When Tintswalo Lapalala invited us to send someone to check out their Waterberg lodge and the new fly fishing option they have added to their activities, we knew what they wanted. A romantic couple.
Instead, we sent them two Indian Ocean guides, Milan Germishuizen and Justin Rollinson, who have been landlocked in Gauteng since SA first started going in and out of lockdown. While we have felt a bit sorry for these guys over the last year or so (they normally spend their days stalking flats fish in paradise so being stuck at home is new to them), we also knew that, to do justice to Tintswalo’s new offering, we needed to send along two anglers who know how to catch fish wherever they are. This is their account of the fishing and of being, for once, on the other side.
“With all the travel restrictions recently, it’s been pretty bleak for an Indian Ocean guide. Being stuck at home, missing that sense of the wild and adventure, has been kak (shitty), to say the least. There’s been little to look forward to as we wait for some sort of normal to return. So, when my fellow FlyCastaway guide, Justin Rollinson, and I were invited to stay at Tintswalo Lapalala for a few nights and fish their virtually untouched river for indigenous yellows, it was a no brainer. Fly fishing and the bush, fly fishing IN the bush…there are very few things better than that. Plus, we were going to fish a stretch of river that’s hardly been fished at all and has definitely only been fly fished a few times. As guides and fly fisherman this is what we chase all the time… finding the wild places and fishing them.
We started researching the area and the excitement grew as we realised where we were going. I’ve always wanted to fish smaller streams in the African bush, so this was a first for me. As guides we love the fish and the fishing but, mostly, we were just looking forward to getting to live it up for a change as guests in a 5-star private safari lodge. Plus, during our stay, we’d have our own game vehicle and three rangers at our disposal to take us fishing and look after us. Counting down the days, we were tying flies like mad men trying to find out as much as we could about what would work for small scale and large scale yellowfish.
Tintswalo at Lapalala is situated in the Lapalala Nature reserve just under three hours drive from Pretoria. The Palala River flows for 30kms through this massive 50 000 ha Big Five reserve in the Waterberg. Before the trip we were concerned about water clarity as most rivers in South Africa run chocolate at the best of times. However, this section of the Palala seems to be spring fed from the surrounding hills and mountains. That, and the fact that the river has carved large cliffs and rapids through the rocks, meant that it also seemed to have a lot less sediment in it, which made the clarity very good considering the wet summer we just had in the northern parts of SA. The reserve is looking amazing after the rains and the number of animals seen, both around the main lodge and on game drives, is an indication of a very healthy ecosystem. All we needed to discover was what the river had in store for us.
We were met at the gate by Daniel, a ranger from Tinstwalo Lapalala who helped us load all our gear and gave us snacks and drinks for the 45 minute game drive to the main lodge. Like typical guides, we both got stuck into refreshments and we were on our way. We then pulled a solid ‘client’ move and proceeded to grill Daniel about the reserve’s animals, about the river, the fishing, even guessing how many leopard there might be roaming around looking for something to eat. We soon realised that very few people had actually fished here before, a fact that got us super excited. It was only once we reached a bridge that we appreciated how pristine the Palala River is.
The clarity was the best I’ve seen from a bushveld stream in a long time. We could easily see many little minnows swimming around the slack back waters and there were bugs popping off the river. We were now very keen on getting rigged up and down to the water. About 15 mins later we arrived at the lodge where we met Dave the GM and Morné, the head guide, as well as the super friendly hospitality staff waiting for us with an exotic looking welcome drink and refresher towel. After a quick check in, orientation and a great lunch with a few beers we were taken to our rooms.
Now, where Justin and I currently guide on St. Brandon’s atoll (430km north-east of Mauritius), the island we stay on is about 400m long and 100m wide, so we are naturally used to living in smaller spaces. At Tintswalo Lapalala we were given the Xhosa Family suite which had been divided into two, one room for each of us. The rooms were out of this world… everything from the biggest bed I have ever seen to my own private pool and a shower that looked out onto the bush. The room alone was the size of the whole upstairs of the house I grew up in. Justin and I had a brief freak-out about how epic our rooms were and from there we just relaxed and let all the good things come. The rooms were kept immaculate throughout our entire stay and we had everything we could possibly need: from a fireplace to a well-stocked mini bar. As soon as we got back from our morning fishing sessions and after a solid breakfast, having relaxing ice cold beers next to our pool was a daily thing. Speaking of breakfast, the food during our entire stay was top quality and this was the first time ever where I went home heavier after a fishing trip. With three-course dinners, great lunches and breakfasts that kept us going all day, there was never a single moment where I wasn’t happily fed and satisfied.
But, the fishing was always the main reason for us being there. Tintswalo Lapalala has recently decided to offer fly fishing as an activity for guests staying at the lodge, so we realised that we could help the guides out by actually figuring out what kind of fishery they have there.
We were certainly not disappointed. On the first afternoon Dave, Daniel and Morné took us to a spot they had been to before and where they had caught a fish or two. The water looked superb with everything from riffles and laminar water to epic pool tail-outs and short rapid sections. The reason we had three guides with us was because two of them were carrying rifles, while the third fished with us. This is a wild area and we had to look out for things like hippo, crocs, buffalo, leopard and the rest of the Big Five. They also have all of the “mean” snakes you can encounter when in the bush so, having guys who know what to look for and how to keep you safe from the animals, is very important. As uneasy as it is knowing you could be stalked by a spotted death cat or croc while tying on your size 16 nymph, it’s also great knowing there’s an experienced guide who has your back when there’s trouble. At very least there’s someone with you who is potentially slower than you so you can make it back to the Land Cruiser in time. I suppose it’s similar to what Justin and I have to do while out on the flats, i.e. making sure nothing eats the clients and making sure they come home at the end of the day in one piece and preferably with smiles on their faces.
Read the rest of this story and more in issue 28 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.