South Africa is an unsung number in the world of trout fishing and, secretly, many of people hope that it stays that way.
Eastern southern Africa is divided from its vast interior by the Drakensberg Mountain range that stretches from the Eastern Cape in the south to the Gauteng and Limpopo in the north.
Where to go
To the trout fisherman the mountains are a godsend. Close to the coastal plains the mountains rise steeply to over 3000m, causing a massive upwelling of moist air and heavy rain on the eastern slopes in summer. Thus, they are the birthplace of countless trout streams flowing east into three prime trout areas of the country:
- the midlands of KwaZulu Natal
- the Eastern Cape around the towns of Barkly East and Lady Grey.
At the furthest tip of Africa in the Western Cape, trout are found in the high mountains a short distance inland of Cape Town where the climate is Mediterranean with clear sunfilled days in the summer.
Most of the rivers and lakes can be reached with ease.
Apart from these main locations, there is good trout fishing in the independent Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked mountainous country crisscrossed by bright, clear streams, most of them over 2500m feet above sealevel. Food is more abundant in these high streams than in any others, with particularly dense populations of mayfly.
The condition and average size of the trout is exceptional. One can get there with four-wheel drive vehicles, but air travel by plane or helicopter makes the trip a little more comfortable.
What to catch
Salmonids were introduced to southern Africa near the turn of the century from Loch Leven brown trout stock imported from Scotland. These browns did well in their environment, and rainbows were introduced a decade or so later to complement them. Still, most of the rivers retain a clear identity, either brown or rainbow waters, rarely ever holding both species.
South African trout waters are small by international standards, more streams than rivers, yet the average size of the trout caught is large. Most of the rivers produce fish of up to four or five pounds, and in the Barkly East area river fish up to nine pounds are not rare. In the upland sections of most rivers the trout proliferate and the waters tend to become overstocked.
Good trout fishing is dependent on good rainfall and a season or two of poor rains sets the sport back. South Africa is dry, but droughts are less common in the eastern highlands than they are in the interior, and often less devastating.
Just as bad as droughts is the problem of flash flooding and siltation.
To compensate for the relative uncertainty of the river water, South African trout fishermen have taken to stillwater flyfishing. All the stillwaters are man-made impoundments, called lakes or dams, averaging 10 to 20 acres.
Most are remarkably fertile, and the growth rate of the fish in them is phenomenal. Trout up to 10 pounds have become commonplace, and the best go over 14 pounds. Most of fishing is done from float-tubes, using floating lines, imitative nymph patterns and dry flies.
Most river fishing in South Africa is done wading. The trout season starts in September and goes on through to the end of May. Many of the stillwaters, on the other hand, have no closed season at all.
The best of the fishing is in spring from September to October, and in autumn, from late March through May. During these months the water is cooler and the trout are more active feeders.
Most fly fishing is done using 4 or 5 weight outfits, both on stillwater and in the rivers, with rods from 8 to 9 feet. However, there has been a move toward ultralight tackle. The fish are not selective and are hardly ever consistent surface feeders.
The mountain streams of the Western Cape are a notable exception, where free-rising trout come to the dry fly smartly, just as they do in the upland streams in Lesotho.