Winkling Trout From a Stream So Small

Winkling trout is a phrase that Andrew and I came up with today while exploring a new stream in the Transkei. What does it mean? Well imagine fishing a stream so small that you can cross it  pretty much anywhere without getting your feet wet. So small that you never need to cast more than you leader from the tip of your rod, and even that’s too far. A stream so small that casting becomes merely a flick. A stream so small that you wouldn’t notice it until you fell into it.  A stream small enough to be a water feature in your garden. Take this “Lilliputian” stream and line it with bushes and pampas grass. Yet here clinging to survival, in the middle of rural Transkei is an isolated population of Rainbow trout. The only way to catch these feisty fish is to winkle them out from undercut banks and overgrown pools. You are lucky if you get you fly onto the water in many places, but the fish are there just waiting for some morsel to drift by their murky lie. The fish are in surprisingly good condition and almost completely devoid of spots. I wonder if this is due to them needing no camouflage in their muddy environment? Have they lost their spots or have they always been silver slabs?

They were probably stocked once upon a time, by some enterprising trading store owner who probably put trout in many other such streams. The name of the river is the Kuxama River. It’s main tributary which we fished today is the Kumlambondaba. This is about the most “untrouty” environment you can imagine. Permanently murky brown water, eroded and overgrazed countryside and a large population of impoverished, but wonderfully friendly people living on the surrounding hilltops. The Kumlambondaba and Kuxama Rivers are between the area known as Fort Donald and Mount Ayliff. 

I have long suspected that their may be trout in this valley. I have scanned it many times on Google earth and knew that there was potential. The catchment of the Kuxama and Kumlambondaba is high rolling country over 1500m in altitude. This is comfortably high enough for trout. I have found trout down at 800m above sea level in the near by Mtamvuna River, although that flows out of forest which keeps the water cool. 

Today was a special day. It’s not the best fishing I’ve ever had, but there’s something special about finding fish where you never knew they existed before. When Andrew and I stood on top of the mountain looking down the Kumlambondaba Valley towards its confluence with the Kuxama, we both suspected that today was going to be a hike, not a fishing trip. It was a 5km walk down to the confluence from where we left our car. Neither of us was very impressed by the dirty little stream that wound it’s way through tall grass and wattle trees. Too small to hold fish I thought, especially after such a terrible drought. The odd pocket looked like it could hold a fish, but it was very very marginal. 

When we got to the confluence we sat down to enjoy a cup of tea. I must admit that I felt a bit embarrassed about my choice of destination. Another blank day was staring me in the face. What would Jenny say? Luv, did you find another place with no fish again?  How was your hike? Any nice photos? 

The stream below the confluence was still tiny, but definitly big enough to hold fish. The water was dirty and the river was overgrown. I subconsciously rigged up my rod, because that’s what you do when you arrive on the river. I tied on my favourite stream nymph, the Basuthu Bugger. With my cup of tea in my left hand and rod in my right, I sloppily flicked my fly into the head of the pool. There wasn’t enough line to retrieve, so I just jerked  my fly back down the  current. BAM! I was onto a fish. I back pedalled up the bank to maintain control of the line. Half a cup of tea in one hand and a fat rainbow going beserk on the other end. Both Andrew and I were pissing ourselves laughing! Neither of us could believe that there were actually fish here, and decent sized ones too. I had finally broken my trout drought. It’s been a long time since I caught a fish, April I think, and what an unexpected place to do it. 

The next fish came to hand in an equally bizarre fashion. I was busting for a pee, and decide that I would drift my line under the bush and jiggle the fly around while I had a pee. I had this suspicion that Murphy was watching over me. Half an hour of no other fish, and suddenly as I started to pee, BAM, again I was in an awkward position with a fish on the line. More roaring laughter from the two of us as I was fighting a fish with one hand and trying to finish having pee with the other. They might not have been the biggest fish I’ve ever caught but I don’t think I’ve caught funnier.

We caught nothing more lower down, and we decide to call it a day. There was plenty holding water, buy very few places where you could actually get your line onto the water. We were getting further and further from our car and the river just seemed to get more overgrown. As we were heading back we met some young herd boys who were also fishing. They were using grasshoppers and handlines. They had caught nothing so far, but they did say that there were fish up above the confluence. They recommended that we fish up the Kumlambondaba River and that there were better  pools higher up. As we followed the Kumlambondaba higher, it got really thin but every now and then we came across a decent bit of holding water. I managed to pull two more fish out of this tiny stream. If those little boys hadn’t told us there were fish up there, I don’t think I would have bothered fishing it. In saying that, there was no waterfall preventing them from swimming upstream in better flows, and the murky water was probably the reason that they could survive in such skinny water. Maybe it gives them  a bit of shelter from predators?  This short section of a few kms was some of the most enjoyable fishing I’ve had in a long time. Not because of the number or size of fish, but because I was winkling fish out of a stream so small and in a place so unexpected. 

I wonder how many more such gems there are in this country. Places where the fish have never seen a fly. What I learned today is that you should never overlook a stream  because it’s murky or small, for you never know what you might find. 

Absolutely delighted to break my trout drought.
3 out of my 4 fish were silver slabs like this.
Upstream or downstream, by hook or by crook you need to get your line into the water.
Andrew trying to winkle a trout out of a pool under the pampas grass.
As we got higher up the Kumlambondaba, the stream opened up and we found the odd fishable pool.
Andrew creeping up to a likely looking run on the Kumlambondaba.
A flat bedrock section higher up the Kumlambondaba.

I winkled a beautiful fish out of this pocket. 

You would never suspect that there were trout in this stream.

The only fish I caught with spots.
Andrew fishing a likely pool high up the Kumlambondaba.
Looking back down into the Kumlambondaba Valley.


  1. Sounds like you’ve broken the blank streak! Another great article on one of my favourite topics – the tiny, unprepossessing (or even downright ugly), and nearly unfishable stream. The kind you need a bow-and-arrow cast to get into. I’ve had more fun (and, it must be said, fishless days) on these, than on any other sort of water. And the mental image of a tea-spilling, willy-waving trout-winkler has me giggling into my own teacup.


    1. Waving willies, spilling tea, flicking flies, jumping trout… I would never ever had guessed that I would have had such a great day out when I first laid eyes on that stream


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