Tag: trout

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.

If you’re looking for the quintessential KZN Midlands experience with rolling mist shrouded hills, roaring log fires and pristine Trout lakes and rivers, you’re in luck. Invermooi Farm, under new ownership, has undergone a major facelift and now offers superb accommodation in a number of refurbished cottages complimenting what has always been considered one of the most beautiful farms in this spectacular area.

I first visited Invermooi as a young boy and have been fortunate enough to have fished the crystal clear dams and one of the best stretches of Mooi River for over 45 years…up until recently this was a well known horse stud, but has now been converted to a working farm. The new owner has put much effort into felling large tracts of pine forest which has only enhanced the appeal of this spectacular property.

There are 4 beautifully appointed serviced cottages, varying in size, available for self catering rental. Even for those who are not keen on some of the best Trout fishing in the country, there are stunning walks and mountain biking trails meandering through the farm and aluminum boats with electric motors on the dams available for hire.

The farm is situated about 20 kilometers from the town of Nottingham Road on the Midlands Meander, where restaurants, pubs, and shopping are all available. Gowrie Golf Course is also situated in the town for those keen on a round of golf.

 

For a family holiday or simply a romantic couples getaway, with fishing of course, Invermooi Farm is hard to beat. Drop into the Wildfly shop on your way through Notties to pick up a couple of the flies that are working and latest info.

 

We look forward to seeing you in the Midlands soon.

Getting to Mount Kenya by vehicle from Nairobi is interesting to say the least.

It’s 160 km and takes around 5 hours on what are ostensibly tar roads which would have Mr. MacAdam spinning in his grave. The gay abandon with which Kenyans drive is akin to putting a bunch of drunk teenagers into dodgem cars and advising them not to crash into each other.

Road signs and markings, if there are any, are really more for adding a splash of colour to the terrain rather than having any actual bearing on the way the traffic behaves. Overtaking is a bit like playing chicken with a chicken and often leaves passengers clucking accordingly.

The drivers themselves though, seem to consider this mayhem completely normal, hardly batting an eyelid as their unsuspecting passengers hurtle towards the windscreen each time they slam on brakes to avoid a certain head on collision.

One needs to be particularly careful when sucking on a cold bottle of Tusker beer snatched from the cold box in the rare moments when both hands are not required to maintain contact with your seat and you are not squealing like a debutante seeing her first party dress. The neck of the bottle is likely to knock out your front teeth, and possibly much worse, if not in full control when snatching a mouthful between violent overtaking maneuvers.

The first glimpse of the monolith that is Mount Kenya is impressive. Rising 5200 meters into the sky, with smatterings of snow near the summit, it’s difficult to believe you’re virtually on the equator in Africa.

Once off the main road a sense of post adrenaline calm pervades and the Tuskers are far easier to imbibe.

The magnificent lush green Montain forest envelops the surrounds in a kind of fairyland splendor and strange sounds emanate from unseen fauna hiding in the canopies.

Of course Gareth, myself and Jerry were here to fish, whilst also filming a TV show on what Kenya offers sport fishers.

I’ve often wondered at the passion for fly fishing that saw the early colonials going to such unbelievable lengths to introduce Trout into remote and extreme areas like New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and Kenya. I mean didn’t they have anything better to do? There they were, busy taming wilderness areas full of dangerous animals, unfriendly locals and tropical diseases, yet they had time to consider sending tiny eggs on rickety boats from Europe to hatch out and then introduce these temperamental salmanoids into rivers and streams all over the world! You’ve just got to appreciate that if you’re a fisherman.

With its altitude and gin clear water, Mount Kenya has the perfect habitat for Trout to breed and thrive. One strain of Rainbows has proliferated in these cold source waters, in particular the Ragati River. Called the Ragati Red, at first glance it looks like a spawning male in full colour, but in fact even the females carry the telltale red markings year round. I wanted one of those in my net!

We spent our first night in the National Park at the famous Serena Mountain Lodge. Built in the 70’s entirely out of wood with sweeping views of the mountain overlooking a waterhole frequented by Buffalo and Elephant, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no TV’s, but the walls between rooms are flimsy enough to be intimately involved in your neighbor’s proclivities, which can be more interesting anyway and there are no irritating adverts.

At first light we fired up the trusty Land Cruiser and headed into the Ragati Conservancy forest. Stopping only to chop trees that had fallen across the muddy tracks we soon arrived at a charming log cabin tucked away and reached by crossing a small wooden walk bridge over a crystal fast flowing stream that we knew held Trout. This was home for the next few days.

 

 

Of course Gareth, as is his wont, rigged his rod with lightning speed and blundered immediately into the nearest water, frightening not only the fish, but the local ghillies as well, who are there to spot for dangerous animals as well as fish.

Allowing Gareth only enough time to snag his fly in the nearest tree, Jerry calmly wandered down to the same pool right in front of the cabin and poached a beautiful Rainbow from right under his nose.

Things were going along as normal

 

 

The dense forest and narrow streams mean that fishing here is technical, with short accurate roll casts being used often. Most back casts will result in unpleasant expletives and lost flies. Even walking in the stream itself the overhanging canopy remains a challenge.

But very soon we realized even the thinnest lie or smallest pool could produce plump specimens happy to hold in the frigid water and eager for a meal to arrive.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the brilliantly coloured Turaco’s and Parrots fluttering around overhead amongst various species of monkey, but the steaming piles of elephant dung on the narrow paths are a reminder to keep your wits about you. There is good reason why its mandatory to have a local guide with you at all times, although to be honest they are armed only with a machete, which I wasn’t certain would suffice in the case of a startled buffalo in tight confines.

 

 

The night sky is breathtaking in its scope and clarity, but the eerie screams of the nocturnal Tree Hyraxes found here are a little unnerving at first.

The beautifully appointed 4-bedroom log cabin with a large open fireplace is available for hire on either a self -catering or fully catered basis. We were spoiled by the owners with fantastic fare and hospitality. I particularly appreciated the fine linen on the massive beds which made it rather more difficult than necessary to consider throwing a line for the early morning rise.

I’m not sure who coined the phrase “size doesn’t count”, but I do know they didn’t fish.

The Ragati River flows into a large dam on the lower slopes with plenty of space for casting, and more importantly, flat areas for positioning the cold box. It was to this area I gravitated while the youngsters explored the many pristine forest streams.

Only steps away from my cooler I was able to put in long raking exquisitely timed casts while simultaneously enjoying the solitude and a cold Tusker. After hours of patient practice, I can even do this sitting down.

It wasn’t long before a large Mrs. Simpson I had judiciously appropriated from Jeremy’s box worked her magic and my line went tight. I knew immediately it was a decent fish, but it was only when I had it a little closer to the bank that I could see the dark red flanks of a magnificent Ragati Red cock fish. Around 5 pounds of pure muscle, this was to be the trophy of our time at Mount Kenya and certainly a fish I shall remember always.

 

Fortunately, I had a cameraman with me, so had photographic proof to present to my mates around the fire that evening. Not that they wouldn’t have taken my word for it of course.

So if you’re ever at a loose end in Kenya, I strongly recommend you try to get up to the Mountain and the Ragati Conservancy (bookings@ragati.com).

Even if you don’t fish it’s a magical experience.

My only advice would be to hire a helicopter to get there if possible.


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