This is the driest that Dullstroom has been in many years. Our rains are later than ever, and very little – having had less than 100mm this season. Dams are low and water temperatures are high, but still fish are being caught.
It’s a real pity to see our town dam sitting on less than 30%, but it is a sobering reminder that our weather is in fact changing, and us fly fishermen might need to start being a lot more fish conscious. What I mean by this is simple –  trout are hugely affected by warm water and low oxygen levels. If we persist on catching fish throughout the day this time of the year, a lot of the fish caught won’t make it. However, there are a couple things we can do to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Dawnie
The best time of the day, both for the fish and the fisherman, would be early morning. The water has had 10 hours to cool down which means that the fish are going to be more active and hopefully more eager to take a fly. When the water starts warming up from 9h00, the fish become a lot more lethargic, head for deeper water and tend to move around as little as possible.

Low and slow
If you are going to fish after 9h00 and can’t see any activity on the surface (which has been the case this last month) then you’re going to want to change from your floating line to either an intermediate or sinking line. And secondly, fish slowly. As I mentioned, fish aren’t going to be actively moving around chasing their food, much like a trout in a river won’t be in the fastest current, expending unnecessary energy looking for food. He’ll be sitting behind a rock waiting for the food to come to him. In a stillwater, trout are going to look for the coolest water, which is deeper in the water column, and very slowly cruise around the bottom. If you don’t fish your fly slow enough, you’re not giving the fish a chance to even consider what you’re presenting. But what are you presenting?

Any colour, as long as it’s black
Okay that’s not entirely true, but black, olive and brown flies are your go-to colours in summer. The waters are abundant with baitfish, damsels, dragonfly nymphs and tadpoles. At the end of the day, be it in a river or dam, the most successful fishermen are the ones who manage to match the hatch. If you have a look at a guide’s box, you’ll note two things – the various colours as well as the various sizes of flies. Few people make an effort to stock up on the same pattern in more than one size, but I’ve seen it many a time where changing from a size 10 to size 14 damsel makes all the difference to your catch rate.

Coming back to black flies, Walkersons produced many fish this last month, mainly on black streamers and black damsels. However, those who persisted with dry fly were also rewarded – a beautiful 52cm Brown cock fish was taken on a small Fullingmill CDC emerger. At Laverpa, most of the fish caught were done so on Foam Wing Hoppers and large Elk Wing Caddis patterns, the biggest fish of late being a fat 3kg Hen. Now, fish like that aren’t caught every day, but if you do hook into a larger fish this time of the year, there are a couple things you can do to make sure she swims away strong.

Slow and steady does not win the race
Firstly, you want to be fishing thicker tippet where you can. The waters are no longer crystal clear, so you can get away with fishing 3X over 4X on your sinking line. When you do hook a fish, big or not, you want to try bring that fish to the net as quickly as possible. The longer you fight that fish, the greater the chance of her going belly up when you try release her. Once you have her in the net, let her rest for a minute or two if you plan on taking a photo, but please make sure she’s in the water for as long and as often as possible. It would be ideal for you to also be in the water, making the photo session less stressful for the fish as it’s easier and quicker for you to get the fish back in the water between photos; but ideally you want to try avoid this whole process to begin with.

Safely releasing the fish we catch should be our first priority, so I would urge you this December to shift your focus a little bit from just catching fish to how you handle the fish you do catch.

Nathan Pahl in our Dullstroom shop