Rudolph's Reel Adventures

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly @ the Vaal – Part 1

Venue: Vaal Barrage (Vanderbijlpark/Vereeniging) 

Date: April 2016

Photo Credits to the Biccards

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It i s ironic how life sometimes throws a curve ball at you. I had a blast at the 2015 SAALAA Nationals and Trials held at Misverstand Dam down in the Western Cape; my dad and I took a silver medal in the B Teams division (one mosquito-fish cost us the gold) and I had an exceptional Trials where I bagged a 4th place finish. Going in to this year’s Nationals and Trials, which took place at the Vaal Barrage, I was very nervous.

One would think that I would enter this comp with confidence as I fished two Northern Gauteng leagues (similar to Divisionals) and one social pre-fishing trip at this venue before the tournament, whilst I only fished Misverstand 8 years before last year’s comp. I should have probably spent more time pre-fishing the Barrage before the comp, but that would have meant that I would have missed out on some fantastic fishing trips which I would have needed to sacrifice for time on the Vaal.

Anyways, the cards fell as they did. There is no reason thinking of what I could have done differently; I have spent enough time thinking of what I could’ve/should’ve done. Time to accept it and move on.

I’m not going to elaborate to much on the what happened during the Nationals. My dad and I made some terrible decision and we paid the price for them as the final results showed. Here we shared equal blame for our result. Yet, with the Trials, I need to take full responsibility for the result I obtained.

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During the SAALAA Trials, every contender aims to catch as many different species as possible as well as trying to catch decent size fish of the bigger species. This is done over two days, the same objective needs to be achieved on both days of the comp – consistency is key! The Trials takes place after the Nationals, thus all of the competitors have spend a few days on the water and therefore, everyone has a pretty good idea of which species they need to catch to achieve a good result. The Top 4 anglers according to the log (which spans over a period of 3 years) are nominated to represent South Africa in International tournaments where they will receive their Protea colours. Angler’s also needs 2 SAALAA caps, before they can be considered for Protea colours. I have a few Junior Protea caps behind my name and I received my first SAALAA cap earlier this year when I represented South Africa against Swaziland at Loskop Dam. Thus, my short-term objective is to obtain another SAALAA cap and then eventually earn my Senior Protea colours. I missed out on a few Trials during my years on varsity, I have only been back in the circuit since 2014. Anyways, let’s get back to my experience at this year’s Trials.

I was unlucky to draw a terrible pull-away number (second last pull-away). Luckily, Mike Biccard (the legend) was willing to lend me his boat to use for the two days of the trials – he has a Ruffneck Renegade with a Mercury 225 EFI which is a pretty fast rig. Our weigh-in point was at Riverside Beach Club which is situated where the Taaibosspruit meets the Barrage and this is where we would pull-away from. The Barrage is a very long stretch of water; this has several impacts on the decisions one needs to make on “game day” as you need to consider how much fuel you have, how long it takes to drive from one spot to another, how long it takes from your spot to weigh-in to prevent missing the cut-off time and being disqualified. The boat traffic on this river is also terrible with all the wake boats driving up and down on the river, often leading to your boat crashing into the bank or taking on water on your deck – not even to mention what happens when a wake shoots up in front of you while your are speeding towards your next spot!

I had two game plans to choose from:

Plan A (Cloudy Creek):

I start the day be heading down towards Cloudy Creek which is about 22 km from Riverside Beach Club. Here I would troll for catfish with shallow-running crankbaits. Once I have my catfish in the livewell, I would head down to the weir that is all the way down in the Loch Vaal. Here I would look for barbs (ghieliemientjies) and dwarf kurper, if I’m lucky a vlei kurper would pop up in between the dwarf kurper or barbs. From here I would head down to my mosquito fish spot which was also in the Loch Vaal. Next I would head towards Leeuspruit to look for carp feeding next to the reeds. This is followed up by heading past Taaibos towards the Suikerbosrand inlet. Before this inlet, there is a small inlet on the left where I would catch my size bass and a small blue kurper before heading back to Taaibos. At Taaibos I would try to catch my Vlei Kurper if I haven’t caught it by now and also try to upgrade on my bass on the laydowns across Taaibos. If all went according to plan, I would have 8 species at the end of the day.

This plan has less risk involved as the odds of catching a catfish at Cloudy Creek is better than the odds of catching one at Taaibos. The only downside of this plan is that you only get to target the blue kurper (which was limited to two schools on a single spot) later the day after numerous boats have spend time targeting these fish. Thus, the school would be much more difficult to catch after a few anglers have targeted them than early in the morning if you are on of the first boats to hit the spot. If you could land a catfish at Taaibos quickly in the morning, you would be much closer to the blue kurper spot and could work for them before they are pressured. The catfish seem to bite the best in the early mornings; if you couldn’t catch one of them in the morning, the odds are very good that you will not get one of them for the day. With no catfish in your bag, you are unlikely to achieve a good result in the comp. Getting a catfish early in the morning meant make or break for all the contenders.

