Heaven on Earth 

The Malibamatso River is as beautiful a river as I have ever fished. Sadly it seemed almost devoid of fish but the few that are there make it well worth it.

My heart skipped a beat! Was I seeing things? No way, it couldn’t be, not that big! I froze and sat motionless staring into the crystal clear depths of the pool. A light breeze had rippled the water surface and all I saw was a dark smudge of a shadow moving along the bottom of the pool. The breeze dropped and at once I knew I was probably looking at the biggest trout I’ve ever seen in a river in Lesotho.
I crept lower down the slope the get a better look. I found myself a comfortable ledge to sit on, relaxed and absorbed what a saw in front of me. It’s a bit like discovering a treasure after years of hunting and when you finally find it, you gaze in awe rather than rushing over and grabbing it. It’s a moment to savour. I sat there enthralled, contemplating my next move. 

The fish can be seen in the middle right of the picture. It must have been close to 6 lbs largely due to how fat it looked when I saw it close up. It was definitely a hen fish, in prime condition and with a belly full of eggs. Let’s hope she finds a mate, because the fish are very few and far between.
Etremely tricky conditions to try and sight cast to this fish, especially when fishing alone.
A gentle lazy rise. This really got my pulse racing. Unfortunately with the clear and calm conditions, it was a glint of my rod or the line in the air that put the fish down. What I thought was a perfect cast, a good 10 meters in front of the cruising fish, sent the fish bolting for cover. 

Of late I have got as much reward out of spotting and watching fish as I have out of catching fish. There is something special about seeing a fish and then planning your attack. Even if the result doesn’t go your way, seeing the fish before the fish see’s you is little victory that I savour each time.

Watching that fish cruising up and down it’s pool in such a beautiful setting, was as spiritual a moment that I have ever experienced. The day before I had been to church for the first time in ages. I chuckled to myself that maybe there was a God and he was going to reward me with this massive fish for attending church the day before. I also thought the that if there was a heaven, then I hope it’s something like this. 

What on earth was I doing in church you might ask? The NG Kerk in Ventersdorp nogal! A bastian of Afrikaner conservatism if there ever was one. Sorry to get you all excited, I attended a funeral of Jenny’s grandfather.

We decided to take the scenic route home though Lesotho. We stayed the night at Oxbow lodge on the banks of the Malibamatso River. On most maps the river above it’s confluence with the Tsehlanyana is known as the Hlolohatsi and the upper reaches of the Hlolohatsi has long been on my bucket list. I had one afternoon to explore and I decided that given the previous years drought, that I should rather head downstream to the bigger holding water of the Malibamatso. 

Back to the fish. I two chances at caching that fish. One on the way down stream and one on the way back up. I needn’t elaborate too much on what happened other than to say: It would have been helpful to have a fishing buddy to help spot the fish. Especially in a big river, you can’t always see the fish when you are on the waters edge. And secondly I did get my fair share of “viskoors”. For non- South Africans, that’s were you get the nervous shakes when confronted with a fish of a lifetime. This leads to uncharacteristic mistakes such as tangled line, bad casts and hooked bushes etc. In sporting terms, I choked!

Sadly I only had an afteroon of fishing, so I was torn between targeting a fish of a life time and exploring. The exploring got the better of me and I rushed my attempt at catching the fish. I assumed that I would find more fish lower down and that I shouldn’t waste too much time on one fish as I would pass this way on the way back. I have no regrets as I am an explorer at heart. I had my chance and I messed it up. Undoubtedly it was one of my most memorable days on a river, despite blanking…. again.

The rivers in Lesotho have been decimated by the last few years of drought and will take a few more years to recover. In the 6 km of river that I covered, I spooked one other fish of about 16″ and one small fish splashed at my dry fly in a run. I carefully looked for fish in every pool and the conditions for spotting fish were perfect. The reports from the manager of Sani Top Chalet are that not one fish has been caught in the Sani River this season. Partially due to the drought, and then the Chinese road builders who reportedly shocked the upper reaches of the river with batteries a few years ago.

There are obviously a few survivors of the drought and if you are lucky enough to find them you may be lucky and catch a fish of a life time. Give Lesotho another two or three years and we could have the fishing of our lives. The rivers are in pristine conditions and are effectively now virgin rivers. The few fish that are there are gorging themselves and getting big so prepare yourself for blank days but with the chance of something exceptional. 

