Two off-duty Orange River fly fishing guides, Matt Gorlei and Luke Pannell, return to Cape Town for some off-season down-time. What does a guide do when they are not guiding? Spam Instagram with species they, “Can’t stop thinking about…”? Fall into the loving embrace of their significant others? Have a shave, a hot shower, a non-longdrop shit and put on a nice shirt? Hit a club and tear the ring out of it? Nyet. They make a quick plan to head deep into the nearby mountains for a short, two-night session spent hunting fabled brown trout.

Words Matt Gorlei

brown trout

8.30pm – Day one didn’t have much to report in terms of brown trout. Just an early morning and a lot of hard work while walking up a valley. A valley where we had heard these elusive Western Cape brown trout existed.  So far, not so good because we blanked.

It’s super weird to be so deep in nature so suddenly. This time yesterday I was packing my backpack in my city apartment when I heard the screams of someone actually being mugged in the street outside. I ran out and there were two foreigners who got jumped by what they said were “two kids” who took their wallets, phones and a watch. I got outside just in time to see the two scumbags running into the distance at the end of my street. In that moment, somewhat selfishly, all I could think of was that I’d be away from this type of chaos for a few days. I did what I could and I ordered the tourists an Uber back to where they were staying and gave unhelpful post-event advice about the dangers of walking around the side streets of this city at night. Feeling pretty sorry about my country I finished packing, parked my gear at the front door and confirmed the 4.30am pick up with Luke, my fishing buddy and fellow guide. He had convinced me the day before to join him for a quick two-night trek up a Western Cape brown trout stream. At that point I fancied my chances of losing my Western Cape brown trout virginity. After today’s colossal blank, I’m not so sure. As guides it always seems like the fishing gods are against you when it’s your time to fish.

5.20am – EHRMAGHAARD… is my back sore from sleeping on the ground? Or maybe, just maybe, it was the tortuous hike all day yesterday carrying all that weight on my back. Feels like we wasted the day even trying to fish. My back shouldn’t be sore from last night’s sleep because, where I guide on the Orange River, I sleep on the ground for a full season and my back has never been this bad after a night of rest. It must be the backpack, and the walk in, and the trying to stay upright over some pretty rough terrain.

How did we not even see a fish yesterday? The water…it looks absolutely gorgeous, some of the best trout water I have seen in the Cape. Are we wasting our time with this fishing? Should we just view this as a hiking and camping overnight trip? FFS, why am I being such a Debbie Downer so early in the morning? Look up, look around Matt…this place is spectacular.

6.00am – This coffee tastes amazing. I feel like a new man. I haven’t thought about the fish for 15 minutes.

6.01am – “DID YOU SEE THAT RISE???!!!” I cough out, as I try to swallow a scalding slurp of coffee. Was that even a trout?

6.02am – Okay, time to make a game plan. Yesterday was shit in terms of fishing. Why though? I have blanked before and yes, fishing is not all about catching, but seriously, why was it so bad? It’s not like there is any fishing pressure up here. We have to do something different to try to enjoy the day a bit more.

6.45am – Our ‘game plan’ consists of walking… to the right. After much debate, Luke and I decide to stash our stuff near a tree we will recognise on our walk down later, even if it’s dark. We’ll fish upstream from there, hopefully turning around at just the right time in the late afternoon to make it back to the same campsite.

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That’s the thing about the valley we have hiked up. As the crow flies, it’s not technically that far from roads and the odd town, but we are not crows and the hike in was brutal. There’s barely a path to follow. Getting up the valley involved wading and swimming pools with our packs plus plenty of bundu bashing. Perhaps that is is why this is one of those remote places in South Africa where you can comfortably stash your gear without stressing that it will be liberated from you by scumbags when you get back. Not carrying the weight of a backpack and being able to fish more effectively without stumbling about and worrying too much about knee and back pains sounds delightful.

7.30am – The section to which we have hiked upstream looks so fishy. Even though the sunlight hasn’t hit the water yet, the low-light and glary conditions seem right for some reason. But where are these fish? We take turns prospecting, blind fishing water that looks good and it soon starts to feel like we are doing the right thing for the first time in 24 hours.

8.12am – “Stop!” a loud whisper from Luke who was leading the way through very marginal looking water. We stop dead in our tracks. “I think it’s a fish” Luke said. About 2.5m from us, is a fish, a small fish, in a small pocket and it was definitely feeding. I have the rod in my hand with a dry and a dropper rig, still unsure if it is a midget trout or a minnow. I make a bow and arrow cast over where the fish was laying and, before the fly’s landed, the fish seems to  lock in on its snack and a plain nymph with a CDC collar is taken a centimetre below the surface.

brown trout

8.13am – “YEEEEEEEEEOOOOWOOWOWOWO!” Our shouts echo through a dead quiet valley. I have never in my life been so ecstatic about a fish this small, a beautiful specimen of a brown trout and my first Western Cape brown. You would think we had caught a colossal tarpon or a coelacanth, that’s how much we are losing our shit right now.

For the rest of Matt’s story, get stuck into issue 21 of The Mission for free below, or buy the print version online.