GUIDE TO STERKFONTEIN DAM
All information by David Weaver and the Maluti Flyfishing Club and published with the kind permission of ‘The Complete Fly Fisherman’.
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Distance from Supersport Park Centurion 350km
Travel time – 4h 30mins
This massive body of water is some 20km south west of Harrismith on the road to KwaZulu-Natal via Oliviershoek Pass. The land surrounding the dam is a nature reserve administered by the Free State Province, all amid magnificent mountain scenery. The reserve itself offers self-catering chalets plus caravan and camping facilities (phone 058 62223520) and there are a number of other establishments nearby offering accommodation from upmarket to fairly rustic.
As this reservoir is some 16 km long and 7 km at it’s widest and has a rugged shoreline it is certainly advantageous to have the use of a powerboat to reach many of the choice fishing spots. There is a good slipway for launching boats at the northern point of the provincial resort. However care should be taken when using a boat as Sterkfontein is notorious for stormy conditions with high winds and surprisingly big waves which often develop within a very short period of time.
Photograph by: sa-venues
The fishing for yellowfish is arguably some of the finest in the country particularly as the very clear water lends itself to excellent sight fishing. Most of the yellows are Orange/Vaal smallmouth, but there is a very small population of Orange/Vaal largemouth present. There are also large numbers of sharptooth catfish, some very big, as well as common carp. Both these species are also targeted by fly fishers as well as the odd rainbow trout and the Orange River mudfish. The small banded tilapia is sometimes taken on tiny flies and there are disturbing reports that largemouth bass have entered the lake and if these are caught they should be killed immediately.
The yellows of Sterkfontein, which are the main quarry of the fly fisher, are highly nomadic. Breeding season and food supply mainly drives this behaviour. Breeding occurs primarily when water temperatures are highest and the summer rains allow these fish to migrate up the three larger streams. This is mainly between late November and mid January. This is often considered the best fishing time for yellows but the prebreeding period of September to November and the post-breeding months of mid-
January to April can be equally good.
In general, yellows feed very little during the winter from about late May to mid- August and in any case fishing during this time can be unpleasant at this high elevation (1 800 metres) with frequent snowfalls on the surrounding mountains and right down to the shoreline on occasions.
During the breeding season there tend to be higher concentrations of yellows in the southern part of the reservoir, particularly close to where the three main breeding streams enter, while outside this season they are more dispersed throughout the impoundment. It is most important to note that to protect breeding fish both Boschkloof and Qwantani Bays are closed to fishing, as is the area south of 893/Sedan 3. No-entry signs will soon be in place to demarcate these areas. Although the Eastern Shore is not a restricted area please do not wade here during the breeding season as this will disturb the fish that breed on these gravel beds.
Although provincial regulations permit the killing of 2 smallmouth per day it is strongly recommended that all smallmouth yellows be returned to water unharmed. This should be done employing the usual precautions of barbless hooks, nets without knots and if you have to handle the fish this must be done with wet hands. Breeding areas available at Sterkfontein are very limited for this species and there has been considerable illegal killing of yellows during spawning so it is vital that we conserve our stock of fish. Under no circumstances should largemouth yellowfish be killed as they are classified as ‘vulnerable’ and enjoy protection of the Free State provincial regulations.
Photograph by: safarinow
THE FISHING SPOTS
Graphic – D Le Roux
The Cliffs and Whale Rock
The Cliffs can be very temperamental. Spectacular one day and not a fish the next.
Calm conditions or a light westerly wind during the non-breeding season are best. First acquaint yourself with the couple of places you can climb down to release fish. If the N.westerly (the predominant wind) is blowing, move down to Whale Rock, a massive submerged boulder at the southern point of the Cliffs, as the N.W. wind creates a good scum line off the point. There are good gravel beds between the shore and Whale Rock.
Dries like Caddis, Brown Spiders, Daddy Long legs, Dave’s nymph and the Christmas Caddis have all produced fish along the Cliffs. You will also be able to cast to large carp and catfish along this bank and try a tiny fly for the banded tilapia which can be found here in large numbers.
Coots Corner, Short Wall and Sandy Bay
This area does produce yellows in the non-breeding season but is better known for it’s outstanding carp fishing and huge catfish that congregate to feed on the flotsam that collects in the Sandy Bay area. A walk along the wall spotting fish can be very rewarding.
North Pier, Ledges, South Pier, Bird Island and Bird Island Bay
This section is very dependent on the weather. If the NW wind is blowing then the water discolours quickly. This area is best when the wind is light or an offshore easterly is blowing.
One can get to this area on foot, but prior permission must be obtained from the office. It is a long walk best done with ankle length boots as protection from the many puff adders. Drive across the Short Wall until you reach the fence, park and then walk the 2-3 km along the bank until you get to North Pier. A very noticeable dolorite dyke runs eastwest into the dam. A further 1.5 km is Bird Island (submerged in high water levels).
Between North Pier and Bird Island Bay is good yellowfish water through summer. The Bay just after the fence, before you get to North Pier, is excellent for carp. Large catfish are ever present and large schools of banded tilapia can be found in the bay just before North Pier.
View Point Bay, Vulture Restaurant and Crows Corner.
View Point Bay and Vulture Restaurant are both protected from the northwesterly. A good scum line forms across the bay when this wind is blowing. Both offer good vantage points to sight fish. Crows Corner can only be fished in a light wind or a south easterly when a great scum line bends around the corner bringing with it some big cruisers.
Heron’s Valley, North and South, Sedan 1,2 and 3.
Heron’s Valley North and South invariably have good scum lines across their mouths,regardless of the wind direction, and good shore angling with high banks for sight fishing. This area is particularly active in the breeding season.
Sedan 1, 2 and 3 are all much the same as Heron’s Valley N+S. With Sedan 1 being the favoured bay with good mooring and great fishing from the South bank. These bays, especially 2 and 3, can become dirty when the North Westerly is pumping.
This is as far as we are allowed to go up the Driekloof Valley, unless accompanied by an Honorary Ranger or a member of Parks Board. There are no-entry signs painted on the cliffs just before Poachers Corner, and a series of buoys in the water warning you to stay out. Heed these warnings as the penalties are high. Report any boats that you see passing into the area to the authorities. There is a small stream flowing into Poachers Corner and the water does tend to become dirty after heavy rain. The southern banks offer the best sight-fishing and with a strong south wind a good scum line bends into the bay allowing for superb dry-fly action, any terrestrial patterns will generally do Driekloof Corner,Seheletwane Bay, Klavervlei Bay, Elizabeth (3 point Turner) and Driehoek.
These are all in the restricted section and are no-go areas. As environmentally responsible fisherman we must respect these areas and consider them as sacred ground.
Image:THE STATE OF YELLOWFISHES IN SOUTH AFRICA 2007
893, Niewejaars Bay and Niewejaars Vley
893 offers shelter in a southerly but the topography is very flat and shallow and is better suited for carp and catfish. Fishing can be superb in the bay but there are few opportunities for sight fishing. There is a shallow area just off the point between 893 and Niewejaars Bay where we often find “mid-water” fish. When the water is lower there are a few trees that stick out. Look for this bank on your depth finder and have a few casts in this area.
The western banks of Niewejaars Bay and Niewejaars Vley offer good fishing with high banks ideal for sighting. Dig out those big Woolly Buggers when you go past the submerged trees as they are home to many large yellows.
Dassie Island, 3 Anchor Bay (also known as 3 Sisters) to North Point.
Dassie Island offers protected fishing under any conditions, with the scum line that bends off the southwest corner (when the north westerly is blowing) being the prime spot.
3 Anchor Bay, named after the three piles of rock that are visible when the water levels are low. Be warned; go through this gap with great caution. This channel between the island and the mainland acts as a funnel for food and is productive with a dry.
North Point and Drop Off intercept the scum lines that come from across the bay at Ararat and from the west bank of the dam. Letting a fly drift over these areas with the wind has produced fish on occasion. Favoured flies in this area are the Xmas caddis and any flashback nymph-type- arrangement. We believe these sub-surface flies work in this area because the food has had time to sink as it drifts across the bay. The Xmas caddis works very well during the hottest months of summer as there are huge hatches of iridescent, green and black beetles of the Buprestidae family literally clogging the scum lines. Later on in the day the Caddis dry fly pattern becomes a winner.
The fish tend to swim deep in this bay and even though you might not see any fish, we have had good success with sinking lines along the deep water near the trees on the west bank. Try teasing the fish to the surface with a large fat-bellied orange Rapala. It works very well as a searching pattern when the fish are not visible on the surface.
Qwantani Bay,Qwantani Cliffs, Boschkloof and Barbel Bay.
These bays are characterized by submerged trees and vegetation, reeds and large areas of water lilies. If you are planning to fish these areas, it is best done from a float tube or from the boat. Shore access and fishing is difficult and very restricted.
Boschkloof and Qwantani Bay are both very important breeding areas for the yellows and some other species and access to these areas is soon to be restricted. These bays are also important catfish feeding areas.
Qwantani Cliffs offers the best shore based fishing with superb sight fishing opportunities.
Ararat, The Ruins, Blueberry Bay and Ararat Bay
This whole area produces fish under the right conditions. The best fishing is in the late evening. There is always a good Caddis hatch along this bank and a dry caddis pattern is the favoured fly for this area.
