My First Trout Run

After my introduction to trail running in January 2014, I became an avid trail runner. I had been running for a few months now and I decided it was time to try out my new found fitness in the Darkensberg. The plan was to do 3 day hike into Lesotho and to  fish one of my favourite streams in Lesotho , the Leqoa River. We would carry as little as possible, no tent, a few items of clothing, a ground mat to sleep on or under if it rained, and a few basic food items to survive on. The rest of our food would come from the river in the firm of fat Rainbow trout. A mate came up from Cape Town to join me, making it just the two of us. This was to be what I now call a “Trout Run”, and what an amazing journey it was.

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Walking up the Mashai Pass
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The headwaters of the Leqoa River
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Swim time in the place I call crystal pools
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The upper Leqoa River, above where trout are found
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The middle stretches where you start to find trout
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Dinner on the first night and breakfast on day 2

The hike was about 90 km over 3 days with one “rest” day of 20 km when I was planning to fish for at least half the day. Unfortunately I didn’t fish as much as I hoped on the trip. I fished for an hour or so before it got dark at the end of the first day and I didn’t  fish much on day two for a rather amusing reason, my feet were too sore! I had just bought a fancy new pair of Salomon trail running  shoes, those ones with the bright orange soles. I had only run short distances in them on the farm but a 35km hike over the Berg was a different story! Thank goodness I had my trusty old crocs tied on to my rucksack just in case. My feet were still very tender but relieved to get out of those hot and stuff shoes. Rather than having an uncontrollable urge to cast a fly in every pool as we walked down the valley, I had this urge to sit down on every rock and put my feet up.We  eventually arrived at the junction of the Thamathu and Leqoa River at about 3pm which gave me the best part of an afternoon to fish.

I was so relieved to be able to sit down at the other end that I spent most of the afternoon relaxing outside our cave and  taking in the dramatic scenery. I fished half heartedly by moving from pool to pool that had a comfortable rock to sit on and casting away in one place for a while. I caught a few small fish but I didn’t do this beautiful stretch of river justice with the effort I put in.

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A beautiful waterfall half way along our walk on day 2
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Fishing on the go
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A beautiful section just above the Thamathu gorge where the first arable lands are
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The Leqoa River flowing into the Thamathu gorge
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A picture perfect run on the Leqoa River near our camp on night 2
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Looking down over the Leqoa River just below the confluence of the Thamathu River and Leqoa River

The best fishing I had was on the first evening much higher up river where I caught 6 very fat trout of which I kept a few for dinner and breakfast. Lower down in the Thamathu gorge the fish seemed to be smaller than higher up. I have fished this gorge 4 times now and I have never had any decent fishing. It’s always been better higher up and lower down. I can’t work out why, because it’s magnificent looking water, but then lots about fishing is a mystery to us, just waiting to be solved.

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Looking into Sehlabathebe National Park 
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Spectacular rock formations in the park
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One of the beautiful tarns on the plateau 
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Another tarn, looking towards the Devils Knuckles in the background 
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Everlastings abound in many different colours 
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The Devils Knuckles 

The last day was a long walk from the Thamathu gorge, down into the Sehlabathebe village and then along a shortcut foot path into the Sehlabathebe National Park. We chose the route high up over the hills as I didn’t intend to pay a park entrance fee, not that it’s much, just that the park gate was a bit of a detour and we already had a long 35km hike to do today. We hiked into the park and past Jonathan’s Lodge where we met a friendly family at the campsite who kindly offered us some lunch. It was a welcome change from fish, biltong, peanuts, and tea. From the lodge we walked past all the beautiful tarns that are scattered across the plateau. It’s the most incredible landscape of huge sandstone boulders and rock formations that’s protrude from beautiful rolling grasslands. My parents met us at the old Bushmans Neck border post. My parents and some of their friends had been picnicking all day at an old favourite spot on the rivers edge and waiting for us intrepid adventurers to arrive. We were welcomed with cold beers and the leftovers of their picnic.

If you haven’t been to Sehlabathebe then I suggest you make the effort. It is an absolute paradise. They have built or are busy building a new lodge and upgrading the facilities in the park. A month ago I saw the development at the park gate, but I don’t know how far they have got with rebuilding the old Jonathan’s Lodge which is on the other side of the mountain and a long way from the park gate. There used to be good fishing in the Tsoelikane River back in my school days, but in May this year I didn’t see a single trout in the Park (see my post “Taking the Scenic Route”) . I have no idea why they have died out, but the Maluti minnow is thriving there with no competition from the trout. When the trout move back upstream from the Tsoelike River, which they will do, then there will be some incredible fishing to be had as the trout gorge themselves on minnows. A friend of mine who goes up there often says that there have been no fish the lower reaches of the park for the last 5 years, but thinks there still are fish up near the lodge. The bottom line is don’t go there for the fishing, go there for the sightseeing and hiking. It’s out of this world.

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Point 1 at the top right. Point 10 is the bottom right. 1: start at garden castle, 2: Top of Mashai Pass at 3000m, 3: top of Leqoa Ridge at 3300m, 4: Crystal Pools, 5: 1st nights camp, 6: the first village on the Leqoa River, 7: camp onnnighy 2 in the Thamathu Gorge, 8: shortcut path into the National Park, 9: The Rock formations and tarns in the park, 10: finish line

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