Rudolph's Reel Adventures

High Stakes, High Rewards – Part 1

Venue: Taung Dam

Date: 11 to 14 October 2016

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The drought ravaging across our country has severely impacted our waters and their productivity this season. It seems that the whole ecosystem is out of balance. August winds are still evident at some places; some places are taking longer to heat up after the winter and this has a direct impact on the fishing results across South Africa.

Vanderkloof Dam is no exception when it comes to being heavily affected by the drought. I have been planning to visit this special place again from the start of the year. Our plans were set to visit the dam from 11 to 16 October; this is the exact same time we visited it last year which produced some epic catches.

As fate would have it, our plans were to change drastically on the night before embarking on our trip towards Vanderkloof. A few of my friends decided to drive down a few days before us to see what the fishing was like. We kept in close contact with them to hear how the dam was producing. The news we received wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear. The dam level was very low (56.9% vs. the 94% of last year at this time), the whole dam was covered with stained chocolate coloured water and the average water temperate was around 14 degrees Celsius. Most boats struggled to land a single yellowfish in a whole day of fishing and the ones that they did manage to catch were small specimens. We kept in contact with them to hear if the fishing conditions were improving as the time for our departure came closer, yet the news remained the same. In fact, our friends urged us to consider postponing our trip to when conditions have improved. This was out of the question as leave was already put in – come hell or high water; we will be fishing these few days!

I spoke to my friend, Evert Laubscher, regarding our situation and he mentioned that we should maybe consider other options which included visiting Taung Dam which is relatively close to Vanderkloof (situated about 40 km from Hartswater in North West, 476 km from Pretoria). The deciding factors which influenced our decision of venue included the following:

  • Does the dam host a healthy population of yellowfish?
  • Can these yellowfish be effectively targeted on lures?
  • Does the dam have good water visibility?
  • The dam should have a high probability of having warmer water temperatures than those of Vanderkloof.

I have visited Taung Dam for a short trip a few years ago; so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. As I remember, the dam has extremely clear water, plenty of promising cliffs, boulders, timber and gravel beds as well as plenty of smallmouth yellowfish as well as the odd largemouth yellowfish. The dam is also supposed to have huge catfish and plenty of carp as it is based in the Harts River which also feeds Barberspan. I have seen a few big bass that have been caught at this venue, but as far as I know, they are rather scarce. Lastly, the dam also host plenty of Orange River mudfish and moggel which serves as great bait for the many predators found in the dam. Lastly, the dam is about 10 km in length. During our previous visit we managed to catch plenty of small juvenile smallmouth yellowfish on small spinners and crankbaits, we caught a few average size bass, two decent size catfish on calling and to our surprize we managed to catch two mudfish in the mouth on sight using small jigheads with a curlytail as a trailer. It was a fun experience, but nothing special. Yet, I was very excited to spend some time on these unknown waters to see what the dam has to unveil.

So, with numerous calls, our plans changed the night before we hit the road – Taung, here we come! Having very little knowledge of the dam or experience on these waters; this was definitely a dicey move, but we decided to take the risk and see what happens. We travelled via Wolmaransstad; here we were joined with Jacques van Wyk who would be my fishing partner for the trip. We arrived at Gali Lodge on the afternoon of 11th October where we were welcomed by the manager, Chris. The hospitality of this lodge is great and Chris was open to help us wherever he could. There are a few things that one needs to remember when visiting this venue:

  • There are limited accommodation options when visiting the dam. Gali Lodge is probably the closest accommodation from the dam. The rooms are sufficient to stay in, but it doesn’t include a fridge, deep-freeze, utensils etc. Chris organized a deep-freeze to store our braaivleis in after we requested it. The lodge doesn’t have any problems with crime, but outside the lodge crime is a problem. Gali makes very lekker pap and sauce on request – I highly recommend it!
  • Anglers need to organise a car guard to watch their cars for the day while they are out on the water, many visitors who have failed to follow this route has returned to their vehicles being broken into. Chris can assist with organising a car guard; just ask for a reliable guard.
  • You need a 4×4 towing vehicle to launch at this venue; especially of you are towing a heavy boat. The road towards the launch is pretty terrible and the launching area also has limited space which won’t be able to handle a lot of visitors at the same time.
  • Taung has scorching temperatures and ice is therefore not always available to purchase in the town.
  • The dam has no crocs or hippos.
  • Catch and release is very important to the lodge as they aim to promote the dam for its fishing potential which ensures they stay in business (not even mentioning the fact that this dam hosts populations of threatened largemouth yellowfish). Small carp and catfish can be removed from the dam, but all the other fish should be handled with care and needs to be released to ensure the fishery stays pristine.

