The ongoing pandemic has been detrimental on a worldwide level and continues to, sadly, run its course in 2021 thus far. It’s truly difficult to see the silver lining during such a tough period but at least there’s been some light at the end of the tunnel for both myself and Philip Geldart, both junior guides at African Waters.
We write this short piece from Makhangoa Community Camp in the highlands of Lesotho alongside the Bokong river, currently stuck in what must be one of the most beautiful places in Southern Africa. We’ll never forget receiving the phone call from Keith Clover, co-founder of African Waters, giving us the option to return back from Lesotho as a result of the lockdown or to stick it out and make the most of the time off. All three of us immediately agreed that perhaps it would be a safer and wiser idea to stick it out in camp. Keith quietly ushered how jealous he was of the situation both us junior guides found ourselves in.
In all honesty, it’s been tough not being able to receive guests in camp throughout the last two weeks, it’s not easy on anyone, but as Keith mentioned, there’s always a silver lining, make lemonade from lemons. Here we are, being gifted the rare opportunity to explore and experience Lesotho and what it has to offer from both a fly fishing and a photographic perspective. These opportunities are generally unheard of as a guide and has been a direct result of the ongoing lockdown regulations that we are all currently experiencing. So, we thought we’d share some of our experiences from our position of lockdown on the Bokong river.
Over the next week, we became entrenched in many activities that would have been difficult to conquer with guests in camp. The relentless rains up in the highlands had washed away many major parts of our rural road heading from Katse central to camp, so much so that the Land Cruiser itself struggled to make way. The road was in need of some serious attention! We sourced some serious manpower and set out lugging rocks and building gabions in place of the eroded ‘donkey track.’ Many hands made light work and before we could take a breath, we had managed to erect two major crossing points of the road which would’ve been nearly impossible without many helping hands. However, not every battle is won, in this case, the motherboard in our solar inverter had burnt out, but like burnt out… after many an attempt, and plenty conversations with Stu Harley (if this man can’t fix it, not many will) we decided to concede to the scoreboard and head home licking our wounds. Ever since we’ve had fun and games balancing the power output from our generator with the fuel consumption that comes with it! However, we have a plan, and this too shall pass, we will fix the solar inverter!
It was then that we received another phone call from Keith urging us to head upriver and explore, get to know the area better for when things return back to normal, in light of the weather window we were about to experience. This truly allowed us to gain valuable insight for when we, as junior guides, take guests up top on the brown trout treks. We jumped at the opportunity, as would any fly-fishing nut, and packed all our gear for an early departure the following morning.
The evening before we started our trek to the upper reaches of the Bokong River, we were met with another truly massive rainstorm. There was plenty uhming and arhhring the following morning debating whether it would be a good idea… Nevertheless, we decided to push on knowing full well that we would be met with a raging river 20km up the valley. After a four-hour hike, we arrived at our campsite, the famous willow tree bend, coupled with a crystal clear, New Zealand-esque Bokong river flowing alongside the willow trees. We couldn’t believe the clarity of the river, right after 50mm of rainfall, it was truly magnificent. Sure, the river was running high, but we had clarity, and that’s all that mattered to us. It was fishable, very fishable…
We had tents up before David, our renowned river guide, had time to say brown trout. He couldn’t believe that two young guys could be so besotted over a mere trout. The following three days ended up being other-worldly, brutally exceeding our expectations. Magical is the word that comes to mind. There we were, fishing an extremely well rested Bokong river with not a soul in sight.
As junior guides, never having fished the upper reaches, we could not have been met with better fishing conditions. We were genuinely incredibly lucky having had three days of sunshine, the first time since guide week in early December 2020, during our stay up top. The fishing conditions were optimal to say the least… We both managed to get our hands our first Bokong river brown trout, something we’d both only dreamed of. They’re a mysterious fish, a fish you hear a lot about amongst the guides at African Waters, a fish that undoubtedly grabs everyone that fishes for them. What blows my mind is that we have rivers like the Bokong and brown trout of that size and statue in Africa, in Lesotho… Sure, I think we can all agree that any brown trout is incredibly special, but these fish, these fish seem to hit home a little different, at least for us they certainly did!
We returned home with wind in our sails ready to take on anything, even the inverter, and so the mood in camp is a good one, a very good one and the guys are making lemonade. That concluded our first week of lockdown up here in Lesotho; of course, it’s a bitter-sweet feeling not having guests in camp, but we are making the most of it. I don’t think any guide could’ve dreamt for a better opportunity than what was presented to us. One thing’s for damn sure, the both of us will be counting our lucky stars for a long time to come.
By African Waters guides,
Tim Leppan and Philip Geldart.