Between thunderstorms Matt Gorlei and Shaun Dickson snatched a challenging opportunity in the Drakensberg mountains to target the wily rainbows of the Injasuti on dry flies.
Story and photos by Matt Gorlei
Forty millimetres of rain had fallen over the Injasuti Valley a few hours before we arrived. Water poured down cracks in the hills, the potholes were like glassy little frog ponds and the low water bridges gave Shaun’s low-clearance load-lugger a bit of a wet tickle. We suspected that there had also been rain the day before and debated whether we would be wasting our time up there or not. We even tried to call the reserve office and eventually managed to speak to someone who explained, “River is down.” When we asked if it was crossable, he said “little drizzles” had just started.
That was enough for us to make up our minds to do an overnight trek up the Injasuti. Last minute packing commenced and we were set for an early start.
As on most fishing missions, there was an early 3.30am wake up, a mandatory pie stop at The Windmills (the best pies on the N3) and fishy chats about how our conditions were looking. We checked the weather every 20 minutes as we got closer to our destination. It was looking pretty good with partly cloudy skies and no rains predicted.
Injasuti, also spelled: Injesuthi, Injisuthi, Njesuthi, Nyesuthi or eNjesuthi is one of the tallest peaks in Southern Africa’s Drakensberg Mountain range. It means place of the “well fed dog”, apparently because it was so rich in game at the time it was discovered by the amaHlubi people who hunted with packs of dogs. I read about this place years ago in Peter Briggs’s book, Call Of The Stream. Both Shaun and I had fished the lower reaches of the Injasuti Valley and we had chatted about doing a trek higher up to explore some water we knew would have only been fished by very few really dedicated fly fishers.
You arrive at this reserve, like many others, by just driving to the end of a pretty bad road. We checked in with the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife guys, signed the mountain rescue register book and were pretty much set to start our trek. But first, we both had our Windmills Pepper Steak pies to deal with. Luckily Shaun knew the guys who worked there as they had worked with his folks in the old KwaZulu-Natal Parks Board when he was kid. We managed to get some keys, from a guy who called him, “Little Dickson”, to one of the cabins at the Ezemvelo Camp and both released some respectable brown trout…
Feeling well prepared and a bit lighter we started the trek up the valley. We passed some hikers on their way back from a night up the valley who warned us to make the crossing soon because the river was rising and was only just crossable.
Great, a blown-out river on the rise.
The Injasuti River is relatively small. As a fly fisherman, you would consider it a small stream but, due to the valley’s gradient and the amount of water sluicing off the hill sides, for us it was nothing short of a torrent. We were not prepared for fishing these conditions, as we had an Xplorer Guide II 1-weight set-up with a decent selection of dry flies and maybe five heavy nymphs that were pinned last minute into the foam of Shaun’s chest pack.
You recognise this moment, the one where you second guess your decisions and start to think that what you are attempting may be a bad idea one. It’s the deep, experience-based algorithms of your brain running the numbers and telling you it’s better to turn back now. The way it looked, there was no way we could fish this river with a dry fly, let alone try and film it. After all, that was the idea. I was there with my camera to film something a little different up a river that has had little exposure.
Luckily, Shaun and I are both optimists, or idiots, so we thought that if we hiked high enough upstream there would be fewer tributaries and less water joining the system off the hillsides. We also knew that high up these valleys the river levels can rise and fall really quickly. The state of the river was due to the recent downpour, so there was a good chance it could drop enough by the next day to give our dry flies a chance.
Grab the rest of Matt’s story in issue 25 of The Mission. As always…it’s free.
Check out the video of this trip below: