Return to Pongola
Join us as we head back to the Southern-most tigerfish fishery in Africa for the first time in half a decade…
Let’s face it, we all love collecting those passport stamps as part of fishing trip mementos. However, catching what is considered largely a ‘cross border’ species while staying in SA makes it a pretty special experience. We’re talking – of course – about targeting tigerfish on fly in South Africa.
On lightish tackle, on the surface…
“While I love travelling north of the border, drifting the Okavango and the Zambezi and knowing my odds of a double figure, fly-caught trophy (and much better) are high, but there is something special about catching my favourite fish in my favourite country,” explains Mavungana founder Jonathan Bolton.
South African tigers are limited to a few special waterways, most flowing in, through, or out of the Kruger National Park on our Eastern Border. The most reliable and accessible homegrown tigerfish are to be had on the Pongola River system however. “The top section, maybe 30km upstream of the dam, the dam itself called the Pongolapoort, Pongola or Jozini dam and the river section below,” Jono says.
“The river above the dam gets very low in the winter although clarity is great, conversely in the summer water heights are good but heavy agriculture on the banks and subsequent sediment laden run off result in chocolate-coloured water. The river below is beautiful flywater, flowing through tribal land with the banks lined by lovely Riverine fig trees. It’s like a tail-water fishery, clarity fairly guaranteed by matter of fact of the dam upstream,” he says.
For Jono – who has been fishing it since the 90s – the dam however is where it’s at. “It’s a massive body of water with terrifically varied features. There is the rivermouth area, from the railway bridge down; flooded mud banks and shallow reedbeds alive with baitfish, juvenile tigers and of course, the area is frequented by those that eat them both.”
The past three or four years have not been kind to the dam and the area however, with severe drought having dropped the dam level down all the way to 21% at certain times and not much higher than 43%. This has had a severe effect on the water colour as well as the margins. With the water being very dirty water throughout. The good news is that reports from the resident farmers is that the drought is broken and the dam is creeping up, now sitting well above 50%.
What this has also done is that our prediction is that Pongola will be back online this year and we are very excited to be heading back for one trip only, this year…
This is happening on the long weekend in September: Think lightweight rods, private game reserve lodgings, plenty of game (including white rhino). Is there a better way to spend Heritage Day?
Our favourite time up there is early Spring, when water is clearest and temperatures start to knock on the door of 18C, which is why we’ve chosen September. “After the first rains dirty water from the river pushes progressively out from the mouth and into the main dam, a double edged sword for the fly angler who requires clear water while needing warming water for hungry tigers,” Jono explains. “The ability to move quickly around the dam to find the ideal combination of temperature, clarity and structure makes the world of difference.”
Our custom-built fly boats are armed with satellite-enabled trolling motors. This allows our guides to direct the boat with a handheld remote. They constantly monitor the depth and water temperature on the fish finder and keep an eye out for that perfect mix of habitat, warming shallows full of life, weed for cover and proximity to depth for the marauders to access their prey. Once they find this, they can either use the anchor icon and the trolling motor will lock on and hold on the mark (regardless of wind or drift).
Traditional 9 weight rods used for tigers anywhere else are perfect, but we have become rather partial to the 7 weight on Pongola. A combination of the fact that Pongola is the Southerly most extent of the tigerfish distribution in Africa and hence means a lot of smaller fish and a 7 weight is just so much nicer to cast. The ideal setup is two rods, a 9 rigged with a sinking line and and then a floating or slow intermediate on the 7. From one minute to the next one can be fishing rocky drop offs in 8 metres of water, the next drifting shallow flats with subsurface weed.
Our go-to lines are the ‘lost or ghost tip’ lines – a full tropical floater with a clear intermediate tip of 3-5 metres. This line is perfect for sinking imitative EP and brush flies and keeping them at a consistent depth just below the subsurface, and of course on a 7 weight presentation is so much more delicate which is important if one is lucky enough to find ‘tailing tigers’ in the shallows.
Each season we use more and more imitative flies, unlike the river systems tigers occur in where there is inevitably a bit of colour, on Pongola one can be fishing tigers in almost gin clear water and with their eyesight I believe shape, size and colouration has to be spot on. The lack of current means the fish gets a much better look at the fly as it stays in their kill zone for much longer. Along with selections of weighted and un-weighted EP and SF Blend brush flies our guides are never without a set of fly tying scissors and coloured permanent markers ready to trim and mark flies based on clarity, tilapia species being spotted or even what gets regurgitated in the boat!
We tend to keep our leaders longer than say, for the Zambezi, up to 12 feet on the ghost tip and 9 foot on the sinkers.
Piqued your interest for September? Rods are highly limited, get in touch now for more information and to book your spot.