From El Nino to El Nina and the Sweet Bits in Between

From El Nino to El Nina and the Sweet Bits in Between

On the Highveld our warm season has been a case  of famine or feast. Spring didn’t last long as the drought conditions put  strain on the streams and the fish. Even our tailwater fishery below the Barrage took strain.


One fish that’s not put off by low flows and high temps are carp. They regularly popped up in ridiculous stuff. You just can’t turn your back on such sweet targets. I ended  up carrying more worms than is polite , but they came in handy.


After being on holiday at the coast for a couple of weeks , I  returned with renewed enthusiasm and decided to head out to an obscure piece of water to see if the bit of December rains stirred things up. If anything , it would be a nice hike.  On my way I did the mandatory bridge stop on another river which never really appealed to me. As I leaned over the railing , my eyes almost popped out. There were fish moving about and feeding off the surface sporadically. Lots of ’em.

I pulled into some shady spot next to the bridge and disappeared up the river. The water had just started to come down after a long period of no flow. I was in luck. Fish were in stupid thin water as they headed into the fresh new trickles.I spent the day with  a hopper and a single dropper. Lots of of sight fishing .Plenty fish came to the hopper.


I could see the fish took some strain from when the water was low and luke warm. They were thin , their bodies puffy soft with lots of sores. They still ran like mad when hooked. It’s a condition I come across often in the hot months .But as soon as the river flows & water temps improve , the condition of the fish bounce back , and they take on their normal muscular yellow-olive hue.  Yellowfish are survivors. They have to be – they live in Africa.

February was glorious. The Vaal river below the barrage returned to its former glory and we reveled in it. I caught myself referring to “a return of the good ‘ol days”of early 2000. How often does that happen ?

The Vaal rapids. Bubbly ,clear and thick with fish.

Caddis dominated , and I got stuck in with direct line & active nymphing to imitate the emerging pupae. As in previous years  ,the patterns were still very similar , but most were on jig hooks with slotted tungsten , and smaller. My Plaza Pupa patterns had breakthrough performances. My leaders were longer (not super long 20′ jobs) and my tippet thinner. I nymphed with indicators and without , swung flies and fished dry-and-dropper when I had half a chance. Every dusk found me hurrying to get in position for the evening rise. I found it interesting how my approach changed and varied from the good ‘ol days. I guess it’s progress – it certainly showed in the numbers.

Two years ago I scratched around in a “out of the way ” river that I stumbled across while “blue lining”. As a bug nut , I absolutely flipped out.  Not only did it contain Golden Stones( my favorite ) but also huge Oligoneuridae  mayfly nymphs. These bugs are big — size 8 big ! I vowed to fish it , even though its altitude suggested no yellow fish. At best there might be fish around on a spawn migration.


February was drawing to a close. On a whim  , I decided  on a recce mission into some canyon country to fish this river. The Farmer looked at me as if I was crazy – “you drove all the way from JHB ?” I think he felt sorry for me , suspecting I drove a very long way to fish a fish less river , which ran discolored after some heavy rains the week before. Access was granted  , I was free to roam.


As I broke the top of the ridge , the gorge came into view. It was everything I imagined it to be. Pity the water was muddy. There was a pretty waterfall at the top end. This could explain the absence of good yellowfish numbers further upstream. I got onto the water below the plunge pool , which contained some nice pocket water that flowed into a downstream pool. It looked promising , especially after I found a big Oligoneuridae nymph on the first rock that I turned over. With a #12 Jig Bugger on point ( to match the bug) , I fished all the sweet looking spots hard. Nothing.


First fish

Then finally a tiny fish gobbled the Bugger. It looked like a baby Largemouth yellow. Hope. Then another tiny silvery fish (Smallmouth yellow?) on the small dropper. Optimism grew. Then nothing , except a lot more of those big bugs.

I hiked a long way down the gorge and back up fishing some of the nicest water if yellows could be found. Finally on my way out , I picked up another dink , in the same water as before. I was suspicious , so I photographed it.IMG_0988

Well , if there’s small yellows , there must be big yellows. Disappointment  set in after I studied the pics and realized that I , in fact , caught chubby head barbs.

Please tell me this is NOT a chubby head barb

I fished the Vaal and felt vindicated.

Still that gorge with its promise and big bugs haunts me.

Shortly after , I dropped in on a usually sweet piece of water. It looked very sad with stagnant pools and scum lines. A few fish were cruising sub surface , mopping up terrestrials. They were skittish as hell and some of them even turned their nose up at my offerings , even though they must be starving.


I found some ants and small beetle patterns that Gordon vd Spuy once donated to me. The flies did a great job fooling those fish.



Ants are fish crack.

I even managed to feed one to a big ‘ol mirror carp that was feeding in the scum line of the meager stream. We needed some rain.



And then it started to rain. Heavily. I told me learned friend , who teaches at University, that I might consider building an Ark of some sort. He informed me that the University folk confirmed that we are now officially in an El Nina cycle.

Eye of the tiger

My whole watershed experienced a massive flash flood. From the tiniest creek to the Vaal river.Right now its settling quickly.

Autumn’s gonna be great.

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