Like a Pavlovian piscatorial Pepé Le Pew following the scent of a dairy farm and indigenous fish, Leonard Flemming travelled to southern KwaZulu-Natal, explored Mzimkhulu River fly fishing, fought a cow, and grappled with trophy Natal yellowfish. As featured in The Mission Issue 42.

When you walk into a dairy – the place where they actually milk cows and not the farm stall where you buy your cheeseburger pie on a Sunday drive – the first thing you will notice is the sweet smell of fresh milk mixing with the foul odour of cow poop. Then, you will see the cow faeces, everywhere. Initially, it grosses a newbie out. But since I worked on a dairy “station” in New Zealand for seven months just to get by so that I could fish for big brown trout whenever I got a gap, for me the stench became synonymous with good fly fishing.

Bad smells good

When I recently walked into the dairy of Dale Hutton on the banks of the Mzimkhulu River in KwaZulu-Natal, the pungent odour of the cows filled my nasal passages and mouth. Instead of being unpleasant it immediately brought back fond memories of cool rivers carving through mountainous terrain. Dale, a dairy farmer and dead-keen fly fisher, had invited me and Garth Wellman to fish for Natal yellowfish, i.e., the scaly, in the stretch of river running along his property.

After introducing ourselves at the dairy, he took us down a rough dirt track leading to the pumphouse pool. At first glance it was like travelling back in time, to New Zealand’s South Island more than 10 years ago. What lay before us was a perfect trophy trout river. Although a stray rainbow trout was caught there last year, this section of the Mzimkhulu was inhabited by a healthy population of indigenous scalies.

Dale then started giving instructions, pointing us to all the good runs and pools up- and downstream. We had the green light to criss-cross the river freely for several kilometres to follow the winding channel on both banks, ideal when targeting yellowfish.

Mzimkhulu River fly fishing

Mzimkhulu River fly fishing for scalies

Before setting up our rods, one of the party members took a stroll to the edge of the pumphouse pool. There they watched a 1.5kg scaly spook from the shallows. Those that have fished for scalies across KZN will know that a 1.5kg fish is not tiny. The news got me very excited.

However, Dale and his friend Tom Stokes (another dairy farmer from the area) informed us that fish over 60cm had been caught in that stretch of the Mzimkhulu. I was yet to cross the 60cm mark with a Natal yellowfish, so that info had me absolutely frothing! I had caught scalies on dry fly in the Cathedral Peak area, upper Tugela River scalies on tiny pheasant tail nymphs, lower Tugela scalies on mainly fat gomphid dragonfly nymph imitations, and scalies on tadpole and caddis larvae imitations in the tiny Palmiet stream in central Durban. None had crossed that magical 60cm mark.

What we didn’t realise was that the scalies of the Mzimkhulu were fussy eaters. They would generally take smallish nymph and caddis larvae patterns. It was a difficult and hard lesson for me to learn and get used to. Some did fall for a small streamer. But these Mzimkhulu fish behaved more like bushveld smallscale and largescale yellowfish. Mostly taking #16-20 nymphs tied on 5-6X fluorocarbon tippet. Dale did warn us about their finicky feeding habits. But we had to find out for ourselves just how stubborn these fish really were.

Read the rest of the story in The Mission Issue 42 below – free as always.

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