Riders of the Storm
The Cape winters are usually uneventful in terms of fishing for me. The trout season is closed on the rivers and the estuaries are usually cold, murky and ‘fresh’ from the winter rains. I therefore focus on other pastimes, such as climbing on cold, Cederberg rock and surfing in big winter swells, besides perhaps trying my luck on stillwater trout if the urge to cast a fly line becomes unbearable.
However, stillwater stockies are not as special to me as big, wild trout caught in a river. When I fished New Zealand lakes a couple of years ago, I noticed that the big trout readily moved up tiny feeder streams and water ducts to spawn. This of course got me very excited while I was there, but it didn’t take long for me to lose my enthusiasm for winter trout once back in South Africa. In this country, the good winter fishing always seems to be a fair drive away from home, such as the trout in the Karoo and yellowfish in the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The fishing is world class, but the long distances one needs to travel to reach those places limit the fishing trips.
This year I put in a bit more effort though and made several Karoo trips for trout and yellowfish, and also gave the salt a shot or two. My story starts in the heart of winter while on trophy trout missions in the Boland and border of the Groot Karoo where relatively big trout migrate up rivers to spawn at the base of man-made barriers. Armed with a 5 wt and a fly box full of tungsten-weighted nymphs and streamers I headed off with angling companions Waldi and Marti on respective trips to investigate the potential of two old honey holes.
Waldi and I fished an ice-cold, peat-stained river that drains from one of the largest catchment areas in the Western Cape. The wind was pumping and the odd shower made a warm couch and a cup of coffee seem more sensible, but I knew that the time was ripe for fat, pre-spawn trout and we braved the hand-numbing weather. Our movements were severely retarded by the freezing headwind and progression up the valley was slow. We did not see fish in the first couple of hours and became sceptic about the presence of trout; but then a large rainbow revealed itself as it followed my zonker out of a deep belly lie. I changed to a lighter tippet and a tungsten worm and repeated the drift with an indicator. It dipped quickly and I struck into my first winter trout. It was a good fish that pulled hard and I had to run after it as it fought its way through the tail out of the big pool and down rapids. This was no place for light gear.
The sight of the fish resting in my net came as a great relief as I had to jump over knee-high boulders to get ahead of it and scoop it in the fast water. Waldi snapped some photos of my fish and then we carried on fishing upstream and landed two more before returning to the comfort of our homes.
Reasonably satisfied with the results of the first outing, I headed further away from Cape Town with Marti about two weeks later for another trout mission. Similar to the first outing, a cold front was passing by, but over and above the discomfort of cold and rain, it caused flash floods in the Karoo valley we aimed to fish.
We arrived at a swelled, milky-brown river with no visibility. I handed Marti one of my favourite Woolly Buggers and watched him role cast the fly downstream to retrieve it past a tree surrounded by water. I had barely bitten off the tag end of my knot to the fly when Marti lifted into a monster trout. The fish bored down deep and dogged the fight out as big fish do. It kept both of us on our toes with a few blistering runs towards the tree before Marti gained full control over it and dragged the 18 inch fish into my landing net. It gave me much pleasure to watch a close friend catch his personal best trout on a risky mid-winter trip to water with mysterious potential.