Single nymphs, long leaders, extreme stealth – fly fishing for Bushveld smallscale yellowfish is usually a delicate affair. Until Craig Pappin started lobbing mice patterns designed for taimen.
“It was over a bottle of rum that I got the wild idea of throwing a massive articulated mouse fly fit for taimen at our local yellows in the Lowveld. My long-time fishing buddy, James Topham, who grew up with me on these waters but has travelled the world as a fly-fishing guide and actually fished for taimen with mice patterns, must have been thinking that as usual, ‘Baas Craig, that’s mal (crazy)’. But James knows the way my brain works. If there’s a chance of a successful result, I’ll throw the thing anyway.
“Thinking back on it, the idea of throwing a mouse pattern for fish has been a bit of an obsession for me since I was a laaitie (youngster). After seeing a picture in a book of a gerbil or mole rat-type rodent swimming across a pond with a massive pike inches below it, I’ve always been fascinated by fish that smash rodents. I bought my first mouse pattern for no reason other than it looked cool and I knew I was going to bamba (hit) bass on it. What I did not realise is that a mouse fly is a bitch to cast. With a Stealth Start as my trusty one-and-only fly rod back then, the set- up sucked and I quickly moved onto fishing more manageable flies like minnows and hoppers. These were the early days of fly fishing for me so, at that age, I also knew fokkol (nothing) about double hauling. I must have thrown the fly once or twice at trout dams in the hope of an explosion but I can’t recall anything happening.
“At that stage I hadn’t even thought of targeting our bushveld bones with one, let alone seen the massive fish the Sabie River holds. Having been fly fishing somewhat successfully since the age of 11, my mates and I would go through each other’s fly boxes, stupidly manipulating the inanimate flies and laughing hysterically as the flies got crazier. This practice merged into our actual fishing and, like puppeteers, we would manipulate our flies on the water. They were mostly dragonfly nymphs, damsels and the occasional leech. We would give every twitch, strip and retrieve intent and purpose. The trick was to imagine the environment surrounding your fly and to try to give your mouse a character. These characters were always in the deepest kak (shit) as they tried to make it across the water towards dry land. Sight fishing with a large mouse pattern provides plenty of humour.
“Come morning in the Lowveld, there’s always a half dead shrew in a dog bowl or in the swimming pool.”
“The idea of yellowfish smashing a warm-blooded terrestrial came about quite organically. Come morning in the Lowveld, there’s always a half dead shrew in a dog bowl or in the swimming pool. Spending a lot of time fishing the Sabie River I would witness these explosions on the water, where a small creature gripped, by the meniscus would be there one moment and the next it would be engulfed from below. Sometimes it was hard to believe the ferocity and explosiveness of the eat. What made it even better was that I knew it was an 8lb Bushveld smallscale yellowfish doing the damage.”
Get the rest of this story and more in issue 30 of The Mission, available for free in print (see our stockists here) and in digital format below.