Flyfishing report: Yellowfish - Middle Vaal

Date of Report: Wednesday, 15th May 2024
Name: Chris Williams
Phone: 071 565 1688

The heady days of late summer terrestrial activity and caddis hatches are now behind us. This week, we have experienced choppy mid-May weather up to the time of writing. A gusty cool front with partial cloud cover and a dropping of air temperature has slowed up general fish activity. ‘This too shall pass’, and warmer, more stable weather conditions are kicking off again for the coming weekend and for the near future.

The tail-end of the present El Nino should gradually lead into the upcoming El Nina system. This presages consistently higher than average day/night Vaal air temperatures, minimal wind and little or no rain for our ‘winter’ season. Correspondingly, Vaal River conditions should remain rather pleasant. This includes both for the fish and for wading Stoics with no access to an ARK rubber duckie or kayak for ease of winter fish prospecting. The lack of rain and extended heat may herald some algae-ridden static-water sections of the river which the observant angler will avoid in favour of running flow.   

Some current (pun intended) statistics for the Mid Vaal River fly fisher. The Vaal Dam is 59 per cent full. The Barrage discharge rate is 10.5 cbm/sec. 16 kilometres downstream at Woodlands/Goose Bay Canyon (the Lindequesdrift/Vaal Oewer area) the Vaal flows are today 28 cbm/sec. The water temperature is cooling but it is still averaging a warmish 18 degrees in the main river.

As to an idea of what the fish are eating and what flies/tactics are catching fish at present.

For smallmouth yellows, during the daytime several anglers, including the writer, are having success with nymphing weighted Hydropsyche light tan caddis larva imitations with optional orange hotspots. Quick-to-tie size 10/14 Gold Ribbed Hares Ear nymphs with tungsten copper bead on the head or midriff and peach-coloured floss tails are also a killer. They can be fished singly or in tandem with brown or olive Pheasant Tail Nymphs (14/16) trading off the weighted fly for depth. Another staple in lieu of the PTNs are black chironomid ‘buzzer’ pupa (14/16) or red/orange San Juan worms (12/14). As the fish move out of the shoals and rapids into deeper water, success is often found using an indicator and nymphing deeper at the tail-end of pools where fish often await the sushi belt of food. With cooler water, the fishes’ metabolism slows up, but they still need to eat year-round albeit to a lesser extent.

Mid afternoon is pleasant for all including for the BWO/Baetis hatching in the sunny shallows between lunchtime and four-ish. Your reliable dry-and-droppers on long leaders cast to (hopefully) rising fish can provide thrilling fun. Hi Vis Parachute Adams, Griffiths Gnats, Klinkhamers with BWO/Baetis soft hackle droppers are often all you need in sizes 12/16. A reminder the Hydropsyche tan caddis hatch sporadically year-round to ensure their continuity, so keep some suitable caddis larval, pupal and emerger/adult imitations in your fly box.

For the largemouth yellow specialist, stalking and targeting these beautiful fish in rocky and/or shoreside structure can provide intermittent ecstasy. These high-end predators revel in hunting baitfish, crabs, leeches and other morsels in the clear winter water of May/September though they may of course be caught year-round by the well-prepared afficianado. The aforementioned ARKs or similar are almost compulsory to selectively fish likely areas with imitations of largemouths’ prey.

As sewage/other pollution and water lettuce/water hyacinth continue to take their toll, entomologists are often finding less and less of the more tolerant aquatic Vaal River insects. Yes, even Baetis mayfly and caddis populations are now declining in these affected sections of river. Mozzies, Chironomids and leeches are making up an increasing percentage of Vaal aquatic invertebrate life. Your staple fly box should include sufficient imitations of these naturals. For the novice, balanced Woolly Buggers are lethal generic winter flies not only for smallmouth and largemouth yellows but also for barbel, carp and even muddies. Try tying them in smaller sizes as well down to even size 16 in various colours and weights. They can be used under an indicator or down-and-across streamer style. Often fish do not seem to overly concern themselves between ‘technical’ or ‘old school’ flies. Usually it’s how, when and where they are fished that matters more. Happy fish hunting!


Photo courtesy of Brandon Stonefield.