Back Country Basutholand

Back Country Basutholand

Have you ever fished a river where no white man has been, let alone fly fished? Well if the elders in a remote mountain village are to be believed then I have, and several times at that. Imagine walking into a village and the children run screaming “Mlungu!” (white man!). Its a surreal experience visiting a village so isolated that the many village residents had never seen a white person. Now fishing for trout in a place like this is really what makes me tick. Let’s just say that the rivers hadn’t been fished in living memory which is good enough for me.

This post is about a trip to what I judged to be the most remote corner of Lesotho. We named the gorge “Coronary Crevasse”, and it’s accessible only via “Heart Attack Hill”. Coronary Crevasse is in my books is the ultimate destination, no matter the size of fish you may catch, it’s the adventure and excitement of catching a fish in a place so remote. However it’s the journey to get there that really makes these trips so special. This is what I call Back Country Basutholand. Places like these are the ultimate destination for the adventurous fly angler who can’t afford an overseas trip to some exotic destination. I have fished in some fairly exotic locations before and yet what’s right on our doorstep is what I yearn for the most.

Eastern Lesotho has numerous high altitude rivers which are very seldom if ever fished. By seldom, I mean once every few years or even every few decades. There are just not a lot of fly fisherman out there who are willing to walk that extra mile. Most fanatical hikers and adventurers don’t fly fish, and most fanatical fly fishers prefer to spend a week fishing, rather than 6 days hiking and two days fishing. All fly fishers seem to like the idea of a long hike into the back country to find trout that have never seen a fly, but very few actually ever do it. They lack a bit of the JFDI (Just Fucking Do It) attitude.

In April 2005 I dragged a group of mates on a mission to fish what I judged to be the most remote river in Lesotho. We hiked up the Drakenbsberg escarpment and down the valley the other side. After a day and a half of walking we had still not found a fish. The local herd boys all said there were fish in the river, but much further downstream. Now if a Basutho herd boy says the fish are far, then you know they are far. With limited time and and eager mates wanting to catch fish, we decided to walk a day north to another river which I knew had fish in. It was probably one of my most productive fishing trips I’ve ever had, but I still had an empty feeling after that trip. I just had to explore that river lower down and find those trout.

In December 2006 I decided that I had to make a mission back to explore the river further downstream. It was about at this time that I first used Google Earth to explore the rivers of Lesotho. From Google Earth I could clearly see where there was a waterfall which was not marked on any map I had previously seen. I knew this was where we had to head to find trout. It was probably my most memorable trip into Lesotho, and not because of the fishing, because of the journey and the awesome bunch of mates who tagged along. We fished two rivers along the way and had some great fishing in both rivers. As you may have realized by now my blog is not about how many fish we caught, what fly we caught them on, or what rod I used. I like to write about journeys into inaccessible places to catch trout that have never seen a fly. It was some time ago, but it’s as clear as if it happened yesterday. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

A typical veiw in Lesotho. There’s a reason they call it “The Mountain Kingdom”. The remote village and river was the other side of those mountains in the distance. Between us lay two more rivers which of course we sampled along the way.
Sampling a small stream along the way.
The main river along the way had some incredible fishing. I have fished here many times before but if I tell you where it was, then I will give my final destination away. We fished down it for a full day before walking over the mountains to get to our final destination.
My best fish of the trip caught shortly before our 5 hour slog over the mountains into the next valley where we hoped to find trout.
On top of the ridge and looking back down from where we had come. Two full days of walking and fishing as we went, we were now about half way to our final destination.
The river we came to fish. This was still a good 10 km upriver from the waterfall and so there were no fish here.
 
Standing on top of Coronary Crevasse. From left to right: Myself, James Wilshere, Rob Palmer, Leigh Torr (now Thomas) and Dale Thomas. After a 40 km hike we were eventually at the top of Coronary Crevasse. The waterfall lay below us and the river teamed  with wild and willing trout.
Fishing the pool below the waterfall. After a few casts I caught my first trout in Coronary Crevasse. Possibly the first ever trout caught on fly in this stretch of river.
The fishing was by no means easy but every decent pool or run held a fish of this size.
The willows that thickly line the river in places make it a unique river in my experience in Lesotho.
Coronary Crevasse is the ideal location to grow Basutho Gold.
On day one of our hike we kept and fillited some of the bigger fish and made Gravalax. We then ate the cured fillets on day 4. Gravalax is a Scandinavian method of curing fish where you cure the fish with course salt, brown sugar, and dill.  
Climbing up Heart Attack Hill.

We camped a night in the village on the way back. This village is so remote that it takes the locals a day and a half to walk down the valley to a road where they could catch a bus to the nearest town. By my estimation it’s a 40 km walk down a steep and windy goat track to get to the road. The lady who’s family we cooked for, had a daughter who went to school in Thaba Tseka. This is the closest sizable town and it would take her 2 to 3 days to get there depending on if the bus was running on that particular day. Now that’s remote!
Dale sampling some of the local brew.
The local guitarist playing us some tunes. We had a wonderful night of song and dance with the locals. With me being the “Chief ” of my group, I was offered several maidens for the night. I graciously declined their generosity.
Cooking in our hostesses house. We cooked for her and her family and she cooked for us. I think my frying pan was a little hot but they loved my cooking. 
Hiring donkeys is always a great help when you are walking a long way. It was a 30 km walk back to the escarpment so the donkeys took our bags half way before their owners abandoned us as a storm started brewing.
The donkeys crossing the river on route to the escarpment.
Looking over the upper reaches of the river as a storm brewed in the distance.
This thunderstorm was one I will never ever forget. We huddled behind a rock, high up on a ridge. It was the most intense electrical storm I’ve ever experienced. We very nearly got struck by lightning on several occasions and by that I mean that there were numerous strikes within 100 meters of us. It was hilarious and at the same time frightening. Imagine 5 atheists sitting under a rock, absolutely shitting themselves, but in hysterics. We figured god tried pretty hard that day but he was a little off aim, or maybe he was just firing a few warning shots.
The sun coming out after the rain, and hail. All of us very relieved to still be alive!
By the last night we were pretty much out of food. This is one of the most disgusting meals I have ever cooked. Yellow rice, 2 min noodles, bully beef, peanuts and raisins, milk powder, great shakes seasoning, and a liberal does of tobasco sauce to top it off. Yet at the time we found it to be quite tasty. It’s amazing what 8 days in the mountains does to your taste buds.