South Africa

A stunning variety of spectacular environments offers a journey like no other.

Little has been written and I suspect, even less is known internationally, about fly fishing in South Africa yet there is so much to offer the angler in this country. There is quality fly fishing to be had in regions such as the Western and North Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. Not only small mountain streams, but classical rivers and magnificent lakes where double figure trout are not uncommon. Then there are rivers where the fly fisher can cast to the powerful indigenous Yellowfish or if it is your preference, the game fish of the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a land of sunshine and wide-open spaces, of unforgettable scenery and wildlife.

Return to nature Indian Ocean's game fish Gin clear water cascades down boulder strewn runs Truly awesome topography Wary and alert Streams in pristine wilderness surroundings

South Africa is a place to get away from it all and where you can enjoy the hospitality and rich cultures of the people of this country. This article though is more specifically about the prime trout fishing regions of South Africa, vast natural environments, providing the visitor with breathtakingly beautiful and unique mountain landscapes rich in indigenous fauna and flora, much of it endemic to the area. The freestone streams of regions like the Western and North Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, are recognized as the country’s premier trout fishing regions boasting together well over a 1000 miles of rivers and streams, many with very little fishing pressure. Their gradients are steep with water as clear as the mountain air, cascading down boulder strewn runs, through emerald green glides hewn out of the bedrock over millions of years. The valley floors are cluttered with massive fallen blocks of stone from the strata high above; the banks are protected in places by precipitous cliffs, indigenous forests, grasses and woody vegetation. In these streams the rainbows are feisty and energetic, the browns ever selective and cautious. They are masters of disguise, needle-sharp and can at times, seemingly evaporate into their dappled world of the pebbled stream-bed without trace, let alone, notice. In the uplands the fly fisher can be alone all day, fishing miles of river away from civilization, in wild places where the black eagle and bearded vulture soar effortlessly in wide blue skies, where kingfishers and herons haunt rivers and where you may hear the bark of sentinel baboons from the ramparts or the eerie cry of a jackal at sunset. It is also home also to the elusive leopard and a variety of antelope.

Like most South African streams, water levels can be inconsistent at times, either very thin or raging torrents. Other than divine intervention, there is little one can do about low water but on the other hand, fortunately at these altitudes, the spates experienced after heavy summer storms usually fine off as quickly as they rise. The best months in my experience for most areas in the country are during spring, from late September through to the end of November depending on snow-melt from good winter snowfalls and early summer rains, and then my preferred time, autumn, from mid-March to the close of the season at the end of May. The Western Cape is a winter rainfall area so it is usually around late September or October before the rivers fine off and the fishing improves.

The streams support a rich insect life, consisting mainly of a variety of small mayfly nymphs, midges and caddis. Terrestrials like beetles, ants and hoppers make up a fair percentage of the trout’s diet, especially during the summer months. Hatches are somewhat erratic but occur usually around midday and at last light. It is no secret that mayfly nymphs are by a country mile the trout’s favorite food and a carefully drifted imitation will bring the greatest chance of success. But, it is the quality of the dry fly fishing in these mountain waters that sets the blood coursing through the veins of most fly fishers. The trout will on most days rise freely to surface imitations that mimic emerging and terrestrial insects. It must be said that perfect imitations are not necessarily the recipe for success but rather flies with a buggy appearance that have distinguishing trigger features of the ever-present food items and are representative in general shape, size and color of the natural insect.

If it is challenging fishing you are after, this is it. These wild trout are as wary and alert as you will find anywhere, perfect for ultra light tackle, long leaders and small flies. The emphasis is on stealth, careful presentation rather than distance. Up close and fine, short, drag-free drifts are important just as are the use of strike indicators when nymphing. If its bigger fish and larger rivers you are after then these mountain streams as they join other tributaries, grow into more classical rivers at lower altitudes in pastoral surroundings. Here as the waterways meander sedately through wide valleys, the gradients flatten and the speed slows into long deep runs protected by willowed grassy banks. There are fewer fish but they do grow to an average of 1 1/2 lbs. Quite often trout of 3lbs and more are caught in these reaches with fish of 5 to 6lbs. surprising the angler occasionally. You will of course need heavier tackle with most local anglers using 8 to 9ft, 3 or 4wt rods but, nothing more than 5wts. It is along these stretches that the angler is likely to encounter some of the indigenous Yellowfish species – powerful and ready to accept most of the fly patterns used for trout.

For the more adventurous, a hike into the mountains and a few nights under canvas while you pursue the trout of these streams in pristine wilderness surroundings will be a memorable experience. For those wanting more of the creature comforts when the day is done, you can return to one of the many well appointed chalets or lodges. Here you can relax, enjoy the warmth of the hospitality and rest contented under a canopy of a million stars for tomorrow will be another glorious day in Africa.

For further detailed information on the diversity of fly fishing in South Africa, recommendations regarding the equipment to use, when and where to fish, places to stay to suit your needs and contact details, interested persons should contact the Federation of Southern African Fly Fishers (FOSAF) - In particular their most recent publication “FOSAF GUIDE TO FLY-FISHING IN SOUTHERN AFRICA”, will provide the visiting angler with all and more than will be need by way of information for a memorable fly fishing visit to South Africa.

Peter caught his first trout in the headwaters of the Buffalo River in the Amatola Mountains of the Eastern Cape in 1955. He has been involved over the years in a wide range of fly fishing activities from retail business to clinics and guiding. His particular passion is for light tackle and high altitude streams where he also pursues his other interests of hiking and photography. He writes regularly for local fly fishing publications and recently published a book titled, Call of the Stream and is presently compiling a second that reflects the heritage and tradition of the flies developed in South Africa and something of the originators.

In his words, ‘since that first little rainbow I have hunted trout in my sleep’.