Trail Running for Trout

Trail Running for Trout

  • Apologies for posting this story earlier with no pictures. I am a bit of a Neanderthal when it comes to technology and blogging. It was meant to be saved as a draft, not published.

After my introduction to trail running in January 2014, I became an keen trail runner. As I became fitter, I realised the endless potential of day trips to explore streams that would normally require several days to explore, or as in the case of this trip, a week long hike over 3 days.

Most fly fisherman like to catch fish, so do I, but even higher on my priority list is this urge to explore and see wild places. Catching a trout is the cherry on top of a day out in the mountains. You will notice that I don’t share too much regarding technical stuff as it doesn’t really interest me and I’m not too clued up on it anyway. I like writing more about the adventure and the exploratory side of small stream fly fishing. One day when my son reads my writing, he’s not going to care about what strength tippet daddy used or how long his leader was. He will want to see pictures and hear the story.

My first real test of my new found fitness was a trip to fish the Leqoa River in South Eastern Lesotho. I have fished this river several times before but the route in and the valley, I hadn’t done before. I wouldn’t have spent less than a week on a trip like this before, so three days was going to be pushing it!  We carried as little as possible, no tent, a few items of clothing, a ground mat to sleep on or under if it rained, and a few basic food items to survive on. The rest of our food came from the river. A non-fishing trail running mate, Bridget Ellender, came up from Cape Town to join me, making it just the two of us. Two others pulled out a few days before which is so typical when trying to organize a trip like this. This was to be what I now call a “Trout Run”, and what an amazing journey it was.

According to Google earth that route I plotted in red is 60km. that doesn’t take any of the meandering of the river valleys, or the ups and downs into account. All in all if you take all the little zig-zags and meandering along a river valley, it would have been between 90 and 100 km.  The hike started at Garden Castle Parksboard offices at 7pm on a Thursday night. we hiked 5km in the dark to pillar cave to sleep he night there to at least get the adventure started. I have counted the following day as Day 1. We started off day 1 at 1900m above sea level and climbed up to over 3300m on the top of the Leqoa Ridge, and then down into the Leqoa Valley at 2700m. There are two waterfalls on the Leqoa River and we spent night 2 below the top waterfall. This was where I had the best fishing, all be it only for an hour before it got dark. Night 3 was spent at the Thamathu – Leqoa confluence.
Walking up the Mashai Pass in the Drakensberg.
Walking up the Mashai Pass in the Drakensberg.
At the top of the Leqoa Ridge
At the top of the Leqoa Ridge
This is the first pool of what I call Crystal Pools which is high up near the escarpment on the Leqoa River.
We never saw any trout up this high, but there are no substantial barriers preventing the trout getting here, so there must be fish up here at certain times of the year.
This is the place I call Crystal Pools. There is a pothole just up stream from this pool, that we measured at 6m deep!
Looking down the Leqoa Valley from below crystal pools.

Obviously there wasn’t too much time for fishing, when you cover 100 km in 3 days, but day 2 was planned to be only 20 km so that I would have time to fish.   Unfortunately I didn’t  fish much on day two  as my feet were too sore! I had just bought a fancy new pair of Salomon trail running  shoes, those ones with the bright orange soles. I had only run short distances in them on the farm but a 40km hike over the Drakensberg was a different story! Thank goodness I had my trusty old Crocs tied on to my rucksack just in case. Those Crocs saved my trip and at least gave my feet some comfort over the last few days! I have done almost every single hike over the last 10 years in Crocs, and my feet just didn’t gel with the new running shoes. Instead of spending day two ambling down river, fishing was we went, I had this urge to sit down on every rock and put my feet up, rather than fish. All I wanted to do was get to our next camp and put my feet up.

We eventually arrived at the junction of the Thamathu and Leqoa River at about 3pm which gave me the best part of an afternoon to fish. I didn’t do this section of river justice, and once I had caught a few fish for dinner, it was time to relax, enjoy the scenery and rest my feet.

The best fishing I had was on the first evening much higher up river where I caught 6 very fat trout of which I kept a few for dinner and breakfast. Lower down in the Thamathu gorge the fish seemed to be smaller than higher up. I have fished this gorge 4 times now and I have never had any decent fishing. It’s always been better higher up or lower down below the Sehlabathebe Village. I can’t work out why, because it’s magnificent looking water, but then lots about fishing is a mystery to us, just waiting to be solved.

Some pig-fat rainbows that I caught on the first evening. This was dinner, and breakfast. What a treat! I always keep a few fish when up in the mountains. I guess that this section of river is fished every 3 or 4 years, and only by myself. I’ve never heard of anyone else fishing up there.
Fishing as we hiked down stream on day 2.
Looking back up the Leqoa River just before it enters the Thamathu Gorge. These are the first arable lands that you get to and the first villages are up on the surrounding hills. This area is unique in Lesotho, as far as grazing management is concerned. They have a strict grazing management strategy that’s enforced by the chief of the greater Tsoelike catchment area of which this is part of. The natural veld is in pristine condition for it, and the quality of the grazing is the envy of all the neighbouring communities.
Looking down into the Thamathu Gorge. I don’t know what the gorge is called, but that’s what I call it as the Thamathu river joins the Leqoa River in the gorge, and the Thamathu village is up on the hill above the gorge.
The Dramatic scenery of the Thamathu gorge.
This picture is taken from our camp on night 3.
One of those pools that looks so good, but doesn’t produce a fish.
Looking back down into the Thamathu Gorge on the way out.

The last day was a long walk from the Thamathu gorge, down into the Sehlabathebe village and then along a path into the Sehlabathebe National Park. We chose the route high up over the hills as I didn’t intend to pay a park entrance fee, not that it’s much, just that the park gate was a bit of a detour and we had a long hike ahead of us.

If you haven’t been to Sehlabathebe National Park then I suggest you make the effort. It is an absolute paradise. They have built, or are busy building a new lodge and upgrading the facilities in the Park. I don’t know how far they have got with any of the renovations buy it’s a great place to camp if you have to. There used to be good fishing in the Tsoelikane River back in my school days, but in May this year I didn’t see a single trout in the Park. I have no idea why they have died out, but the Maluti minnow is thriving there with no competition from the trout. When the trout move back upstream from the Tsoelike River, which they will do, then there will be some incredible fishing to be had as the trout gorge themselves on minnows. A friend of mine who goes up there often says that there have been no fish the lower reaches of the park for the last 5 years, but there are a few fish up near the waterfall which is a few km downstream from the lodge. The bottom line is don’t go there for the fishing, go there for the sightseeing and hiking. It’s out of this world.

The furtherest peak on the distant skyline is to the south of Mashai Pass. we walked into Lesotho the other side of that peak and then all the way back round to the left of the Devils Knuckles in the foreground. A very long hike for 3 days!!
One of the many Tarns in the National Park. The Thamathu Gorge lies the otherside of those rugged peaks, known as the Devils Knuckles.


For more on the fishing in the Sehlabathebe National Park and surrounding areas, you can check out these links to some previous blog posts on my own blog.


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