It has been long since my last post, so I thought I had better catch up by writing about a trip we made to the Vaal River one Saturday during mid December. I must start by mentioning that after a one-and-a-half-hour-drive to Eagles Nest we arrived in horror to an extremely fast flowing river. It was so bad that I did not think that we were going to come close to seeing a single fish that day. Lucky for us it turned out to be the complete opposite. After hurrying into our waders and strapping on our peripheral fishing gear we made our way up river, wading with extreme caution through the shallowest point that we could find. We threw a few lines into the main stream for an hour or so with no luck whatsoever, the water was just too fast, and too strong. The next plan was to find a little side stream that was sheltered from the overbearing current of the main river. After a brief probe here and there what we found was an absolute gold mine.
We stumbled onto a massive school of Mudfish, presumably females huddled up in fairly shallow water around an island. We target them for a while and picked up a few strong fighting fish but what happened next was incredible. As we fished we heard the violent splashing of fins coming from around the corner of the island that we were fishing against. As the noise got louder we noticed a massive ball of what we presumed to be male fish coming closer towards us, hugging the edge of the island. The water literally bubbling violently as the school of fish moved frantically closer, some even jumping over others and out of the water.
We quickly dropped our flies in front of the moving school and as it drew closer our lines went tight. At one stage all three of us hooked up at once, and if the fish came unbuttoned we let the flies sit still again and another fish would take every time. Of course the action did not last long as the fish quickly moved on and out of sight, but we noticed that this same school of fish circled the island every 10 to 15 minutes violently ravaging any form of mustard caddis that we threw in their path. What a fight we had though. The fish that you can see in the picture below gave Alan “The Skip” a run for his money, yet it barely weighed a kilogram. The current of course made matters worse and generally once the fish was able to escape into the mainstream you just as well could have cut your line as he wasn’t coming back easily, no matter how small he might have been.
One thing that I am amazed by is the power that Mudfish display. Incredibly, I had more fly hooks straightened and line breaks when the Muddies, by surprise, darted suddenly on long runs upstream, against the strong current. I have never seen anything like it. We caught a lot of fish that day, more than we could count and most on our favorite Muddie snack, the mustard caddis. They did, however, also have a go at black copper johns at times. Our rig was quite simple. Same as usual we tied the Czech Nymph Rig with a copper john at the top with a slightly smaller fly (we vary this fly a lot and use nothing in particular) in the middle, and finally a mustard caddis as the dropper or last fly.
One thing that we realized in hindsight is that the fish were obviously spawning and as a result the morality of the whole experience could probably be questioned. Is it right to target spawning Muddies, is it shunned upon within the fly fishing fraternity? We are fairly new to fly fishing and are therefore not too sure, but if someone has answers to these questions then please fill us in.
One suggestion; never use a rod lighter than a 6 weight rod in the river. I promise you if you use lighter you will really battle to fight your fish effectively as the current just adds too much power to the fish at times. As far as line is concerned, I like to use 3x or 4x leader and tippet, I don’t worry too much whether the line is fluorocarbon or not but obviously fluoro is preferred as it sinks quicker and is supposedly invisible to the fish. However, in dirty water it doesn’t really matter. I normally go for 3x (which is stronger line than 4x) when the flow of the river is fairly strong, to give me more leeway when fighting the fish. Again however, when the water is extremely turbulent and quite dirty you can opt for a stronger line such as 2x which gives you far less to worry about as far as line breaks are concerned. Good luck and enjoy your Muddie fishing.