We decided to broaden our angling horizons a few weeks ago, and set out to the Vaal River with our fly rod in tow to target a species that we had not targeted before, the well sought after Smallmouth Yellowfish. The experience felt remarkably different to our usual fishing trips right from the word go. What struck me the most is that the entire process just seemed so seamless in comparison to our usual Bass fishing trips. Firstly there was no boat to lug around and pack into the bakkie, there wasn’t bags and bags of fishing tackle, nor piles of fishing rods each with its own purpose. No, it was simple, just one rod, just one small box of tiny flies, a pocket of leader/tippet materials, and a sandwich in the backpack.
After only about an hour’s drive we arrived at the river, squeezed into our waders and waded into the water anxiously. It’s an odd experience targeting yellowfish in this way for the first time. Standing in knee deep water, casting out no more than 5 meters, and allowing the fly to almost roll past my feet in the flowing current just didn’t seem right at first. But as we soon found out, it was right, in fact it was very very right. Unfortunately, other than one tiny 400 grammer, we never really caught the yellows that we set out for, but instead we found ourselves continually false hooking one of the strongest fish we have ever tackled on a light fly rod, the disgusting-looking Mudfish. Man, as ugly as they are, I have to say that a large specimen is a force to be reckoned with, especially in the flowing rapids. Unlike their yellow counterparts (smallmouth Yellow fish), the ‘muddies’ fight downstream using the strong current to their advantage and it’s often a daunting task getting them to submit. We must have hooked into about 25 fish between us for the day but due to the fact that their sucker-like mouths are so small and turned downwards under their faces, they were primarily false hooked, which resulted in many of them breaking free under the pressure.
None-the-less we had one of the best days fishing that we have had in a long time, landing 10 fish between us all of which were of a decent size. I definitely think that this type of fishing is going to stick for us and we will be making regular trips down to the river throughout the summer season.
TACKLE AND EQUIPMENT
Rod: no lighter than a 5/6 weight fly rod.
Line: Definitely floating.
Leader: std 9ft leader in 2x or 3x. (attach a strike indicator to the top of the leader close to the main line).
Tippet: 2x or 3x, I prefer fluorocarbon.
Flies: nymphs and caddis imitations, copper johns. Sizes 10 to 12.
DON’T FORGET SUNTAN LOTION AND A BRIM HAT, YOU WILL BURN OTHERWISE!
Also a wading stick is essential, simply break off a broomstick and tie a rope to it. If you don’t use one, you WILL fall.
The technique is extremely simple. I used a 3 fly tandem rig: a copper john infront, then I tied a piece of 3x fluorocarbon to the shank of the copper john’s hook and attached a slightly smaller fly to the other end, and then I attached an even smaller mustard caddis to that fly in the same way with a gap of about 20 to 30 cm between them. Simply let out about 6 meters of your line, cast it at an angle upstream and let the flies drift downstream past you. The purpose of the heavier copper john is to get the rig down to the feeding zone on the river bed. If you would prefer to use only 2 flies in tandem you could also alternately make use of a split shot to pull the flies down instead of the copper john. As the flies travel downstream follow the strike indicator with the tip of your rod and if it dips, stops or moves in any unusual manner then strike. You have to be alert though as yellowfish are renowned for inhaling and exhaling flies without one noticing. Therefore any tiny unnatural movement from the strike indicator must be reacted to. If the indicator displays no movement, simply lift the line from the water and with one cast drop it back upstream.
Whether you catch yellow fish or mudfish on the Vaal, if it is something that you have never done on fly, I can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised.