The Maloti Drakensberg region provides the ideal location for fly-fishermen looking to find undiscovered fishing spots, well-stocked, clear mountain waters and some of the best sight-fishing locations for Smallmouth and Largemouth Yellowfish. The large fish are strong, wild and in exceptional condition, making this age-old pastime the perfect opportunity for improving your skill and expanding community tourism.
Southern African still-water fish are comparatively large and strong. There is a growing interest in South Africa and internationally towards fly-fishing for indigenous fish. In the Maloti Drakensberg region yellowfish are favoured, as these are strong, wild fish which offer rewarding angling. There are ten species of yellowfish in South Africa. Two of these are common in the Maloti Drakensberg region. The Eastern Cape and Lesotho are home to the Smallmouth Yellowfish. The Natal Yellowfish (“Natal Scaly”) occurs in KwaZulu-Natal waters.
Skilled fly-fishers may have the rare thrill of hooking the endangered Largemouth Yellowfish in areas of the Eastern Free State such as Sterkfontein Dam. This species can reach sizes of more than 5 kg. Considering its endangered status, you should always return this fish to the water immediately.
Rainbow and Brown Trout are abundant in the many mountain streams and dams of the region. Trout are not indigenous to southern Africa. Brown Trout were introduced from Scotland over 100 years ago, and Rainbow Trout about a decade later. Alien fish introductions worldwide have had a negative impact on aquatic fauna, and once introduced they are difficult to eradicate.
Trout do, however, bring advantages to local communities, as many fly-fishing rivers run through community-owned land. This creates opportunities for economic development in these areas. Trout are now considered to be a part of the cold river systems of South Africa, but you should never introduce them into water where they do not yet occur. This is because they prey on the indigenous species, including the critically endangered Maloti Minnow which now occurs only in the higher reaches of mountain streams and was at one time thought to have become extinct.
What fly should I use?
The flies which are mainly taken by yellowfish and trout represent mayflies, caddis flies, midges and stoneflies. Yellowfish are omnivorous, and supplement their diet with aquatic plants and algae, particularly in the winter months. Most yellowfish are caught on the riverbed, so depth is important. During the early morning and evening, however, dry flies have proven productive.
Because of the wide variety of flies and other insects on which the fish in this region feed, there is no one particular fly which is more successful than any other. The best fly to use is one that you feel confident with.
Which seasons are best for fly-fishing?
Summer, if the rivers are not flowing too strongly, is the best time for yellowfish. While they prefer warm water, at the end of summer they swim upstream into the cooler mountain waters to spawn. The best seasons for trout-fishing are spring and autumn. Autumn is particularly productive, since the fish are pregnant and need food. They therefore take the fly easily. Note that trout in Lesotho spawn earlier than those in South Africa. Summer is not as rewarding, as the rivers are often too high and “in spate” with unclear water. In winter the rivers are low, and many waters are closed to fishing from June to August.
During summer the fish are often most active at first light, although the larger, deeper lakes can fish well throughout the day. In winter the nights are bitterly cold and the days bright and clear. Best fishing during this period is often at last light, when the water is at its warmest.
Fun for the family
Fly-fishing is great fun for everyone – you can learn as you go, spend some time with an experienced angler or join one of the many fly-fishing clubs and have a few lessons before you hit the big time. Remember, if you are letting small children participate it is a good idea to make sure that they wear a life jacket at all times. Learning to tie flies is an art form in itself and should carry a reward for the younger participants producing the best flies.
How can I be an eco-friendly fly-fisher?
Part of the attraction of southern African fly-fishing waters is the unspoilt ecology of the locations, the wilderness experience and the good condition of the fish. These conditions are only sustainable if fly-fishers practise sensitive, eco-friendly fishing. If you are fishing for your evening meal, keep only one or two trout – any other fish, including all yellowfish, should be released immediately. Keep to established tracks and trails wherever possible. Carry out whatever you have brought in and any litter you may find. Encourage landowners to keep their streams free of alien plants which reduce the water flow and impact on the aquatic plants and animals.
Do I need permission to fish?
Gone are the days when you could wander up to any piece of water and simply cast your line. You should make sure that you have permission to fish in the river or dam that you are interested in. It is a good idea to get in touch with the local fishing club, where you will be able to get a temporary fishing permit at reasonable cost. They will fill you in on their rules and guidelines, and will also be able to give you good tips on the area, and ideas of where the best fishing locations are.
If you want to fish on a stretch of privately owned river, ask the land-owner for permission in return for a fee. The land-owner should be able to give you hints and ideas for fishing in these rivers. If the river that you want to fish is on community-owned land, you will need to approach the community leader for permission in return for a fee.
Fishing regulations in Lesotho
The licence fee is M5.00. Licences are obtainable from: The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Division, Private Bag A82, Maseru 100. Tel: (+266) 22 323 986
Closed season for trout-fishing is between 1st June and 31st August.
Fishing tackle for trout: only rod and line and artificial non-spinning flies may be used. Landing net and gaff are not permitted.
Bag limit for trout: twelve trout over 10 inches (25 centimetres) in length. Other trout must be returned to the water.