THE FEATHERS AWARD RESULTS 2023

THE FEATHERS AWARD RESULTS 2023

The Feathers Award is an annual award given to the most remarkable African catch in a calendar year. The award is judged by Feathers & Fluoro and hosted by The Mission. The Feathers Award results for 2023 are as follows. Franna van Zyl takes first place for his dorado/Mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) from the shore. The runner up is Jimmy Eagleton for his sunfish (Mola mola). Read below for the full story behind both catches, and our special mentions.

WINNER

Franna van Zyl – Dorado/Mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) from the shore

Viv Dames says, “It was a bit of a batshit crazy morning. The water was super-flat. Once we spotted it my friend James, Franna and I were throwing everything we could at this fish swimming in the shallows. Bucktails, shiver sticks, you name it but no interest.”

Then Franna said, “Holy shit, I brought my fly rod!” He took one little cast and it was the only thing that made that bull turn around and get excited. Boom! He landed it about an hour later after fighting it like a legend on his 8-weight fly rod with a 20lb leader and a size 4 fly. He’s is freaking chuffed. Day made, season made, year made. He’s never seen a dorado before so he is super-stoked.  As tempted as we were to eat the chicken off the sea, we tagged it and released it. It was totally a right place, right time kind of thing, but Franna fought it so well.”

RUNNER UP

Jimmy Eagleton – Sunfish (Mola mola)

Jimmy says, “Ever since Peter Coetzee got a sun fish on fly , I have tried too get one for years. It all changed in one day. After seeing a video clip of how sun fish eat blue bottle jelly fish off the surface. It all happened exactly like in the video clip.  With some input from Wikus van der Walt explaining the finer details of a drag free drifts, the execution with a 14wt wasn’t that pretty. But the sunfish head came clear out the water when it sucked the fly from the surface.

“What followed is a bit of a blur. Things I do remember were the two knots in the fly line that passed through the guides. And Wikus removing them sometime during the fight. When it went airborne and landed on its side I literally felt the loud thump in the little boat/dingy that the sunfish was towing around the West Coast. Wikus was laughing as he tried to keep the little boat upright. This fish could just very well be a dry fly trout angler’s wet dream.”

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Rob Kyle – Chiselmouth (Varicorhinus nelspruitensis)

Rob Kyle writes, “Bit of a kak photo unfortunately but I was by myself. There were very few places I could keep the fish in the water and get a picture without it muddying up the water or a kak shadow on the fish. I’d fished a long way down river. After an initial few bites in the first hour and a half, I hadn’t had much joy at all…

“I was fishing a pool that I know holds a lot of fish early season as there are extensive rapids up and down from it and I know how many fish show themselves in those rapids when the water warms up. Most of those fish fall back into this pool during the cold months. I’ve caught a fair share of scalys out of it over the years, but never a chisel! I’d fished the normal angles that produce fish thoroughly with no result but before moving on I hopped onto a rock that I don’t usually fish from and threw the flies straight up current so I could pull them down the edge of a ledge that ran parallel to the flow but out of the current…

“Halfway back, the flies got stopped and the fish I hooked went dilly, scooting around in all directions one minute taking line and then next coming back at me faster than I could wind. It settled quickly though and pissed off upstream well into the backing before coming back down a bit only to go back again even further into the backing. I knew it was a big fish but even knowing that, as the fight dragged on, I couldn’t believe how strong and stubborn it was. It hugged the bottom and unlike a scaly that usually turns close to a rock, this fish would swim into or through the rocks causing my heart rate to elevate multiple times.

“Eventually I started having a suspicion as to what I had hooked and this was confirmed when I eventually saw the fish. Even from that point it took another five minutes to get it to hand. I didn’t have a tape on me, but cut a piece of line to size and measured it back home at 55cm FL. I’ve caught some good chisels over the years, but not of that fishes proportions and to the best of my knowledge I don’t know of any bigger having been landed (I’d love to know of any) . A very special fish for me of a species that’s very close to my heart!” 

