In the realm of fishing, things can either be disastrous or spectacular and on some very rare occasions it can be both. This was the case with Hein Prinsloo, David Karpul and his dad Mendel on their visit to the Makhangoa Community Camp. The rain had been absent for weeks and the river was turning into a mere trickle. Most of the yellowfish had moved back into the dam and the trout were hesitant to make an appearance in the estuary. It was about as tough as it comes and guiding wasn’t going to be easy.
We did one of those ‘don’t get your hopes up’ briefings and explained the difficulties that we were faced with. Luckily for us, fishermen are eternal optimists and the bad news couldn’t dampen their spirits. The Karpul boys were especially keen to do a pony trek to go hunt the resident fish of the upper Bokong. Without making any promises I discussed the slim possibility of going on such a trek with such short notice, and limited time. Trekking to the upper beats requires a good weather window, and prior planning. Thus they are arranged prior to visits, and we suggest a minimum of 5 nights to allow for time taken to reach the top beats (a day each way) and weather set-backs once up there.
For the first session Brent took the guys out in search of the late season yellows that were on their way down to the river, heading back to Katse for the winter. These fish are not easy and the low water conditions made for tricky fishing. Brent had to guide out of his socks and the hard work paid off. Both Mendel and Dave were rewarded with yellowfish on dry flies.
Day two was a practice round for the trek. We headed up-river to Beat 5 to intercept the last of the migrating yellows. It was a huge learning curve for our guests who quickly learned just how skittish these yellows can be. We got schooled properly and the only obliging fish were a bunch of naïve rainbow trout. It was good fun none the less, and the guys were satisfied. It was a good indication of how tough the fish in the upper reaches
would be, but it was a welcome challenge for both guide and fishermen. That evening it was a mad rush in camp to prepare for the pony trek. From planning a menu and packing the grub, to sorting out the tents, matts, pack saddles and cooking stoves. All squeezed into a a few hectic hours. My biggest concern however was the arrangement of donkeys. Things don’t work on short notice in the Lesotho, but the muleteers sent out the word and a troop of donkeys were parked on our doorstep the following morning. Against all odds this trek was actually happening and despite the cramped timeline everything was packed and ready to go.
We commenced our hike up-river, marching along on the donkey-path. With each bend the water got clearer and as we headed
further into the backcountry the water started looking more and more crystalline. The fishing was going to be tough, sure, but as far a sight-fishing goes it couldn’t get any better. Mendel had the first shot at a rainbow trout in the tail out of a clear run. I made a few minor adjustments to his terminal tackle, got him into position to cast and told him where to place the cast. The execution was perfect, the fly drifted no more than two feet before Mr. Speckles came up and smacked the fly. Mendel was elated, as was I. As the last light faded we made our way into camp, the air was think with the intoxicating campfire smell and we had a hearty meal under a starry sky. Life could be worse.
The following day it was time to make every cast count as we entered the realm of super-technical fishing. Those fish up there are clever and they don’t come easy. We sighted, approached and spooked several big browns before lunch and it became clear to Dave and Mendel that they would have to up their game. Not more than five minutes after lunch I spotted a sizable brown trout sitting in a shallow run, so close that you could poke it with your rod tip. Although easy to see, this fish was in a tricky casting position. We rigged up and Dave crawled into position behind the fish to make a cast. Drift after drift the fish refused. We changed flies several times, tried different combinations, but all we got from the fish was uninterested looks. After an hour and a half, we finally found the right combination; a black hopper with a hotspot PTN below it. The fish lifted to the hopper and swallowed it whole and then, it was chaos! The fish was quite docile
at first but soon began to shake its head aggressively. The hopper slipped out of its mouth, but by some miracle it had eaten the PTN as well and it was still on the line. Dave did a great job of controlling the fish on 6X tippet and after a nerve wrecking battle (and a missed landing attempt) we finally got the leviathan in the net. A beautiful 24,5-inch fish that weighed 5,5lbs, for Dave it was the fish of a lifetime. A very well deserved fish after some world-class casting. The next fish was Mendel’s and it didn’t take long to find it. In the next pool, we spotted a nice rainbow cruising the shallows. It was cruising at pace and moved off before Mendel could make a cast so instead we set our sights on the yellows. Dave was on outpost duty while Mendel and I worked our way up the pool. Before we could even make a cast at the yellows Dave called us back.
The rainbow was back in range. Mendel put a single cast out in its general direction, it turned without hesitation swam up and ate a sunken Ant pattern. It was almost too easy, but the fight was something else. It ran and jumped like a wild stallion trying to loosen the hook, but Mendel kept calm, playing the fish as if it was a small puppy on a leash. It was a beautifully specked rainbow trout of 4lb with pearly while tipped fins, fiery flanks and a dark olive back. A fish as beautiful as they come and also a personal best for Mendel. It was a perfect day in a spectacular corner of the planet and we overflowed with joy.
On the last morning, we squeezed in a final session before the long journey home. Dave caught a lovely brown of 14inches on a dry fly in the pool above camp. He then
proceeded to guide his dad onto a yellowfish, the perfect father-son experience. The guys were content as they reeled in their lines. This trek happened against all odds and under extremely challenging circumstances and despite all this, it was an experience that will be burned into our memories for many years to come.
Looking forward to seeing them again soon
Until then, cheers
Johann and Brent