Hugging The Bear is a film about a journey. FlyBru’s Matt Gorlei and Nick van Rensburg, together with Xplorer Fly Fishing’s Shaun Dickson, explore a remote tributary which offers some of the best Drakensberg fly fishing. Along the way they are dished up equal portions of knee-trembling hardship, heavenly fishing, blissed-out nature vibes and a few surprises. Watch the full film below and read an excerpt from Nick’s story about this trip from issue 44 of The Mission.

“The plan was to push even further up to see if the natural fish barriers hindered anything getting upstream from where the boys had stopped on the previous mission. What lay ahead was simply breathtaking. As we started breaching into the mid-section of the valley, after navigating some immense boulder fields, and threading our way in and around the river bank, we stopped at our first camp site and dumped our non-fishing clobber.  

“As I looked around me it felt like I was tripping balls. Everything was lush, untouched, perfect.”

The water was so clear it glowed blue and the flora and fauna were brilliantly psychedelic and all of it was surrounded by the iconic overarching cliff faces of the Drakensberg. This was my first experience up there and, as someone who lives for being isolated in places like this, casting a fly and meandering up this valley was truly a privilege.  

While Matt and Shaun pushed further up, I sat on a rock, rolled a cigarette and took a moment to bliss out to and absorb the experience. I try to do this whenever I fish, because something fascinating happens in my mind when I do. Knocking back for an afternoon nap, I was soothed by the sounds of a wild river, the wind through the trees, and the birds. It felt like the opposite of a sensory deprivation chamber. I felt at once isolated and small, in tune with everything, happy and truly at peace.  

The more fish we caught, the more Shaun’s obsession with “the funny ones” became apparent. For every 20 or so fish to the net, we would get one of these fish that had noticeable differences. Sharp, extended jaw lines, orange touches and classic white tips – far from the standard rainbow trout.

“Rumours exist about a strain of cutthroat supposedly appearing somewhere in this watershed.”

In South Africa, claiming the trout you caught is another species is a big call and perhaps a bit far-fetched, so we’ll let you decide. For us, there was certainly a bit of spice thrown into these variations.  

Read the story behind the journey in issue 44. It’s free!

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  1. Interesting story. I myself caught rainbows that were decidedly cutbows from a dam near Mooi River in 2007. At the time I asked a few trout producers in KZN who were adamant that cutthroat have never been in South Africa. Suggestions that it was a throwback were made but I am not sure that is how the genetics of these guys work. As a fish biologist I remain intrigued. Perhaps it is a throwback but either way genetic sampling would be highly interesting. Drop me an email if you want to see my photos.


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