Pound for pound the best fighting Yellowfish found in our rivers are also in my opinion the most skittish and hardest to catch – enter Labeobarbus marequensis or more commonly known as The Lowveld Large Scale Yellowfish.

Long before the Vaal Smallmouth explosion and the adoption of the TVN (Theo Van Niekerk’s mussel fly) into fly fishing Africana, myself and many other fly anglers actively pursued Large Scale Yellowfish on fly in streams around Pretoria, Johannesburg and Brits using only bloodworm imitations and a good measure of wishful thinking.

So what has changed? Well on an ecological side the destruction of prime Large Scale water such as the Blaauwbankspruit, Jukskei and Pienaarsriver in the North West has basically been destroyed. Areas that are still yielding good numbers of fish are categorized under the “Secrecy Bill” and you will be hard pressed finding out from any angler where their favourite streams X is located.

On a technique and learning side, the advent of short line nymphing in the Vaal and the adoption thereof in targeting Large Scale Yellows has meant that more fly fishermen are now catching reasonable numbers of this once believed uncatchable large scaled fighter.

Learning how to catch these fish means we must first learn their behaviour. Large Sacle often move in skittish shoals patrolling the sandbanks close to the river’s edge in summer and moving into the deeper pools in winter and early morning.

Fishing the shallow rapids and riffles in summer will always yield more fish for the inexperienced fly fishermen as the fast water tends to color more in summer making the fly a little less visible and traditional nymphing techniques easier.

During this period short line nymphing using a control fly and point fly seems to be the order of the day. One crucial difference fishing for Large Scale Yellowfish compared to their Smallmouth cousins however is to substantially shorten the distance between your dry fly indicator and your point fly as the takes are so subtle that a fish will mouth a fly without the slightest movement of your indicator.

Picture by:  Yellows on fly blog

On bigger rivers like the Crocodile or Olifants you can use a much longer leader set-up using 12 – 14ft (or even longer) attached to 6X tippet casting directly in front of shoaling fish and dangling a bloodwoirm 10cm below a small #16 DDD or Klinkhamer.  Another good method for shoaling Large Scales on sandbanks is to cast a #14 or smaller Olive Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear and twitch it ever so slightly as it settles on the bank waiting for the patrolling shoal to spot the movement.

If the above tactics are greeted with disdain then an alternate approach is to actively fish a caddis pupae, mimicking the pupal emergence and drift. Takes typically occur as the fly swings and can be far more positive than the subtle takes experienced when the fish are actively nymphing. It should be mentioned that this tactic proves to be particularly effective when targeting solitary fish as they tend to be more actively on the hunt for food forms and will be far more obliging than shoaling fish that are locked into a food form. Lastly if all else fails, in faster channels with laminar flow an actively retrieved cactus wooly worm or bugger can also result in spectacular takes. As you are typically fishing with fine tippets though be very aware of your knot strength and be mentally prepared for a blistering initial run.

Although as mentioned before these fish are pound for pound the strongest of the Labeobarbus family. Anything over a 4wt rod should be considered overkill.

Being skittish fish and sometimes downright pedantic one should try to avoid bling flies and unnecessarily thick tippets.

Tips: These fish are constantly communicating with ADT and all other security companies around your house. They are informed about your intentions the moment you pack your rods and leave home. Once they detect your presence – They are gone! Move swiftly to different sections of the river or another pool taking great care to move with stealth and fish as fine as you dare.

The grass is not always greener on the other side – Large Scale Yellows like to hang out right on the rivers edge – when approaching a river try and focus on the first 2 meters away from the riverbank.

There are still some popular Large Scale Yellowfish venues where one can actively target these fish:
Letaba River, Elands, Marico, Molopo, Olifants, Crocodile, Sabie, Blyde as well as smaller streams that are regarded as closely held state secrets.

The flies that I will recommend are:

Point flies: Red Blood worms/brassies/ san Juan Olive GRHE, V-Rib and Olive Flashback nymphs, Caddis pupae.

Control Flies: Mustard Caddis

Dry flies or indicator flies: DDD, Klinkhamer.

Picture by: Tom Sutcliffe

For more information, biology and distribution of the Large Scale Yellowfish visit the Species list in the main menu