Kalahari, Orange River. Trip 3

The halfway mark of our Kalahari season saw veteran African Waters guest, Brian Griffith, join me in the hot, dry landscape of the Northern Cape  With the elusive largemouth yellowfish on the mind, and any other species willing to take a fly, Brian arrived at Upington airport on a typical scorcher Kalahari afternoon.

With Brian being the only angler for this trip, we changed up the itinerary slightly as we could not do a full on drift trip down the gorge with one guest. So we found ourselves in the warm and welcoming hospitality of Danie and Philippa van Zyl of Khamkirri River Lodge. Based right on the banks of the Orange River, a few kilometres up from the Augrabies Falls. This gave us the perfect destination for six full days of fishing.

We began our week by fishing a deep concentrated pool that Danie calls his trophy largemouth yellowfish pool. The water looked great yet the wind was not on our side. After a good hour of fighting against winds up to 40km an hour, we decieded to call it quits in the trophy pool and head further up the river to a more sheltered and secluded section. With Brian now able to put in a decent cast, the fist fish of the trip followed. A busty smallmouth yellowfish with big, fat lips (known as a phutu smacker by South Africans). This fish was caught on the swing with a big olive, deerhair baitfish pattern. Brain was off the mark!

Brian with the first fish of the trip
The ‘Phuthu Smacka”

We fished hard for largies for the rest of the day, despite the wind, yet nothing came to the bite. The pressure gauge was all over the charts, yet Brian’s commitment was constant. After day one a good smallie and a few mudfish was all that came in. Based on the weather and wind reports, the next two days were predicted to be the most stable. We decided to take full advantage of this buy doing a 9km drift over two days. This gave Brian the opportunity to camp under the breathtakingly beautiful Kalahari stars.

The beloved mudfush

We began the drift in a slow moving pool, holding lots of exposed boulders and good vegetation structure. Naturally, we began the thousand cast came for Largies. A hard morning session was ended by the wind picking up again. We drifted down to a more sheltered spot and we began swinging flies. Just before the call was made to drift further down and find a lunch spot, Brian got his first hit. Boom! A short, sharp yet strong take. Unfortunately the strike did not find purchase and left Brian with just a fly on retrieval. Brain was beginning to figure out the frustrating, yet rewarding game for Largie fishing.

A good smallie taken on the drift.

We stopped at a lunch spot by a small rapid. Brain was desperate to connect with a fish, so with faster moving water and small holding pools, smallmouth yellowfish were on the mind. We rigged up the 5wt rod with a nymphing setup and began to have some fun. Brian cracked on with the smallies and landed some pure golden slabs. The fishing was hot and we battled to put the rod down for a bite to eat! Brian was in his element with over ten fish caught in the rapid that we called the “Honey hole.” After a delicious river lunch, followed by a few minutes out of the sun, we continued with the drift. The wind seemed to drop down as the day got later which allowed us to do a bit of drift fishing from the boat. The rest of the day went pretty quiet until we reached our camp site for the night. We finished off the day with some smallie action, a lekker braai and some cold beers.

Some evidence of gold after fishing Honey holes rapid.

We woke up to a cold but windless morning. We had a quick cup of coffee and got onto the water as soon as possible. With the wind working against us we had to take advantage of any breaks in weather. We fished the pool in front of the campsite. Fishing mostly from the boat, we covered a fair amount of water. Cast after cast in the most ideal places, but nothing. Myself and Brian had a moment of indescribable excitement when Brians reel began to scream. We could feel he had a big fish on, however we were not convinced it was a largemouth. After a tussle of about ten minutes the fish eventually surfaced and to our disappointment, or amazement depending on how one views the situation, a big old carp was dancing at the end of the line. A big fish none the less that unfortunately popped the hook right by the boat. We decided that that was enough excitement for the early morning session and paddled back to our campsite for a hearty cooked breakfast.

Our campsite for the 9km drift trip.

The wind pumped consistently for the rest of the day which made nymphing the focus for the afternoon session. We fished a fast run called Whiskey rapid in which was a high concentration of smallmouth yellowfish. Brian had an incredible session by landing over twenty fish, the majority of them being photo worth. This session really got our spirits up and we returned to Khamkirri main camp with good vibes and thirsty eyes.

Whiskey Rapid producing the goods

The last couple of days we focused a lot on catching smallies. Brian got hooked by the joy of fishing for these slabs of gold. We did spend the odd hour or two casting for largies however the wind became too much of a frustration. We explored what other options the mighty Orange had to offer and found ourselves stalking bream and carp in the shallow, weeded sandbanks. This became a great challenge and it was all sight fishing. Brian put a perfectly presented blood worm in front of a good sized carp. The carp ate straight away and Brian skilfully connected. The carp exploded out of the clear pocket and straight into heavy weeds that gave Brians leader no chance. A memorable experience none the less.

A typical river lunch after a heated morning session.

The highlight of the trip came on the last session of the last day. Which seems too often be the case with fishing trips. The water level had pushed up ever so slightly but the water clarity stayed constant. After nymphing the whiskey rapid for most of the session we worked a bit further up to where the water first began to break. We spotted a soft pocket disguised but over hanging reeds and shadow. Certainly holding a fish? Brian put a dead accurate cast into the pocket with his strike indicator and two nymphs. After two long seconds in the pocket the indicator began to gently go down. “Set” was the call and thrash of breaking water was the response! What looked like a big fish rushed out of the pocket at screamed up the rapid with no remorse. The fish was strong. Sulking on the deck not showing himself after his first initial run. After much suspense the fish finally showed face. To our utter delight, shock and amazement was the sight of a largemouth yellowfish coming into the net. Screams of joy and relief contended the roar of whiskey rapid as Brian and I celebrated a fish that we were looking for the whole week. Although not caught in the traditional ways and means, the idea of this apex predators sitting in a small shallow pocket in fairly fast moving water was crazy! Brain was over the moon as we photographed and released this beaut.

The highlightof the trip, a healthy largemouth yellowfish.
The largie that ate a size 16 gold ribbed hares ear. Unreal!

Overall the week was a one for the book. The hospitality was out of this world and the fishing was good despite windy conditions. We look forward to returning in the near future to claim the big one that managed to avoid us this time. Until then, tight lines.