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Low Water Yellowfish

By Adam Crooks, South Africa
This is a tale of my latest trip to my favorite warm water river.

This last weekend I went to try my luck at catching some smallmouth Yellowfish on my beloved Vaal river.

When we arrived I was horrified to find the water level way down. This stretch is essentially a tailwater fishery and as such is dependant on the amount of water released from the upstream dam. When I asked the owner of the farm why the water level was so low, he told us that the powers that be have decided to hold onto the available water, due to expected drought conditions this summer. This does not bode well for the fishery. (It was right in the middle of the fishes normal spawning time).

Despondent, we tackled up and waded across the first channel and over the island that divides the river at this farm.

Usually it is possible to get into decent numbers of fish (30+) but it was not to be on this particular day. We worked hard the whole day for scant reward but it must be said that just one small Yellow is worth the effort.

The wading on this river can be hairy to say the least, so much so that we've christened the general practice of wading this river, "the Vaal river shuffle." It really is fun to watch a hot shot youngster wading here for the first time and getting a well deserved dunking. This ain't no place for fancy pants wannabes.

We've actually adopted the practice of getting soaked first to negate the urge to stay dry. Sure we get some funny looks but we do get to the good spots first.

We ended up fishing a 'hotspot nymph' as the point fly with a reasonably heavy caddis larva imitation on the dropper. We used yarn indicators well treated with floatant about twice the waters depth up the 10ft leader.

The fish, as usual, all put up a great fight. Well there was one exception. My buddy (it's not a great idea to wade this river without one) landed a Yellow of about three inches that I'm not sure counts. Anyway, we ended the day with about ten fish each.

What makes these fish special to us is the fact that they are truly wild, having been present in this river since its creation. Most fly fishing here is done in pursuit of exotic species, so the opportunity to catch a real wild fish means the world to us. Unfortunately they are now under pressure due to mans usual interference.

They can be taken using river trout tactics that have been adapted to really fast water. It's not uncommon to catch them in water that's near suicidal to wade. This is possible because of the freestone nature of this river. Small rocks don't survive in these rapids and the big ones that do create nice subsurface holding water for the fish.

The smallmouth yellowfish feeds on pretty much anything including vegetation and invertebrates as well as the occasional minnow, and flies imitating these are usually successful.

We drove back in silence, after an exhausting day, each submerged in personal nostalgia of the day spent chasing South Africa's favorite indigenous fish.

Cheers. ~ Adam Crooks, South Africa

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