Exploring the Lower Tsoelike Gorge 

Andrew prospecting a spectacular piece of water. The cliffs above have a colony of Bald Ibis nesting on their ledges.

Fishing according to Jenny means catching fish, and one tiny little 6″ rainbow hardly counts as a fish, so let’s just call it an exploratory mission. It’s a section of the Tsoelike River in South Eastern Lesotho, that I have been waiting for a while for the opportunity to fish. It tends to be murky for most of the summer, and so is only really fishable in the late autumn months and early spring months while the water is clear. I had high hopes that in these lower reaches of the river the fish would have survived the drought by hiding out in the big pools. However the reality was a drought decimated river with a few small fish clinging on to survival. 

I was joined for the day by my regular fishing buddy Andrew Desroizilles. We set off from Kokstad at 5am with my poor car loaded full of turnips for my two Basuthu friends from Sehlabathebe. Turnips are a staple in Lesotho, a bit like cabbages to the people of the Transkei. The cook up the bulbs and the leaves and then usually mix it with maize meal to make what they call “Isigwampo”. Augustinus and Partick met us at the Ramatselisos boarder post as we wouldn’t be heading up to where they lived which is another hour further upstream. From Ramastelisos we drove about 5 km North along the main road before turning left down a 4×4 track to the village of Ha Monyane. It’s an exquisitely located village, looking over the rugged Tsoelike River Gorge. We kept a few Turnips for the village folk and some for the chief of the village. It’s tough up in Lesotho at this time of year and the green veggies were a welcome gift. Andrew and I hurriedly set up our rods and trotted down a well worn path to the river below. Along the way we came across some highly unusual and spectacular rock formations in the sandstone gorge. This gorge is one of those places where around every corner you just stare and gape at the massive sandstone cliffs and the picture perfect pools. It’s actually quite difficult to concentrate on the fishing, for if it’s not a Lammergeir cruising above, then it’s a colony of noisy Bald Ibis distracting you. It just has to be one of the most spectacular rivers I have ever fished.

The fishing has been great in the past, however what we found now was a river desperately short of water and with a sparse population of small and skinny fish awaiting better days.In December last year at the height of the drought I caught some fantastic fish a little higher upstream, and I wrongly assumed that they would still be hanging in there with the large pools as their hideouts. (See my post “A Fabulous Place to Blank, but we didn’t”).  I fished slow and deep, shallow and fast and everything in between. The fish were either not there or not liking what I was throwing at them. Other than  the spectacular scenery, it was a bit like fishing many small dams, cast and hope. 

The worst part about the day for me (other than my camera being stupidly set on the lowest resolution!) was that I had been so cock-sure that I would finally bring a pile of trout home for Jenny to eat. I had to dissapoint her again and I would have to put up with her questioning my fishing skills again. This drought has been far worse for the fish population than I originally thought.  Even a big river with big holding water such as the Tsoelike River, has had its population decimated. I would hate to know what the fish populations are like in the thinner upper reaches of my favourite Lesotho streams. After my last 5 or 6 outings i have only caught one very small trout this last weekend and I need to feel that tug on the end on my line. Credit to Andrew, he managed 4 fish. One of them was a good fish of around a pound or more, while I was giving him some casting lessons. Next time he’s on his own, because he seems to have a knack of catching fish and clearly doesn’t need my help anymore. 

I think I may just give the trout streams a break and get my confidence back on the bass and blueguill in our farm dam. Maybe even a few trips to look for some Scalies. I haven’t fished for them in ages and some great fishing is awaiting me in some of those steamy and thorny gorges towards the coast. 

The village of Ha Monyane looking over the Tsoelike River below.
This is the sort of sight that gives a fly fisherman the shakes. You just can’t get to the river quick enough!
A very unusual rock formation with a small stream flowing through it, into the gorge below.
Andrew in a precarious pose.
This should be the most perfect pocket water for flicking dry flies, but I did not even see any fingerings or fry in these shallower runs.
A Bald Ibis colony on the cliffs. The white on the rocks is from their droppings.
Andrew into a little tiddler. It just doesn’t seem right that these pools seemed devoid of sizeable fish.
A beautiful fish which got us very excited as it was the first fish. We wrongly thought that this would be the norm for the rest of the day. This fella was in good condition, but the small fish weren’t nearly as fat.
The gorge opens up a bit before getting very steep and narrow again a km upstream from this corner. This was where we climbed out and headed back to the car. We fished almost up to the next village, which is called Ha Jacob. All in all we probably fished about 8 km of river.
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