Smashing dry flies, nymphs, and streamers, Leonard Flemming says that if you visit the headwaters of the Western Cape’s Cederberg or Tankwa regions, Clanwilliam sawfin deserve your attention. All photos: Leonard Flemming.


The Clanwilliam sawfin is an indigenous, serrated cyprinid with a characteristic long, slender snout that’s got humans properly confused. The fish has undergone several taxonomic changes. Although it has a “sister” species, the Cape whitefish, in the same province (South Africa’s Western Cape), and closely resembles the common European barbel (Barbus barbus) and Andalusian barbel (Luciobarbus sclateri), it doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere in international established genera. Hence the genus name has changed from Barbus to Pseudobarbus,and more recently to Cheilobarbus. Currently the full temporary Latin name is Cheilobarbus serra. Scientists predict that it may change yet again in the near future. 


Found in the Olifants/Doring River systems, from the Tankwa Karoo near the Northern Cape border, right across the Cederberg range to the Citrusdal and Clanwilliam area, the Clanwilliam sawfin is truly widespread. It is especially abundant in the upper reaches of the main stem rivers, as well as many tributaries that join the Olifants and Doring. It is sometimes found surprisingly high up in the catchment areas of these rivers. And it’i’s also stocked in several private dams such as at the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve. 


It is a near-threatened fish species. Any interest and positive awareness about this wonderful sportfish can only do it favours.  


Clanwilliam sawfin are super-opportunistic feeders. One will often find them foraging for food along the bottom in the deepest parts of resilient pools where they will readily take nymphs either sight-fished to them on a long leader or dangling under an indicator. But they may also smash a big streamer (like a Woolly Bugger or Zonker-type streamer) from time to time. They may even rise to sip in dry flies. All you need is a 3- to 5-weight outfit, depending on the size of the river or dam, matching floating line, and a good variety of flies. Think #12 to #18 nymphs, #6 to #10 Woolly Buggers, #6 to #2 Zonker streamers, and lastly any and all dry flies. Carry tippet material from 7X to 3X fluorocarbon for sinking flies, and 5X to 4X monofilament for dry flies. 


You will need to DIY this species. A CapeNature angling licence (specifically the recreational fishing permit for dams and rivers, is required to fish freshwater systems in the Western Cape. You also need access permits and permission from the local CapeNature officials to fish the specific nature reserves. And you need the farmer’s consent when crossing private land to a dam or river. Bushmans Kloof ( provides guided fishing for these fish in their main dam and in the Boontjies River on their property. This is a wonderful experience I can really recommend. 

This story first appeared in The Mission Issue 43. Read the whole thing below, forever. We only ask for is your email address so we can send you more awesome fly fishing stories like these, like twice a month tops.

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