A River Runs through the Karoo

Words: Alan Hobson ǀ Photos & Video: Courtesy of Angler & Antelope


The Karoo, the ‘place of thirst’, conjures up images of mirage-blistering, charcoal-smouldering veldt, with dark mountains silhouetted against a bright blue horizon.


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The Karoo is not the sort of place one imagines pristine fountain-fed streams up in the mountains that are teeming with wild rainbow trout. Mother Nature can be very sympathetic and deceptive, hiding a small stream of crystal-clear, fountain-fed water from the harsh environment and soothing it with a snowmelt in winter. Rewards for surviving are hard earned, as every now and then Mother Nature succumbs and shows her maternal side bearing perfect conditions.


Glenn, an active Bankberg Trout Fisher’s club member, had been hounding me to take him to my secret stretch of the Naudeshoek spruit, a tributary source of the Little Fish River up in the mountains of Somerset East. So when Glenn arrived with his son, Scott, it struck a very sentimental chord as I reflected back to when I was a youngster brimming with excitement and going fishing under the arm of my father. Scott, totally unaware of the privilege bestowed upon him, will one day be able to tell the story of when he went wild fly fishing in the Karoo with his dad. In 1974, my father and I visited the same stretch of river and that fishing trip still lives vividly in my mind today.


The excitement of our journey, as we wound our way through the valleys and up the mountains, echoed in the vehicle as we spotted kudu, nyala, impala, red lechwe, springbuck, and a seasoned pair of steenbuck. I was in a time warp, although back then we saw many more bird species than antelope. I explained that we would park the vehicle downstream and fish the accessible pools, working our way up stream for as long as there was daylight and then walk back to the vehicle.


We alternated pools, taking turns to fish. Glenn, who was not expecting this opportunity, had left his waders back home; essentially this trip was about spending time with his son and teaching him respect for the environment and the essence of stalking wild trout in clear water. I slipped my gear on, concluding that I would take the pools that were more difficult to access because when standing in ice-cold water, at around six degrees and without waders, one loses your sense of humour rather quickly.


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We bashed our way through the riverine thickets and looked on in awe as we stood at the top of the river bank. It was a good few metres down the bank, but that wasn’t what took our breath away; the clear water was protected by reeds that had been bleached by the winter, thus presenting us some challenging prospects. One needs to understand that fish which survive here are seasoned opponents, who use every undercut, overhanging bush, rock or crevice to be inconspicuous. Therein lies the challenge, as gin-clear water means the fish would spot us long before we saw them, and that is usually when they are already scurrying for deeper cover. One has to try and use the screen of reeds lining the water’s edge to break your silhouette and manoeuvre very carefully, as any loud clang sounds alarm bells for the fish. However, it is a little difficult to cast with towering reeds all around you, so one should move slowly into the tail of the pool, minimising the ripples that announce your arrival.


Crocodile mode is easier said than done, as you try and move stealthily with rod, line, fly, and a net over uneven ground on a slippery bottom. Flashing your line over the mirrored water needs to be quick and precise, as the fish are not forgiving, remember they are often preyed upon by birds.


The moment of truth. Can you manoeuvre the fly line and present the fly between the water and overhanging branches having guided your line between the reeds and then twitched life into your fly, to make the fish believe it is a real insect? Feeling the water embrace you stirs deep into your soul and the tug of a fish pulses with your heartbeat. The reward of releasing the fish and the pure joy of watching it melt back into its environment is soulfully fulfilling. The smile on my face, as I watched father and son take turns to fish, and the feeling of contentment that washed over me was reflected in the change of colour upon the mountains as the sun set. I could feel that my father was still very much with me as Glenn put his guiding hand on Scott’s shoulder, helping him out of the river bed as we made our way happily back to the vehicle.