GOLDEN DAYS ON THE UMKOMAAS — Flyfishing for KZN Yellowfish — by Bruce Black

SOMETIMES in flyfishing you get golden days. Not necessarily days filled with huge numbers of fish, as body counts long ago ceased to be important, but days that are just perfect in every respect and leave one thinking that life is actually quite good after all. The Umkomaas River and its healthy population of KwaZulu-Natal yellowfish — known colloquially as the KZN scaly — have given me more of this sort of day than I rightly deserve.

One of the reasons that outings on the Umkomaas are special is that the flyfishing season here is so short. Summer rains turn the river into an impossible chocolate torrent, so fishing is really only possible during the winter months. And when you divide your time between work, family and lawn mowing, you never seem to get enough days in on the big river to take it for granted.

The yellowfish of the Umkomaas are special. Strong and wily with wide tails and broad fins perfect for life in their changing river, I sometimes think that they are leaner and longer than their relatives in the Umgeni and Tugela systems. And they are handsome. The olive-yellow colouration may look almost gaudy in the hand, but it blends perfectly with the dappled bottom of the winter river and renders them virtually invisible in the water. Although they seldom exceed 2kg in weight, they are exceptionally strong.

The sight of a big KwaZulu-Natal yellow swimming side-on to the angler, high sail-like dorsal above the water as it refuses to be drawn the last few metres to the net is something that will stay with anybody who has caught this species.

In a dry year the river is normally fishable by mid-May when the gruelling heat of summer has faded into a sticky memory. The cold months are a magical time with freezing nights following clear, cool days. When the weather is settled there is little wind, and the big pools often carry the reflection of the surrounding hills all day long. The dry, rocky slopes of the valley turn sombre grey as the undergrowth dies back, but the flame red flowers of coral trees and aloes dot the hills with splashes of colour as they clamour for the attention of pollinating insects.

The river is cold, low and a clean apple-tinged green. It’s a sleepy, quiet time. Only the thick layer of fine silt that coats the rocks like chocolate icing sugar and the flood debris lodged impossibly high in the riverside acacias hint at what becomes of the Umkomaas in the rainy season.

The yellowfish spend much of their winter close to the bottom in the bigger pools. At this time it is critical to get the fly right down to the fish. To ensure that they are fishing deep enough, many anglers fish a slow sinking line and a weighted fly.

Read the full story in the June/July 2011 issue of FLYFISHING.
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