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?

  1. Winterton and the waterways of the surrounding Drakensberg, which have always been home to me.
  2. 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.
  3. I get to guide in the summer on Sterkfontein Dam. I don’t think I need to say much more about that.
  4. The Champagne Valley is awesome! It offers a lot of entertainment for everybody with the Drakensberg as your backdrop.
  5. Most of the Drakensberg that I fish is a world heritage site and, thankfully, this should protect those areas for years to come.

carl freese fly fishing kwazulu-natal

5 fishing-connected items you don’t leave home without?

  1. A wading staff which often gets handed to clients.
  2. Sun protection gloves, buff etc – once you feel burnt it’s too late.
  3. Forceps – have empathy! How would you like to be treated?
  4. Phone – help is sometimes just a call away.
  5. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. Dire Straits! All of it is good!
  3. Caamp – I like a guitar a lot.
  4. The Rolling Stones – those guys are unkillable! I think they are definitely preserved.
  5. Neil Diamond – Love at the Greek. I like the old stuff… they leave impressions. 

carl freese fly fishing kwazulu-natal fly box

5 indispensable flies for freshwater

  1. PTN (Pheasant Tail Nymph) – Because fish eat them.
  2. Elk hair caddis.
  3. Flash back GRHE (Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear).
  4. Black/Purple Dr Hans beetle.
  5. Technical Hot Spot.

5 favourite fly-fishing destinations around South Africa

  1. Mhlwazini River – Close to home and a stunningly beautiful trout stream.
  2. Sterkfontein Dam – not because she is easy but because she is hard and unforgiving. It’s a special place!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The lower Bushman’s River of KwaZulu-Natal for Natal scaly. 

carl freese fly fishing kwazulu-natal 3

5 of the most difficult guiding/teaching experiences so far?

  1. Getting clients to understand that fish don’t want to be caught.
  2. 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!
  3. Watch your back cast! There’s no point getting stuck in the trees. I’m not guiding you into monkeys.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

  1. Meeting new and different people from all walks of life, and all have been great.
  2. Being there when a client’s fishing dream has come true and knowing you had something to do with it.
  3. The banter! I encourage it. If you’re not giving your fishing mates shit you’re in the wrong boat.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.