Forgotten Rivers of the Tribal Lands

A large portion of the trout streams in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape have sections or rise in tribal lands or flow into the tribal lands. Many of these streams are completely unknown to most fly fishers.  I consider these streams the hidden jewels of trout fishing in this country. My father fished many of these streams when he was at school and university. He often spoke of the great fishing they had in the tribal lands on the lower reaches of rivers such as the Ngwagwane, Ngungununu, Polela, Mkomazana and the Umzimkhulu. Back in those days the population was a lot lower and the rivers were still in pristine  condition. He was now of the opinion that most of the fishing would ruined by erosion and over fishing by the locals. Little did he know that many of these rivers still had some amazing fishing in them. He used to take me to several places within these tribal lands which still had good fishing, and this sparked my interest in further exploring these areas. The lower reaches of the Umzimkhulu in the tribal land, now known as Thrombosis Gorge, was a place we fished several times in my school days. The Umtamvuna River was another stream we regularly fished. Once I got my drivers licence the doors were open for me to explore, and explore I did.

For those who are unclear what I mean by the tribal lands, they are the areas such as the Transkei and Ciskei where the black people were forced to live under the apartheid regime. The areas are nowdays fairly heavily populated and ecologically degraded. There are however some surprises that lie in store for the more adventurous fisherman who’s prepared get out there and explore a bit. If you want to fish these streams, be prepared to fish streams that aren’t always crystal clean and often surrounded by huts on the hillsides. If I am not fishing in Lesotho or the Drakensberg, then I’m almost certainly fishing some small stream meandering through some tribal lands. There’s something special to me about these streams. The quality of the fishing is surprisingly good, but the fact that no other fly fisherman go there really excites me. In a way I consider some of them my private little streams that are my secret. I know their moods and I know each pool and euchre ones are worth fishing and which aren’t. There may be better and more pristine streams around, but not many people can claim to be the only one who fishes there. I keep a fish whenever I feel like eating a fish, and I fish where ever I want at no cost at all. I would recommend a courtesy visit to the chief but you are very unlikely to encounter any security issues. The people in these rural areas are almost without exception, warm and friendly people. 

You may be wondering where these places are. I won’t tell you which are my favourite streams but I will give you a few ideas of where I have found decent trout fishing in the rural areas.

I have caught fish in the streams that flow out of the Hogsback  into the tribal lands. There are browns and rainbows but I have only fished for Rainbows in that area. The rivers that flow out of the Drakensberg to the north of Maclear have some surprisingly good fishing. The Luzi and the Tina Rivers, right near the tar road are the two that I have fished a few times. They are filthy most of the year but somehow the trout seem to thrive there and great fishing can be had in the autumn, winter and spring when the rivers are low and clean.

The rivers that rise in the mountains to the east and north east of Kokstad almost all have fish. They are small streams that are very overgrown and difficult to fish. They challeng your skills like no other streams I have fished. The main challenge can be to land your fly on the water as they are either forested or heavily overgrown. These streams mainly have Rainbow trout.

The Underberg area also has some great rural rivers. All the main rivers from the Ngwagwane River in the the south, to the Nzinga River in the north, flow from the Drakensberg into the rural areas. There’s some particularly good fishing to be had in the rural areas on the Mkomaas and Loteni Rivers. One of the biggest river fish that I almost caught was a Brown trout on the Loteni River near the main road from Himeville to Nottingham Road. It must have been close to 5 lbs. The fish are skittish and very difficult to catch.

The Northern and Central Drakensberg have some great rivers. I have fished a few of them but that’s not really my territory. One day I will get there and fish a few more, but for now the Southern KZN rivers keep me very busy and very satisfied.

A general rule of thumb is any stream that looks cleanish, and is above 1000m in altitude will have trout. Don’t be put off by a few huts on the hills. Throw out all your preconceived ideas of what a good environment for a trout is. They keep surprising me at how well they can do in the dirtiest of streams. Get out of your comfort zone and go explore. JFDI…. (Just F ****ng do it)

Here follow a few pictures of my favourite 3 streams. They are technically very challenging but the fishing is very rewarding when you do catch something.

Stalking Brown trout in my favourite small stream 
A waterfall on my favourite stream 
The Brown trout don’t seem to mind the dirty water. On this particular day I caught several good fish on a dry fly / dropper rig and all the fish took the dry.
Jenny with an “embarrassingly small” Rainbow
Beautiful dry fly pocket water
Cast into that!
Rob Palmer fighting a feisty rural Rainbow
It can be a frustrating day if you fish this stream in the wind. You just can’t get the flyby land on the water.
Deep glides like this are perfect holding places for big Rainbows
Cast into that!
If you can get the line onto the water there are some spectacular fish to be caught.
The winter is often the best time to fish these streams when they are low and clean
A huge 19″ brown caught in the smallest of streams. You don’t get much more rewarding than that
A beautiful winter caught cock fish 
Kloofing up this forest stream, hunting Brown trout. It doesn’t get much better
A forest wonderland
A beauty caught now recently at the height of the drought 

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