Heaven on Earth

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.