A Tough Sterkfontein Trip – Baha Fly Fishing

A Tough Sterkfontein Trip

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After Nick’s successful new year’s Sterkfontein trip it was quickly decided that the Baha Boys needed to get up to Africa’s premier sight fishing venue before the season ended. So after a quick look at our calendars we booked a long weekend in March and did the necessary planning – calculating how much booze to pack.

I got to Nick’s house at around 4am and we promptly hitched up the boat. He was packed and ready so it should’ve been an easy departure. That was until his dogs escaped which cost us half an hour. None the less we were on the road by 5am, grabbed a coffee and pie for breakfast, and made haste for Harrismith.

After stopping in Harrismith for some firewood we took on the dreaded R74. Despite complaints on many 4×4 forums the road is not in that bad condition and we had no problems with low profile tyres and a boat behind us. In fact by 8am we had arrived at the dam and set about erecting camp. Being a boys only weekend this took less than 30 minutes and before we knew it we were launching the boat, ready for our first session.

Nick looking for fish in tough conditions
Nick looking for fish in tough conditions

The wind was up, although not terribly, but enough to make some sizable swells on the water. Disaster then hit (okay, I may be exaggerating here) as we began our trip across the dam. With two of us on the boat the 25HP got us up to a maximum speed of 7km/h at the altitude…and that was running with the swell.

With very little we could do we bit our lips and chugged across the dam for what felt like an eternity. When we finally reached our spot (relieved) we threw a few high-fives and then started the walk along the bank. We immediately spotted fish although they were sitting deep in the water column and didn’t seem to be feeding. After watching them for a while we setup dry flies with droppers, hid in the bushes, and got down to it.

Fishing was tough with 99% of the fish ignoring our flies. Eventually, with the help of Nick spotting on the hillside, a good sized yellow took my fly and began to pull line from the grass at my feet. I lifted my rod tip a little too early and the line went slack. FAIL!

The wind then picked up further which made sight fishing difficult. It also left us a little concerned we wouldn’t make it back if it got any worse as we’d be heading straight into the gale. Rather than stop fishing we headed for the quarry which was both protected from the wind and meant an easier voyage home.

When we arrived Nick threw me onto the bank and took the boat for a test run. Apparently without my weight the boat performed far better. He therefore decided to make a few changes to the prop which resulted in the snapping off one of the blades. Another test run saw him hitting a rock which meant further prop damage. Gulp!

Putting the impending doom into the back of our minds we found schools of fish in the quarry and began casting to them. They too were disinterested in our flies, this time perhaps due to the lack of hiding places in the quarry.

A few hours later, with the wind growing ever stronger, we called it a day and headed back to camp. When we finally reached the slipway it resembled an ocean with waves breaking onto the shore. I reversed the trailer into the water and we began the mammoth task of landing a boat with waves crashing over the trailer. After a few close calls we finally succeeded in getting the boat out with only a few minor scratches, and thankfully no holes.

Back in camp Nick sulked about the damaged prop and lack of power with two of us on the boat. Since it was only 2pm we decided to head into Harrismith in hope of finding a boat shop. Amazingly there was not one to be found. We did however find a friendly garage and spent an hour there getting the prop repaired. This meant reshaping it, sharpening it, balancing it, and grinding it down to size to achieve this all.

Sunset over Sterkfontein Dam, South Africa
Sunset over Sterkfontein Dam, South Africa

When we eventually left the shop the prop appeared to be half it’s original size and we both wore nervous expressions, unsure of what effect the now substantially smaller prop would have. Would we go faster? Would we go slower? Would we go at all? Only time would tell.

Sadly the weather didn’t permit an afternoon test so we relaxed with a few beers, braaied some meat, and then enjoyed a few rums around the fire pit. Life’s tough in Africa, even when you’re not fishing.

The next morning we launched at 9am, when the sun was high enough in the sky to spot fish. Biting our nails we pushed the throttle forward and, amazingly, topped out at 15km/h. Happy with the improvement we headed for the same spot as previous day, getting there in half the time.

