Casting in the Mountains

Jenny is on my case again! She’s been on my case for the last 6 months or so and probably rightfully so. Why the hell do I fish she keeps saying? “You never catch a bloody thing! I have to buy fish at Woolworths because you never bring any fish home”. Today I was racking my brain trying to figure out when I caught my last trout in this country. I think it was in early April, and that was Lesotho, so then I think it was in February or March! I had one good afternoon on a river in New Zealand, but in this country  I think I have had 5 blank days in a row on several streams. Do you know what the funny things is? I have been enjoying my fishing as much as ever. Jenny says you can only call it fishing if you actually catch something, so let’s just call it “casting in the mountains”. I have been told many times by Jenny: “Love you cast so beautifully, you take such nice photo’s and you tie such pretty flies, but your fishing ability… I just don’t know”, or “Love why are you tying so many flies because you never catch anything anyway”. This banter about my fish catching ability just doesn’t stop. Unfortunately I have no comeback because numbers don’t lie, I seem to shoot blanks for a living these days.This is what the drought has done to us stream fisherman who don’t bother with still waters. It’s dealt our confidence a huge blow! The streams now need to recover and play ball before I start believing what Jenny keeps telling me. I keep telling myself these lean patches are going to make the good times that much sweeter when they eventually return. I somehow don’t think I will ever get her to understand why I am so obsessed about these small streams and elusive trout.

Anyway back to my most recent blank trip: 

Graeme Steart called me a few days ago and invited me to join him and Miles Divett for a day on the Mkomazi River in Vergelegen Nature Reserve. I was planning to explore a stream in the Transkei that I didn’t know existed until an evening session on Google Earth. It is at the right altitude, looks sparsely populated and easily big enough to hold trout. This invite to fish Vergelegen with two new fishing buddies was too good to refuse, so my probably blank day on the Kuxama River and it’s tributaries would have to wait. 

I have spent many hours gazing at the Mkomazi River and it’s tributaries and so this was a fabulous opportunity to break my duck on the river. I have fished it several times in the rural areas, but just for a few hours at a time as I pass through. The Mkomazi  is as spectacular a river as any I have seen in the Berg. It’s a crystal clear river with a slight blue tinge to the water. I can liken it to the Witte River in the Cape, where the Brown trout are very elusive and challenging to catch, but some very sizeable fish are caught. Due to the low fish population the fish bare generally of a good size and 16″ to 20″ fish are commonly caught. This however is not the best stream to fish if you looking to get some numbers under your belt. 

We met at the Vergelegen campsite at 7 am and typically Miles who lives closest, arrived last. We headed down to the river which was on the low side, but this at least made for good sight fishing opportunities. In my hours of looking at Google earth images, I had seen that higher up there was a great looking gorge with much better holding water. I had never heard of anyone fishing this upper gorge and maybe there was a good reason. We spooked a few fish lower down on purpose to see where the fish were lying. We spooked them out of the fast shallow water and the pools seemed devoid of fish. I had one fish come up for my fly but I had just turned around to chat to Graeme who was standing behind me. Typical that the only take you have is the one time that you are not watching your fly.

Miles and I decided to walk up to the gorge and leave the lower section to Graeme who was intent on fishing every little pocket. He had some magic fishing in this section a few years before and so we left him to it. We walked a few km up stream before entering the river again. After we entered the stream again, we saw one fish and then nothing for the next 3 hours of fishing. The gorge had some spectacular looking water that must hold fish, but for some reason they were either hiding or just living elsewhere. Graeme had a decent day lower down and landed 4 small fish, but he also didn’t see a thing as he ventured higher up. 

This was casting in the mountains in it’s purest form. High peaks towering around us, the high Berg off in the distance, crystal clear pocket water which was made for dry fly fishing, and bugger all fish. Miles and I however had a great day getting to know each other. That was definitely the best part of the day for me, meeting a kindred spirit. Miles is an interesting guy, a “middle aged, retired, lawyer, investment banker, turned hippy and trout bum”. After a tough and stressful life in the corporate world he has now, in his own words, gone off the rails. Both Miles and I thoroughly enjoyed the day out casting in the mountains. I now have a new casting buddy and hopefully a fishing buddy too sometime in the future. One day I will be back to the Mkomazi River and I will break my duck. 

Pool after pool of perfect looking water in the gorge, but not a fish in sight. It has to be said that it’s a lot of fun drifting flies through such perfect runs. The top of the high Berg can be seen in the distance. 
Miles looking upstream to the junction where we turned around. This was about a 6 or 7 km walk upstream from the campsite.
Miles untangling after a small gust of wind blew his 00 weight line astray. I never even knew you got a “double nought” weight rod! I tried casting it. It feels beautiful in the hand, but in my opinion it’s not a practical stream rod for anything but the smallest stream in the most perfect conditions.
Looking up the right hand fork of the Mkomazi River. It just seems to get better and better as you go up, but judging by this trip, it’s devoid of fish.

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