I have always said that Lesotho is about way more than catching trout. The streams are crystal clear, full of trout and very few people fish there so why wouldn’t it be about the trout? I must admit that the trout have a lot to do with my love affair with the Mountain Kingdom, but an epic hike last summer confirmed to me that the trout are very much a secondary bonus of my frequent visits to Lesotho. The endless mountains and remoteness is why love the place. The endless unexplored valleys keep me going back for more.
In December 2014 an old university mate of mine, Mike Avery (Tex), flew out from Qatar to join me on a hike into Lesotho. He was adamant he wanted to fish as much as possible. I had showed him pictures of big Brown trout that I had recently caught, and that’s what he wanted, big brown trout, sight fished on a dry fly. I decided that helicopter ride to the top of the Drakensberg was in order so as not to waste too much time hiking for two days to get to my secret river. This is not normally my style but I have always wanted to take a helicopter ride along the escarpment, so this was a perfect opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately in my over eagerness I forgot to have a map with me in the flight to check out where the pilot should drop us off. I generally have a very good sense of direction and I very seldom, if ever get lost. This was a little different and I was completely thrown off by our scenic flight along the escarpment and, yes I suppose I didn’t know where we were, and yes technically speaking we were lost within half an hour of setting off on our trip. It was a case of me saying to him that we need to get dropped off somewhere over there and oh wait look at that stream down that valley, that looks like it must be the headwaters of the river, yes! That’s It! Drop us of here, yes here, this is perfect. Yes I’m sure this is the valley, no I don’t think its over that ridge, here’s fine. And so began our adventure down the wrong river.
It was 8 days of incredible adventure that neither Tex nor I will ever forget. The fishing was poor! We caught some small fish, and among the Rainbows we even caught a few Browns. The drought has been bad for the last few seasons and some of the rivers were hardly flowing, notably the Senqu had almost completely dried up. We fished and hiked 4 different rivers, all with the same result, small fish and not too many of them either. So what made this trip special? Other than spending a few days with one of my best mates who I hadn’t seen for years, the scenery was just out of this world. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story from here.
Plan B was to walk down the Thlanyaku River in till we got to the mighty Senqu River and then fish all the way up the Senqu to the source. What transpired was that the Senqu was hardly flowing and so we made a Plan C and headed up a small tributary called the Kokoatsi River. This stream had the bulk of the flow at its confluence with the Senqu. We followed this stream a the way to the escarpment and fished the Kokoatsana and the Kokoatsi River. The Junction of the Kokoatsana and Kokoatsi river is a notorious place where all the Marajuana smugglers gather before walking up the Kokoatsana valley, and then down the Sandleni Pass into Natal.
After a 4 day trek where all we caught were the odd fish of 8″ we decided that Plan D was on the cards. After much pouring over maps I came up with a cunning plan to turn our fishing trip into a Drakensberg traverse. Tex had never spent a night on top of the Drakensberg Escarpment and was longing to do so. Our plan D was to follow the Kokoatsi River up to the escarpment and the hike north west along the escarpment to the Mnweni area. The Mnweni area is probably the most spectacular part of the Drakensberg that I have been into, and it has two of the best caves I have stayed in, Mponjwane Cave, and Ledges Cave. I had stayed in both caves twice before on a school hike and more recently on a fishing trip in 2006 to fish the upper reaches the Senqu and Khubelu River. There could be no better place to introduce Tex to the Drakensberg than this area. This was probably the best I have ever had it on top of the Berg and it was undoubtedly the highlight of our hike, if not one of my lifetime highlights and I reckon the same goes for Tex. I have hiked in the Himalayas, Mt Kenya, Kilimanjaro, and the Alps, but the Drakensberg is still the most beautiful mountain range that I have seen.