This is an excerpt from The Mission Fly Mag Issue 04 cover story, The Legend of Fuck you Valley, which covers fly fishing in the Bokong river in Lesotho and its friendship-testing browns.
“The plan was simple. A few days of fishing in and around the camp for the smallmouth yellows moving upriver from Katse Dam. Then five nights up in the valley, donkey-trekking with guide Stu Harley and two muleteers to seldom-fished stretches of the Bokong that house both resident yellows and browns.
Right from the start, the fishing around the camp was off the charts. Big yellows finning around, smashing dry flies. Our eyes gradually adjusted from days spent eyeballing computer screens and satellite channels, to the games of glare and guesswork that water plays on you and the takes of fish both subtle and hard. The nights were spent smashing Maluti beers and Stu’s famed cooking while checking out the stars, city stress sloughing from our shoulders. As if we weren’t already excited with our trip, the night before we left to go up the valley, Lionel Song swung into camp.
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A masterful campfire storyteller who specialises in guiding for tigerfish both for Tourette Fishing and as a freelancer, Lionel was one of the first to fish the Bokong’s upper reaches with his old friend Ed Truter. Like any good story, there are usually two sides to it. From both accounts, on their trip the hills were alive with the sounds of cursing. As Lionel spoke, I recorded and later got Ed’s written account. While Ed is more economical with his words, brevity is not Lionel’s strong point so the following is a fair reflection of their personalities. This is their story:
THE LEGEND OF FUCK YOU VALLEY
Lionel: The weather wasn’t great. We had a lot of rain so the river went up and down, up and down like a yo-yo. And of course because of that our visibility varied quite a lot as well. Prior to the expedition I didn’t have a decent pair of polarised sunglasses because I needed prescription lenses. So I went to my local optician and got a pair of those things that flip down and clip on to your glasses frame so you look like a dragon fly when they are up and you look like a doos when they are down.
Ed: The problem was that Lionel had arrived on the trip with a totally shit pair of robot-purchased sunglasses.
Lionel: Ed being Ed – the hawkish OCD perfectionist guru – he spotted everything that moved. Every mayfly that even twitched an antenna, he was there, boy. I had to up my game quite considerably to keep up with him.
Ed: The bottom line is there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who focus and see the details and those who focus on and grasp the big picture. None is better than the other and both types are needed to keep the world going around. Lionel is a big-picture guy, I’m a details guy. But sight fishing for brown trout calls for being mostly a details guy.
“Having not been on the river for a while, my river craft sucked a bit.”
Lionel: My normal style of fishing is quite rapid, just like my personality. To slow down to Ed’s sort of pace of total scrutiny of every nymph dropping on a rock, I really had to concentrate. When you’ve got a shitty pair of polaroids, its quite difficult because you often see things that aren’t there. Also, having not been on the river for a while, my river craft sucked a bit.
Ed: The second problem was Lionel walked too quickly. I could not drum it into his head to look three times and step once. I.e., I could not get him to focus on the details. The end result was that he kept spooking fish, fish that were quite scarce, one per pool, and big.
Lionel: We reached the really gnarly bits of the Bokong where it is tremendously technical. The only thing that is left in those pools at that time of year are these big old lunker browns. They are not small fish and they are not stupid fish. You have to be fokken skerp to get anything close to those fish. Our first fish actually, Ed looked at it and thought it was a twig. Then it moved its lower jaw slightly and then we knew we were on to something. Ed managed to catch him. A really nice brown in most guys’ books. Now I have seen my first Bokong brown, my confidence levels are up. I’m thinking this is easy. I can do this. I can spot a brown no problem.
Ed: The light conditions were marginal and good spotting conditions were fleeting, so I was getting the moer in that he kept spooking fish.
“I don’t think Ed was sulking because he’s not the kind of guy who sulks. He just gets it off his chest, whereas I will hang on to something like a dog with a bone.”
