It might sound like a strange reason to chose a fishing destination for being a good place to blank. Well with Lesotho being in a serious drought, you need to lower your expectations. Just think of all the wonderful photos you can take of you throwing loops with majestic sandstone cliffs towering over you. It was with these low expectations that I persuaded my X-drinking buddy Jeremy Hendriks to join Ryan Weaver and for a trip into Lesotho. I say X-drinking buddy because I now have a little one and have got a little more responsible in my old age. Ryan lives and works in Lesotho. He manages one of the trout farms at Katse Dam. Ryan and I had been planning to meet up for a while and we were just waiting for the right weekend that suited us both and had a decent weather forecast.
My plan was to visit my friend Patrick Thene who hosted me on my hike into the area this year in May. See my previous post called Taking the Scenic Route. I couldn’t get hold of Patrick on his cell phone so we just winged it and hoped to find him home. Jeremy and I arrived several hours before Ryan. Ryan, ever the faffer had hugely underestimated the distance from Semonkong to Sehlabathebe. Luckily we found Patrick very easily and he welcomed us with open arms into his house. He lives about 500m from the main road and up quite a steep hill. We enrolled his sisters kids to help us carry all our stuff up the hill before returning to wait on the edge of the road for Ryan. We cracked a few beers and ventured over to the local tavern to stock up in case we ran out. Ryan and his faithful hound arrived just before it got dark. Thankfully Ryan had packed light and didn’t have too much stuff to cart up the hill.
We set off at about 8 am for our fishing. Generally i find the fishing unproductive in the mornings and so even 8 am was a bit over eager by my liking. Ryan was champing at the bit, and I must admit so was I excited to explore some new water. Patrick cane along with us for the day to guard our car. I really don’t think it’s necessary but it’s a service he can provide you with for peace of mind. We drove about 15 min down river to a place where there is a road crossing. We left our car there and walked down stream. Ryan is a man of my heart and kept wanting to walk over one more ridge to see what was in the next gorge. As it usually seems to do, it just got better and better as we went. We ended up walking way too far down for a days fishing back up, but it was well worth getting down into the gorge from a scenery point of view.
We started fishing at about 10, and Ryan was immediately into his first fish. We couldn’t believe the condition of his fish, and as we later found out, that would be the norm. It was very tough fishing with the river being murky and low. By lunch time I had 3 fish and Ryan 2. They were all around a pound or a bit less. They were some of the fiestiest fish I’ve caught in a long time. The incredible thing about them was that they still had their par marks, which means they are still very young. So obviously despite the drought, the fish were thriving. I guess that the population is a lot lower than it normally is with several dry years behind us. Ryan remarked that he hardly ever sees his hatchery fish with their par marks at that size!
The fishing was fairly uninspiring with the water conditions as they were, so I sat under a tree at times and either helped Jeremy with his casting, or just enjoyed the scenery while writing my blog. Thats the wonderful thing about the WordPress App, you can write your blog anywhere. Sadly technology let me down a few days ago and I somehow deleted everything I had written on the trip. I was blogging on the go. It’s quite fun actually.
The fish we caught were all caught on nymphs fished slowly on a floating line. Some interesting observations if you compare Ryan and my success. Ryan changed his fly on numerous occasions. He also fished two flies at once most of the time. I caught 14 and he caught 4. My philosophy is a more simple one. Either the fish are feeding or they not. I tie a little bead-headed hares fur nymph with a hotspot called the Basuthu Bugger which I fished from my first cast on day one, until my last cast on day two. I lost one individual fly on a bush early in day one, but otherwise all my 20 odd fish over 2 days were caught on one individual fly. Ryan chopped and changed his flies a lot and used two of them at once for most of the time. My philosophy is that it’s all about presentation and knowing where the fishy places are. Ryan having never fished much in Lesotho didn’t have the experience to know which a fishy pool is and which isn’t. It sounds a bit strange but it’s like that up in Lesotho. When Ryan was fishing on up ahead of me he walked past the best pool on the River thinking it looked dead. I on the other hand when I arrived at that pool I knew immediately that this was a good looking pool for big fish. It was a difficult pool to fish with it being about 150 m long and almost solid willow trees along its banks. It had the most beautiful weed beds, which almost always indicates a productive pool to me.
I managed to wade out onto a submerged boulder where I could cast easily along the edge of the willow trees and weed beds. It was almost cast for cast that I had a fish on. I lost a few that swam in under the mass of willow branches near my feet, but I landed 7 good fish of around a pound from that rock. Everyone else was heading home so I was torn between keeping them waiting and fishing on. I decided to have a few casts from above the willow trees before I left. I immediately was into my biggest fish of the trip. A pig-fat fish of 16″, probably just under 2 lbs. This fish had my reel screaming and put on a great aerial display. I was chuffed with this fish and it was enough for me to take my rod down and head home.
