The Orange and Vaal – Part 2
We left Lilydale and headed back into Kimberley the next morning to stock up on grog. Seems the Lads had underestimated the demand for gin and tonics, beer, wine and whisky. Rob found himself a bottle of a small batch whisky which was quite nice apparently.
We took advantage of the bright lights of Kimberley to get lunch before we headed back south towards Douglas. We were to meet up with three other Lads travelling up from Durban, namely Nick Davies, Mike Chisholm and Shane Sclanders. Nick had been busy brewing his homemade beer and the lads were eagerly anticipating sampling some.
We got to Douglas at the same time as the Newcomers and headed straight out to the meeting point with Jacques. The meeting point was the bridge over the Orange River.
The Lads getting their first look at the Orange River (Photos: Peter Drake and Gavin Bester)
We arrived at Jacques’s camp mid afternoon. The camp is situated high up on the banks of the Orange River. The main building is the dining room/kitchen and lounge area. Sleeping quarters consisted of twelve single sleeper tents. Two ablution blocks were provided at each end of the camp.
Jacques Marais, Andrew Mather and Rob Hibbert at Jacques camp (Photo: Johan)
Typical bedroom tent- Gavin’s roost! (Photo: Gavin Bester)
View from my bedroom tent (Photo: Andrew Mather)
A few of the group headed down to the river to try catch one or two while the rest of us went about setting up rods for the next day. Jacques spent the time tying and chatting to us. Several of the group bought his secret flies. Sorry, they are so secret no photos are allowed! Actually, this became a bit of a joke amongst the Lads as we all ribbed each other that last years flies, for those whom had been last year, wouldn’t work and that newer and improved flies were in. There was much teasing about Jacques tying us special flies and if you didn’t have these you were not going to catch. The teasing got progressively worse especially after a few drinks.
The “not so secret” flies (Photo: Andrew Mather)
Rising early the first day around 5am full of excitement, we watched the sun rise over the Orange River. It was spectacular – what a special place it is! Rob had some decent filter coffee on the go and while we drank our coffee and ate rusks we watched Jacques tying flies. After breakfast we headed out to the Vaal River, just up from the confluence with the Orange River, on a farm called Bucklands.
The Vaal at Bucklands (Photo: Gavin Bester)
The plan was to spend the whole day at the river. This beat was several kilometers long and by the time I got to the river edge after negotiating a barbed wire fence that could have easily torn pieces out my nether regions, Keegan was already into a fish in the large pool just downstream of the riffle. The water was dirty but flowing nicely. You couldn’t see the river bottom in knee high water.
Peter Drake with a powerful Muddie (Photo: ?)
All the Lads were soon into fish…Muddies dominated the catches. There must have been thousands in the water unseen by us as many were hooked in the dorsal fin. When this happened the Muddie took off and you had a hell of a job managing the run. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on what species you were keen to catch, the hook often popped out. A “long-range release” as we euphemistically call it.
A Muddie from the lower pool (Photo: Craig De Villiers)
After a while some of the Guys headed upstream. I decided to stay put between the lower pool and upstream pool and the riffle between. I fished up the riffle, crossed over and came in from the opposite bank into the upper pool. It was probably 80m across and knee deep. I started nymphing, working my way across the pool. Did I mention I hate nymphing? With barely 2m of line out of my 10 foot Orvis 4wt fishing consisted of a flick, track, flick, track, flick, track! All bloody day! I’d caught a few fish and the monotony was getting to me in the heat of the day. I had rigged up a control fly with a dropper, a size 18 brown soft hackle fly that Wayne Stegen tied at Durban Fly Tyers. Most of the fish were taking the control fly, an orange tungsten bead-headed caddis.
The Wayne Stegen #18 brown soft hackle midge (Photo: Andrew Mather)
With the shallow water I’d had a few hook ups with rocks and it just so happened that I hooked a rock again. Not wanting to break off the fly my standard practice was to wade over and reach down and release fly or use my wading staff to push the line down to free the fly off the rock. I kept the pressure on so I could work my way to the fly. As I got to within two feet of the fly the line moved sideways. Oh shit, I realised I’d hooked something solid. The fish didn’t seem to be putting up a fight. It just seemed to move slowly but I couldn’t get it to make a run. The Muddies we had been catching behaved like this but then would suddenly make a decent run. I waited. No run. The fish just kept moving slowly around and not showing itself.
Now a couple of fish had already run me to my backing by heading downstream so I was trying not to let this happen again. If the fish moved right I followed, when he went left I followed like a strange dance except I couldn’t see my dance partner. Slowly the fish realised that it was getting some outside force pulling it. Well, to be correct the pressure was fairly light as I had a 4lb tippet on. That was a decision I was cursing. For 25 minutes the fish lead me on a tour of the pool. At one stage she got behind me and I had visions she was going to run downstream. I put as much pressure on her as I thought I could without popping the tippet.
At this stage I got my first glimpse of her. A huge Grass Carp which I estimated was about 4 foot in length, with a size 18 soft hackle in his mouth! This was the first time I started to worry about trying to land her. My Explorer net suddenly didn’t look as big as I’d thought. There was no way I could net her. Plan B quickly kicked in. I tried leading her into the shallows to make a grab. She didn’t look particularly fast moving. If I was a betting man I reckon my chances were almost impossible but I had to give it a go!