Plan B (Taaibos):

Option B was to hit Taaibos first thing in the morning and try catch a catfish on trolling in this area. This plan carries higher risk than hitting Cloudy Creek first as one had a 40 / 60% change of catching a cat here or blanking on this species. Many anglers which tried to catch their cats in the days before the Trials in Taaibos blanked. This area did on the other hand, produce most of the big catfish of the event, with several cats of between 10 and 20 kg coming out on this spot. Taaibos is also much closer to the blue kurper spot. If you manage to catch your catfish quickly, it was easy to drive to the blues and catch one before they get pressured. This option was a gamble; either you win big or you lose big! This was proven to be true if you look at how my two days of Trials eventually turned out to be. There was also a lot of chatter from the guys about which one of the plans were the best to follow, thinking back I will definitely think twice before listening to the advice of my fellow competitors as it is clear that people would say anything to lead you astray when the stakes are high – best is to focus on your own game as people tend to lie when it comes to comps like this.

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Day 1: 

After speaking to a few guys the night before Trials and even on the morning before we pulled away, I was still very uncertain which one of the two game plans was the right decision. I decided to go against my original plan of fishing Cloudy Creek first and try my luck at Taaibos. I wasn’t feeling to confident that morning as I knew that I was taking a leap of faith and that my decision to fish Taaibos could make or break me. The previous two days before our Trials, I skipped John Biccard. Both days we started off by hitting Taaibos; the first day was a disaster as John could just not get a break with the cats, while on the second day he managed to catch a big carp on trolling and bag a catfish which helped him experience a superb come-back.

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During the Nationals and practice days, I caught most of my catfish on trolling with a 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet in Green Tiger and Hot Perch colour. Yet, all of these cats were caught at Cloudy Creek which is shallower than Taaibos. I asked Andre van Rooyen what lure to use for Taaibos and he recommended the 6 cm Hornet in Silver White Shad colour as it runs deeper than the the Rattlin’ Hornet.

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I drove past the first bridge in Taaibos and immediately cast my rod out with the 6 cm Hornet to start trolling up the river for catfish.

Tackle for catfish on the trolling technique:

  • Abu Garcia Veritas 6.6 ft MH spinning rod
  • Penn Clash 2500 spinning reel
  • Berkley Fireline Crystal 20 lbs. line
  • Salmo 6 cm Hornet F (SWS colour)

I kept an eye open for rising catfish and maneuvered the boat to keep in line with the areas where the most catfish were turning. I was trolling with the main motor on idling speed. I trolled relatively close to the boat and ensured that my lure bump on the bottom. Ideally, I prefer not to troll in deeper than 3 meter water, therefore my route was influenced by the depth shown on the Lowrance HDS9 fish finder.

I was very surprised when my rod pulled back, followed by the sound of my reel screaming as a catfish was putting up a fight! Though I was super excited to have this cat on the hook, I was still highly stressed as I couldn’t afford losing this fish. I fought the fish very gently until it was tired enough to be easily netted. As I put the fish on the deck, I shouted a cheer of excitement! I only trolled for about 15 minutes before landing a catfish – what a great way to start the day! Catfish check!

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I was super stoked as I really didn’t expect to catch a catfish so quickly. I am pretty sure that many okes were still driving towards Cloudy Creek and even among the guys that fished Taaibos with me, I must have caught one of the first catfish for the day!

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I saw some carp bubbles in the area and seeing that catfish was ticked off my list so quickly, I decided to try my luck at catching one of these feeding carp.

Tackle for carp on the dipping technique:

  • Mitchell Privilege Pro 13.6m telescopic dipping rod
  • Abu Garcia Revo S casting reel
  • Berkley Fireline 20 lbs. line
  • Sada Leadhead with yellow Curly Tail grub as trailer

I tried for about a hour with no success. I’m guessing that the bottom was to soft, which leads to my leadhead to sink away in the silt and therefore making it impossible for the carp to see it and then suck it up. Therefore, I decided to move on to my next target…vlei kurper (banded tilapia).

Tackle for vlei kurper on the dipping technique; 

  • Grey XF2 Carnivore 9′ #10 fly rod
  • Mitchell Avocet III Silver 1000 spinning reel
  • Berkley Nanofil 12 lbs. line
  • Mustad Signature Fly Hooks #16 Dry R50NP-BR
  • Berkley Powerbait Wigglers (pink colour)

The vlei kurper kept in schools very close to the structure in the shallows of Taaibos. If one looked carefully, you could see the schools lying just under the surface in the shallows among brush and reeds. When your bait is dipped in between the school, the follow it down and fight over it. I quickly caught a undersize vlei and then upgraded it to a size vlei kurper within a few minutes – 2 species down! (I use the 9 weight fly rod as it allows me to reach the kurper easier without spooking them and the rod has enough back-bone to pull even big kurpers out of structure without giving them the chance to wrap me).

