Sterkfontein Dam, one of the world’s best sight-fishing destinations, and its beetle-sipping smallmouth yellowfish are under threat from commercial poachers. Concerned anglers are fighting back, but the resistance needs all the help it can get. 




The water 
Just south of Harrismith in the Free State, Sterkfontein Dam offers some of the best smallmouth yellowfishing in South Africa and is especially well known for superb dry-fly fishing. Smallmouth yellowfish share the dam with their largemouth cousins and a number of other resident species, including common carp, mudfish, moggel, banded tilapia, and, allegedly, the odd rainbow trout. It’s a huge dam at 2 616 950 cubic metres so a boat gives you more options (and more shots), but fishing from shore remains a fantastic challenge. Anglers at Sterkies are spoilt for choice with scores of bays, cliffsides, inlets, corners and kloofs from which to target cruising fish. The yellows use important gravel-bed structures in the southern portion of the dam for breeding during the warmer months, and it is around there that angling is most productive.  



The wankers 
The dam was built 40-odd years ago and subsistence fishing for yellowfish by the local community has always occurred. It was a case of no harm, no foul as this appeared to have a relatively negligible impact on the dam’s staunch residential yellowfish population. More recently, however, hand-to-mouth subsistence fishing has transformed into a full-scale, organised, commercial operation. The Elizabeth Bay inlet and the Nuwejaarsspruit tributary, which flows into Barbel Bay, form part of the essential breeding run for Sterkies’ yellowfish. Both these main inlets have become primary targets for poachers.   



The way forward 
As a lone ranger, Craig managed to slow the poachers down (it helped that he comes from an anti-rhino-poaching background), but there was only so much he could do on his own. Faced with the sheer destruction of full-scale commercial poaching, the need for support and a realistic plan became apparent. The involvement of some key role players in South African fly fishing saw the establishment of the Sterkfontein Yellowfish Conservation Group and the Sterkfontein Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU) in 2022. SAPU has contributed to awareness and policing of the large-scale poaching ever since, using a tactical and intelligence-based approach to tackle the issue.  



Read the rest of issue 39 troubled waters here! It’s free!

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