As far as fishing towns go, there are few places in South Africa that surpass Dullstroom. If he’s not out guiding clients you’re likely to meet local legend John Thoabala behind the counter of Mavungana Flyfishing’s Dullstroom store. Buy him a cup of tea, then ask him where the lunkers are because, if anyone knows Dullstroom and its fisheries like the back of his hand, John does. 


The first fish I remember catching on fly was a rainbow trout at one of the syndicate waters just a couple of kilometres outside Dullstroom. This was early in my career. I got to fish after a long day spent brush cutting and picking up litter around the dams before the guests arrived for the weekend. That fish made my day and since then I have been hooked!

I have always been with Mavungana Flyfishing. My first job was here and I have helped with building the company from scratch. My tertiary level qualifications and other skills picked up from corresponding with other educational institutions also helped to build my career. Some skills you learn on the job, like getting a good understanding of fish, their habitats and how to target different species on fly. These are all things I have learned under the supervision and guidance of my friend, and one of the best fly fishing guides, Jonathan Boulton.

A typical day for me starts with prayer, to thank God for the day and life. Then I have to have a cup of tea. I cannot do anything without it! I will then look at my diary, plan the day and give instructions to the rest of the team on what we need to do for the day or week. Then I move on to emails, setting up the shop and new orders.

Jophn Thoabala stocking one of his Dullstroom dams. Photo Graeme Gullacksen

John Thoabala stocking one of his Dullstroom dams. Photo Graeme Gullacksen

My homewaters, where I fish the most, is Dullstroom’s Birds of Prey dam. It’s a trophy dam that most people pre-judge just by looking at it from the road. Catching a fish or two there is a real reward. Even if you do not catch anything, a day out there will make you to go back again, as you are likely to have seen a really nice size fish feeding on a wind line out of your reach. I only ever fish a floating line, dries and nymphs on this dam.

The best advice I have ever been given came from both my parents and from Mr James Keaveney, an old Scottish man I used to work with. He was friendly, a very nice person to work with and I learned a lot from him about life and many other things. James and my parents taught me to love, respect, share and always tell the truth.

I am proud of the skills I have learned over the years working at Mavungana. I’m proud that I have got to meet different people in our retail stores and that I have had the opportunity to travel both locally and overseas with clients. Most importantly, I am proud of my loving and caring family.

Something I have had to work hard at in life was building up my career via correspondence, learning while working at the same time. I also had to work hard at fish farms doing river rehabilitation work as a fishery manager during winter when the waters levels are low.

What comes naturally to me is being patient and having love for my family, my colleagues and my friends. I never want to see someone struggling or battling. I am always willing to help where I can.

The most satisfying fish I ever caught was a salmon in Norway. It was their slowest and driest season in years, there was no rain, and the water was very low. I had had great fun fishing almost day and night catching lots of brown trout on dry flies. Then I caught the ‘fish of 1000 casts.’ It’s a moment I will never forget.

Read the rest of John’s Lifer in issue 29 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.