Next I drove up to the blue kurper spot, which also had plenty of just size bass around. I met Basson here who was trying to catch an under-size blue kurper. Seeing that there are only to schools to target in a very small area, I left him to target them in peace. I secured my boat on a branch in the mouth of the small inlet which hosted the two schools of blue kurper. I then commenced making long accurate casts up the small channel.

Tackle for small just-size bass on spinning gear:

  • Abu Garcia Veracity 7 ft. M spinning rod
  • Penn Clash 2000 spinning reel
  • Berkley Nanofil 12 lbs. line
  • Salmo 3 cm Hornet S (HP colour)

I used a steady retrieve and got a few bumps before going tight with a size bass. It was no monster, but at least I had another species ticked off my list. At this time Basson moved away from the blues as he managed to catch one. I moved in on the spot and secured the boat on a Wilge tree next to the channel. I used the same setup that I used for the vlei kurper and within 5 minutes I caught a small blue kurper. At this stage, it was about 8 o’clock in the morning and everything was going to plan as I had already caught half of the species I aimed to get.

I left the spot and commenced driving up to the Loch Vaal where I intended to try for barbs in the flowing waters under a weir in the Riet River. It was quite a mission to reach this spot as one needed to idle for a long distance up the narrow river. I started of by fishing a spot where John Biccard caught his barbs during his trials and I used his exact same rig with a small Owner Tenago hook on it. The barbs were mainly caught by hitting your lure on the water to “call” them and then fish with a heavy split shot right on the bottom. It was important to make quite a noise to switch on the barbs and also to fish with a heavy weight to prevent the current from pushing your bait off the bottom. As I tried for the small barbs a felt a hard tug and set the hook. I quickly lifted the fish on the boat and I was super stoked to see that it was a small carp (about 13 cm) that decided to take my minute hook – I still can’t believe that a such a small hook could catch this size fish. As carp has no size limits, this was an amazing by-catch which meant I was now standing on 5 species. I continued working on the same spot with no luck, after a while a moved to the bank opposite to where I caught the carp and decided to take out a bigger rig which would be more visible for the barbs. This is the spot where my dad and I caught the barbs during the Nationals, most of the barbs we caught here were between 8 and 10 cm (pretty big straightfin and three spot barbs), while the barbs caught on John’s spot were between 3 and 4 cm.

Tackle for barbs (ghieliemientjies):

  • Shimano Exage Telescopic rod
  • Shimano Axulsa 500 spinning reel
  • 4 lbs. Berkley Nanofil line
  • Gamgatsu size 22 hook with a relatively heavy split shot weight rigged 10 cm above it
  • Berkley Powerbait Wiggler (pink colour)

I hit my bait on the surface repeatedly for a number of times before leaving the bait to sink to the bottom. I paused and then gave a jerk…I felt a tug and as I pulled up a big barb appeared. 6 species down!

I then traveled back up the Riet River to a small bay. Here I took out the same rod I used for barbs and dipped against a cement wall for dwarf kurper (Southern Mouthbrooder). Within 10 minutes a pretty big dwarf kurper of about 6 cm was hanging on my line. I put away my barb rig and took out my mosquito fish (similar to guppies) rig. The whole bay was swarming with schools of mosquito fish. I gave about 3 dips before catching a small mosquito fish. It was just past 12 o’clock and I was full with 8 species. I was very satisfied and thing could really not work out much better than it did. I decided to upgrade my mosquito fish to a bigger specimen as they were so easy and I was afraid that my dwarf kurper would chow my small mosquito fish. After a few dips I landed a big fat mother of a mosquito fish. I then left the Loch Vaal and headed towards Leeuspruit to see if I could catch a bigger carp here.

At the back of the bay I found schools of carp feeding on the surface and next to the reeds. I missed a few on dipping before I caught a small carp of just under 2 kg. I continued trying for carp and saw a nice 4 kg + job feeding on the reeds. When a placed my leadhead in front of it, it immediately sucked it up. As I set the hook the carp dashed away and my line 20 lbs. Fireline snapped for some odd reason.

I tried at least two hours for bigger carp, but only managed to catch another similar size carp. Next I head down to work the lay downs in front of Taaibos for bigger bass. I tried with several hard and soft baits with no luck and ended the day ranked 11th – I was very pleased with my result. If I could repeat this same success and catch a bigger bass and carp, I was sure to get end in the top 8.

Now, the question was to see if I could repeat this success on the next and final day of the Trials…

Look out for Part 2 to see how Day 2 played out.

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