Day 1:

After unpacking and settling in at the lodge, we decided to hit the water for a short afternoon session. We picked up our car guard on our way to the launch. The wind was pumping at this stage; therefore I decided to look for a sheltered area of the dam to fish. Not far from the launch we came across some massive cliffs which form a very high protective wall against the wind. I started spinning down these cliffs to see if I could pick up a yellowfish or two.

Spinning rig for yellowfish:

  • 7 ft. Abu Garcia Veracity medium action spinning rod
  • 2000 Penn Clash spinning reel
  • 12 lbs. Berkley Nanofil line
  • 3 cm Salmo Hornet Hot Perch colour (sinking)

It didn’t take long before I went tight with a small bass. I continued spinning down the bank with several different lures, yet I didn’t get any more takes. After trying a few different lures with no results, I decided to try trolling down the cliffs for yellows. I was trolling with a 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet in Gold Fluoro Perch colour. This technique delivered two decent size smallmouth yellowfish for me, but I had to troll long distances before getting a hit. I was trolling with the outboard on idling speed (between 3-4 kmph) with my line about 40 m behind the boat. Remember to troll with a relatively loose drag as these yellowfish hit the lure hard!

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The wind continued picking up which made it difficult to do sight-fishing. I therefore resorted to trying for bass with a light mojo rigged superfluke.

Plastics rig for bass:

  • 7.1 ft. Abu Garcia Villain medium heavy action casting rod
  • Abu Garcia Revo MGXtreme casting reel
  • 16 lbs. Double X High Abrasion monofilament line
  • Size 4 Gamakatsu Wide Gap hook rigged with a Zoom Superfluke (Junebug) on a light mojo rig

I worked on the left bank of the mouth of one of the many bays in the dam. The bank had a gravel bottom with a few trees standing around and a decent drop-off close to the shore. I worked my bait very slowly on the bottom with long slow pulls. I suddenly noticed that my line kept on going slack and as I was busy reeling in like a fanatic to get tension on my line, I saw how a decent size bass came cruising past me with my fluke in its mouth! I immediately tried to set the hook, though I haven’t had enough contact with my line to ensure a proper hook set. The bass reacted by jumping out of the water and throwing my hook with ease – what a cheeky move!

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It was getting late, so we decided to call it a day. Though the excitement for the day was not all done; we barely managed to make it up hill with our 2 x 4 Isuzu – it was pretty clear after day 1 that we should stick to 4 x 4’s when taking on this launch. The rest of the guys also managed a few good bass for the day. Michael and Aubrey Mardon managed to catch several yellowfish on 2 cm Hornets in flashy colours like Silver White Shad and Gold Fluoro Perch (seems these yellows prefer a bit of flash to commit).

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Day 2:

We arranged to meet our car guard on the way to the launch the next morning at 06:30, but he was nowhere to be seen when we arrived at the pick-up spot. We had no choice other than taking shifts to fish close to the launch to keep an eye on our vehicles. Evert and Koos decided to take the first shift. Luckily we got hold of Chris at the lodge and he ensured us that he will try and organise another guard to look over our cars.

Jacques and I went all the way up the dam towards the river inlet section. We wanted to try for catfish on the “buddy casting” technique. This technique involves casting slow sinking lipless lures against trees, reeds or rocks and then pausing before retrieving the lure. Usually two anglers or “buddies” try to cast on the same spot, the catfish reacts to the noise of the lures hitting the water and comes up to the surface to inspect the disturbance. When the catfish finds your lure suspending close to the surface, it will attack it! Slow sinking lures with proper hooks works the best for this technique. It is important to cast very close to the structure and each follow up cast should be on the same spot as the first cast – accurate casting makes all the difference! Remember that the catfish will take your lure on the drop and not on the retrieve, so if you see no action after a few seconds, you should reel out your lure ASAP and cast on the same spot to repeat the process. Usually a catfish will take within the first five casts if they are around. Also note that catfish tend to hunt more actively in the mornings and in the late afternoons.

