It was when Ewan Naude received a hint from Guy Ferguson about a top spot to visit on the Orange above Augrabies Falls National Park that he couldn’t resist planning a trip there for the August long weekend. Ewan sent a request for a fishing partner on our Whatsapp group, Carpaholics Anonymous, and due to a severe lack in holiday this year I didn’t hesitate to snatch up the offer.
A float trip to the Orange River is always enjoyable, but when Ewan showed me some photos of fish that the owner of the lodge, Danie van Zyl, and Rohan Koegelenberg caught at the venue a month prior to our booking I got very excited. However, as an afterthought I reminded myself about the hard work involved when fishing for largemouth yellowfish, the fish we desired to catch at this place.
We arrived in hot, sunny weather, warming our hearts, but our excitement got drowned when we waded in the scrotum-biting 14°C water (which later dropped to 11°C). Water released from the dams upstream raised river levels during our stay and also chilled the water. The fish were notably sluggish, but we caught good numbers nonetheless (although, as expected, we had to work hard for them).
I love fishing the Orange River. The best part to me is the opportunity to target several fish species that pull hard on fly tackle. Even though mudfish are often foul hooked by fly fisherman, I’ve seen them follow and try eating large green caddis flies in the clear winter water of the Richtersveld. On this trip, however, the mudfish and smallmouth yellowfish actively chased my Falloons (which I believe was a case of mistaken tadpole identity). I even had strikes stripping the fly in mid-water and observed the slate grey mudfish swing away from it at my feet. I found this aggression unusual and immediately associated it with spawning behaviour; however, although they were shoaling, which is also associated with spawning, according to Skelton (1993) these fish spawn in summer.
Ewan on the other hand concentrated on largemouth yellowfish. He admitted that he’s developed an obsession with yellowfish and especially Clanwilliam yellowfish and largemouths. He committed to throwing streamers for the entire weekend and was rewarded for his patience with seven largemouth yellowfish. He fished Strip Minnows and deer hair sculpin patterns in various colours, including natural and olive, and also caught his first largemouth yellowfish on a dragonfly nymph imitation.
It was a classic moment in which case he announced spotting an aeshnid nymph swimming past his rocky perch. I watched him change flies and hook a largie on the first cast with a Papa Roach dragonfly nymph pattern. What seemed like a breakthrough in the maize of ideas that we’d gathered on numerous trips was in fact a blind end because Ewan didn’t catch another fish on that fly.
The hours between landing largemouth yellowfish were tedious and I just couldn’t help myself switching back to the evergreen Falloon for the other species. I must admit that I also felt out of place in the cold, clear water and due to a severe lack of fishing experience with largies in these conditions I stuck to what was working best for me.
Interestingly, we saw quite a few good largemouth yellowfish exactly where we expected them to be and also had a few shots at cruising fish, but they weren’t interested in our flies (was the cold water to blame?). Juveniles were more active and stupid as always and even I managed to land two smaller largies on the last evening of our stay.
The cool breeze died down towards dusk and the air got hot and humid. I sensed that it was hunting time for the predators and stayed in the vicinity of big trees hanging in the water. Ewan had lost a fish in this spot earlier in the day and I knew that this would be my last shot at a largemouth. I had chosen to fish a black and peacock MSP with a large hot orange bead and caught the two juvenile largemouth yellowfish in quick succession close to the structure.
Although our fish didn’t come close to those that Danie and Rohan had caught, the fishing was excellent and we had a fantastic time. One could sense the novice excitement about our findings on the drive home, while sharing imaginative conclusions we’d drawn from our short exposure to this picturesque part of the Orange. I bet when we return our bag of largie tricks will likely let us down and the mighty Orange will feel like a brand new river again.