Big witvis (Cape whitefish), an old nemesis, have plagued my thoughts for a long time. They seemed impossible to catch on fly, which simply didn’t make sense to me, that was until I was introduced to micro-nymphing…

It’s amazing how aggressive small fish can be to large flies and then sometimes, how comparatively big fish can be more interested in tiny flies (and even scared of nymphs that are tied on #16 hooks or bigger…). Witvis, and especially the big adults – regardless of how predatory they look, are attracted to surprisingly small flies.

I’ve watched big witvis, from 4 – 9 lb, spook when they see a #16 Brassie nymph; but attack a #20 version of the same pattern like it’s their favourite food. They sometimes also spook when an indicator is used so I’ve started using CDC dry flies, like a #16 parachute CDC beetle pattern, as an indicator and the fish even started rising to eat the dries!

The key in successfully hooking witvis is, however, not to watch the indicator dry fly, but rather the sighted fish; if it turns in the direction of the nymphs and seems like it is about to eat something, start striking (draw line and lift the rod slowly, like a gentle ‘trout strike’)…When you are lifting the rod as the fish opens its mouth (you will see a flash of white as the mouth inhales the dropper or nibbles on the flies – they often just nibble) then you’ve timed it right. Don’t lift too sharply though (in other words don’t strike too hard) as it will simply snap the fine tippet material – they often turn away from you and start running (this happens in a split second of course) as soon as they feel the hookset and that sudden pull away from the angler easily snaps the tippet (it also helps not to clamp down on the line with your fingers, but rather handle the line with a soft touch, ready to give line at any moment). Timing the strike on the dry fly is more obvious and easier.

Here are some hooks and beads, and fly patterns that have worked well for me so far (note that you’ll be fishing a 2-3 wt outfit for these fish):

Variety of micro nymph hooks and beads – you can get most of these items from StreamX in the Cape.

 

Regular #26 Brassie tied on a Gamakatsu C12 – BM. Even though barbless, the shape and spear-like tip of this hook makes it hard for the fish to throw out of their mouth during the fight (and yes, witvis may jump completely out of the water and shake their heads to get rid of the fly).

 

A #26 pink and white Brassie

 

Majority of witvis I’ve come across were small and they greedily ate #26 Brassies tied to 7X fluorocarbon tippet

 

Small Brassies = witvis candy

 

Slightly larger #20 Brassies with barbs work really well on trophy fish and also as a ‘control’ fly to get the smaller dropper flies down quickly (the barb ensuring that the dropper tippet does not slide off the hook while casting or fighting a fish).

 

Small flashback pheasant tail nymphs (#20 Grip 11011BL used here – surprisingly strong hook for its size) also work really well for witvis.

 

Two fluorocarbon tippet brands I can recommend – Trout Hunter and Scientific Anglers are hard to beat.

 

Garth Wellman, micro-nymphing pioneer and expert when it comes to catching our local cyprinids, swears by using bamboo rods for this technique. He explains that unlike carbon rods that recoil, bamboo gives, protecting light tippets and small hooks when setting the hook and fighting large barbs – this makes sense to me and I will be investing in a bamboo 3 wt.

 

Ironically, adult witvis use their large, predatory gapes to feed with finesse, rather than attack big prey.

 

Witvis will actively rise to eat hatching and floating insects in last light – Will Lotter with a beautiful witvis taken on dry fly at sunset.

 

Witvis, hard to beat in strength and looks, as well as the stunning waters and scenery where they live.

Final note: Garth Wellman and Armand Flies taught me all I know about micro-nymphing; they’ve fine tuned this technique for our indigenous cyprinids over decades in our country and many of the methods and flies I describe in blog posts related to witvis are theirs or due to a direct influence from them. I will be eternally grateful for their insight as it made a huge difference in ‘cracking the code’ for trophy witvis on fly  in my opinion.