The confluence of the Tsehlanyana (left) and the Malibamatso (right).
Pools like a mirror. Great for spotting fish, but great for them tbsot you too.
A perfect run below the confluence.
I sat for along time looking into this pool. How can the there not be a fish in water like that?
Looking back up stream from where I came.
Where I started fishing after running and waking down stream. I took the goat paths that take a more direct route down the valley. I left myself 6 km of river to cover in the afteroon. Interestingly I met two crazy cyclists who were off-roading through Lesotho. One of them specializes in continental cycle tours around the world. He was on a holiday and cycling from Cape Town to Beitbridge. His company is called Bike Dreams. 
A perfect looking run.
I fished these sort of runs blind after a brief look. In one of these runs I rose a small fish but that was it.
The home of the monster. When I returned to the pool the light was too low on the water for effective sight fishing. My camera has a polarized filter on the lense and this is the result.  I spent the last hour of sunlight trying to catch the fish. I had glimpses of the fish cruising around, but I as good as my Smiths sun glasses are, they can only do so much at this time of day. It was sad calling it a day and leaving behind a fish of a lifetime, but I will be back again one day.
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9 Comments

  1. Hey Rex, I live in Ha lejone, I spend my spare time on the malibamatso, I have only ever fished the first 20km from where the Pilaneng meets the Malibamatso. I would love to fish the upper reaches, especially for yellows in summer. Unfortunately the lower reaches is plagued by gillnets and locals stoning fish. Testimony to the spooky nature of the fish in this river! You should also consider sight fishing for yellows in the Katse during the summer months. I have some secret spots I could share with you!

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    1. Hi Carl. I have never fished the lower reaches in the villages. I do know that at around about the last village there’s a waterfall that stops the yellow fish going higher. Have you caught many trout this season lower down? Any bigger fish? I would love to meet up some time and fish katse for yellows. I haven’t targeted them enough over the years. What are u doing up there? My cellphone number is 0793964074. Would be great to chat some time.

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  2. lovely pictures and report, thank you.

    I fished there a couple of times in the 80s.. even then it was difficult, my brother and I had several attempts at huge fish like that. We managed not to spook them but they ignored us and eventually faded into the deeps.
    Biggest I had was a 3lb fish that tore off several pools downstream, thought I’d hooked one of the submarines.. hard to be disappointed with a 19″ fish though.
    The clear water always meant better fishing in rain and low light. Once caught a 15″ fish during the day, that ran and wedged itself under a rock, had to wade out and grab it.. never saw that anywhere else.

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    1. I wonder if the 80s weren’t difficult after several bad years in the early 80s, culminating in the 83 drought. I have also heard from someone else that all they caught were little tiddlers and lots of them. About 5 years ago..

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  3. Walked from Katsi to Oxbow7 years ago with 3 mates was an epic journey. There were huge rainbows then and great yellows up to the big waterfall. Also fished the upper reaches quite a bit used to be full of small rainbows. Spotted some nice fish by those big boulders and lost a bus on one of my trips there, but the water still looks very very low in your pics. Hope it recovers as I want to start visiting again !

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  4. Wow water still looks really low. Some mates and I walked from Katse to Oxbow about 7 years ago and fished along the way, was an epic journey in seriously beautiful country. There were some big rainbows in those waters, hope some survived the drought. That stretch you walked pre drought used to be full of rainbows and made for some silly fishing. I also don’t think any yellows would be found above the big waterfall on the river, which is quite a sight when there is a good flow. Keen to get up there again and do some more prospecting holding thumbs the fish recover stronger than ever.

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  5. We fished Katse last year as well as the river at the inlet and below the wall, unfortunately the estuary had a line of nets every 100m or so. Not sure if many fish make it past judging by the amount of fish in their buckets! Caught a lot of tiny fish below the dam wall and in the pool after the weir below the wall. A mate hooked into an absolute monster below the weir but it popped off after some impressive jumps! There was a school of more than 50 BIG fish in that pool, all with lock jaw unfortunately. I’m sure that the water above the dam could hold impressive fish if looked after by the locals (Tourette style).

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