Venue: Lower Orange River (near Upington)
Date: 16 to 22 December 2016
After a superb day of fishing the previous day, we were excited to see if the river would produce the same quality fish for us on our last day. We decided to take a few casts at the rapid in front of our camp site before heading up river to the spot where De Wet and my dad smashed the yellows the previous day.
My dad and I managed to catch a few small yellows here, but I didn’t commit to this spot for long. I noticed that a lot of catfish were rising just below this rapid; majority of these fish being monsters judging by the swirls they were leaving on the surface!
This is the exact moment where the “viskoors” hit me with full force! I made my way to my kayak and took out my catfish casting setup.
Casting rig for catfish:
- 7 ft. Custom Heavy action casting rod
- Shimano Curado E200 casting reel
- 50 lbs. Berkley Whiplash braided line
- 50 lbs. Maxima Ultragreen mono line (leader)
- Lume Lures Large Slow Sinking pumpkinseed with size 7 Mustad Kaiju inline hook
I noticed a spot where several big catfish came up every few minutes. This spot was in about two meter deep water, right next to a weed line. Most cats came up just next to the weed line, but a few were also active inside the weeds. Usually, I would use the “calling” techniques in these conditions, but our calling rods were too long to use effectively from kayaks. I paddled closer as fast as possible, while trying to make as little as possible noise to prevent spooking the fish. Once I was at the desired spot, I positioned my kayak in the weeds as the weeds helped to act as an anchor against the current.
I made several accurate casts on these slow turning giants; each one giving me more “viskoors” than the previous one.
I have never seen so many monster catfish rise on one spot. The majority of fish were ranging from 15 kg to over 30 kg; this experience will drive most anglers’ nuts! The irony is that many of these fish were turning slowly, almost perfect to target with pumpkinseeds, as they spent some time on the surface before diving down. But, even though my father and I made several accurate casts on these beasts, they showed zero interest in our offering. I also tried calling with my casting setup, just to receive the same level of disinterest as the ones we cast to.
Eventually, the catfish action stopped and we decided to focus on yellowfish again. I was aching to catch a 4 kg smallmouth yellow as my dad and De Wet has already caught two of these brutes each. We pulled our kayaks up stream through the big rapid in front of our campsite and paddled up towards the next big rapid. The water level has dropped a bit from the previous day and this seems to have a small effect on the yellows. We did manage to catch as many yellowfish on this spot as with the previous day, but we did manage to hook up with a few slabs. My dad managed to land another beast of just over 4 kg on a Mepps spinner. I was kept busy with a few yellows of 3 to 3.5 kg which fell prey to my Rattlin’ Hornet.
Finesse spinning rig for yellowfish:
- 7 ft. Abu Garcia Veracity medium action spinning rod
- 2000 Penn Clash spinning reel
- 12 lbs. Berkley Nanofil line
- 10 lbs. Double X High Abrasion Mono line (used as leader)
- 5 cm Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet Hot Perch colour (Floating)
There were a few clumps of weed around; reeling my lures close passed it resulted in a few hook-ups with small largies. The smallies were mostly caught in a deeper hole just below the big rapid. This hole fell from knee-deep to 1.8 m in depth and had several big boulders in it. We found that the most effective technique of fishing this honey hole was to our cranks up stream passed the hole and then keep contact with the lure as it runs through the hole with the current. The yellowfish would hit the lure hard as it passed by them at the pace of the current – similar technique to how one “drifts” your flies in the current for yellows when fly fishing.
My dad managed to also catch another mudfish in the mouth on lure; this time the mudfish fell prey to his spinner. This was his third muddy for the trip that was caught legitimately on lure while targeting yellowfish.
While we worked the honey hole in front of us, we noticed Koos in the distance, as he was struggling to work his way through a very strong flowing rapid. We kept an eye on him and as he came closer, we noticed that his rod was in a major bend – he was on with a big fish! He was struggling to keep up with the fish as it was towing him down stream through the rapid. It was quite a spectacle to see this incredible fight! Our first thoughts were that he hooked up with a monster catfish on his spinning rig while spinning for yellowfish. Eventually, when he was relatively close to us, he managed to subdue the monster. As he netted the monster, he shouted that it was a big carp. It had a very golden colour to it; this led me to think that it might be a mirror carp. Koos kept the fish in the water while he found his bearings. Turns out that he covered about 2 km on foot (through two major rapids) to land this fish!
Once he regained his strength, he had a proper look at the fish, which was recovering in the landing net. He shouted with joy that it was a monster smallmouth yellowfish! He paddled over to us, keeping the fish in a weigh-bag in the water. I couldn’t believe the size of this fish! I have never seen such a monster smallmouth yellowfish. We took a few photos and weighed the fish – 4.72 kg! Koos took his time to revive the fish and then released it as it swam away strongly. We were all psyched to witness such an amazing catch – this was by far the biggest smallmouth yellowfish any of us (including De Wet) has ever seen! It was also ironic that the biggest smallmouth yellowfish of the trip ended up taking the smallest lure we tried on the trip – a 3 cm Salmo Hornet in Silver White Shad colour.
We decided to move back to camp and pack up to spend the afternoon fishing at one of the other spots. Before packing up I took a few last casts at the rapid in front of our camp and managed to land a few small largies. On my very last cast I hooked up with a solid largemouth on the 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet which gave me a proper run! I actually had to swim in to pull the fish out from some weeds – I thought it was a big catfish as it gave such a good pull. We took quick photo, released the beaut and commenced packing up.
