South Africa’s Finest  Brown Trout River 

South Africa has several fine Brown trout rivers, especially in Natal. Rivers such as the Mooi, the Bushmans, Loteni, Mkomaas and the Umngeni spring to mind. I have enjoyed fishing all of these streams but there is one place I’ve been that puts these places to shame! Brown trout are much more difficult to establish in a river and the early trout pioneers focused on stocking Rainbows who populated the rivers much quicker and grew much faster. I wish they had stocked more browns in the early days as they are in my opinion a far superior fish to catch. Not because of their athletic abilities, but because of their cunning. There’s something about the habits of the Brown trout and they way they lazily sip your dry fly that makes them special. You have to adapt the way you fish a stream as soon as Brown trout are your target. If you look at a pool or a run, then to try spot the fish you need to deliberately focus on the places where you would least likely find a fish. If it looks a likely spot for a Rainbow to hang out, then you looking in the wrong place. It’s a lot of fun trying to find them and pluck them from their awkward hideouts, and it’s this aspect that makes a Brown so special.

It was my time spent “studying” in Stellenbosch where I really learned to fish rivers. I seldom used a dry fly on any of the Natal and Lesotho streams where I grew up fishing, but once I got into dry fly fishing, there was no turning back. There was one particular river that I fished as often as possible while I was in the Cape. To this day if I have to go to the Cape I always try sneak in a few days on this river.

This Brown trout river requires a hiking and camping expedition to fish and at least 3 days or else you were wasting your time. You can do it in a shorter time if you are very fit, as I was in 2014, or you just accept that you won’t reach the best water. I have done numerous day trips from the bottom up where we left Stellies at 3 or 4 am to start the hike in up while it was still dark, usually with a fuzzy head from the previous nights social activities. This was for me the ultimate river. While I was at Stellies in the early 2000’s, social media was not used and these sort of fishing spots were very hush hush and had to be discovered through reading old books or talking to the right people. Now days this river is far more heavily fished and widely known than in my time. I won’t share the name of the river so as not to make it any worse for those who live in the Cape and enjoy this place for its solitude. Any of you who have fished this river will immediately recognise it. It is a unique and a very special place. There is almost a weeks worth of fishing, in one of the most remote and inaccessible parts in this country. Once you are in the middle of this kloof you have to hope like hell you don’t hurt yourself as it takes  a few days to just hike the length of the gorge. There are only two ways in for a fisherman. Climb over a huge mountain and descend into the upper reaches, or walk up from the bottom. There is no path and you frequently have to swim through freekishly deep pools as you go. There is no easy way to fish this river. Even if you were to take the lazy option and enter via a helicopter, it’s such tough going walking in the river bed that you won’t enjoy yourself very much. This place is for the fit fisherman ONLY! 

You might ask why I rate this the best in South Africa? Well, it’s a combination of natural beauty, water clarity, remoteness, fish quality, and fish that readily take a dry fly. Note that I don’t include my favourite places in Lesotho, but this stream ranks up there with any fishing I have done anywhere in the world, New Zealand included. The fish might not be huge buy they are plenty. The biggest I have caught out of the river was a hen fish of 22″. It probably only weighed 3.5 lbs being after the spawning season, but that fish was an annomally and normally the fish range between 10 and 18″. It’s one of those places that you have to fish it to believe it. The further up into the heart of the gorge you go, better it gets. It’s like the river was “designed” for dry fly fishing. Jaw dropping pocket water that just doesn’t seem to end. The higher up you go the more fish you catch and the prettier it gets. The upper reaches of the river must be the most inaccessible trout fishing in the country. I can’t think of anywhere, Drakensberg streams included, that’s more difficult to get to. This is what makes this place extra special! 

Looking up Happy Valley
Left to right: Myself , Dale Thomas, James Wilshere. We hiked up to the top of happy valley in one day, and then spent 3 days fishing up and down from there.
Stalking a perfect run. I wish I knew back then what I know now about Brown trout. There was probably a fish right under my nose!
A beautifully conditioned fish from above happy valley.
Dale Thomas
We never really had much luck in these deep and dark pools. We had far more luck in the pocket water.
A typical pool where you have to get wet! Not so much fun with a chilly south easter blowing down the valley in September.
Scolla and myself swimming our bags through one of the big swims in the lower reaches.
Dale looking horrified at the prospect of another long swim through an icy cold and dark pool. I think here are 13 such swims in the gorge. After this particular days fishing we wondered why we were so stiff? We figured that we had swum about 600 m the day before, with a fishing rod in one hand, day pack in the other, and a pair of tekkies on. Go figure!
Sneaking around and prospecting a deep pool
Another swim required. The will to explore keeps you going up around another bend. This particular section is one swim after the other. It is not much fun as you get almost hypothermically cold. Then try rock hopping downstream back to camp on cold shivering legs!
Scolla and his first ever Brown trout.
This is why this river is not for the unfit.
If you are still dry after a day on the river, then you have done very well.
These and all the following pics are from my last visit there in 2014. Either the fishing has dramatically improved, or my fishing skills have improved a lot. I had never even caught a third the number of fish as I did in 2014. I presume it’s a combination of factors but definitely my skills have improved, especially in catching Brownies
I only fished for one morning as it was such a long walk into the upper reaches, but I must have caught 40 fish! 4 or 5 of them were beauties like these.

This picture is blown up large, printed on canvas and hangs in my lounge.

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3 Comments

  1. Ya, that place is alright…I prefer the Witte River though, it is as beautiful in places and there you have to work for your fish!

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    1. Leonard you have a point. It is definitely more rewarding to catch a good fish in the witte. The witels is a bit easy at times. But I place a very high value on remoteness and beauty. I still need to explore the 24. Higher up from where you went though.

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