The most memorable fishing stories are often the ones where we have frightening encounters with Mother Nature and this story is just one of those. Well, it was one of those trips for Chris. He came up to Lesotho with his mates, Rob, Andrew, Gert, Peter and Jan in search of adventure, and he sure found it.
It was a pretty peaceful trip the fishing was good, not exceptionally good due to the warm waters and lack of rain, but good enough to satisfy these old friends. They had fished all over the world and caught beautiful fish in many beautiful places. For them this trip was more about the camaraderie and having a good time in the great outdoors than catching heaps of trophy fish. To be honest, I think all fishing trips should be like that (especially at the tail end of the worst drought in living memory in the Lesotho highlands – but not sure I will feel the same when the fishing is back to normal next season;). Anyway, they were all happy to fish the estuary and take things easy, but I was keen to take a horse upriver in search of some resident fish in the upper beats of the Bokong. Chris was also keen to make the journey to the top, so I arranged the horses and the following day we were heading up.
African-time is a concept that most Africans are familiar with, for those who don’t know it, it simply means that everything in Africa happens at a pace that is more suited to the tortoise and not the hare. Up here in Lesotho however there is a phenomenon that I like to call Basotho-time. Basotho-time means that everything happens even slower than in the rest of Africa, and that’s pretty damn slow. Life up in these hills happens slowly and rushing it would be a futile attempt and possible just upset the balance of life, so it’s best to just go with it as long as patience allows. The day started with one such delay, instead of the horses arriving at 06:00, they arrived at 09:00. This cut down on our fishing time, but we were undeterred and at 09:30 we were off. You are probably wondering why I’m putting so much emphasis on this whole Basotho-time thing. Well, it’s probably because Basotho-time saved Chris’s life, but we will get to that.
Our aim was to ride up to the village of Matoele and if we saw any proper fish on the way up we would stop and have a cast. In most places you have a good view of the river from the donkey path the only problem is that you are about 50 meters above the water and being on the back of a horse complicates things slightly. It still is pretty effective though. Peter was on his mountain bike and he would tell you it is much harder to spot fish from a bike without falling down a cliff so he left us at beat 3 and fished from there up. Chris and I were not seeing much, in fact we didn’t see any fish at all until we arrived at Matśoele. There is a massive pool below the village, as clear as glass and blue as the sky on a summer’s day. It has a gravel bottom peppered with rusty red and amber stones that drops off onto dark basalt bedrock. The edges are laced with yellowing willows and in the distance there is smoke rolling out of the stone huts on the hillside. It was the perfect setting and just to sweeten the deal there were three trout cruising up and down the pool.
Chris went down onto the sandbar while I scouted from the cliff-side. A slight wind picked up and it was making it hard to see these fish. While Chris was making casts out to where we last saw one of the fish the chief of the village, Morena Makalo, and his family came down to see what we were up to. Lesotho custom requires that you ask the chief permission to fish on his land. I was explaining to them, in very poor Sesotho in might add, that we came from Makhangoa and meant no harm. After a long conversation they were very happy to let us fish. In fact, the chief and his son, helped us to spot the fish and pointed it out. Chris couldn’t see it from his side so he made a blind cast into the general direction, one strip, two strips and the fish was on! Screams of excitement echoed down the valley as the chief and his son ran down the hill to see this fish. It was the smallest of the three, but a lovely fish of 22inches and about three pounds. It was a truly magical experience for Chris and the chief who happily posed for a couple of photos after which we released the fish.
It was getting late and we had a 12km ride back to camp so we packed up a headed home. I was getting anxious to get back to camp before dark, and to my great frustration my horse was also on Basotho-time. It was a lazy beast and no matter what I did it seemed to stay in first gear, but this was not a bad thing. The donkey path can be a little daunting in places and one must always be careful when hiking or riding on it. We came to a waterfall where a small feeder stream runs into the Bokong and below the fall is a steep bedrock crossing that drops another ten meters towards the river. As we were crossing it I thought to myself that it was a terrible place to slip. Before you could say ‘be careful, it slippery’, Chris’ horse lost its footing and slid down the slope. My heart stopped for a second as my client and his horse slid down towards the edge of a long drop-off. In spectacular fashion Chris kicked out of the saddle without even breaking his rod. In even more spectacular fashion the horse also found its footing again. Against all odds both man and horse managed to get back on their feet, and avoided disaster. If we hadn’t been moving at Basotho speed, it might have been a different story. So I guess the moral is this; when in Lesotho, do as the Basotho’s do, it might just save your life.
The next day Chris re-joined the group and kept to the safety of the float tube. Many more fish were caught, but none as memorable as beast from Matśoele. It was yet again an eventful and heart stopping trip in the Lesotho highlands. It is sure to be repeated, hopefully with a little less drama the next time.
Until then, cheers!