On Friday I blanked, well sort of. I had planned on an epic float with Nick van Rensburg of Flybru, down a section of water that I had a ball at the week before. We were psyched and the dingy was already packed in the back of the car, electric motor battery charged up, but then the fear of all fears for a planned fishing trip, car trouble.

This delayed our departure time so we changed plans and headed somewhere closer, fished out hearts out, had a jol and talked a lot. We fished some more and tried different things, but we blanked except for a small Witvis which is always a treat because you don’t see them very often. Floating on a boat is always good though and Nick is a fishy guy so we had plenty to talk about. He’s guided on the stretch of the Orange River that I’m heading to in October so that was a big bonus picking his brain and getting super excited. He’s also a talented photographer and took these shots below.

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A friend on mine, Eddie, was taking his kids camping on the weekend and asked if I’d like to join with my boys since we hadn’t seen each other way back before lockdown. He mentioned the spot, which was on the lower reaches of the Smalblaar, an area I’ve always been keen to explore and my boys were dying to go camping, so it was a no brainer. Now Eddie is the friend who I asked to pick up an old glass Fenwick I found in a 2nd hand store that I wrote about a while ago. So I thought I’d take it along and also test out a Hardy Marques 5 multiplier I had just bought and matched up for this rod. It wasn’t really a fishing trip after all. But I packed in the kids spinning gear just in case.

We arrived at our campsite and were delighted to find Eddie and his kids were the only ones there, with plenty of space and rolling lawn down to the river, it was perfect. The stream down here normally gets pretty skinny and warm in summer, but after plenty of rain this winter it was now flowing fast and wide like the European and American rivers that two-handed rods work so well in, I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t brought mine.

It wasn’t that warm and the water was cold and after setting up camp I started rigging up, telling Eddie this was the rod he kindly picked up for me. I realised I had forgotten all my trout stream thinner tippet material at home. It wasn’t a fishing trip you see. I peeled off some thick string off one of my kids spinning reels to use as tippet, dry flies were now out of the question and tied on a trusty old tungsten bead-head woolly bugger streamer that somehow catches a lot of fish and never gets lost. I was hedging my bets for smallmouth bass or big trout. The head of the pool looking perfect but nothing moved and I didn’t catch a thing. Was it the thick tippet or was it just fishless?

Smallmouth bass was a strong possibility, but at the back of my mind was a conversation I had with Nick on the boat the day before where he mentioned there could be some big trout down where I was heading even though there wouldn’t be as many as you find upstream in the prime CPS waters.

Hanging around camp, I could see on the opposite bank that there was some good looking water with a few big boulders and thought, that’s where a good fish would be holding to get out of the current, did I see something move there or was it my imagination? But it was too far to cast to and didn’t feel like getting wet yet.

The kids started catching frogs and a water scorpion, Stravors’ hawk eye spotted some fry, which was promising, and slowly they ended up in the water swimming as things got warmer. I decided I’d brave the cold and wade into the middle to see if something was lurking amongst the boulders on the other side, Eddie was watching and also mentioned he thinks he saw something moving there.

My first cast was good and as the streamer swung over the boulders something slashed at it. Was it a small bass? Likely. The second cast was also good and as the streamer swung into the sweet spot it stopped dead and the fish shot upstream causing the marques reel to sing loudly, if you’ve heard them before, tractor sounds come to mind. The fish jumped high and everyone whooped, mostly in disbelief and the reel screamed. Eddie asked if that was my fish that jumped because the fly line was still dragging way behind pointing in a different direction. I knew it was a good fish as it turned and fired way downstream and I remember being grateful that I had a really thick tippet, 4 or 5X would have snapped long ago. My boys both chirped that they wanted to reel it in which I often do to give them the hang of fighting fish, but not this time, this fish looked too special.

I landed her and we all gathered around admiring her spots and pink sides all in a bit of disbelief at her size and colours. We took a couple of photos, measured her against my rod, which turned out to be 20 inches on the dot, a trout of a lifetime for these parts. Letting her go was a special moment and we all felt a sense of relief and cheered her on her way.