A horrible front has moved in. The strength of the wind is the same as yesterday yet it’s done a complete about face. Our temperature has dropped from an enjoyable 75° to a miserable 55° so with the wind it’s no less than horrifically cold. Yet we’re at the renowned Sterkfontein Dam to fish for yellowfish so we had to give it a try. After an extended coffee time and breakfast Tim Babich, Ryan Hammond and I put on our ice cold wet wading shoes and socks and headed out to do our best. Granny stayed behind again and is working on becoming an expert in Cricket.
Once on the water we headed for a place called Elizabeth. Elizabeth is considered one of the most beautiful parts of Sterkfontein and Tim and Ryan have had excellent yellowfishing there. The boat ride was rough and wet. I wore my rain jacket but mistakenly didn’t put on the bottoms and got completely soaked. We didn’t make it all the way in one shot but rather tucked into a protected bay for a break and a quick look for yellowfish. Sure enough they were there and we took our positions. Ryan hooked up almost immediately.
The bay was remarkably calm considering the ocean-like waves on the main lake. Without the wind it felt warm and then the sun poked through teasing us as if there would be a break in the storm. Meanwhile Ryan’s smallmouth yellowfish created a storm of his own charging far out in the lake and back several times before he was landed. You can see why they’re so strong by the deeply forked tail.
About the time Ryan released his yellowfish Tim was hooked up. I was thinking I should put down the camera and get to fishing but I’ll tell you from experience, if you’re looking for a nice segment of photos with fish than take advantage. The fish may not come later especially with this crazy weather.
Last night I fished with some of my home patterns and got some looks but couldn’t find a yellowfish to commit. Tim gave me a few of his special yellowfish beetles and I tied one on. They’re spectacularly realistic looking and honestly I can’t wait to show one to a fish on the Henry’s Fork next season. Unfortunately the first two yellows that saw the beetle refused and spun away.
Tim and Ryan use 5X tippet while I was stubbornly using 4X. When the second yellowfish turned from my beetle I dropped to 5X but was again refused. One thing I sometimes notice on stillwaters is that the tippet often squiggles on the water next to the fly. On a river you mend and it goes away but not where there’s no current. When I can see my tippet from thirty feet away it must be ridiculously obvious for the fish who is inches away. Tim taught me a great trick to help with this.
Tim slides two of the smallest tungsten beads made on to his leader. Then he adds 20” of 5X tippet. He slides the beads down his leader to the tippet knot and secures the beads against the knot with the tag ends then clips them tight. What happens is that when his fly hits the water, the weight of the beads quickly pull the tippet under right up to where it butts to the fly. This eliminates the exposed squiggly tippet and it’s a much cleaner presentation leading to far more eats than refusals.
If you’re wondering about this technique sinking the fly, well it does if it sits out there long. But one thing with yellowfish is that you drop your fly right in front of them so within a few seconds they either eat it or keep on going past. It’s this quick reaction time that makes it essential to sink that tippet ASAP and the beads do that. I learn great tricks from friends like Tim around the world.
It seems you catch a couple yellows in an area and it’s time to leave. After Tim landed his we went some time without seeing another. That’s when we continued on to Elizabeth. I was not disappointed with the Elizabeth’s scenery despite the cold gray day.
As we were taking in the scenery Tim spotted an enormous bull eland. The bull was by himself and perhaps because we were approaching from the boat, his curiosity kept him from fleeing before I snapped this decent photo. The eland is the largest antelope in the world.
At the next spot my action kicked in. Only first I had to pay the price of a beetle. When I fish light tippet at home I use up to three feet of it. The long tippet stretches and absorbs the weight of large fish enough so it doesn’t break. With only 20” of tippet for Tim’s bead system, you better set the hook a bit softer because there’s not enough tippet for the absorption stretch. I broke off the first yellowfish because I set like I would at home. Luckily the next one I handled much more gently!
By the time we wore out Elizabeth it was 1 PM and we went back for Granny. It was a long boat ride to get her but we promised if it got nice out we’d rescue her from a day of Cricket watching. Well it was nicer when we returned to get her but by the time we got back on the water for the late afternoon session the weather went to heck again. The wind picked up and the clouds thickened so spotting yellowfish was difficult. That being said we landed a few more although Granny had a tough time with the short piece of 5X and broke off three yellows on the take.
There’s a lot to learn for we American anglers in South Africa. That’s the beauty of fishing here. That’s the beauty of fishing the world – you keep learning new tricks. There’s never a dull moment and just when you think you’re pretty good at this fly fishing you find out there’s plenty more to learn.
Tomorrow is our last day of fishing this trip. The weather looks to remain awful so we’ll just do our best. I’ve already fallen in love with Sterkfontein so I’ll be back again soon. Tomorrow will not be the “last day” here by any means. Time for the evening feast. . . .
A special thanks to our friends of FlyCastaway for taking Granny and I to Sterkfontein Dam!
Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing