From the trout streams of the Drakensberg to guiding for smallmouth yellows on Sterkfontein Dam or targeting Natal scalies in larger rivers, in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, fly fishing guide Carl Freese is as local as they come.
5 best things about where you guide?
- Winterton and the waterways of the surrounding Drakensberg, which have always been home to me.
- It’s a diverse freshwater fishery. We have equal opportunity to chase wild trout in Drakensberg streams or to go further downstream for Natal scalies.
- I get to guide in the summer on Sterkfontein Dam. I don’t think I need to say much more about that.
- The Champagne Valley is awesome! It offers a lot of entertainment for everybody with the Drakensberg as your backdrop.
- Most of the Drakensberg that I fish is a world heritage site and, thankfully, this should protect those areas for years to come.
5 fishing-connected items you don’t leave home without?
- A wading staff which often gets handed to clients.
- Sun protection gloves, buff etc – once you feel burnt it’s too late.
- Forceps – have empathy! How would you like to be treated?
- Phone – help is sometimes just a call away.
- My side arm – I’ve come too close to crocodiles and farm attacks and in some of the areas I fish both are possible.
5 bands to listen to on a road trip?
- Creedence Clearwater Revival – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” By the time that song ends you can be three fish down on a hard day.
- Dire Straits! All of it is good!
- Caamp – I like a guitar a lot.
- The Rolling Stones – those guys are unkillable! I think they are definitely preserved.
- Neil Diamond – Love at the Greek. I like the old stuff… they leave impressions.
5 indispensable flies for freshwater
- PTN (Pheasant Tail Nymph) – Because fish eat them.
- Elk hair caddis.
- Flash back GRHE (Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear).
- Black/Purple Dr Hans beetle.
- Technical Hot Spot.
5 favourite fly-fishing destinations around South Africa
- Mhlwazini River – Close to home and a stunningly beautiful trout stream.
- Sterkfontein Dam – not because she is easy but because she is hard and unforgiving. It’s a special place!
- Cape Vidal on the KwaZulu-Natal North coast. I surf-launched my first boat there and it’s where I cut my teeth on game fishing.
- Mtunzini – to visit family and friends. Once you have had enough of pulling for tuna, tussling with reef fish and exploring the estuary, you don’t want to see family or friends for a while. Three days always turns into six days.
- The lower Bushman’s River of KwaZulu-Natal for Natal scaly.
5 of the most difficult guiding/teaching experiences so far?
- Getting clients to understand that fish don’t want to be caught.
- Fish according to your strengths/abilities. If you can’t cast accurately at distance, get good at blending into the environment. Fish eat if they don’t see you and don’t if they do!
- Watch your back cast! There’s no point getting stuck in the trees. I’m not guiding you into monkeys.
- Don’t flog dead water; keep moving. Movement is life. I’ve seen so many lighthouses on the banks of Sterkfontein, and the fish have seen you too.
- Pay attention to body language. At Sterkfontein those fish will tell you everything you need to know about catching them.
5 of the best things you’ve picked up from guiding?
- Meeting new and different people from all walks of life, and all have been great.
- Being there when a client’s fishing dream has come true and knowing you had something to do with it.
- The banter! I encourage it. If you’re not giving your fishing mates shit you’re in the wrong boat.
- You find out a lot about your clients in conversation: their families, their loves and dislikes and it feels good that they feel comfortable enough to share.
- I’ve made great friendships in this industry that I will always be grateful for.
Get the rest of Carl’s Q&A and a whole lot more in The Mission Issue 32 below. As always, it’s free.