By the time I made my way down towards the East Coast – that is the coast of the southern rump of South Africa – I had begun to run into a time crunch and could not really make the best of the opportunities available. I did, however, pull into the small coastal town of Hermanus, usually famous for its Southern Right Whale breeding runs, but also located at the mouth of the Klein River and one of the recognized coastal fly fishing hotspots along the East Coast.
Hermanus itself is a lovely spot. In the African context it might appear unnaturally clean, well ordered and safe, but actually in many respects this is typical of the Western Cape, which is the lifestyle capital of South Africa, and as such a little bit remote from the grit and grime of Africa that becomes more concentrated as one travels progressively north.
Just by way of general background, the East Coast is as far south as you can travel in Africa. It sits astride the Indian and Atlantic ocean, which, apart from generating a uniquely interesting land ecology, also hosts the confluence of the warm, southwards bearing Agulhas Current that slides down the east coast, and the cold, nutrient rich Benguela Current that rides northwards up the west coast from the antarctic. The result is an unusual mixture of fish life from opposing sides of the habitat spectrum which in turn offers a diverse range of angling opportunities. This particular region of South Africa has long been the main focus of commercial fishing, but also sport angling. Fly fishing is something of a new direction in this regard, but it is growing in popularity, and although not always easy, it is extremely rewarding when the forces are aligned.
It is generally accepted that the best time to hit the water is during the summer months between November and May, with the peak period tending to be through March when water temperatures east of Cape Agulhas vary between 15ºC and 24ºC, and elsewhere between 12ºC and 24ºC. As a rule the warmer the water the better the fishing. Warmer water arriving onshore tends to bring in the bait fish and the predators that naturally follow.
There are quite a few tidal rivers incising the coast of the Western Cape, most of which are fishable, but with a few exceptions these tend to be marginal with limited rewards for the fly angler. For the really big fish most fly fishermen flock to the Breede River Mouth north of the De Hoop Nature Reserve and just south of the small settlement of Witsand. The river is navigable upstream for 52km and tidal for some 40kms.
Fishing is best between October to May, with the December holiday season tending to be crowded. On a good day anglers can hope to catch kob, leerfish, or Garrick as it is often called, elf, grunter, skipkack, white steenbras, blacktail, batfish, mullet, sharks and skates, all of which have regularly been taken on a fly. For more information refer to the Nedbank Guide to Fly Fishing in Southern Africa.
The Breede River mouth is the place to go if you are looking for the really impressive catch, with no other location registering the fish sizes regularly pulled out of the Breede on a fly. Closer to Cape Town, however, is Hermanus, and the Klein River Mouth where the action is more understated, but nonetheless very good. It is also a fact that the lovely settings of Hermanus itself, and the superb backdrop of the Fernkloof Mountain Reserve which looms over the city, all tend to make this a very pleasant location to fish.
Geographically, the Klein River mouth swells into a wide and shallow lagoon that is quite frequently cut off from an outlet into the bay, although the breaching of the mouth, which occurs in spring with the filling of the lagoon with rain, marks the beginning of the fishing season. Prior to this large numbers of prawns, worms and other marine creatures will have taken refuge in the grass. With the flood of water in the lagoon these are washed out, causing a feeding frenzy which can be exploited by anglers using prawn and worm, and of course various bait fish patterns. Fishing is best within the channel and in the deeper sections. Some shore fishing locations are accessible, but weed is a problem in most places and a boat of some sort is usually advisable.
Target fish are the same basic array as Breede River, with Leerfish, or Garrick tending to be the most commonly caught. These great little fighters can grow quite large, and catches of several kilos and more have been recorded out of the lagoon. I landed two of these fish, not of enormous size, but each was caught, strangely, on a winter pattern Hamill’s Killer which was all I happened to have in my fly box before I was able to get into Cape town to stock up on more appropriate flies. When I did I chose a number of clousers and deceivers, and hooked and lost a monster on a blue and white clouser before time forced me to pack up and leave town.
For more information on this refer to the Nedbank Guide to Fly Fishing in Southern Africa.