My dad had the urge of late to catch yellowfish, not just any yellowfish – Largescale and Smallscale yellowfish. These two species of yellowfish are rarely targeted by anglers. This is surprising as they both give good accounts of themselves on light tackle and are both predators. They prey on small fish like barbs as well as on crabs and other insects. These fish have a streamline shape and strong muscles as they have to endure strong rapids. So this past winter we were off to Nelspruit to fish the Crocodile River. This river delivered the current South African Records for both Large- and Smallscale yellowfish, both weighing in at more than 6kg! Yet they were caught many years ago and those size fish are extremely scarce nowadays. These days anything over 2kg is a fine specimen for both species . The Lowveld Largescale yellowfish is found in the warmer stretches of South Africa as well as in Zimbabwe (all the way up to the Zambezi) where they live in warmer waters. The Bushveld Smallscale yellowfish on the other hand prefers cooler streams found in the rivers of Gauteng and Mpumalanga in the Highveld. Some rivers boasts with both species.
As Nelspruit is in the warmer regions of South Africa we expected that there would be more Largescale yellowfish in the Crocodile than Smallscale yellows. This was our first time trying to catch yellowfish in the middle of winter. We never knew that yellows stayed on the bite through winter and as most rivers are cleaner during winter, due to an absence of rain, it was about time we tried our luck of getting into some Bushveld Gold. This trip to the Crocodile River was more of an exploratory trip as we didn’t know what to expect. Our first challenge was to find fishable waters as this river was in the heart of the bushveld a.k.a thick bushes right along the river with few gaps in between for fishing. The first place we tried to fish looked promising, but we had no luck there. This spot also had a few hippos around which made the place less desirable for fishing. We moved from spot to spot in search of places to fish in the river. Often we would see promising waters, but the thick bush made it impossible to fish.
After trying a few spots with no luck, our friend Herman, took us to a bridge which looked very promising. From on top off the bridge we spotted schools of yellows feeding in the river below. The yellows were flashing on the rocky bottom between rapids below us. This sight was enough to send any anglers heart racing! We made our way down the river, which was quite a mission as you have to do a bit of bushwhacking! Eventually we were next to the water, but space were very limited – so much so that my dad and I made turns to cast. The rapids at this spot were very strong and it consisted mainly of narrow channels forming between the rapids with shallow water. Both my dad and I were using medium action 6.6ft medium action spinning rods with 1000 spinning reels and 3cm Salmo Hornets in Hot Perch colour. My reel was loaded with 10lb Berkley Nanofil while my dad fished with 10lb Berkley Fireline. We made numerous casts on the promising waters with no luck. This was heart-drenching as we were fully aware of the abundance of yellows feeding in these waters in front of us. It seemed that the current was to strong for us to fish our crankbaits effectively in this piece of water. I considered using my flyrod to target these yellows on fly, but the intense cover next to us would not make casting a fly possible. To our luck another friend of ours, Ryan, stopped on the bridge and saw us trying for yellows in the river below him. We met up with him with much disappointment. He said that he has never caught yellows below the bridge as the bush surrounding it just makes it impossible to target these fish effectively. Luckily for our part he knew of places next to the river which have been cleared of bush where he has caught some nice yellowfish before. He took us to this spot and when we saw it excitement filled us! Finally we were on a spot where we could effectively fish the area.
The spot consisted of a few 100 meters of clearing. This piece of water has some nice boulders with rapids next to them. My father started working a fast flowing rapid with a Sensation Minirap (lipless crank). I worked downstream from him still sticking to a 3cm Salmo Hornet in Hot Perch colour. After a few casts I got my first knock! I kept casting across the river, reeling in my lure as slow as possible. I casted downstream most of the time. My lure bumped the bottom as I reeled it in and next moment I felt a tap and my line went stiff! FISH ON! The fish dashed in various directions, taking line and making the sound which I have been yearning to hear all day. I called my dad with excitement and after a worthy fight the first yellow of the trip was landed. It was a small Smallscale yellowfish. We quickly took a few pics and gave the fish its freedom. A high five was in order, finally the ice was broken and our account opened! My dad returned to his spot and I continued fishing down the bank. I kept casting across the narrow river to the opposite side, trying to get the maximum casting distance. The Nanofil allowed me to get good casting distance and its thin diameter also allowed me to bring my lure through deeper, allowing for it to hit the bottom. I came across a deeper hippo hole (deep pool with slow current). After a few casts I was on again…zzzzzzzzzz! It was a little bit bigger Smallscale yellow, giving me another good fight. I landed the fish a released it without a pic. Long after this one I reached the end of the clearing. Three casts later I got a decent bump (bigger fish), but no hook-up. I kept on casting and BAM! Another one and by far the biggest one thus far! I called my dad and commenced playing the fish carefully. The trick was to keep tension on the line (not too much) as well as keep the fish away from all the reeds and tree stumps lying next to the shore. I played the fish carefully as my father showed up with the net. The fish gave a few more reel runs before it surfaced. It was a good 1.3kg specimen, another Smallscale yellowfish which was also released asap after a few pics. t was getting late so we called it a day.
The next day Ryan took us to another spot where we fished quite some time. It was a very nice spot which consisted of a massive clearing with a barrage and a large hippo hole. My dad and I fished with 3cm Salmo Hornets again. Fishing was extremely tough with both of us receiving no bites. We persisted knowing this spot was the best place we have fished so far for this trip. I saw a few nice boulders lying in the water and made a long cast over it. I started reeling in my lure very slowly feeling bump for bump as it hit the bottom…THUD..ON!!! My line got heavy and my drag started screaming. I called my dad from the distance yelling “it’s a big one!”. The fish was much stronger and heavier than the previous one’s I have caught thus far! I fought it gently knowing that it could break my line if I put too much pressure on it. Patience was key. The fish showed itself after a few minutes, it really was a big one – long golden fish! Eventually it came closer enabling my dad to net it. Finally I could breathe again. Once we saw it in the net we realised this was a superb catch – this yellow was not only long, it was a fat one! A solid slab! We carefully weighed it in the net – 2.88kg! New PB Smallscale yellowfish for me – almost 3kg! I was ecstatic! My father was also psyched. The fish was revived and released, as it swam away I remained seated on my bum next to the river. My dad asked me if I’m not going to continue fishing and I replied “Dad, just give me a minute…I’m savouring this moment”. I was filled with satisfaction – on top of the world haha.
Unfortunately we did not get any other fish at that spot and had to leave as a family of hippos showed up. Later that day my dad hooked into a beast of a yellow. We both agree that this must have been the biggest yellow of the trip. Too our regret the fish cut my dad off on some reeds. It was tragic as the fish was in netting distance, but it kept down in the deep. After long battle of carefully trying to surface the fish the line gave in and the BIG ONE got away.
We will fish these waters again, that’s for sure! Except for the new PB we also leave Nelspruit with the knowledge of knowing the rumours are true – yellows can be caught in the winter, now we have another winter alternative! Until next time, stay fishy.