Skating Spiders and Lotheni Gold 

The rains in KZN seem to finally arrived. We have had about 100 mm in the last 2 weeks. The drought is far from over but at least it’s a start. There has been a lot of rain in the Drakensberg judging by the level of the Lotheni River where I spent the last 3 days on a family getaway. I didn’t fish much other than a few hours on Tuesday evening and then another few hours on Wednesday morning. I don’t count the Simes cottage dam as real fishing, however it was fun showing Olli what a fish looked like. 

Here follow a few pictures of our beautiful hike up the Lotheni River. 

Hiking up the beautiful Lotheni valley above Simes cottage.
I didn’t fish this section of river. I will have to return one day to fish this stunning section of the upper Lotheni.
Hiking up to Yellow wood cave.
The yellow wood forest on the right of the river is where the cave is.
A lone Natal Bottlebrush still in flower.
It’s amazing to find forest like this, so high up in the mountains

The Lotheni River has been a bit of a nemesis for me over the years. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve tried to catch a brownie in that river. I’ve never dedicated a whole day to the river, but I have fished it on numerous occasions if only for an hour or two at a time. I have fished both the parks board section and in the tribal land below. This week my luck changed. It was a family getaway so I hardly fished for the 3 days we were up there, but I did make some time to try my luck again. 

I finally landed my first Lotheni Brownie on Tueseday evening. I have heard that last light is prime time on this stream. I should have stayed another half hour, but family duty called. This was a genuine last caster. I had fished the run fairly thoroughly, or so I thought, and I was literally reeling in my line when the fish took. It took my dry fly as it drifted past a big rock in a bit of shallow slow flowing water to the side of the main current. It was with a mixture of relief and extacy that I drove home to announce the news of my spectacular catch to my wife and family. Naturally I was mocked about the size of the fish that I got so excited about, and the fact that I could have been hauling bigger fish out of the Simes cottage dam with hardly any effort. They just don’t understand do they. 

The following day was departure day. I decided that I needed to give the upper reaches of the Elandshoek River another chance after my blank morning a few months back. I set my alarm for 3:30 am to make a pot of tea before heading off at 4 am with the moonlight as my guide. I had to be back by 8 am and the section of river I wanted to fish was a good 7 km up stream of the confluence with the Lotheni. The moon was bright enough that I could run with ease along the hiking path that heads up the valley. By 5 am I had been running and walking walking for an hour along a path high up on the northern side of the Elandshoek River. I had no idea where the path lead, but it kept going higher and higher up onto the top of the ridge above the river. I chose to cut down a steep slope and head for the river. I would only have a few hours of precious fishing time and I was itching to wet my line. With me I had only my Tenkara rod, my camera, a spool of 6X tippet, a small flybox and some floatant. I spent the first hour or so walking downstream and fishing every likely pocket by circling round and fishing the run back upstream. I started off with a dry fly and then switched to a bead-head nymph fished upstream and downstream.

After having no luck I reckoned that if I was going to blank again, I might as well blank in style using a dry fly which I find more fun.  The Tenkara rod is ideal for drifting a dry fly downstream especially in these full river conditions where a fish wouldn’t be as likely to see you above them. It was while I was doing one of these downstream drifts that a strong gust of wind picked up my line and skated my fly across the surface and lifting it off the surface as as it went. From the fishes perspective, spider pattern suddenly came alive. Maybe it looked like a spider skimming across the surface, or maybe like a damsel or dragon fly as they hover over the water and dap dap dap as the go. I immediately had a fish on, in a run where several dead drifts received no interest. The fish got off but it was now game on! There were fish here and I just had to catch one! It was great fun trying to dap and skim my dry fly across and up the current. Every run I got to I would first dead drift the fly down the current, before skating and dapping my fly either upstream or across and back up. I eventually managed to actually catch a fish of around 9″ that also rejected a dead drift but smashed a skating spider. 

The moon setting above the High Berg in the background.
The first rays of light touching Giants Castle.
The Elandshoek River is as beautiful a piece of water as I have ever seen. The fish are scarce up here but it’s well worth the hike in. I shouldn’t think that this section of river is fished very often, if ever.
A perfect looking run
It was tough fishing and not a lot of holding water, especially with the strong flow.
The middle section of the Elandshoek is boulder strewn and steep.
One of my most memorable fish ever out of the Elandshoek River. This one fell for a skating spider pattern. 
The confluence of the Elandshoek River (left) and a small tributary I don’t know the name of. It definitely looks worth a fish! This was where I left the river to head home. I had been fishing the section of the Elandshoek above this confluence. 
This is the Para-Daddy spider pattern that I used. I’m sure that any bushy dry fly would work and that it’s the action of the fly that’s most important. I can imagine that a traditional styled RAB would be a very effective pattern using this skating and dapping technique.

I have no idea what the method is called and I’m sure others have had similar experiences. Its a bit like the dapping they do on Scottish or Irish Lochs, except this is in a stream and without the use of wind to move the fly. Without wind you do need a very long rod, which makes a Tenkara rod ideal for this method.  I first tried this technique on a trip to fish the source of the Senqu River. I deliberately allowed a strong wind to pick my fly up of the water and dap it up and down off the surface. The fish had been sighted and shown no interest in my offerings until it was lifted off the water and dapped along the surface. I don’t know why I haven’t tried this method more often as it’s been a few years since that day on the Senqu river. The fishing that trip had been really tough with very few fish caught so it’s not as if there were fish coming to hand on every cast. I took a video clip of that fish taking the fly. It’s well worth a watch. 

That little fish high up on the Elandshoek was undoubtedly one of my most memorable fish I have ever caught. The remoteness of the location, the sparse fish population, the effort put in to get there so early in the morning, and the fact that it was a brownie. That little 9 incher provided me with a thrill that not many people out there will understand. Those who do understand will appreciate that small stream fly fishing is not about size or numbers, it’s about the where, the how, and the journey to get there. 




  1. lovely, thank you. I remember that valley well though it’s been thirty years..

    Gary Borger used unwaxed dental floss on high-wind days, to dap/skate flies across high mountain lakes. I’ve always wanted to try that..


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