Streamside Blog

Brown Trout and Gurus – Part 1

This blog series is all about my encounters with wild brown trout in rivers in South Africa, Spain and New Zealand. Their unique behaviour I have seen, the techniques I learned along the way, the people that made it all possible and graciously shared their knowledge and home water with me.

Brown Trout in the Cata River, Amatola Mountains

I found myself in a dark, twilight zone. An ancient yellowwood forest in the Amatola Mountains with a tiny little stream, the Cata River (“Cata” pronounced with a click sound being a Xhosa word), trickling through it. I was standing hip depth in this cascading stream looking ahead through vines, spider webs and monkey rope. The pool ahead of me, almost eye level from my low vantage point. The Cata’s colour was dark, eerie, a tannin-stained mystery.

Bow-and-Arrow Cast with a Puterbaugh Caddis

Up to this point the morning’s fishing was fruitless, having covered the section of the stream outside the forest, which had less cover and gradient. This part of the forest however felt a lot “fishier” for some reason, a sixth sense. I prepared my 8 ft 3 weight rod for a bow-and-arrow cast and pinged of cast to the head of the pool. The cast landed my Puterbaugh Caddis (or at least my poor attempt at tying one) in the white, foamy water of the head of the pool, a mini waterfall. The fly slowly drifted towards me and around mid-way something strange appeared at the bottom of the dark pool, a white dot. As it started moving towards the surface, I realized it was the gaping mouth of a little brown trout.

I held my breath as it felt like time was slowing down. The fish engulfed the fly and breached the surface, clearing the stream completely, waiting for the fish to fall back, before setting the hook. I put instant pressure on the fish and in seconds it was rolling and trashing on the surface (now a behavior I know you commonly experience with brown trout). I slid it into the net, an old gold colored fish with plenty spots, a thing of beauty.

The beginner South African Fly Fisher

Back in those days the best place to get fly fishing information was magazines, books and fly-fishing forums. I opted to ask for help on a forum and I met Mario Geldenhuys through one of them (Mario was one of my early mentors / gurus, and in the same year, 2012, I visited him in Rhodes, a story for another day). Up to this point my fly fishing knowledge was confined to more unconventional species such as largemouth bass, carp, sharptooth catfish, smallmouth yellowfish, largescale yellowfish and my experience with rainbow and brown trout was a few encounter with “stockies” in a couple of dams and a few random rainbow trout I caught in the Sabie River at Merry Pebbles (with a 6/7 weight Elbe I might add).

My First Small Stream Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Setup

I reached out to Mario for some gear advice, and I ended up buying an affordable 8ft 3 weight rod, a Barrio Mallard 3 weight double taper line and an inexpensive Scientific Angler composite reel. The rest of my setup was embarrassingly basic, an inexpensive chest pack and net, an old backpack, a pair of gumboots and Snowbee Polaroids. My fly-tying skills and material stash was basic to say the least, and for this trip I managed to tie some ugly Puterbaugh Caddis with an Indian Cape hackle and a few Zak Nymphs.

First Small Stream Trip for Brown Trout

This was my first small stream fly fishing experience for brown trout and that little white, gaping mouth at the bottom of the dark pool is an experience vividly burnt into my memory. The rest of that day was as magical as this moment, with another 5 fish landed in a similar fashion. Only one fish was landed with a normal cast with only one short section of the forest being open enough allowing an overhead cast from my knees. On our hike out we experienced dense forest vegetation, a large bushbuck ram (or perhaps a nyala bull) and a variety of birds, frogs and creepy crawlies.

First Small Stream Trip for Brown Trout

This trip in hindsight was a bit crazy, the lack of knowledge, driving there with a Corsa Utility, the communication gap with the locals meeting me with drunken laughs over Easter Weekend and spontaneously choosing the trip with information from a book first published in 1957, “The Rapture of the River” by Sydney Hey

In Part 2 I will tell you all about “The Land of the Silver Mist” (Haenertsburg), my journey to learn more about dry fly fishing, wolf spider flies and Euro Nymphing (Spanish Nymphing in particular)

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Eastern Cape Highlands

22-29 April 2023