Dogshead Bay, Dogsleg Bay, and Caddis Corner
Dogshead Bay is mostly shallow water with low banks, good for carp and catfish. Caddis Corner, however is a spectacular cliff face with magnificent indigenous forest and a resident Osprey and prime dry fly water in a north wester. Two scumlines converge at this point and then extend across the bay. Here one has to fish from the boat and a trawling motor will make your life a lot easier. Any terrestrial patterns will work but my
most successful fly is Dave’s hopper tied with a yellow body. Dogsleg Bay has good fishing late in the season, with the buttress on the east holding good size fish amongst the submerged trees.
Many Waters, First Stop, Stratherrick and Eskol North and South.
These bays offer sheltered fishing when the north wester is blowing. Many Waters has a small river flowing into it so the water at the top end of this bay is often dirty. There are some interesting structures in the form of submerged reed patches, which would be a good place to target the few largemouth yellows and of course catfish. The slopes on the north bank offer the best sight fishing opportunities and is normally our first stop, hence the name.
Stratherrick Bay has some good banks for sighting and holds good numbers of fish early and late season.
Eskol is another area where one can fish from shore but one needs to be a member of one of the local fishing clubs. This area is very popular amongst the coarse fisherman and as a result we don’t boat too close to the banks.
Quarry Bay, Willy’s Corner and Turner’s Secret.
The Quarry is now full of water. Good vantage points, deep water with great gravel beds near the entrance make this an outstanding spot early and late season.
Willy’s Corner still holds the odd trout. So if you have really blanked out on the yellows or you find yourself on Sterkies out of season, try for some lunker trout at Willy’s Corner.
Turner’s Secret is only an island when the water level is much lower than it is at present. At present it is 2-3m deep at this spot. A great scum line usually extends over this area from the Cliffs, so sound for it with your depth finder and you could be in for some great mid-water fishing.
All information supplied by David Weaver and the Maluti Flyfishing Club and published with the kind permission of ‘The Complete Fly Fisherman’. For up to date information you may e-mail David on: email@example.com .
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Federation of Southern African Flyfishers
In 1985/1986, a group of flyfishers in the Eastern and Western Cape became very concerned about developments in the sport of flyfishing in the then Cape Province. It was clear that the Cape Department of Nature Conservation wanted to deregulate the Trout Fishing Ordinance but no consultation or discussion was held with flyfishing clubs or individuals. Concerned flyfishers met and the Federation of Southern African Flyfishers (FOSAF) was formed on 1 March 1986 at the Eagles Ridge Hotel, Stutterheim.
Please join [url=http://www.fosaf.org.za/about.php]FOSAF [/url]and make your voice heard
This trip report comes from my mate Warren Prior from Baha Flyfishing. In Warren’s words:
“Baha Fly fishing was formed by two friends in 2003 during a successful salt water outing. Up until this outing very few salt water species had been caught even though we’d flogged every inch of water from here to Ponta. However on this particular day a new, self tied fly was thrown into the surf and it instantly ripped out a Wave Garrick…and another…and other. Cries of BAHAHAHA could be heard over the noise of the surf.”[/i][/size]
Visit their site at [url=http://www.bahaflyfishing.co.za/]www.bahaflyfishing.co.za[/url]
Sterkfontein – New Years
Sterkies was to be the first official fly fishing trip of the Baha Boys. That said, there were only 2 fishermen amongst the 6 of us so it was going to be tough to get in a lot of time on the water.
Even after a difficult drive to Sterkies (thanks to some car troubles) Nick and I were in high spirits as we discussed the mornings fishing plans over a rum at midnight. Despite being the last to bed we were the first up and were ready to go. Sadly we got off to a rather slow start, sorting out the boat etc, but this was to be expected on the first morning.
When we eventually got into the water we headed 5kms south to roughly the vulture restaurant and found a protected bay where we parked the boat. It was partly cloudy with enough of a breeze to form a slight ripple on the surface of the water. The conditions would’ve been perfect for Trout but the ripple made sight fishing somewhat difficult and, while I walked the bank trying hard to spot fish, Nick threw a blind cast right next to the boat. His hopper bobbed on the surface for 10 seconds and then it was smashed by a Smallmouth Yellowfish! First cast and we were already into fish.
I rushed back and shot off some footage of Nick fighting the fish before helping him land it thanks to forgotten nets. We were now rather hopeful and fished for another hour or so with no luck. I managed to spot one fish on my trek around the bay but I’m not even sure it was a Yellow as it swam off at high speeds.
