I went fishing with the King of Lesotho in his breathtaking country.
When I say breathtaking, I mean both in the sense of awe inspiring natural splendour, and thin air that squeezes the unused lungs of those not born to a high altitude existence. You have to be tough to live there.
This tiny mountain Kingdom, surrounded entirely by South Africa, lays claim to having the highest lowest point of any country in the world, at an altitude of 1400 meters. The actual high point, a mountain called Thabana Ntlenyana, soars 3482 meters into the African sky.
As a result, temperatures vary from around 30 degrees Celsius in summer to below – 30 C in winter. Given that the terrain has virtually no flat areas, building roads that last is no easy task. Horses and donkeys then are the main mode of transport, with shanks pony the only option for many.
With very few outlying villages connected to electricity and limited firewood growing at this altitude, you may get an idea of why these rugged highland people are so remarkable.
Fortunately, the mighty mountains form a catchment of crystal water that has been harnessed to give the country both electricity and an income from selling the precious commodity to its more affluent neighbor.
The crystal clear streams originating in the highland catchments blend to form the Senqu River, which ultimately becomes the great Orange River, wending its way through SA and Namibia on its dogged way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Now, where there are clear running streams at altitude anywhere in the world, if there weren’t already Trout in them, some foolhardy and addicted fly fisherman has gone to extreme lengths to make sure they were introduced.
Lesotho is no exception.
So when we were asked to arrange to take King Letsie 3rd out onto his own royal waters, which he had not fly fished at that point, we readily agreed.
The obvious place to go was Semonkong Lodge.
Perched on the Maletsunyane River the owners, Jonathan and his first wife Armelle, have built a special place. One can recline on the verandah, beside the main road into town, cold Maluti in hand, and take part in the greetings and common amazement of how differently people live. The rooms are varied – from en suite chalets with stocked wood fireplaces (a rarity in these parts) to dormitory style digs with shared ablutions and fully kitted kitchens. The pub and restaurant serve excellent fare and can be hard to leave (you’ve been warned)
So anyway, that’s where you take a King looking to fish.
We intended to arrive early to make sure everything was organized. A word of advice, never, but never, take a short cut in Lesotho. Don’t believe the maps, don’t believe the locals, don’t believe your eyes when you arrive at a river that couldn’t be forded with a barge, but is shown as an acceptable alternative route on Google. So basically stick to the main routes and take your time.
Getting back to the point, we didn’t get there early, but shouldn’t have bothered, the staff and villagers around Semonkong had got wind of the Monarchs arrival and all stops and ceremonial blankets were being pulled out, properly.
Now, if you have a large military helicopter at your disposal mountain roads are less of a problem. In due course the King and his entourage arrived in style amongst much fanfare and ululations.
After a short casting clinic His Royal Highness was ready for action.
It was time to stalk those wily Browns.
At first I sent one of my my disciples (sorry, I might be getting into this royal thing) who is one of the better fly fishers I know…to guide the King and explain the intricacies of the subtle art of fly angling.
To be fair, the four bodyguards toting automatic weapons and one or two personal secretaries in close attendance did make stealthy stalking of the nervous quarry a challenge. However, even then he managed to hook the King an unsuspecting Brown only to lose it through sheer negligence and extreme over confidence.
Leaving only yours truly to sally forth unto the breach.
Suffice to say, as mentioned to all and sundry, experience cannot be bought, and years of patient practice played no small part in me assisting in bagging King Letsie his first wild Lesotho Trout.
Ghillie by royal appointment is all I’ll say about that.
Lesotho, right on our doorstep, what a place to visit!
We caught a fish there, the King and I.