I came to Lesotho to sight fish to browns. It was that simple. And although the fishing had already taken an almost secondary position to the magnitude of the experience of just being here, I was still fighting down that little gremlin of frustration that was building up deep down.
So it was decided that we would head out of the valley and the upper reaches of this fantastic stream and head out to the middle reaches of the Mokhotlong river, close to its confluence with Sanqebethu. We would fish fish down the stream and back to the village, drop the donkeys off and take a drive to find a camp site lower down.
Rex and Ryan set off to find pools lower down as fished the bend above where they were heading. I had little joy for the next couple of hours, barring a few small rainbows. Eventually hooking fly to guide, I decided to find Rex and Ryan to tell them it was time to duck. I was fed up with small fish.
As rounded a bend a few kilometres downstream, I simultaneously saw Ryan’s leather hat and head bobbing close to the river and heard Rex’s hiss telling me hit the deck.
Ryan was in the middle of a game of choose the fly with a beautiful brown that was happily rolling like a tarpon at the head of a willow fringed pool.
I dumped bag and rod and leopard crawled up to Rex, started filmed and listened to what had transpired over the last couple of hours…
The two of them, after a long walk, had settled down to a quite lunch of biltong and Rush Bars in the shade of the willows that lined a pool below a long run over flat, scoured rock. I believe it was mid first bite that Rex spotted the brown as it porpoised sedately. Lunch forgotten, he told Ryan to check his tippet and fly (lessons learnt from the previous day?) and get into position upstream of the fish behind a small boulder.
At this point I’ll add that this was the immediate and best position to drift a fly from. The willow made casting from downstream extremely difficult and Ryan could stay out of the water – something which is very important in clear rivers when fishing for browns.
Ryan, quietly got into position, drifted a fly downstream and in his excitement at the rise, pulled the Good Doctor’s Beetle right out of a gaping pair jaws!
If you know browns, this would normally spell doom and result in the fisherman helplessly watching the fish melt away into the depths of the pool. Not this one. Maybe he was used to beetles flying out of his mouth or maybe it was the pristine nature of the environment we were in and the lack of fishing pressure it receives. Whatever it was, the fish seemed unphased and hung around.
I don’t think things were going so well for Ryan at this point; hands trembling like a newly set jelly, his second drift was ignored – the brown obviously didn’t trust this beetle anymore.
Taking his time, he changed to a Carabou spider and same result as first beetle drift, missed strike! Rex may have succumbed at this point – I would have! But an hour after the first drift and two missed strikes later; the fish was still feeding! The fishing gods were not just smiling on Ryan, they were hosting an entire dinner party in his honour.
It was at this point that I arrived; sweaty shaking palms, two misses and a brown trout that was still rising happily. The nerves under the leather hut were strung!
I must say that what followed was almost textbook. Ryan changed flies to a little rubber legged foam hopper just as the brown seemed to disappear. Nothing. There were dropped shoulders and sighs of frustration. But Ryan is a meticulous fisherman and time is no matter when he needs to cover water; so he waited. And we waited with him.
Rex crossed over the river for a different camera angle, while I still lay close by. The quiet banter had returned and we were all hoping silently that the fish would come back. Patience is a particular virtue when fishing for clear water browns. It paid off, the waiting, and without warning the fish was doing his best porpoise impersonations again.
And this time Ryan nailed it. Perfect drift, head-and-shoulders rise, lifted rodtip and game on. The fish went aerobatic and Ryan did a great job keeping the barbless hook in its mouth. There was still a lot of fight of left and much banter and laughing. When Ryan started looking for a camera on his belt and fish did another backflip, I must admit that my inner-guide came to surface and I gave him a mouthful about concentrating on the fish and the fight and leave the photography to us (I’m hoping I can make something short and decent of the video footage I got).
After a real head-shaking, back-flip filled fight, the beautiful fish was eventually brought to hand.
High-fives, photos and very relieved – and spent – Ryan sent the beautiful fish home.
The conversation was full of life afterwards. Ryan may inferred that he felt as though he had just had marathon reunion with his wife and his current feelings where were of a similar nature.
It is a fish that the three of us will remember for a very long time.
The walk back to the village seemed to fly by. Up at the village we sat and chatted to the chief, his wife fed us and showed us their grain stores. It is always a humbling experience accepting food from people, who in comparison to yourself, have very little. The hospitality of these people could well have made the day even without Ryan’s magnificent fish.
We left to waves and thanks and I found myself thinking about a brown for myself and actually what a small part of the trip that would be – important, but by no means the focus or the bigger picture. As we drove off to find more browns in the bigger waters, I realised the trip was so much more than me landing a fat brown.