Dry Fly Headwater Fishing in South Africa

A lovely little rainbow taken from a headwater stream in Rhodes

A lovely little rainbow taken from a headwater stream in Rhodes

They say that the pinnacle of a fly fisherman’s art is mastery of the dry fly. In fact there are those that say that the use of any other technique is not fly fishing at all. I am sure that this is overstating the point, but the small stream, small tackle principal is definitely addictive, and in my experience at least it is easier to catch a fat, torpedo sized trout in one of the warm water dams and reservoirs of the Eastern Cape of South Africa than it is to tempt a seven inch wild bred brown trout to rise up for a dry fly on the crystal clear streams of this superb fly fishing region. To this I will add that South Africa is a perfect training ground for this sort of fly technique, because getting a fish to move for a dry seems to be easier here than it is anywhere else that I have ever fished.

South Africa offers an awful lot of very viable fly fishing opportunities, in particular for those interested in the pure fly experience – not chasing tiger fish on the Zambezi or sail fish off the coast of Seychelles – with a surprising diversity of waters available. There are a few spots with quite a high profile. I think in terms of Underberg and the southern slopes of the Drakensberg in and around such places as Rhodes, Ugie and Maclear, and of course the Jan du Toit Reserve where the best Western Cape fishing waters are to be found. But there are also a great many lesser known locations across the region that offer a great deal of diversity in this most wonderful of sports.

The best of what South Africa has to offer though, is in the combination of scenery, unique surroundings and fantastic headwater opportunities. This has much to do with the fact that wild trout in the region tend to only survive in the higher reaches of natural watersheds due in part to climate, but due also to heavy land usage at lower altitudes. In situations such as Highlands Lodge, the unique combination of water temperature, food density and water ph levels all contribute to stocked trout of exaggerated size. Elsewhere, in wild trout populations, the same basic factors, combined with a much more vibrant local entomology, make for a greater diversity of natural food sources, translating into a greater willingness on the part of wild fish to accept different fly patterns, particularly dry fly patterns.

The dry fly phenomenon in South Africa is well established. Anglers use a wide variety of floating options, hoppers being among them, and the diversity, and creativity, of a lot of the patterns in wide use not only testify to the well supported nature of the local fly fishing fraternity, but that experimentation in the development of alternative fly patterns is echoed by the willingness of fish to experiment with different food sources.

So from the point of view of a visitor to South Africa, the choices really lie in the big adrenalin hunt for hard hitting game fish like tiger in such locations as the Zambezi, and more locally Jozini Lake, or the more delicate, purist form of fishing typified by light tackle, small stream and tiny fly, punctuated by the less technical, but more impactful experience of hauling out big fish from the productive still waters of the Stormberg. It also, of course, goes without saying that South Africa offers the no less unique potential for wildlife travel, and in the Cape particularly, the uniquely interesting possibility of wine, cuisine and fine living in a manner which none but South Africa can offer with quite the same atmosphere and aplomb.