Fishing the Headwater Streams of the Western Cape

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Getting the Reels in Motion - Fly Fish Africa 2013

The Western Cape hinterland of Cape Town enjoys a well fleshed selection of fly fishing opportunities, quite a few of which are along the lines of stocked dams and reservoirs, but there are also a good number of wild stock streams and rivers, all within a few hours drive of the main metropolitan area. The best of these can be found in the Hawequas Mountain Catchment Area in a wide arc between the towns of Ceres in the north and Grabouw in the south, including Wellington, Worcester, Villiersdorp and Somerset West.

hawequas mountain catchment area

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Fishing these streams was without doubt the perfect way to wrap up the substantive phase of my fly fishing journey in South Africa. This is a pristine network of fast flowing, crystal clear streams characterized by pale sandstone cobbled beds, a fairly low nutrient load and healthy populations of wild bred rainbow and brown trout. The surrounding countryside is signature montane fynbos of the Cape floristic region. The waters in this area are conditionally accessible to the public being that they are for the most part state owned. They are managed by one of the best organized fly fishing clubs, the Cape Piscatorial Society, based in Cape Town, where beats can be booked and where comprehensive maps and information are available for all the key fly fishing opportunities in the Western Cape.

Molenaar River alongside the N1

Molenaar River alongside the N1

Again, with a limited amount of time available, I opted to fish the Elanspad River which is fairly easily accessible from the  mainN1 highway that runs between Cape Town and Johannesburg. I telephoned the Cape Piscatorial Society, and for a very modest fee (SAR150, or about US$20) I was able to book a beat on a trust system after which I simply had to run down to the local bank and deposit the money in the society’s bank account.

The next day I hit the road, following directions for hiking trail parking located at the east entrance to the Huguenot Tunnel which bores through the Du Toits Kloof Mountains for about 4kms. Initially it seemed quite an inauspicious backdrop for a fly fishing morning – set against the tunnel entrance, a mini-spaghetti junction and the rumble of heavy traffic – but very quickly, following a clearly marked trail, I was out of the industrial zone and deep into the wild beauty of the Hawequas Mountain Catchment Area reserve.

Elandspad River against a backdrop of superb mountains

Elandspad River against a backdrop of superb mountains

The trail leading alongside the river was surprisingly rough, but that is a good thing, it keeps the novices away. As the sun was coming up I identified my beat and made my way down towards the river’s edge. There I stepped into the first pool (see the featured image), and after a few quick practiced casts I dropped a tiny #16 Adams barbless dry on the placid surface. Immediately I was rewarded immediately with a quick rise and a determined take. There followed a sharp little fight with a highly spirited 12 inch rainbow, and an excellent start to the day. The second and third casts also yielded fish, a little smaller, but no less spirited and aggressive. All three were returned uninjured.

The first catch of the day

The first catch of the day

By the time I began to move further up the beat the sun was up and the river was clearly illuminated. The character of the beat became one of brief pools, riffles and small rapids. I worked slowly upstream, taking care to keep my profile low and as deep in the bank side shadows as I could. The Adams picked up several more fish of more or less the same size in shallow water cobbled with large, cream colored pebbles. The water was extremely clear, and the fishing very technical. I did, however, find that the fish were fairly willing to come up for a dry, and varying this with a few different nymphs achieved nothing. Returning to a dry I was again catching fairly steadily.

Interestingly also I tried a few few different dry fly variants, all of which were taken. There was strong evidence of a recent mayfly hatch, and it was these patterns that did the best.

Elandspad River Valley

Elandspad River Valley

On the whole the fishing here was superb. It is my personal belief that dry fly fishing on a head-water stream is as accomplished as a fly fisherman can become, and despite the fact that only small fish are usually caught does not in any way diminish the technical challenge that this type of fishing represents. I would also say that on the whole this is the best that South Africa has to offer. Fishing in a similar style with Tony Kietzman in Rhodes in Rhodes was very similar, and no less challenging. For the light tackle, small stream aficionado, this cannot be improved upon.

Crystal Clear Streams

Crystal Clear Streams

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