The Lotheni River has been a bit of a nemesis for me over the years. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve tried to catch a brownie in that river. I’ve never dedicated a whole day to the river, but I have fished it on numerous occasions if only for an hour or two at a time. I have fished both the parks board section and in the tribal land below. This week my luck changed. It was a family getaway so I hardly fished for the 3 days we were up there, but I did make some time to try my luck again.
On departure day I decided that I needed to pay the upper reaches of the Elandshoek River another visit. In mid September I spent a few hours fishing the Elandshoek and I didn’t see a thing. I set my alarm for 3:30 am to make a pot of tea before heading off at 4 am with the moonlight as my guide. I had to be back by 8 am to help pack up before our checkout time at 10 am. It would be a good 15 km run/hike there and back, hence the early start. The moon was bright enough that I could run with ease along the hiking path that heads up the valley. By 5 am I had been going for an hour along a path high up on the northern side of the Elandshoek River. I had no idea where the path lead, but it kept going higher and higher up onto the top of the ridge above the river. I chose to cut down a steep slope and head for the river. I only had a few hours of precious fishing time and I was itching to wet my line. With me I had only my Tenkara rod, my camera, a spool of 6X tippet, a small flybox and some floatant. I spent the first hour or so walking downstream and fishing every likely pocket by circling round and fishing the run back upstream. I started off with a dry fly and then switched to a bead-head nymph fished both upstream and downstream.
After having no luck I reckoned that if I was going to blank again, I might as well blank in style using a dry fly which I find more fun. The Tenkara rod is ideal for drifting a dry fly downstream especially in these full river conditions where a fish wouldn’t be as likely to see you above them. It was while I was doing one of these downstream drifts that a strong gust of wind picked up my line and skated my fly across the surface and lifting it off the surface as as it went. From the trout’s perspective, my spider pattern suddenly came alive. Maybe it looked like a spider skimming across the surface, or maybe like a damsel or dragon fly as they hover over the water and dap dap dap as they go. I immediately had a fish on, in a run where several dead drifts received no interest. The fish got off but it was now game on! There were fish here and I just had to catch one! It was great fun trying to dap and skim my dry fly across and up the current. Every run I got to I would first dead drift the fly down the current, before skating and dapping my fly either upstream or across and back up. I eventually managed to actually catch a fish of around 9″ that also rejected a dead drift but smashed a skating spider.
I have no idea what the method is called and I’m sure others have had similar experiences. Its a bit like the dapping they do on Scottish or Irish Lochs, except this is in a stream and without the use of wind to move the fly. Without wind you do need a very long rod, which makes a Tenkara rod ideal for this method. I first tried this technique on a trip to fish the source of the Senqu River where I managed to catch a trout who was uninterested in all that I offered. I took a video clip of that fish taking the fly. It’s well worth a look. The next time I’m out on a stream certainly going to give this method another shot. It’s not appropriate in all situations, but when that downstream wind is blowing, or nothing else seems to work, then give the method a try. You might be surprised.
Watch carefully where the fly is in the video. Its just to the left of the big rock in the center of the picture.
That little fish high up on the Elandshoek was undoubtedly one of my most memorable fish I have ever caught. The remoteness of the location, the sparse fish population, the effort put in to get there so early in the morning, and the fact that it was a brownie. That little 9 incher provided me with a thrill that not many people out there will understand. Those who do understand will appreciate that small stream fly fishing is not about size or numbers, it’s about the where, the how, and the journey to get there.