After a long hiatus from the Vaal due to massive downpour from La Lina over the last 4 years I finally headed back out to the most formative stretch of river in my Flyfishing career. This is how it went and my thoughts on the state of the river.

The Vaal River is an incredibly interesting element of Johannesburg society, from providing most of its water, to offering world class flyfishing experiences almost a stone’s throw from Johannesburg. It is very temperamental over the summer months due to the massive influx of rain in the drainage and Rand Waters ability to control its flow both from the dam wall as well as the barrage. With the dog days of February upon us, the Highveld storms have decreased in intensity and the gates are being closed to preserve the water. This means that the river flows drop to some of their lowest levels of the year and stay consistent. Consistency is king on the river during summer, the water temperature will rise, causing the fish’s metabolic rates to go up and allow them to get comfortable in the really skinny water of the rapids. This combined with the stabilisation of the water clarity is perfect for us flyfishermen and flyfisherwoman.

The fish have seen so much turmoil over the past few years in flood conditions and it shows that the system has only allowed the strongest genetics to survive. The adult fish we caught were in perfect condition and they have successfully spawned the next generation with an abundance of smaller fish in the system. These little ones have an appetite on them second to none and it’s great to see them all looking like little rugby balls.

We fished a variety of methods with the emphasis on trying to catch the fish on the dry. This is the most rewarding way to catch yellowfish on the Vaal and the conditions are absolutely perfect for it. Adding a nymph below the dry in the high light hours allowed us the present the nymph in an undeniably natural way and to access the fish who’s eyes were not yet affixed to the surface. The takes on the nymph were aggressive often causing the dry fly to almost evaporate in front of your eyes. With a lifting of the rod the first runs were violent with the fish steaming off often leaving bow wakes through the shallow water. Ever so often a fish would be tempted to eat the dry and a quintessential south African experience is had, watching the nose of a yellowfish turn over on the dry.
While the dry fly was rewarding in a traditional sense, we did bring out the long rods, attaching our superfine tippet and heavily weighted, yet hydrodynamic nymphs to catch the fish in what is now considered Euro Nymphing.

Yellowfish on the Vaal river

Euro nymphing is a combination of the most effective European nymphing styles and it has merged into something that could easily be considered its own. Using the combination of a 10 or 11 ft, light weight rod (namely a 3 weight) and a monofilament leader constructed with high vis sighter and Perdigon style nymphs, you now forsake the age-old cast in favour of a highly controlled lob. I know you’re thinking that this is not flyfishing in its true essence but, hear me out, it’s quite possibly the most effective method of catching fish the modern flyfishing landscape has seen.

Yellowfish flies

I started Euro Nymphing in 2020 after a few years of looking down in disdain at it. I firmly believed in the traditional fundamentals of flyfishing as well as buying into the less analytical approach of micromanaging everything you possibly could. I believed that through controlling the traditional you would almost buy more “luck” and catch more fish. Put simply; I was wrong. Euro nymphing is about ruthless efficiency. It is about maximising the core components of catching fish in a river and more specifically in fast flowing water. Doing this comes with sacrifice, as with most things and the sacrifice here is the gaudy thick fly line. The technique revolves around constant contact to your flies and to achieve almost a contact “nirvana” you need to use thinner monofilament and fluorocarbon. By scaling down the size of this line you increase the sensitivity of leader and sensitivity is king. All of these factors lead into a casting style that is more lob than anything else but in learning the lob you learn there is technique as well. In Euro nymphing you are learning about fine margins, and I found this more addictive for the mental aspect I get from flyfishing than the fishing I have done for the recent years. Euro nymphing has become my latest journey deeper into the art of fooling fish. It is the conduit that allows to go from catching a couple of fish to having the confidence to know that you can catch almost ALL of the fish.

Euro nymphing was the most effective way of catching fish for the day but it was nice to able to confidently catch fish using more traditional methods.

Yellowfish Vaal River

The river is looking better and healthier than I have seen it in a long time. There is an abundance of life in the water and the banks. There is obviously the legitimate concern over the water quality, and I am no stranger to this, having experience a dermal scrape going a bit gnarly back in 2018. There was no aftereffects at the end of the day and I use meticulous cleaning methods while on the water.

It was a great day experiencing the fabled magic of the Vaal river, I know I am itching to get back out there again soon (not because of the water, lol).

If you would like to know more enquiry here or better yet come into the store in Illovo Shopping Centre and I will gladly help you get the right tackle and flies needed to experience your own little bit of the fabled magic.

Brendan Becker - Mavungana Flyfishing.