We then returned to the boat to find it sitting somewhat deeper in the water than we’d left it. FAIL! By the time we’d climbed in the water was lapping at the edges threatening to pour in at any stage. Slowly we circled the bay in vain hoping to get the boat on to the plane…no luck…the boat was clearly FULL of water. Time for plan B…we pulled out the drainage plug and got going straight away. We were hoping that the water would drain out the back while we were in motion. But as good as this plan was, it soon became clear that it wasn’t working. The problem now was that we couldn’t stop or the boat would fill up with even more water and we’d head straight to the bottom.
It was all or nothing as we started making our way back across the 5km stretch of water, far from any bank. The boat was so full that we were barely moving and the GPS informed us that it was going to take 45 minutes to make the crossing. In the meantime we phoned Werner who for some reason wouldn’t believe us that we were sinking. The wind had picked up and the chop certainly wasn’t helping as we were heading straight into the ever growing waves.
Thankfully Sharon managed to find a rescue boat which she sent out in search of us. Due to a little miscommunication they headed right past us despite my best efforts in flagging them down with an orange emergency tub. Finally they spotted us and ended up following us back to the slipway while I bailed water furiously out the back of the boat.
Thankfully 40 minutes later we’d made it to the slipway and all seemed good. Well, good as in we hadn’t drowned.
Once we’d pulled the boat out of the water we quickly spotted the problem. There was a hold so big I could fit all my fingers into it. WOW!
After a quick lunch we all headed in to Harrismith where we stocked up on ice and fiberglass. The afternoon was then spent repairing the boat and trying to get resin off of our hands. Damn that stuff’s sticky! I guess that’s the point though…
It was raining when we woke up the next morning and that, combined with the fact that the we were unsure of the condition of the boat, meant that there was to be no fishing. Instead we elected to head to Clarens and have a day out.
When we got back to Sterkies later that day the weather was semi decent so Nick, Werner and I took a drive to the wall for a little fishing. Once again sight fishing was out of the question so we casted blindly in the hope of picking up a Yellow. Nick lucked it and picked up a small Bass while stripping in his hopper rapidly to cast again.
Another storm was fast approaching so we headed back to the chalet for a few more beers. We braaied for the second time of the trip, this time under the watchful supervision of 3 evil looking woman who seemed to think we’d forget about the fire once again.
The following morning, and the last day of the year, Nick and I headed out to try our luck once again. Our boat repair seemed solid and we flew across the water instead of through it. This time we headed straight across the dam to First Stop and Stratherrick.
Things were looking up as we found a rocky outcrop which we could fish off. Almost instantly we spotted a few Yellows. Sadly, as many of them as they were, not one of them seemed at all interested in our flies. I had one Yellowfish rise to my beetle, open his mouth and then turn and reject it at the last second. Aaaaaagh! There were also some massive Sharptooth Catfish off the small cliffs but these weren’t our primary targets.
The following day, and our last full day at Sterkies, we decided we’d had enough of being rejected by Yellowfish. The girls were also experiencing some cabin fever since the weather had been somewhat dismal and they’d been mostly stuck inside for a few days. The solution to these two problems…We opted for an outing and headed in the direction of Royal Natal.
Why Royal Natal? Well our Garmin had informed us that it had a hatchery and we thought we’d bash some Trout. Turns out the hatchery is a thing of the past (get it right Garmin). But despite this minor setback they still had one small Trout dam available for fishing so we gave it a try.
Nick and I headed out in our respective directions and started fishing the water. It looked fairly decent except for one minor problem…day visitors. Between people picnicking around the edge and kids throwing rocks in I don’t think we had much of a chance. There was also the ever present threat of hooking into one of the million kids running around playfully.
Eventually I made a bold move and waded out to an island hoping to get away from the chaos. It was well situated amongst some reeds and I fancied my chances. Sadly I had no luck other than one small fish which followed my fly all the way to the bank before darting off. Clearly this was a week of rejections for me.
When we woke up on our last day it was sunny and the water was like glass. Typical! Sadly we couldn’t head out fishing since we had packing to do and needed to be out by 10am. Was this Karma? What had we done which was so bad?
Anyway, it was definitely a trip of ups and downs but what an awesome trip it was. Let’s hope we can get back there in more favourable weather conditions to nail those elusive Yellows.
Herewith a report from Andrew:
“Just got back from a few days at Sterkies. I had 1 day fishing from a boat and 3 days on foot, parking at the short wall and walking (and walking and walking . . . ) the banks. The weather and wind was mostly cooperative and I managed to get at least a few fish every day, probably around 30 for the entire trip. I fished dries only and the best producing flies by far were Doctor’s Beetles although I also got a few fish on ants, black klinkies, EHKs and airheads.
Here are a few random snaps, including a few pics of what is hands down the most beautiful yellow that I have ever seen, with great black markings on it. ”
Well done Andrew – Seriously nice fish!