Rudolph's Reel Adventures

Alien versus Predator

Venue: Vaal River, Christiana

Date: 21 to 24 March 2019

Long weekends are for fishing. Ask any angler and I’m sure they will agree. So, another semi-long weekend was approaching and for some reason I only realised this the week before. Time was running out to organise a decent trip.

Though, before any real planning can be done, we needed to finalise the venue. I spoke to my dad about this he suggested we try out the Vaal River at Christiana. This stretch is very similar to the Vaal Barrage. The river is dammed up by a weir. This weir/dam wall is found close to Warrenton and forms a dam above it known as the Vaalharts Dam. Between the rapids above Christiana and the weir at Warrenton, 42 kilometres of Vaal River is dammed up.

Ironically, there is virtually no information available regarding fishing at this venue, especially regarding fishing with lures. We managed to gather a little info from a few anglers who have fished the venue, though most of this info was from visits many years ago. We did however know that this water hosted an Artlure Angling Nationals in 1990. So, 29 years later, we decided to visit these waters to see how it was fishing at present. Nothing like a good old “Recce” trip to explore the unknown.

We decided to camp at Christiana on Vaal which is situated on the bank on the Vaal in the town of Christiana. The setup was quite nice. The camping stands had power points available and all of them are on soft green grass.

The launch pad drops quite fast which makes launching a breeze. The resort is situated in town; so a Spar and Engen Fuel Garage is close by to resupply and refuel. The ablution blocks were also well maintained and clean. Plus, a jungle gym and swimming pool makes the venue perfect for a family camping trip.

Most of the river is one long single lane, but in front of the resort is a big island which splits the river.

There are very few big bays in this stretch, so one often fishes in the main river. We were a bit worried about shallow water as we got on the river, but soon we realised that most parts of the river has deep water where one can drive with the outboard. It is only at the “inflow” and at the Vaalharts Dam where shallow water occurs. The rapids at the inflow have shallow rocky reefs which can mess up a gearbox – ideal to fish this stretch via trolling motor. So, the only real dangers on this river are to keep an eye out for logs floating in the river as well as other boats on the narrow sections.

The water quality isn’t bad. Most of the river has pretty good visibility. We only found poor visibility at the Vaalharts Dam where the water was murky. We also found that the water in front of the resort can be a bit off, depending on the wind direction. Considering that this was the Vaal River, I would say this stretch is much healthier than the Barrage with less signs of pollution present. There are several houses next to the river with private launch pads which gives the river a bit of a “Barrage” feel. A few skiers and jet skis were busy in front of the resort, but most of the river had no other boats present – only untouched wilderness.   

Species-wise, the river was very healthy. I managed to catch 8 species during our stay there and I didn’t even try to catch all of the species available. I believe on a good day, one has a solid chance of catching 11 species here. We didn’t catch any Bass or see any signs of them. The locals we spoke to confirmed that they have never seen any Bass coming out in this water. We were a bit surprised to find and catch Blue kurper here (not indigenous to the Vaal). We saw several schools of pan-size blue kurper swimming about and also caught several smaller specimens with ease.

Grass Carp spinning rig:

  • 7 ft. Medium Action spinning rod
  • 2000 spinning reel
  • 15 lbs. Nanofil braided line
  • 10 lbs. Fluoro leader line
  • 3.5 cm Rattlin Hornet (Holo Bleak, Yellow Holo Perch, Hot Perch colours)
My very first catch for the trip – juvenile Grassie

Another alien which we surprised us quite a bit was the Grass Carp. Normally, Grass Carp tend to be shy fish which are very reluctant to take on artificial lures. Anglers have to go through a lot of effort to catch these buggers. This was not the case at Christiana. In fact, my very first catch of the trip was a small Grass Carp which smashed my 3.5 cm Rattlin Hornet on the drop on the surface. I was very surprised with this catch. We all thought this was an isolated incident, but it didn’t take long before we realized these fish were abnormally aggressive.

Soon after landing the juvenile Grassie we came across a school of bigger fish cruising below some overhanging willow trees. They had a golden colour to them which led my dad and I to believe that they were Yellowfish. I cast my tiny Rattlin Hornet to them and left it dead still on the surface (as it is a floating model).

My dad and I witnessed as one of the specimens swam closer to the lure and slowly came up to take the lure. It was a slow rise – enough to get any anglers adrenalin pumping! I patiently waited for the fish to inhale the lure and followed up with a solid strike. ON!!! The fish gave a strange fight…short runs with a few headshakes. Soon after my dad netted it the specimen…a Grass Carp of about 4 kg?! The fight wasn’t impressive at all, but catching Grass Carp on the surface with light tackle and cranks was a pretty cool experience.

