It’s been a while since I’ve been fishing for an Eastern Cape Stillwater troot but a recent trip to the land of milk and honey for a family event got me thinking back to the glory days. The Stormberg and Winterberg are particularly special places to me and these high-altitude waters, which are often large and deep offer some proper fishing. Memories of lamb cooked in an AGA stove, near frostbite and Bok victory celebrations at the local country club are some of my most cherished since picking up a flyrod.
As with any fish, trout can be technical but and there are times when a size 20 buzzer may be the order of the day, but this type of fishing doesn’t really get me going. I’m also not a big proponent of the suspended egg pattern which is very effective but again just doesn’t do it for me. Luckily in this neck of the woods, trout enjoy a stukkie vleis (piece of meat). Many of the dams have a varied biomass which includes several large prey items such as minnows, gobies, frogs, crabs, dragon fly larvae and even the odd Jack Russell that strays too close to the water’s edge gets taken. These are just a few of my favorite patterns that cover both the Stormberg and Winterberg (still working on the Jack Russell pattern).
Ugly Orange-ish Buggers
For winter I like standard buggers with orange in them. It can be from orange hackle, or I often also tie in an orange marabout tail. I like peacock-coloured chenille for the body. I tie them weighted and unweighted. The weighted ones are quite nice to use on a floating line where you get a little jig action going. I don’t know for sure, but I find that in winter orange triggers strikes. Often they aren’t feeding, whether it is during an attempted spawn – pre-spawn, post-spawn – but an orange fly or a fly with orange triggers in it will get a strike. I like to tie them either with weight in a bead fished on a floating line or fish an unweighted bugger on an intermediate or sinking line. I fish them in a manner of ways depending on whether I am getting strikes or not. Sometimes you can strip it flat out and I find fish, especially cock fish, will eat it aggressively on a fast strip. Or, if that’s not working, I slow it right down and also get strikes. In short, buggers are versatile.
Church Window Gobies
In the Eastern Cape there are a lot of freshwater bodies that have freshwater gobies and you do find these in a number of the dams. Traditionally and in our early days of fishing the still waters we nailed the fish with a big Mrs Simpson fly that had a number of stacked Mrs Simpson feathers and a marabou tail with a painted eye on the front. We’ve evolved this over time to basically minnow patterns that feature a church window feather. This photo shows a foam head fly that I tied to target grunts which illustrates what I am trying to convey in terms of incorporating the church window feather into a minnow-like pattern. I typically like to fish them quite slow and deep along dam walls, rocky boulder areas and also along weed beds. Typically I fish them on an intermediate line, let it sink and retrieve with slowish twitches or long, slow draws. I have often had trout regurgitate gobies.
Papa Roach / Dragon Variants
The Papa Roach is hard to beat (check out Herman Botes’s Step-By-Step here), but I tie a couple of variants in my fly box. Again, I like the church window feathers, the wing on the one and then the other one is quite a monstrosity, but I find that it works. The other thing I often do is that instead of using bead chain eyes I use chenille – you knot it and just burn it lightly – to create eyes and this also adds to the ‘bugginess’ of the fly and avoids breakage. In terms of the way to fish them, there are a couple of options. Sometimes I tie a few lead wraps into them if I am fishing them on a floating line, so they can break through the surface film. Really a tiny bit of lead so they don’t sink too quickly, which is natural. You want them to almost be neutrally buoyant or to sink very very slowly. You can fish them almost statically along weedbeds, just maintaining contact or you can use very short strips to mimic the movement of a dragonfly larvae.
These are just rabbit zonkers. I tie them in a variety of colours, e.g. olive and grey, black also works well. Just a general minnow imitation. Other flies that fall into the Zonker category for me are Minkies, Millionaires Tadpoles, as well as a fly like a White Death. They will all work equally well. The retrieve can be varied, essentially just trying to imitate a small baitfish. Not massive aggressive strips. You want a baitfish that is haphazardly moving, so short sharp strips. The Zonker imparts a lot of movement so retrieves do not have to be aggressive. I use them along weedbeds or anywhere else minnows congregate.
Worms & Damsels
I’m not a massive fan of the small, intricate stuff, but when all else fails I often fish bloodworm imitations. Most smaller bloodworm imitations will work statically drifting about a metre below an indicator. That works well when fish are being finicky.
Another pattern that works well when they are being fussy are smaller damsel patterns, retrieved very very slowly along weedbeds.