Brett Wood – Longfin jack (Caranx fischeri)

longfin crevalle jack fly fishing Gabon

African Waters guide Mike Dames writes, “I’m sending this in on behalf of a client, Brett Wood, I was guiding this year in Gabon, Sette Cama through African Waters. Not only was this fish special to me and him but also he is one of the few clients I have guided which can actually cast haha so fuck it he deserves time in the spot light.

“Longfin Jacks are special and largely unknown to the world, it was only described as a species in 2007 after all. At Sette Cama, Gabon, however, their uniqueness kind of wears off after a few days. I guess that is what happens when fish come too easy. Clients only miss them when they don’t want to bite. Earlier this year one of our good clients, Brett Wood, hooked a special one. A classical morning on the lagoon, mass predations everywhere, yet proving more difficult than usual to entice an eat on our steel wrapped in feathers.

“Brett chucked and ducked one of our tarpon patterns out and got a boatside eat which to be honest scared us all. The usual chaos ensued with Brett not giving an unneeded inch, when all was done and dusted our first comments were not over the size (which was special) but rather the junk in the trunk. This Caranx fischeri truly was taking their common name to the extreme. If Roland Ward trophy status were given to fish, this longfin would be top of the record books.”

MC Coetzer – Giant African threadfin (Polydactylus quadrifilis)

mc Coetzee fly fishing, african threadfin Gabon, sette cama

MC writes, “The sandbank on which we fished for the threadies had an L shape. The short arm was a bank that went off the main sandbank. Because the main mouth of the estuary we were fishing was not producing tarpon I decided to go for threadies. Conrad got one there earlier in the week. I left right at sunset to walk there but before I left I took my schedule 5 painkiller for my tennis elbow. After waving goodbye to the other guys who were headed to the main mouth on the boat,  I started walking and immediately felt like I was dying, like I was having a stroke. Turns out that’s a side effect of the pills that I found out afterwards.

“While I was walking there you had to cross through a section of about 200m where you have to wade waist deep through to surf to get on the dry section of this T-junction sandbank. I was walking, thinking I was going to have a heart attack, trying to get on to the bank. I thought my body would get washed away and my parents would have to deal with that. Anyway I make it onto the bank and I am not feeling good but I cannot go back. I’m too shit scared to go back through the water so I lie on the bank for about three hours.

“Eventually I start fishing. I get a pull and hook a fish on the 10-weight. As I am fighting the fish in the shore break all of a sudden there is a voice behind me. Now it’s pitch black. I have had what felt like a near-death experience and I am on a sandbank alone in the middle of an estuary in Gabon. I’ve only got the red light of my headtorch on and you can’t see very far with it. The voice persists and persists and then all of a sudden Conrad appears. They had come back from the main mouth and somehow beached the boat behind me in what was a sort of back bay of the sand spit. He arrived out of the blue and took the shitty pictures of my threadie for me.”  

Pierre Quinton Luies – Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

grass carp fly fishing Vaal River South Africa

Pierre says, “In September this year on the Vaal, while targeting smallies I managed to hook this tank of a grassie (grass carp)

“Estimated around 30lbs. Didn’t have a scale big enough! The more interesting fact is that it was on 4X tippet and a size #16 flashback nymph, barbless hook. Rod used was my trusty Sage Bolt 5 weight which I have new respect for. I will attach a photo of the fly that was opened when landing the fish. It’s also worth mentioning that if it was for my good mate fishing just downstream from me and having his big boat net handy, I would not have landed this fish.

“As you know grassies is a ‘bycatch’ on the Vaal as they normally feed on algae. And yes it was hooked square in the mouth! On first seeing surface I thought “no way in hell am I landing this thing”… but we did which in itself is a feat of note! Apologies if the photos are blurry, my mate got splashed even from a distance!” 

MORE SPECIAL MENTIONS

Pierre Quinton Luies – Garrick/leervis (Lichia amia)

garrick Leervis fly fishing Western Cape south africa

Pierre says, “I caught this magnificent Garrick at Zandspruit in the Western Cape, which is why I feel it’s a proudly South African fish. Not a bad size on fly. This was during April. Upstream Fly Fishing gave me some advice on fly selection and technique as this was my first time fishing for these beauties. I had one day to spare and the weather was on my side. Using an old gurgler style fly, I cut the front foam lip off to make it swim subsurface. 

