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):
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.