Flyfishing report: Trout - Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands

Date of Report: Friday, 5th July 2024
Name: Andrew Fowler
Phone: 082 574 4262

Maybe I am just getting older. Or maybe it is because I camped out beside a lake for a night this week. Either way, it’s cold, and damn I am feeling it!

I found fish patrolling the shallows near the spillway, as is their tendency at this time of year. As I was saying to a mate, they are at times like this, seemingly impossible to catch. But what you can do, is to fish the periphery …just away from where you can see the fish swimming up and down showing you the finger. It seems that just out there, outside the hardcore procreation zone, a few fish mooch around feeling left out or some such, and they do eat flies.

On a water nearby we saw little action until the wind dropped and a bunch of midges started coming off. Remember, midges are a sure thing in winter. Dorsals were doing little half circles everywhere, and I scrambled to change to a floating line and an “NT” above a small pupa. I missed two fish on the NT, and then the breeze came up again and it was all over. Later, the light dropped below a certain point on the dial. I was instantly cold, and the fish were instantly on the prod again.  Funny how sitting out on a winter lake late in the afternoon, freezing and catching Trout is such a quintessential Midlands thing. Imagine it: the whiff of firebreak smoke, decaying moribund grass, and ice….and the strong pull of a Rainbow as it strips line beneath the boat.  You are going to tell me that ice has no scent but work with me here.

The flies that did the job, were the same ones I had used to good effect on another lake down in East Griqualand a week earlier: a semi floating “Booby bugger” on the point, and a Crystal bugger less than a foot ahead of it. On both occasions I would manoeuvre my float tube alongside the margins and watch for shoulders pushing water. Then I would send out the most daring of casts, landing the point fly an inch from the sedges. In most cases they took the fly as it landed, in a fearsome smash, or a great galumphing wallop. Funny thing is, I missed quite a few fish, and what I am still trying to work out is:  was I striking too early in the excitement (likely!) or perhaps a bit late. The fact that I failed to strike at all for one of them (I was scratching my nose and looking at the sunset), and that I hooked that particular fish, could just be a clue.

About that “Booby Bugger”. I don’t know if that is its name, but I am sure you get the picture. Two large, firm, curvaceous, closed-cell foam eyes on the front of a Woolly Bugger in #8. OK…mine weren’t so curvaceous…I didn’t have any store-bought ones like my friend Sean showed me last season, so I cut them into a sphere with scissors giving them a faceted look, but they did the job. The fly hovers just under the surface and serves to keep the dropper fly (between the point and the floating line) off the bottom. Like the washing-line technique. It seems to work.

Other things that work include a shad float, below which you dangle a string of orange plastic beads, while you sit in a deck chair. A friend tells me he witnessed this recently at an event. Suffice it to say, there was much gnashing of teeth on the part of the fly fishermen, and the whole debate about what constitutes flyfishing was fleshed out again. The useful thing about all this indignant huffing and puffing, is that it warms the cold night air, and given my growing sensitivity to the cold, that is a useful thing, right?  

What arguably warms the cockles of the heart in a more efficient manner, is going out onto a great big bowl of crystal-clear water, arctic in water temperature, with the weak-but-warm sun on your back, and slinking through the bankside grass trying to spot and catch a Trout. If you do this with one or two mates, and a box of imitations in your top pocket, and a flask of coffee back in the car, then that’s the business.  A buddy and I did this the day after Comrades with a mutual varsity friend who was out from Oz to run the fabled race. We fished a lake in the shadow of Spioenkop mountain (not the battlefield one…the one near the source of the uMngeni). We took it easy on account of one of us who had sore legs, and two of us who were hungry for news from our overseas pal. Each of us got a fish, and the visitor got a second. We ate chip rolls and drank beer in the winter sun, and all was good with the world.

How does this help in the context of a fishing conditions report?

Well, I hope it describes winter fishing on the stillwaters of the KZN midlands, what it is all about for me, and what the experience may entail. You can go and look at the results of the various events on social media, envy the winners and wonder what technique they were using, and try get a sense of whether the fishing has been “good” or “bad”, and how big the fish have been. Or you can do what a breeding Trout does, show all that effort the middle finger, and go lie in the grass with thoughts of cold beer and small midges, and catch a few spirited Rainbows; and let your mates fill you in on how “good” or “bad” the fishing has been later.  You might want to give that “Booby Bugger” a try.

Enjoy it.


PS: Water temps at time of fishing were 11.5 degrees C at the surface on a lake at 1700m ASL.  Whatever.

Mountain Dam and other winter images below: