Part 2: Fishing Where no White Man has Been Before

In Part 1 I wrote about my first unsuccessful attempt to fish the most remote river in Lesotho. Part 2 is the second successful attempt to fish the same river. This time I took a different group of mates and we did a similar route to a few years before but in reverse. Obviously we ventured further down the “Remote” River to find the trout. We gave ourselves 8 days to get there and back instead of 5 days last time. Sorry guys this river will remain a secret. I highly doubt that many of you out there would attempt a full 2 day walk to get to a river just because its very remote and has probably never been fished before, but some places I have discovered are just too special share the location of.

Our first attempt was in April 2006, and the second attempt was in December 2007. It was a bit of a reunion of old Stellenbosch mates: Dale Thomas, Leigh Torr (now Leigh Thomas), and James Wilshere were old Stellies mates and also joining us was my sisters boyfriend (now husband), Rob Palmer.

There’s not many people who can claim to have been somewhere so remote that children ran screaming when the saw us. When we arrived in the village after our 3 day walk we were given such a warm welcome that I wished we could have spent every night there and fished from the village, but the trout were still a few hours downstream. The elders said that in their lifetimes that no white man had ever been in the valley, not even missionaries. It was a surreal experience to spend a night camping in the village, and interacting with people who had very little concept of the world where we came from. Several of them had worked in South Africa at some stage and so we communicated in Xhosa and broken Sesotho. This village is so remote and far from civilization that they have to walk 40km to get to the nearest road, and that is a seldom traveled road. It is basically a two day trip to the closest town, and it would also be a full two days walk back over the Drakensberg to get to the Parksboard offices. 

Day 1 & 2: We were dropped off somewhere in Lesotho to save having to walk over the Drakensberg and so we could fish a different river before hiking into the next valley. We hiked for 2 days down a river I have fished many times before, fishing as we went.

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We spent 2 days hiking down this river before walking over the range of mountains in the back left of the picture to the Remote River on the other side.
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James fishing a big pool as the sun sets..
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A beautiful fat fish caught in a “hotspot pool”. I have always caught lots of fish in this pool. We caught 20 fish or more in this one pool and all were over a pound.
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James and I preparing the fish to make Gravalax. How to make it: 1: Fillet the fish. 2: take a handful of fresh dill and put on one fillet. 3: make a 1 to 1 mix of brown sugar and coarse salt and sprinkle over both fillets rubbing it into the flesh. 4: sandwich the dill, Sugar and salt mix between the fillets and then wrap the two fillets up in cling wrap. 5: stick the fish in a zip lock bag to avoid the juice leaking out and keep it there for 3 days. Wrap it in a wet rag or something to keep it as cool as possible.

 

Day 3: We hiked over a mountain range to get into the next valley. We climbed from 2400m to about 3100m, and back down to 2400m to get over the ridge into the Remote River valley. It was a good 5 hour walk and we arrived just in time to avoid an afternoon thunderstorm. We camped the 3rd night in the Remote River valley, just above the first village. We walked up the river and had a few casts and looked for fish but as I thought There were no trout up here.

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Dale and Leigh looking back at where we had come from.
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The upper reaches of the Remote river
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A massive frog that we caught along the way

Day 4: We walked down the Remote River valley for a few hours before we arrived in the first village where the children ran screaming when they saw us. It was only a week before Christmas and so the festivities were well under way and we were warmly welcomed to join in and have a drink of Umqombothi. The Sesotho Name for the village is a translated into something along the lines of “village in a hole” which is an appropriate description how the village lies in the bottom of a valley. After an hour or so of resting  and chatting to villagers, we pushed on to find the waterfall where I hoped to find trout. The valley got steeper and steeper and it was a hectic scramble and slide to get down into the gorge. Sure enough we found the waterfall, and below the waterfall I caught 6 fat Rainbow trout of a pound or so. We hiked a few km below the waterfall to find a level place to camp for two nights.

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Our arrival in the village
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I was offered a Jackal skin hat but declined the offer due to it smelling like it had just died!
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Dale enjoying some traditional beer or Umqombothi
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Walking down the gorge to find the waterfall
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I was immediately into my first fish in the pool below the fall. It’s an exciting feeling knowing that you are probably the first person ever to fish a stream.
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One of the main crops grown in the valley

Day 5: We fished all day and had some fantastic fishing. The fish were all about a pound, with a few bigger and some a bit smaller. It wasn’t easy fishing and we had to work quite hard for our fish. Its a very different river to other rivers I have fished in Lesotho. The river has a very steep gradient and so the pools are short but quite deep. Nymphs were what we caught most of our fish on, if not all our fish.

Day 6: We fished all morning before walking up to the village to camp the night there. On the way out of the gorge we decided the place needed a name. Coronary Crevasse was the name we chose, and you access it via Heart Attack Hill. These were very appropriate names that we came up with on our hike out of the gorge.

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Eating the Gravalax
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At the top of Heart Attack Hill and looking back into Coronary Crevasse. From left to right: Myself, James Wilshere, Rob Palmer, Leigh and Dale Thomas.
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Coronary Crevasse
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Heart Attack Hill
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A typical neat Basuthu homestead
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The local band playing us a few tunes in the evening. We had quite a part that night. Lots of singing and dancing. The chief even offered me a maiden of my choice, as I was the “chief” of our group.
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Camping in the village

Day 7: We hired donkeys in the village to carry our bags to the top of the escarpment. The donkeys and their drivers chickened out half way when they saw the weather brewing. We got caught in an almighty storm with a tiny overhang for shelter. 5 giggling heathens huddling under a rock with lightning crashing all around. I wont lie to you, we absolutely shat ourselves, but in an amusing way. We watched the lightning explode a rock that we had been standing on only a few minutes before. God missed a great opportunity to hit CTL-ALT-DELETE but we all still here to tell the tale.

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Setting off on our 30km hike up the valley to the top of the escarpment.
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There’s not much tougher than a Basuthu donkey.
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Dale relieved to be carrying only his day pack
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Our trusty donkeys crossing the river
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The weather starting to close in. The donkeys and their drivers had abandoned us when they saw the storm brewing.
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Freezing cold after an hour of heavy rain and hail drenched us. Our bags stayed dry but not us. This storm is one I will never ever forget.
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The hail lay thick in some places after the storm
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Preparing dinner in the tent. This is one of my most infamous meals. I was banned forever from the cooking after this meal: 2 minute noodles, yellow rice, tinned tomato and onion, bully beef, milk powder, and tobacco sauce.

Day 8: We woke to a spectacular sunrise from the top of the Drakensberg. We spent A few hours climbing a prominent peak on the escarpment before hiking down. This was undoubtedly the most epic Lesotho hike I have every been on. I have yet to get back to that village but it has a special place in my heart, and some day I will return to visit those warm and friendly people of the”Village in the Hole”.

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Rex you make me want young legs again. When I was at school (1960s) I remember reading mouth watering accounts of great fishing which inspired me in later life to carry a rod with me wherever I traveled. This trip of yours and the way you write about it easily matches the best tales I have read. Thank you. Martin.

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