Drakensberg Mountain Fishing

 

Paradise Found

The South Africans are fond of their hoary old claim, that theirs is the whole world in one country. It’s the sort of media boast that passes over the heads of those it’s supposed to impress, because it is taken as pure hyperbole. Still, as one enters the Northern Drakensburg mountains, this boast appears to more and more to be accurate. Little Switzerland, they call it.

By John Cooper

 

The road from the bone dry low-veldt rises slowly at first, then more urgently, through 180° alpine hairpin bends that would sore test the unsober. The thorn scrub is left behind as lowland deciduous woodland appears. At a stop to admire the view, an African relative of the blackbird chuckles away, giving the moment the air of an English suburban garden.

Climbing again, it's pines that soon predominate, and the temperature drops from 90° to 70° within a few minutes. And still up, and up, to over 6,000 feet. That’s about one and a half times the height of Ben Nevis.

Near the top is the little village of Haenertsburg, and the travellers erie of Magoebaskloof. Despite the withering heat of the plains, still clearly to be seen at the foot of the mountain, this is cool trout country.

After a luxurious but amazingly inexpensive night at the Magoebaskloof Hotel, we headed for the Ebeneezer Dam. The South African convention of calling these reservoir lakes dams, does nothing to describe the natural appearance of these bodies of water. These are mature lakes of great beauty, often the haunt of rare animals and birds.

Here, in the mountains, the Ebeneezer dam offers excellent trout fishing. But I had a problem – one of my own making. As part of the whistle-stop tour of South Africa, it had been suggested that I set myself the (rather ridiculous) task of catching a cold-water trout in the morning, and a black bass later in the afternoon, from down in the broiling lowlands. At the time it had seemed a good idea, but the reality of catching to order now threatened to spoil a magnificent day. Anyway, time was short.

In the early morning cool, the lake was misty, and calm, but nothing obvious moved on the surface. I elected to fish from the bank, where the bottom dropped away swiftly, and made up a little #4 outfit, with a sink-tip line. Without local knowledge to draw upon, I plumped for a #12 black buzzer, and standing well back from the edge, made a short cast into the margin. My slow retrieve brought no response. By degrees, I lengthened my reach, but nothing stirred.

There’s something magic about the first few casts into a new water, in this case indeed, a foreign water. Anything can happen. But despite several changes of fly, nothing did. I scanned the water desperately, hoping to spot a rise I might be able to cover. Time pressed.

With minutes remaining before my stupid deadline, a gentle pluck, and a lift of the rod, brought a solid resistance that moved away to my left. Some nifty line stripping, and the application of a little pressure turned the fish, which nevertheless stayed deep. With a 2 lb. tippet I couldn’t be too insistent, but the issue was never in doubt, and my trout was soon brought through the marginal weeds to my feet – a lovely brown of about a pound and three-quarters. Then, a ‘last cast’ brought a little rainbow, and it really was time to leave.

I suppose these were modest fish by British standards, but they were quite special to me. You have to know the harsh reality of Africa to realise how pleasing such fish can be. These fish were far from their native home – just like me.

The trout man who insists upon huge hatchery-fattened fish may seek for weightier quarry than these African trout, although even so, they are regularly taken to over 6 lbs. Big enough for all but the greediest of men. The angler who knows in his soul that there really is more to this game than staggering under the weight of a fish, will get so much more pleasure from these cloud-line emigrants.

 

South African Airways, the only way to go.

what's this?

A brown trout…

and a rainbow from the highlands of

For a lowland bass, a good guide with a boat to match is essential

here's one

At 11 am. we headed downhill, through eucalyptus groves and vast tea plantations. Rows of pretty girls with beaming faces were plucking at their waist-high crop. Yellow dresses shone brilliant against the dark ranks of tea bushes, which marched in impressive order, seemingly endlessly, across the hills and far away. Then through avocado groves, and high citrus orchards. Neat, but bare-footed children walked the road, apparently from nowhere, and with no obvious destination within miles. A little further down the mountain every square inch of ground was covered in bananas – miles and miles of them. Can there possibly be enough people in the world to eat so many bananas?

The temperature rose by the minute as we descended, as we turned into the track down to the Tzaneen Dam, we deep frying quite nicely.

