I discovered the Karnemelkspruit ( KMS) some 20 years ago as part of a 10 day trip to the North Eastern Cape to fish the fabled waters of that region with a group of friends. After fishing the Upper Bell, Sterkspruit, Kraai, Bokspruit and the Rifelspruit, we made our way across to Lupela Lodge for 3 days on the Karnemelkspruit.
Alf and Denise Ross are the owners of the farm The Camp. The name originated from the fact that this is where the surveyors made their camp in the 1860s. The farm was also used by the wool farmers of the surrounding mountain farms as they transported their products to Lady Grey prior to the opening of Jouberts Pass in 1903. Part of the old road is visible even today, as is the ruin of the original two-room stone house. It is through this farm that a lovely 7 km stretch of the picturesque stream, the Karringmelkspruit flows. This is the commonly used name of the stream today. Translated from Afrikaans, Karringmelk means “buttermilk” which may well be derived from the prominent butter-coloured bedrock found in places throughout this stream.
The picture above shows Fred Steynberg and Alf Ross discussing the origins of the name as reflected in the title deeds dating back to the 1800s. The text refers to the Karnemelkspruit, whilst the survey diagram describes it as the Karnmelkspruit. Could it simply have been a spelling mistake? I don’t think too much turns on this, but Alf is of the view that the Karnemelkspruit, possibly of Dutch origins, is the correct one. Either way, this is a magnificent river — a flyfisher’s delight.
The KMS has chiselled its way through some breathtaking, craggy scenery over the millennia. The outcrops of weathered sandstone and rock bands make this river quite unique. In places the stream is littered with massive blocks of stone that at one time must have crashed their way into the valley from the surrounding ridges. The water types and structure of the river are diverse – deep runs, cascading riffles, even pocket water and a few pools where a float tube would hardly be out of place. If you are looking for a river and mountain stream in one, look no further, a place where the fishing can be challenging and quite technical.
Alf and Denise Ross are a warm, welcoming couple and have always made the stay at Lupela like visiting old friends. They’d occasionally pop in when we arrived back after the days fishing and join us for a drink or to drop off a loaf of hot, freshly baked bread. Denise also made it clear to us on that first visit, that the trout were her friends — some she claimed she knew by name — and that if harm came to any of them, we would have to deal with her wrath! We all knew that old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” – we were not going to test the truth of it and stuck to the rules of catch and release and barbless hooks, and so, we have remained friends. My experience has been that the KMS trout are fewer but larger than those found in and around the Rhodes area – on average 10 to 12 inches, but with many solid fish between 14 and 16 inches and then trophy specimens bigger than that. I have seen fish that were clearly above the 20 inch mark.
I took my best fish from the KMS on that first visit and recall to this day how it unfolded. It was a short way up from the lodge in a narrow, deep, fast flowing run shaded by overhanging vegetation. I watched for awhile and then saw it, the shadow of a large fish on the yellow coloured bedrock, it was some fish – my heart began to race. Its muscled flanks working against the pull of the current, keeping it there, nose upstream near the head of the pool. It flicked it’s tail and sucked in an insect off the surface, so graceful that it showed no disturbance, no wrinkle of portent. Hands shaking, I squeezed into position amongst the vegetation and, using a roll-cast, managed on the third attempt to drop the nymph into the fast water at the head of the pool where I wanted it.
I had to strip line quickly as the indicator raced down towards me. the shadow moved across bedrock, there was a flash of colour, the indicator disappeared, I struck and felt the weight of a good fish. It dashed for freedom downstream and for the lip of the tail. I couldn’t follow because of the thick vegetation – it was a wild ride, it fought fiercely, a fight for existence, survival, its weight on the rod was pure force, undiluted and fundamental – me trying to avoid getting the line hooked up in the bushes, and the trout tearing around trying to do just that, turning end over end in the narrow arena. It tired, and slowly allowed me to slip the net under it and rest there. A trout of years and substance, nearly 20 inches long. I slipped the hook from its jaw and resisted the temptation to touch it again, marvelled for a few seconds at its beauty, its wildness, then sunk the net deeper so that it hung free in the current. It stayed there briefly, swaying gently then as if in slow motion dropped its head, flinched gently and was gone. It was some trout – a wild river trout of a lifetime, perhaps.
I have been back to fish the KMS now on a number of occasions since the first 20 years ago, but I know there should have been more. My passion for fast flowing trout water is restless, undisciplined – I’m haunted by trout streams, their restless energy, some delight me, others challenge me, a handful have seeped into my blood, the Karnemelkspruit is one.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2020. All rights reserved