We caught up with Tom Lewin of Frontier Fly Fishing on a special catch he made on the Vaal recently.
THE MISSION (TM): Mr Lewin, we believe you recently made a remarkable catch?
TOM LEWIN (TL): Yes, it was a huge tarpon of Costa Rica, the biggest fish I have ever…
TM: Incorrect. We’re referring to the mudfish you caught on the Vaal. On a dry fly. Using a bamboo rod.
TL: Ah, yes. That was memorable too.
If you had to count how many mudfish you have caught in your life, what would the rough tally be? Would it involve taking off your socks and shoes?
A lot! I’d guess in the hundreds over the years, so yes, it would involve taking off my socks!
How did you catch them? Scouring the vaal with flies heavier than plutonium, foul-hooking the odd muddy?
That’s about right. I can’t say I’ve ever gone out and targeted muddies. When I’ve caught the odd fish it’s always while I’ve been nymphing for smallmouth yellows. A good number of fish were foul-hooked somewhere around the mouth. Muddies, with those awkward downturned little mouths, seem to really battle to eat even tiny nymphs.
Have you ever caught one on a dry fly before?
No! In fact until this happened, I’d have thought you were daft for even asking the question.
So then what the hell were you doing this time?
Well, I was actually dry-fly fishing for smallies – these days it’s how I prefer to fish for them – and mudfish ate my dry fly!
Do you think it was a retarded mudfish, simply taking in the sights of a different water column?
Absolutely not! Mudfish, as you know, are extremely intelligent fish renowned the world over for their cunning and fussiness. Personally, I think it was the impeccable drift.
Can you describe how it went down?
I’d found a small pod of yellows feeding on hatching mayflies at the head of a pool. I could see the fish sipping the duns as they drifted along a soft current tongue. On my second drift there was soft dimpling and my fly was gone. I lifted into the fish and I have to say the jagging and darting fish fought very differently to the typical yellow. No initial burst or searing run, just a dogged, close-in scrap. You can imagine my complete surprise when, a few minutes later, I slipped the net under a cracking muddie! The size 16 Last Chance Cripple was lodged perfectly in the fish’s upper lip – no foul-hooked fish here! I was dumbstruck. I kept thinking: How the hell did you get that right?
Tell us about the rod. Did you build it? How does it handle fishing the Vaal usually?
I’m a self-confessed bamboo nut and I fish for trout and yellowfish exclusively with cane. On that day I was fishing a beautiful rod made for me by an American maker, Jeff Wagner. It’s an 8’6”, 5-weight and is perfect for the kind of fishing I like – tiny dries and emergers to feeding fish. American bamboo rod makers get a real kick from knowing their rods are in action on yellows in Africa! I also use a 40-year-old Orvis fly-rod for fishing nymphs under an indicator on the Vaal, but fishing junk under a bobber on a classy piece of cane somehow doesn’t seem right to me.
Would you accept a challenge from The Mission? Repeat the feat this year and we buy you a case of beer.
Challenge accepted! Now to find that retarded muddie.