The Orange River surged in popularity over the last two years as more anglers than ever discovered what a gem we have right here in South Africa. With that came problems, as Ewan Naude points out in issue 32. How we manage it will dictate the future of this special fishery.
I’ve been very fortunate to fish some special destinations (both internationally and locally) but, I can say, hand on heart, that there is no place in the world that I would rather be for a week’s fishing than drifting down the lower Orange River. For me, fly fishing is a fully immersive form of meditation that pushes the reset button on life and, although I love catching fish, this is only a part of what I look for in my fishing travels. The lower Orange unscrambles my brain. It allows me to slow down, reflect and spend quality time with loved ones while drifting to the beat of the river. With a beer in hand, submerging one’s nether regions in the cool water after a long, hot day, is truly special. While I’ve fished the river for several years, the Orange was ‘discovered’ by several intrepid fly anglers long before I made my first drift, but it still retained an ‘off-the-radar’ status when it came to the broader fly-fishing fraternity. Unfortunately, this has changed dramatically over the last two years and has resulted in fishermen and guides descending on the river in droves. There’s no doubt that international travel restrictions as a result of the COVID pandemic have meant that guiding companies have had to look within our borders for venues, and that is completely understandable.
Before continuing, I want to make it very clear that I am 100% supportive of responsible and professional guiding and believe that the only way to protect a resource for the long term is through the presence of ethical operators who understand the intricacies of running a viable business while at the same time considering the protection of the environment and the engagement of communities and stakeholders. We live in a world where nothing remains secret for very long and unless there is access, either controlled through landowners or guide exclusivity, these spots ultimately become overrun to the detriment of the resource.
The lower Orange River has many access points, some of which are controlled through landowners and rafting companies, but many are open to the public if one is willing to explore a bit. This, added to the fact that one is largely free to camp in ‘no-man’s land’ along the river, makes it a very attractive prospect for the guiding industry and DIY anglers alike. The increase in traffic on the river has meant that many ‘operators’ who are either not suitably qualified, nor responsible nor ethical, are jostling for drift sections and accessing the river through private properties in an illegal manner. I’ve also seen petrol motors being used in pristine, ecologically sensitive areas as well as the general mess of desert roses (used toilet paper) not properly disposed of by operators.
As consumers of guiding services, fishing tackle and pretty much everything in life, we have the power to exercise our discretion and direct business towards responsible operators and ask the right questions before booking a trip or paying for a service. We have a huge responsibility to exercise this discretion wisely. A few keys areas to understand from your prospective guiding outfit should be the following:
- Level of engagement and co-operation with other operators and stakeholders in the area for the preservation and betterment of the resource.
- Contribution to the local economy with regards to hiring/training of guides and other staff as well as potential procurement of provisions for trips etc. from locals.
- Understanding their track record in terms of other destinations they run, as well as general level of ethics.
In my experience, and barring a very small number of operators, there is currently very little being done by most to better/protect the resource and uplift or support the local communities and the river is currently being treated as a potential piggy bank by anyone that owns an Ark inflatable and is vaguely proficient on Google Earth. By asking a few important questions and understanding what an outfitter stands for, clients can change this situation and ensure that the right operators remain on the water.
But wait…there’s more. Read the rest of Ewan’s Undercurrents (including the problem of the many “20lb” largies), plus a whole lot more in issue 32 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.