At our next stop, Koos and I decided to paddle up stream to the spot where he caught his 18 kg catfish the previous day. He made one stop on our way to the spot to work a small island, while I continued up a rapid to see if there were any yellowfish in the vicinity. The water level was much higher at this spot than with our previous visit and this made all the difference in fish activity at this spot. Suddenly, I saw schools of yellowfish cruising everywhere between all the muddies. This was the first time on this trip that I actually saw plenty of yellowfish swimming in the rapids. I decided to make a few casts in the area with my 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet.
The first few casts didn’t produce anything, but a few casts later, I went tight with a solid yellow that gave me a proper run. I must admit that it was rather difficult to control the fish while fishing from my kayak. It was a solid 3.4 kg smallmouth yellowfish. The next 4 casts produced another 3 smallmouth yellowfish over 3 kg, but I just couldn’t find the 4 kg specimen I was looking for. Though, it was still very enjoyable catching such big yellows so easily. While smashing the yellowfish I heard Koos shout with joy in the distance. He managed to land another brute of a catfish on the popping technique – this one pulled the scale to 15.5 kg.
Koos then joined up with me as we moved past the rapids towards deeper pools with a few submerged rocks – the perfect water to look for big catfish. The two of us both situated ourselves on one of these islands and kept an eye open for any big catfish that decided to cruise by. Bad luck as we only saw small catfish swim past us, with no signs of big cats in the area.
We decided to move back to the rapid to spend our last two hours of fishing there. At this stage it was about 17:00 in the afternoon. At this rapid we both had one epic time, smashing fish after fish! We even had a few yellowfish take our lure on the drop on the surface! It is crazy to see smallmouth yellowfish smash our relatively big Hornets on the surface – who would have guessed this behaviour?! We also had two good double hook-ups; first a largie and smallie and then a blue kurper and smallie. I was very surprised to catch a blue kurper on the 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet – what a catch the end my trip with! I think it was a female protecting fry; they tend to hit cranks if it swims to close to their young ones. I also managed to catch a few solid largemouths during this session.
There are a few key factors to consider that contributed to our success on this final run. The channel we were fish was a narrow section of the river between two rapids. The channel went from knee-deep one the one side to around 2 meter deep on the opposite bank; thus the bank created a drop-off right next to the opposite bank with a relatively fast flow right next to the structure. The structure consisted of reeds forming a wall that extended across the whole bank. Some of the reeds were lying down, which created a perfect shelter for largemouth yellowfish to ambush their prey. The reeds were standing in the deep water right next to the drop-off; even more reason for the largies to hang out on this spot as they had ample cover.
With accurate casts I placed my lure in the pockets of the openings between the reed shelter. Most of the strikes I received was when as soon as my lure commenced running down past the reeds with the flow. The largies were sticking very close to their shelter. Ironically, I was working the “old water” that Koos had already worked through. I think that I picked up the largies in this water because I might have been able to place my lure closer to the structure. In conclusion, a few centimetres made the difference between catching largies or smallies. The smallies were found in the drop-off; not as close to the structure as the largies. Another key factor that proved to produce more hook-on’s for Koos and myself, was allowing the lure to drift down with the flow while running against the current, instead of retrieving the cranks as we usually do. The concept is very similar to the way many anglers catch smallies on fly in rapids and it proved to be more effective than the standard cast and retrieve technique. Both of us were fishing with the 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornets at this stage and it really impressed us both. I think it is a great all-rounder option as it produced numerous smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish (and the one blue kurper) and most of the fish taken on it was quality specimens. We were also very stoked to have two unique double hook-ups during this session; first a largie and smallie duo and then a blue kurper and smallie duo!
After smashing numerous quality yellows and the one blue kurper, we decided to head back and call it a day. Little did I know that I still had one more experience in store for me. Our way back was with the flow of the river, so we could free down the rapid. The deep channel of our final rapid was running right next to a wall of reeds. As I was freeing down the rapid, my kayak suddenly pulled head first into the reeds. The current pushed my kayak horizontal as the back of my kayak got anchored against a big rock. At this stage all hell broke lose as my kayak was being forced to flip by the force of the current. The water was too deep for me to climb off in without flipping the kayak – not to mention that the kayak was full of all my fishing equipment, my whole tackle box and a Safari Chiller of which none of this was strapped onto the kayak! My rods were standing up right in the rod holders of the kayak and all three of them got caught in the reeds which were bending them to the verge of snapping point! With my paddle in my one hand, I needed to save my three rods from being snapped, use my body mass to balance the kayak in the current to prevent it from flipping and try to bite off my three lines – all of this needed to happen simultaneously. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a pickle! After struggling to bite off my three lines for several minutes, I finally managed to save my three rods for a very expensive fate! Once my rods were secure, the cooler box flipped and as I saved it from falling of the kayak, I accidentally loosened my grip on my paddle and in an instant I was trapped without a paddle as the current washed my paddle away. To add to my predicament, I was barely visible as most of my kayak was concealed under a roof of reeds. I realized that I was pretty much screwed at this stage! After calling for help against the noise of the rapid, Koos finally heard me and came to help. He managed to pull me out of the reeds and then towed me back as I had no paddle. Luckily, we found my paddle, which was stuck in some weeds, on our way back to our bakkies. I came off light from this incident as I only lost my cap and had a few bent eyes on two of my rods – what a way to end this trip lol!
Thanks to De Wet for hosting us. I look forward to fishing these incredible waters again soon!