Ntonjelana to streams like the Mlambonjwa, the Polela, the Injisuthi and larger more classical rivers the Umzimkhulu, the Umkomas, the Bushmans and the Mooi, to name just a few. Most of these streams and rivers hold a head of trout in their higher reaches, some recognised as rainbow waters, others home to the wily browns and even a few with populations of both. Many fly fishers will have fished, or at least heard of the more popular waters, but there are others tucked away in secret places, in the folds of the earth hard up against the basalt buttresses of the main escarpment that are seldom talked of and infrequently, if ever, visited by fly fishers. Perhaps one of the reasons is that many of the headwaters of these small streams are relatively inaccessible unless one is prepared to strap on a backpack with all you need for 3 or 4 days, shed some sweat and give up all home comforts for the duration. I consider myself fortunate in that I enjoy the thrills and spills of roughing it and privileged because I have been able to frequently hike and fly fish in this pristine mountain environment over many years.
Many of the Drakensberg streams were seeded with brown trout of Scottish origins during the mid 1890s. Rainbows from North America were introduced later in the early 1900’s following the establishment of the Pirie Hatchery outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape and Jonkershoek Hatchery near the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.
The freestone streams of The Berg, are set in arguably the most spectacular mountain scenery this country has to offer. Their gradients are steep with water as clear as the mountain air, cascading down boulder strewn runs, through emerald green glides hewn out of the bedrock over millions of years. The valley floors are cluttered with massive blocks of sandstone fallen from the strata high above, the banks are protected in places by precipitous cliffs, indigenous forests, grasses and woody vegetation.
In these streams the rainbows are feisty and energetic, the browns ever selective and cautious. They are masters of disguise, needle-sharp and can at times, seemingly evaporate into their dappled world of the pebbled stream-bed without trace, let alone, notice. In the uplands the flyfisher can be alone all day, fishing miles of river away from civilisation, in crystalline places where the black eagle and bearded vulture soar effortlessly in wide blue skies, where kingfishers and herons haunt rivers and where you may hear the bark of sentinel baboons from the ramparts or the eerie cry of a jackal at sunset. It is home also to the eland, mountain reed buck and the occasional leopard.
The streams support a rich insect life, consisting mainly of a variety of small mayfly nymphs, midges, caddis and the occasional stonefly. Terrestrials like beetles, ants and hoppers make up a fair percentage of the trout’s diet, especially during the summer months. But, it is the quality of the dry fly fishing in these waters that sets the blood coursing through the veins of most flyfishers. The trout will on most days rise freely to surface imitations and terrestrial insects. These wild trout are as wary and alert as you will find anywhere. The emphasis is on light tackle, stealth, careful presentation rather than distance: up close and fine. If its bigger fish and larger rivers you are after then these mountain streams as they join other tributaries in the foothills, grow into more classical rivers at lower altitudes in pastoral surroundings. Here as the waterways meander sedately through wide valleys, the gradients flatten and the speed slows into long deep runs protected by willowed grassy banks.
For the more adventurous, a hike into the mountains and a few nights under canvas while you pursue the wild trout of these streams in pristine wilderness surroundings will be a memorable experience. For those wanting more of the creature comforts when the day is done, you can return to one of the many well appointed chalets or lodges. Here you can relax, enjoy the warmth of the hospitality and rest contented under a canopy of a million stars for tomorrow will be another glorious day in Africa.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2016. All rights reserved