“My mate mentioned that these fish prefer top water flies, but not something that pops too much. I went out early morning with some mist still around. There were a couple of follows but no commitment from any fish. Changed spots and the very next cast saw this fish come out of nowhere and smash the fly.

“Rod was an Epic 890C custom build by Derek Smith – master rod builder himself. Ross Reel Animas and an intermediate line. The fish put up a pretty impressive fight running me well into my backing! I jumped in and tailed the fish. My mate was close by to snap some pics. For me a truly South African fish. Didn’t weight it, didn’t care as it was already super special. My guess was around 85/90cm in length.”

Pieter Snyders – Largemouth yellowfish hattrick

Pieter writes, “Targeting Largies have always been a bit of a love hate relationship for me. Over the years I have had various successes, but more often than not, failures! And when I say failures that includes blanking and even worse tackle failures (from recommended hooks to leaders). 

“The last couple of years I have started loving them more. Probably due to just tinkering around with ideas and just fishing for them randomly when I get a gut feeling that they might be on the bite. And often this gut feeling would coincide with keeping an eye on the weather. 

“Earlier this year I experienced a day like this. A cold, windy August day with a freezing southwester blowing into my face. On this day I decided to rig 3 setups. A 3-weight rod with a jig bugger, a 5-weight rod with a larger crystal bugger and a 9 weight for larger articulated flies etc. Arriving at the water I noticed some splashy activity on the surface. I made a few casts with the jig bugger and by the third cast I was on, with a little “policeman largie”. This had my hopes up, a good indication the fish were active on this cold morning. The next two hours went past with no action… maybe this would be my only fish.

largemouth yellowfish fly fishing Orange River the mission

“I decided to move to another spot around midday. Arriving at this spot I decided to start with the 5-weight setup. Maybe the slightly bigger fly would do the trick… After a few casts I felt the softest bump. With the fly being tied on a circle hook I kept stripping. I felt some pressure, gave it a pause and did a long strip. I was in!

“At this point I was shaking with complete disbelief”

“They fight was surprisingly calm on the softer 5-weight rod, however I got a fright when a big fish suddenly surfaced! I grabbed the net off my back and slid it in as fast as possible! After taking some photos, I said to my wife “lighting strikes twice”, and sure enough two casts in I was on again in the same spot. This fish gave a better fight, and I had no idea of the size, a few moments later it was also in the net. At this point I was shaking and in complete disbelief! 

“After releasing this fish, I noticed a Tern grabbing a baitfish in the middle of the river and decided to cast in that general direction. As the fly landed all hell broke loose. The fish bolted across to the opposite bank, ran upstream and eventually calmed down enough to gain some line. I had no idea this would be an even bigger fish, I tried to stay calm, brought it in slowly again and then saw an enormous head and shoulders pop out. I kept the head up and she was in the net. After releasing this fish I just sat there for a bit and realized all this happened in less than 30 minutes… 3 exceptional fish, is this what a hattrick felt like in fly-fishing.”

Derik Nieuwoudt – Rainbow trout

Derik says, “Thought I’d give it a shot since it’s a pretty unique setting. Location: Lake Michaelson, Mt Kenya 4000m above sea level. It takes two days to reach the lake. Hiking is done at a very slow pace to allow for altitude acclimatisation. The first night we camped at Lake Ellis (3455m ASL). The next day we hiked to Lake Michaelson. We camped at Lake Michaelson for two nights and had one whole day to explore and fish. I even got engaged. The fourth day we hiked to Shipton’s Camp. The fifth day we summited Point Lenana (4985m ASL). The sixth day we finished at Old Moses gate.”

Click here for more info on how to submit your African caught-on-fly fish, for a chance to win the 2024 Feathers Award.

Read what the judges had to say in The Mission Issue 43, below.

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