Lionel: I was walking behind Ed on the opposite side of the bank. He was ahead of me and he was like an aquatic ninja. He had all this camo shit on, but his backpack had orange panels at the back so you could still see him quite clearly if he turned his back or moved slightly to the side. I was at the tail of the pool and he had gone ahead of me, but not by much. The next thing this fucking massive brown did a tailspin out of the tail of the pool in a cloud of underwater dust. That’s when Ed lost his shit with me the first time.
“What the fuck?! Didn’t you fucking see that fish? Are you fucking blind?”
I retaliated, “Well, fuck you! You spooked him with your orange backpack!”
So we had this bit of banter across the river which ended in quite a quiet walk after that. I don’t think Ed was sulking because he’s not the kind of guy who sulks. He just gets it off his chest, whereas I will hang on to something like a dog with a bone. I was bitching and cursing his entire family tree, everything he had ever done in his life for at least the next kilometre before we got back to normal again.
We got to one pool and were high up on the right-hand side overlooking this beautiful rocky bed. The water was perfect, the visibility good and I was just sitting there kind of almost meditating because it was so beautiful up there. Ed was at the bottom looking around. The next thing I saw this big rock and thought, “Yassus, if that’s a fish… It can’t be a fish, can it?” I looked again and it moved its pectoral fins, not even an inch and it revealed itself as this incredible brown. I was like a baboon I was so excited, screaming “Ed, Ed, Ed, big fish down below!”
Ed: When Lionel eventually spotted a big brown I couldn’t see it given my angle of view from the opposite side of the stream, so he had to direct me to cast to where it was holding.
Lionel: He wanted to know where to cast and he was pointing with his rod. I was giving him directions, “The big rock with the white spots on it.” It was fairly close, an easy cast.
“He had completely fudged the avenue of details I’d given him to allow him to explain to me where the fish was.”
Ed: Knowing Lionel battled with the details, I did everything in my power to make it easy for him to explain to me exactly where the fish was. Anyways, I made the cast to where I think he’d directed, and overshot the fish by a rod-length of line and spooked the scales off it! He had completely fudged the avenue of details I’d given him to allow him to explain to me where the fish was.
Lionel: I must have got it wrong because he cast over the fish and spooked it. When he spooked it and realised the size of the fish he had just missed, he lost his shit properly with me and we were both barking baboons again across the kranse.
Ed: So ja, that was the stone that busted the dam wall.
Lionel: The funny thing was, being a brown and being his home pool, he wasn’t going anywhere. He had a bit of a fright so he just moved forward by about two metres at most and that’s where I saw him again. I have to commend Ed for his casting. He had three different current lines descending on him and he had to try get his fly to this fish. He put a couple of nymphs out in front of it but the brown wasn’t interested and then I shouted down “put a dry on”. I think he put his balbyter on (Ed: the Bokong’s go-to dry). On the second or third drift, this thing came up and hit it. Man it was a beautiful fish.
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Ed: By some miracle, after my venting of words across the valley, the fish dropped back into position and we caught him. All that said, there were never any hard feelings. Lionel is a man amongst men with an attitude we can all learn from (apart from missing some details). If I were left with one man standing in this universe, I would want to be standing with Lionel, he’s a legend.
Lionel: In that moment of piscatorial jubilation all is forgiven and all is forgotten. You’re living in that moment of sheer fucking bliss when you can’t believe what’s happened. You suddenly become a team. One moment under your breath you might be wishing the oke gets hooked up in his back cast all the time because he is out-fishing you ten to one, but at the same time when that moment of clarity comes it’s like an objective reach sort of thing, you just bond as one. We just sat there grinning like Cheshire Cats. It was just amazing and it’s a trip I want to do again with him.
– – –
“Their story resonated with me on several levels. Like Lionel had in Ed, in Bells I’ve got an anal, details-driven engineer for a fishing buddy, while I’m the big-picture blunderer. Bells blames me when he spooks big fish. I tell him to get fucked. And so on. But most of all, Lionel’s telling of the story with accompanying hand gestures around the size of the fish, was not about some far off place that we might get to fish someday. It was what lay ahead for the next five days and nights.”
For the rest of ‘The Legend of Fuck You Valley’ check out Issue o4 of The Mission or buy the print version here (we ship worldwide).