Top South African bass-fishing-pro, Alan Kenny, was waiting to meet us. Alan is very well known for his ability to conjure black bass in almost any conditions. Arriving in the glaring heat of the noon-day sun, we were going to need all the expertise we could muster. Black bass fishing is a technical sport that nevertheless requires more than a pinch of old-fashioned skill.

Alan is a serious (in the modern meaning of the word) professional. With a purpose-made bass fishing boat capable of speeds up to 75 mph., an array of pre-made-up rods, and a ship-load of electronic gizmos, he had obviously done this before.

Take off was a white-knuckle business – nothing less. Alan called this rocket-assisted affair – ‘getting out of the hole.’ Happily, I discovered that my ability to breath out as well as in, recovered after a few minutes. Alan was relieved to discover that I’d had some previous black bass fishing experience, and we were soon tossing some disgustingly squidgy plastic-bodies crayfish imitations into floating brushwood piles that looked as though they might be better approached with a chainsaw.

Everything about this fishing is completely alien to the British angler. Short lure rods are equipped with little multipliers, and the lures are tossed out with a staccato overhead flick. Most British anglers would recognise Rapala plugs and spoon baits of one sort or another, but few will have seen Alan’s decidedly un-nerving range of plastic worms, and creepy-crawlies, with the cunningly hidden hooks.

The method was simple enough. Toss the jelly-like lure into the fishes’ hidey-hole, then look out for anything that might suggest that the fish might have snaffled it. Bass being pugnacious and aggressive creatures by nature, the take is often a very violent affair. But even black bass can be cautious, not to say even subtle at times, so that a gentle twitch is all the indication you’ll get.

With nothing found to be at home in the first dozen or so spots we tried, Alan powered off to another area of this huge, dammed lake – to a stand of drowned trees, with their feet in 20’ of water. I put on one of my own lures, a Rapala deep diver with an exaggerated action. My first cast produced an instant, and very violent take that turned the rod into a half-circle. The bass charged up to the surface, thrashing its head from side to side, and tail-walking across the water. Then it dived under the boat, so I needed to push my rod-tip under the water to be able to play the fish on the other side These perch-like fish are very strong for their size. As the fish tired, Alan lifted it by the bottom jaw, and swung it aboard – she weighed 3_ lbs. A good start.

My next bass came from the same tree stump. It was a carbon-copy of the first, and just as belligerent.

During my short stint at Tzaneen I boated five black bass, all much the size of my first fish. Alan took seven, with the biggest at just under five pounds. Twelve nice fish in the boat during a short and sharp visit, seemed to me to be something of a coup. But the difference between success and failure was quite simply Alan Kenny. Without his expertise I’m pretty sure I would have fished all day for nothing.

So, my self-imposed quest had been fulfilled. I’d caught a very pretty trout from the mountains and a sub-tropical black bass, within a day. A good day’s work, but I should have enjoyed it over two days. It will be a long time before I suggest anything so daft again.

I was half way through my African angling journey, but already I was totally captivated by what I had found. Certainly, South Africa is an anglers dream-come-true, but there’s much, much more to this country. There’s a delightful smile on the face of the nation, and an infectious enthusiasm for the future of their new-found oneness.

If you’re alive enough to be thinking beyond staring mindlessly at the sun on the boring old Costas, just take a look at South Africa. You’ll never regret it.

Next I’ll tell you about my travels to the arid lands south-east of the great Kalahari desert. Oh, the sun was hot, and the fishing even hotter.

 

 

Useful information

South African Airways reservations 0870 747 1111 Standard fare, London – Cape Town Expect to pay around £600 return (that’s a bargain) Flights are Every day to Johannesburg and Cape Town Flight distance/time 6,000 miles/ 11 hours

Paul Coetzee Fishing Safaris http://www.explore-southafrica.co.za/

Email:  travel@explore-southafrica.co.za  (Paul can arrange everything for you)

Visa requirements None from UK. From elsewhere, you should check. Jabs Check with your doctor. In the north you should pop malaria pills, just to be certain.
Clothing Generally lightweight. A lightweight rain suit can occasionally be useful.

 

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