It turned out that these waters was infested with loads of Grass Carp. Most of the specimens we cast at, would try to take our Rattlin Hornets. The 3.5 cm Rattlin Hornet was the perfect choice for them as it has a long-cast system which allows for easy casting and it’s the perfect size for Grassie’s to easily see as well as inhale.

Lastly, the hooks on these tiny lures are extremely sharp. Grass Carp have very hard parrot-like mouths, so it helps to have super sharp hooks on your lure to ensure a solid hook set. I don’t believe that these Grassie’s have any preference in terms of colour when preying on our cranks. It seems that these fish have adapted to feed on any insects that float on the surface while patrolling the shores for vegetation. Interestingly, Koos and Arno saw a Grass Carp sticking its head out of the water into a bird’s nest which seemed to be feeding on the eggs.

Arno and Koos had one epic session where they caught several 5 to 6 kg Grassies which included a 9 kg model. My father caught a 6 kg model and I managed to upgrade my personal best to 7.6 kg.

Ironically, most of the Grassies gave poor fights. They seem to prefer fighting in the open water. These short fights often include the fish circling the boat or trying to dive in beneath the boat. The only two specimens that gave proper accounts were my father’s and my personal bests (kept us busy for about 15 minutes).

Yellowfish spinning rig:

  • 7 ft. Medium Action spinning rod
  • 2000 spinning reel
  • 15 lbs. Nanofil braided line
  • 10 lbs. Fluoro leader line
  • 3.5 cm and 4.5 Rattlin Hornet (Holo Bleak, Yellow Holo Perch, Hot Perch, Green Tiger colours)

Luckily, the yellowfish also showed face on this trip. The only anomaly being that we caught much more Largemouth Yellowfish than Smallmouth Yellowfish.

Largie double-up for Team Blixem

Between the four of us, we landed about 30 Largies for the trip; biggest being around 3.5 kg.

In comparison we only landed about five Smallies for the trip, which included a decent specimen caught by Koos of just under 3 kg. Both 3.5 and 4.5 cm Rattlin Hornets produced for the yellows.

We noticed that the yellows would move into the rapids at certain times which would lead to frenzies. During these frenzies, the fishing was pretty epic! With one of these frenzies, I had three Largies hitting my 3.5 cm Rattlin Hornet on the drop on the surface!

The initial runs of these predators never get old – they are extremely fast! On light spinning tackle, it is incredibly fun to target these fish. Just remember to treat these fish with the utmost respect and release them after a quick pic – their numbers aren’t what it used to be.

My father and I saw a bigger specimen (between 4-5kg) hunting in one of the shallow rapids. We both got a few chases from it, but every time our lures would get stuck before the yellow could grab it – pretty cool to see the behaviour of these unique predators. Between the yellows my dad also managed to catch a mudfish.

Catfish popping rigs:

  • 7.6 ft. Heavy Action casting rod
  • Doyo Coba Inshore II casting reel
  • 80 lbs. Sunline FX2 Frogging & Flipping braided line
  • The Big Cat Popper
  • 50 lbs. Maxima Ultragreen mono line (about 60 cm)
  • 7 cm Salmo Slider (sinking) (Yellow Sunfish colour) (single Owner Stinger Treble 2/0 hook on the back)

Finally, we move over to the cats. We caught cats on various different methods like when we tried to troll for yellows or while we were spinning for yellows (10 kg catfish on 3.5 cm Rattlin Hornet and light tackle = one long fight!).

We also saw massive schools of catfish in the late afternoons. One would drive down the river and came across massive schools of cats forming black patches all over the river. Popping with Big Cat Poppers and Pumkinseed rigs produced cats at many spots across the river, though the majority was small fish (under 8 kg). We did however manage to catch a few specimens over 10 kg. The biggest catfish of the trip was caught on a 7 cm Slider (Yellow Sunfish colour) with a Big Cat Popper by me and it pulled the scale to 16.4 kg. On this same rig I experienced my best tempo fishing for cats ever – 25 cats in 2 hours of fishing – it was awesome! One doesn’t often experience fishing where it takes longer to unhook and release your catch than to catch your next one.

The river has healthy populations of Vlei and Dwarf kurper and we also saw some Mosquitofish in vegetation plus managed to catch a few Threespot Barbs on the launch pad. Plenty of food around for the predators.

I think the best part of this trip was that we only saw about 3 other boats fishing the venue during our stay there and to think this was on a long weekend! It is safe to assume that this river has virtually no fishing pressure from boats.

Until next line…

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