Pockets of Gold: Lesotho’s Elusive Brown Trout

Nothing in fly fishing excites me and intrigues me more than a big Basotholand Brown trout. We all know how spooky and difficult to catch a Brown can be. Now add to that some mountains, crystal clear water, bright sunshine, and there you have the ultimate fly fishing challenge.

The most well known Lesotho Brown trout are those inhabiting the Maletsunyane  and Bokong Rivers. I haven’t fished either of these rivers but from what i know, the Maletsunyane probably has the biggest fish of all Lesotho Rivers. Unfortunately it’s only in a few km of river between the Maletsunyane Falls a wier above Semonkong town. This section of river has some very heavy angling pressure due to it being such a short section of river and having a popular tourist attraction and lodge close by. As much as I enjoy catching Browns and especially big ones, this river doesn’t appeal to me. I believe there are some big Browms below the falls but they are few and far between.

The Bokong River has now got a few Browns since the construction of Katse. Apparently there are no records of Browns in the Bokong River prior to the dam being built. They were obviously in the Malibamatso/Bokong system but in such low number that they were never caught. The dam must have provided a suitable habitat for them and their numbers have increased. I also have heard reports of decent numbers of Browns in the Malibamatso above Katse dam.

The rivers that I am interested in are those in the Eastern part of Lesotho. Browns are found in all the main catchment rivers of the Senqu River to the North and East of Mokhotlong. I have caught Browns in the Senqu, Thlanyaku, Kokoatsi, Morrimoholo, Sanqabethu, and the Mokhotlong River.

The first river to be stocked in Lesotho was the Sanqabethu. Brown trout caught in the Bushmans River were carried over the Drakensberg on donkeys in the 1950’s (I think). I recall that 7 fish survived the journey. The Sanqabethu River flows into the Mokhotlong River near the town of Mokhotlong. The Browns obviously spread throughout this part of Lesotho before the Rainbows were introduced a decade or so later, but further south in Lesotho.

The Rainbows have been a far more successful species in these rivers and have largely taken over all of these rivers, including the Sanqabethu. There are however a few places where the Browns still rule the rooste. It is these places that really fascinate and haunt me. They are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for any adventurous fly fisherman to discover.

There are two rivers in particular where the Browns are well established. Both of these rivers the Browns seem to dominate in the lower reaches in the villages. I think they like the willow trees that provide a bit of shelter, and some undercut banks. The rivers in the villages can be prone to being discolored in the rainy season. A bit of dirty water probably makes the Browns feel a little more comfortable, compared to the permanently crystal clear head waters.

When  searching for the areas where the Browns live, I have observed that the sections where the good sized Browns live seem to be completely devoid of fish. You can be fishing and catching Rainbows in every run, and suddenly you get to some of the most beautiful holding water that is devoid of fish. This is where you will often find a big Brown trout. I have yet to catch or see a sizeable Brown trout in amongst the Rainbows. I have caught big Rainbows amongst the small rainbows. I have caught small Browns living with the Rainbows, but the bigger Browns seem to be very territorial and probably aggressively defend their beat. I have observed that their beat can be several pools long. When fishing these two particular rivers, if I come across a section where there are suddenly no Rainbows, I immediately slow down and look for Browns.

There is one particular gorge in Lesotho I discovered where big Brown’s live. It’s high up above the last village close to the Drakenbsberg escarpment. Crystal clear water tumbles through a steep sided gorge with seemingly bottomless emeralds green pools.  I have only fished it once and very briefly due to being on an exploratory “trout run”. I caught Rainbows all the way up to the gorge. As soon as I entered the gorge, by far the best looking water, the fish seemed to dissappear. For several pools I found nothing until the fish of a life time appeared in front of me swinging gently from side to side in a slow run. I wrote an entire blog post on catching this fish of a lifetime so I won’t repeat it.  Here is the link to the post.

This gorge is undoubtedly my favourite place in Lesotho. Not only for how beautiful the river is, but the fact that this is where I suspect that the Browns reign supreme. I have a suspicion that there are other big  fish like this, they just need time and patience to locate. Fuller river conditions and maybe some poor weather, will help locating and catching them. This place haunts me and begs me to return.  I’m sure there are more pockets of gold such as the gorge in picture, but to discover them takes time, a lot of effort and a good nose for adventure.

There is an old goat herder who has a hut up on the hill above this pool. He says he regularly sees big fish in this pool. The length of his arm, he says. I saw nothing but that is the nature of these Browns. The bigger they are, the more inclined they are to hide out in the bright daylight.

I didn’t weigh or measure this fish. It was probably 4.5 to 5 lbs but after a long winter, it wasn’t in the best condition. If that fish was in better condition , it would have easily gone 7 lbs.

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