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Wild Trout Trekking in the Drakensberg

Wild Trout Trekking in the Drakensberg

It’s a special breed of fly fisherman who takes on the trout in the high reaches of uKhahlamba’s streams.

Fly fishing along the upper Bushman's River below snow-covered mountains at Giant's Castle in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.

When the thunderstorms of summer have given way to cold fronts that sweep across the country from the Atlantic, it’s time to head for uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in the majestic Drakensberg mountains. At this time of year, the wild grasses have turned, the landscape has shed its autumn hue, and the network of streams cradled in these mountains looks like liquid crystal. Trout have also noticed the changes, and now carry extra body fat to see them through winter, as they move upstream and spend most of their energy on spawning.

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High in these hills, eland roam and baboon barks echo. Here the pools have no names and I know I am the only fly fisherman, if not the first, to have passed this way in a long time. Many others will have fished, or at least heard of, the more popular streams, but here there are fishing spots tucked away in secret places – in diminutive brooks like the Nkosazana, Delmhlwazini and Ifidi, streams like the Mhlwazini, the Polela and the Injisuthi, and larger rivers like the Umzimkhulu, the Umkomaas, the Bushman’s and the Mooi – that others have never heard of.

All are found 1 500 to 1 800m above sea level and have steep gradients with fast, cold, gin-clear water that cascades over boulder-strewn runs and through emerald glides. They can make your passage difficult, and casting innovative, but most hold a hover of trout in their higher reaches, some recognised as rainbow waters, others home to the wily browns and even a few with populations of both.

Getting there is not everyone’s idea of fun and it does take a special breed of flyfisherman to make the effort, strap on a backpack with everything needed for three or four days, shed some sweat, camp out in the wilderness and get excited about fish that seldom exceed 10 inches, but are wild and stream-born. Those of us who do are a wacky lot, usually identified by hunched posture and calloused knees, from years as members of the Creep and Crawl Society. Moving along the stream is always a scramble through woody vegetation and over boulders, or by wading. I can almost guarantee I’ll be wet from at least the knees down for most of the day, and occasionally drenched from a fall.

Another given is a few scrapes and bruises to show for the effort by the time I return home, and welts from insect bites. This is the wilderness, home to a multitude of flying and crawling insects, ticks, spiders, scorpions and the odd snake. But in these waters the trout are free rising and, although a small fly imitating the trout’s favourite diet of Mayfly nymphs will produce good results, there is little that can surpass the thrill of witnessing the take on the surface with a dry fly. Much also depends on the weather, which can produce violent electrical thunderstorms and sudden mist that reduces visibility to a rod length or two. But small-stream fanatic or not, I always feel privileged to flyfish in this pristine Drakensberg wilderness.

Fact File

John Clarke Parker pioneered the introduction of trout into these streams. A Yorkshireman, he settled in this country on a farm in Natal in the 1800s and, despite many setbacks, found support from certain individuals in his home country, and grants from the Natal Government, and eventually seeded many of the Drakensberg streams with fry (young trout) during the1890s. The easiest access to these streams is through the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife camps along the length of the Drakensberg, such as at Didima, Injisuthi, Giant’s Castle, Lotheni and Vergelegen. All have huts and campsites, except Giant’s Castle which only has chalets, and Vergelegen is just a rustic campsite. It is safe to leave your vehicle at these camps during your expedition. An entrance fee is payable before entering these protected areas and, for your own safety, the mountain register at the nearest KZN Wildlife camp office must be completed.

Contact one of the local fly fishing clubs, a fly fishing specialist or Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife before visiting these areas, for more information.

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Photography Peter Brigg

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