Amazingly it’s been quite some time since I’ve had the pleasure of fishing the upper Bushman’s River. It’s always been one of my favourite stretches of river despite the fact that it generally produces smaller fish. I guess this is because for me it’s not about the size when it comes to wild brown trout, but rather about the beauty of the surroundings. To be fishing under the Giant, with the Drakensberg looming above you, while ankle deep in cold, crystal clear water is hard to be beat.
I’d wondered the whole drive about the water level after a season of low rainfall. When I got to the water’s edge it was immediately obvious just how low the river was. My mind rushed back to a session on the Umzimkulu earlier in the season where I hadn’t even seen a fish, and my concerns that the drought had hit the rivers hard grew. On the up-side I immediately spotted two fish cruising in a pool and was quickly distracted from my negative thoughts. I decided to let the fish relax for a while longer and continued on downstream, making note of the their position for later when I’d approach from a better position downstream.
For the first hour I didn’t manage to raise any fish to the fly, although I did spook a fish or two from unexpected lies in extremely shallow water. When I reached the 2 fish I had spotted earlier I put in a few perfect, drift free casts, none of which produced the slightest interest. I even downsized to 7x tippet and smaller flies in the hope of improving my luck. It did not.
The fish appeared to be more skittish than usual, perhaps due to the low water levels throughout what should have been the rainy season. I quietly questioned myself on how many fish had died due to the low levels, heat, or even the limited shelter the fish currently had from predators. The fry especially must’ve taken a big knock.
Thankfully, as the sun lowered in the sky, I managed to pick up a few small fish in one of the larger pools. They rose to a small elk hair caddis drifted under the shelter of overhanging bushes. Their small size didn’t matter in the least as each of them felt like a major victory over the harsh conditions. It was a trip worth having made.
It’s worth noting that we spent the weekend in the mountain view chalets at Giant’s Castle, which were a tad disappointing. We generally do at least one visit to the park a year and it’s therefore sad to note that its seen a steady decline over the years. The thatch on the chalets was aging and falling out in places. The table and chairs were faded and needed a coat of varnish to protect them from the elements. The sliding door was sticking and nearly impossible to open. Although not major issues they did have a sting since we were charged R45 for a rock shandy, and R25 for a can of beer. At those prices I’d expect the maintenance to be far better.
That said they were working on one or two chalets, and the staff at both the check in counter and in the restaurant were exceptional with massive smiles on their faces and jokes in hand. I can only hope that they plough some of the money back into the venue so that it returns to it’s former glory. It’s far from down and out, but now’s the time to act.