The pool had been so productive so far that I couldn’t resist another flick. Immediately the line went tight and I struck into something a lot heavier. After a few minutes of the fish just shaking it’s head and staying deep it took off towards the willow trees. Thank goodness I was fishing with my 4 wt and not my 2 wt. And thank goodness I was using 4X tippet and not 6X. I mamage to keep her clear of the willows and get her closer. Now this was the risky part. One hand on the rod and one hand into my camera bag to fumble around and get it ready. Two terrible things can happen here. Either the fish gets off, or the camera gets dropped, or both happen and you fall in. In the end it was worth the risk and I got a few shots.
I haven’t fished a still water in years and I hardly remember what it feels like to have a big fish on the line, so when it comes to weight estimation of big fish, I’m afraid I’m a bit lost. I know that it was at more than double the size of my second biggest fish. And at least 4 or 5 times bigger than the average size we had been catching all day. I did measure it, and it was about 55cm. It was almost as long as one section of my 8ft 4pc rod. I guess it’s weight was about 4 lbs, but with the right photographic skills it would easily have gone 60cm and 6lbs.
Here’s my chance to express my opinions on fly fishing photography. A lot of it is downright dishonest! Who are people trying to fool with the hero shots where you wonder if a fish is 4 pounds or 7 pounds. I find it quite amusing that people will take so much time to get that perfect fish picture. I tried one shot like that for the buff brigade and I ended up killing the fish in the process. It takes some serious skill to balance are rod on your head/neck and hold a fish at the right angle to make it look bigger than it is. Oh yes angled to keep fingers out of the shot. What’s wrong with showing how big a fish really is? Multitasking for us men is challenging enough at the best of times!
After my big fish I was done for the day. I walked up to catch up with Ryan and Jeremy. I found Ryan prospecting a deep pool a km or so upstream. He had got one more fish, and was bleak that he had walked past my pool. I have often found pools in dry seasons where the fish tend to congregate. There are two such pools on the Sani River much lower down. Both pools have been very productive in dry seasons and unproductive in a normal year. I have caught fish of over 3 lbs in each pool several times. It’s a theory of mine that these “hotspots” are always used in the dry times. There will likely always be a resident big fish there too. I could have caught a lot more fish in that pool had I had the time but it was getting late. It’s a pity Jeremy had already gone back to the car and I couldn’t get him into a few fish.
On the final morning we did have a blank session. We drove up to the gorge just below where the Thamathu River joined the Leqoa River. This was undoubtedly the best morning of the trip. I didn’t even have a bite but the following pictures will give you are idea of why I chose this place have have a blank day. Strangely I have never had good fishing in this gorge. I’m sure that’s just because in have got the timing wrong as it’s probably the best looking water in have fished in Lesotho, then again looks can be deceiving ad Ryan found out on our first days fishing.
Ryan left at midday on his long journey back to Katse. Jeremy and I drove back ttowards Ramastelisos Gate to explore some more. The cover photo is from lower down stream on the Tsoelike River. The fish were slightly smaller but I managed 7 fish in in an hour, before I had to climb out the gorge and head home. I also caught a small yellow fish, and the locals say that it gets full up with yellows in the summer. Jeremy stayed up top and didn’t feel up to the run down and out of the gorge. The place we fished on the last day definitely has a huge amount of potential for big trout and am oil so yellows. When the rains come and sthe water clears I will definitely be back to look for some Lesotho Gold. I reckon this could be one of the best yellow fish fisheries in Lesotho, other than the rivers flowing into Katse dam.
On the last afternoon, after Ryan had left, we headed lower down the Tsoelike River. I had a few hours to explore a part of the gorge that I last fished on 1999. There were a lot of fish there. I got 7 fish in the space of an hour, including one tiny yellowfish. The average size of fish was smaller but they were still in great condition. I reckon that the lower reaches of the Tsoelike River have some great potential as a great trout and yellow fish fishery.
As I said I would not normally tell other fisherman aboutsuch a special place but I reckon that Patrick could start something quite special at his house. Its obviously very rustic accommodation but its clean and all you need. As long as you don’t mind bathing in a basin, if bathing at all, and long-drop loos, then you will have a fantastic and humbling experience being hosted by Patrick. He has never asked for money, but we gave him R100 per person for the night. He speaks good English and Zulu, so communication shouldn’t be a problem. Give him a call and ask if you can come. Hi sister has also got accommodation in the next door house. If you cant get through to him then just pitch up and ask someone for Patrick Thene. His Phone number is: +2663490419
1: Upper Leqoa River
2: Thamathu River
3: Tsoelikane River in Sehlabathebe Nat Park
4: The exact location of Patricks house
5: Lower Tsoelike River
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