The fish came in shallower and shallower and was now less than a rods length away. She was now lying slightly on her side in the shallows. Just a bit more and she would be mine. I put more pressure on the rod and as she started to move into an ideal place for me to pounce. Pop went the 4lb tippet. I stood frozen like I was superglued into position. She gradually turned and majestically swam off towards the centre of the pool. I watched. I wept. I was shaking.
I waded out the pool and sat down on the bank. My mind was reliving every moment. What if I had played her a little longer? Damn that 4 lb tippet! What did she weigh? What a beautiful specimen. The side view of her is indelibly etched in my mind.
Perhaps it did turn out ok. I finally got to see my dance partner – she was beautiful and blew me a kiss before saying goodbye.
I think I sat on the bank for nearly an hour. I ate my lunch and redid my tippet, 6lb fluorocarbon this time. I fished the lower pool for the rest of the afternoon catching a number of nice sized Muddies and small mouth Yellows. I stopped counting once I got into double figures. It was a good day. Final tally for the group was about 140 fish.
Mike Chisholm with a Muddie bus (Photo:?)
Barry Wareham with a Bar of Gold (Photo: Blayne Wareham)
Back at the camp after a hot shower and some of Nick’s home-brewed beer, we had an amazing dinner. Jacques also runs a hunting business and so the meat every night was game. The evening meals were one of the highlights of the trip. These fantastic meals were prepared in a rudimentary kitchen. I went into the kitchen on the first day and got scolded for my troubles. The kitchen is out of bounds to clients.
The venue on day two was the Orange River on the farm Cypher. In no time Keegan was off, he was odds on favourite to be first in the river. The river ran over a rock rapid and sped up into a wide 100m stretch. A couple of Guys crossed over to fish the other bank. Barry Wareham was keen to catch a Grass Carp and headed across to target the backwater. Peter Drake, who had recently had a hip replacement had brought along his drone in case he needed to rest the hip. I’m not sure who was flying it but while the lads were lined up nymphing, the drone was filming the action. Blayne Wareham seemed to be constantly into a fish while the rest of us took turns.
Blayne Wareham with a nice Muddie (Photo: Gavin Bester)
Craig De Villiers with a small mouth Yellow (Photo:Barry Wareham)
The current was so strong that once a fish decided to head into the current it quickly stripped you to your backing. If you wanted to try land it you now had to move downstream holding your rod high over the next chap until you were at the end of the line. The fun began when several fish were on. I think more than once lines got crossed.
The Lads strung out down both sides of the river (Photo: Gavin Bester)
When this was happening we could turn around and fish the slower water against the bank. Surprisingly, there were many fish taken here including Catfish.
Gavin Bester with a Catfish taken in the backwater (Photo: Andrew Mather)
Peter Drake had crossed the river to fish the other bank and while trying to help net another anglers fish his rod slipped out of his hands and into the river. A quick search failed to turn up the rod. A very unhappy Peter came to terms with the loss. What made it worse was that it was new outfit.
[Sequel to this story was that the following group fished the same spot a week later and Jasper Ward hooked and landed Peters rod].
Small mouth Yellow coming to the net (Photo: Gavin Bester)
The Lads enjoying a sundowners after a great days fishing (Photo: Jacques Marais)
Final tally for the day came to over 160 fish.
Last day was spent on the Orange River at Die Geut or translated directly from Afrikaans “The Gutter”. This is a stretch of the Orange River that has a large rock sill across the whole river. The rock sill is probably about 4 foot high and dams the river up at this point. The river is probably about 200m wide here and while the flow rate was down it’s still a great spot to fish. Most of the Lads chose to fish the riffles down stream of the sill. Now Jacques obviously saved the best stretch for the last day.
Die Geut (Photo: Gavin Bester)
As we were kitting up the shallows the Muddies were thrashing about in a carnal frenzy. There were literally hundreds in the shallows. No sooner had we stepped into the water then they dashed off like dark torpedos into deeper water.
The Lads strung themselves out along the riffle like a chain and started nymphing. Rods were bending everywhere. Sometimes several fish were being fought together.
Rob Hibbert with a well conditioned Yellow (Photo:Gavin Bester)
Peter Drake with a nice Yellow (photo: ?)
Shane Sclanders Yellow (Photo: ?)
Double-ups were common (Photo:?)
Midway through the morning one of the guys shouted at me and I turn to see my floating orange Explorer net rapidly moving downstream. Luckily for me Rob was downstream and valiantly cast and hooked my net. I owe him as the casting screwed up his leader and he had to sit out and redo it. I was most grateful, as it would have been almost impossible to land fish here without a net.
Andrew Mather with a feisty Yellow (Photo: Keegan Kennedy)
But not long after my net went walkabout I saw another net floating down and somebody having to do a similar rescue. Something to sort out properly as this could really spoil a trip like this.
Keegan hooked and landed the best small mouth Yellow of the trip. She squirted him with eggs. Total tally for the day was over 200 fish.
Keegan Kennedy with his trophy small mouth Yellow (Photo:Jacques Marais)
Jacques has a tradition of awarding the “Yellow cap” to the best flyfisher of the group. No surprise was the deserving winner, Blayne Wareham.
Blayne Wareham wearing the Yellow cap (Photo: Gavin Bester)
In summary I can safely say that this is a world class Fishery. The final tally was over 500 fish in the net over 3 days. Countless more either broke off or where “long line releases”. If you haven’t fished these waters yet, take it from me, you will be hard pressed to beat it, even internationally. If you are interested give Jacques Marais a shout on www.hunterfisher.co.za.
The final part of the series on the Riet, Orange and Vaal will be fishing the Vaal at Elgro with some of the SA cane rods makers.
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