There were definitely fewer fish around and fishing was slow. The fish that were around were still sitting deep and were generally not interested in any of our dry flies or nymphs. And the few inquiries we did have were very unenthusiastic with little to no aggression.

We deiced to try a few other banks and bays, but the results were the same. And with the wind picking up and white horses showing on the dam, we decided to play it safe and headed back to camp. After all, we didn’t want to risk either not making it back or putting a hole in the boat while landing.

Back in camp we ate lunch while working out our options. The wind wasn’t dropping but we couldn’t only fish a short morning session. We therefore decided to walk from camp rather than launching the boat in rough conditions.

We headed south, starting at the chalets, and walking the hills and small cliffs. For the first kilometer we saw no fish. The water lapping against the shore was muddying up and visibility was poor. And then, as if out of nowhere, we found fish feeding on the surface.

Nick threw a cast from the point while I snuck ahead of the fish and threw out my beetle. I waited! With the water being muddy I never saw the fish approaching, but I watched as my beetle was  sipped gently off the surface. Immediately the fish ran, stripping line off the floor. It was a relatively gentle run but I was on a small cliff and needed to make a decision…where to land the fish.

I started making my way along the bank and, while watching the floor, the fish made an unexpected run, stripping line off the reel. Eventually I found a lower section and jumped off the cliff into the water. With my heart racing I netted the fish and threw in a few fist pumps. Job done!

Warren Prior with a Sterkfontein yellowfish
Warren Prior with a Sterkfontein yellowfish

At this point I realised there was no way out of the water so I waded along the bank until I found an exit. Then it was a quick jog back to Nick for a few photos before releasing my slab of gold.

We returned to the same spot but the remainder of the fish had vanished. As such we continued along the bank in search of another shoal. Sadly this was in vain and eventually we reached the wall and decided to head back to camp.

On route we came across a man fishing on bait. He had around 10 yellows which was sad to see. Hopefully this behavior isn’t having an effect on the the fish population in Sterkfontein.

Back at camp we cracked a few beers to celebrate the first fish of the trip. The braai was lit…pig was eaten…and rum was drunk around a fire pit. Another shit day in Africa.

The next morning we opted to launch early, despite knowing the sun would be too low for sight fishing, to maximise our last session. After making our way to our usual spot we began walking the banks but were battling to spot fish. Running under the assumption that they were still there (despite not being able to see them) we fished blindly for a while with no luck.

We then decided to head to the opposite bank in the hope that it would give us a better angle on the sun and hence allow us to see the fish. We were right! Instantly we spotted fish feeding in schools and patrolling the banks. Sadly neither of us could entice them to either a terrestrial or any other fly. In fact I didn’t get so much as an inquiry.

After a frustrating hour on the bank we decided to move on and found ourselves a new spot. Again we found fish but they were feeding further out and we were forced to wade into the water at the risk of spooking the fish. Soon we realised the fish were swimming in a circular pattern, found our spots, threw out our flies, and waited for the return of the gold.

Less than 5 minutes later the fish passed us, sipping lazily off the surface. Our flies were however once again rejected. While the fish made another lap I changed my fly to a small flying ant pattern and threw it out in wait of their return. Again we saw them coming, and this time they sipped my ant from the surface. Immediately the fish took off for the opposite bank, some 8km away, at breakneck speeds. Line was stripped from my reel and soon the backing showed itself. And then my line went limp…

The Baha Boys enjoying post fishing beers around the fire pit
The Baha Boys enjoying post fishing beers around the fire pit

Sulking I reeled in my line to see if the tippet had snapped. It hadn’t and my fly was still visibly there. I fished for a few more minutes before I realised I hadn’t checked my hook. I stripped in my fly and, much to my dismay, the hook had snapped at the bend costing me the fish.

We fished for a short while longer with no luck and eventually decided to call it a day. We headed back to camp, packed up the tent and the rest of our kit, had a quick shower, and headed home. The fishing had been tough and after 3 days we had just a single fish to show for it. That said if my hook hadn’t snapped and I’d been more patient I would’ve had 3 in the net.

All in all a fantastic weekend and a venue I’ll be back at as soon as the season reopens.

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