The river section of this dam is full of many trees, some of them even have nests in them, and thus they are ideal spots to look for catfish. There are also some reeds high up in the river which also look promising.

Casting rig for catfish:

  • 7 ft. Shimano Clarus medium heavy action casting rod
  • Shimano Curado E200 casting reel
  • 50 lbs. Berkley Whiplash braided line
  • 7 cm Salmo Slider (treble hook replaced with a single Mustad Kaiju size 8 inline hook and an Owner split ring).

As we idled into the river section we saw plenty of catfish rising in the area. Unfortunately, when we arrived on the spot a cold wind blew over the dam and instantly the fish activity in the area decreased. I managed to catch a small catfish one of the first trees I targeted with the buddy casting technique – I was surprised that the little fellow could take such big bait! Fishing was slow and it seemed like the cold breeze chased the fish out of the shallows and into the deep. I really wanted to get a few awesome shots of catfish on this technique on video and therefore persisted working in the river; my hope was that the breeze will die down eventually and then the fish should become active again. It seemed that the mouth of the river had less activity than way at the back of the inlet. The water was murky in the river section, very different to the clear water found in most of the dam. Though this murky water didn’t put me off; catfish seem to like murky water and they are usually more aggressive in such waters.

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The water level was very low at the top of the dam inlet; it seems the never-ending drought has even impacted dams like Taung which is normally 100% full. I saw a few catfish turning in this area. They were lying next to the trees with nests in them in half meter deep water. I experienced a few exciting miss strikes before I managed to land a few decent catfish of up to 6 kg. But little did I know that I was moments away from experiencing one of the weirdest moments next on the water.

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I saw a promising looking tree standing in about 20 cm deep water. I made a few casts on the tree, which resulted in a few misses, but I could swear that I saw a flash and a dorsal fin appearing during one of the takes. I continued casting next to the tree. Next moment my Slider got smashed and the fish raced away with superior speed – unlike any catfish I have ever caught! The fish gave a few runs before it surfaced and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the catch for the first time…it was a largemouth yellowfish!

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This is the first time that I have seen such behaviour from this species – weird to say the least! Usually these fish prefer deep pools with clear waters and they like to chase lures. This fish reacted to the sound of my lure hitting the water and took it in extremely shallow water…extremely shallow murky water! I was thrilled with this awesome by-catch! We took a few photos before reviving the fish and letting it go. I estimate it to be around 3.5 kg.

The wind died down and the day started heating up. I noticed a few catfish cruising under the surface in the mouth of the river. These catfish were extremely aggressive and they couldn’t resist an accurate pitched Slider presented about 30 cm in front of them.

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I also noticed a few smallmouth yellowfish cruising on the surface among the trees in the river. I decided to see if they were hungry for some Hornets.

Spinning rig for yellowfish:

  • 7 ft. Abu Garcia Veracity medium action spinning rod
  • 2000 Penn Clash spinning reel
  • 12 lbs. Berkley Nanofil line
  • 3 cm Salmo Hornet (sinking) (some weird colour, don’t know the code)

With an accurate cast a placed my lure behind the next yellowfish to cross my path. I lifted my rod tip to reel in my Hornet close to the surface. With a slow retrieve a reeled in my lure to pass just in front of the unsuspecting yellowfish. The yellowfish reacted by storming the lure which resulted in the beautiful sound of line peeling of my Clash.

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After a very enjoyable fight we netted the beaut, took a few snapshots and released the beauty for another day.

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I climbed back on the trolling motor and worked my way down the trees while scanning the area for another yellowfish to target. Soon enough another one appeared; I repeated the same process which led to the same result. The only difference this time around was that the yellowfish jumped as I tried to remove the hook with my pliers and somehow the yellowfish managed to shake the small treble off – in my hand! Luckily for me, the yellowfish was not hanging on the other end of the hook that was firmly tucked away in my hand. Jacques released the yellow and then came to assist me with removing the hook. We first cut the hook of the lure. The barb was hidden beneath my skin, so it was clear that this was not going to be easy. The hook was set when my middle finger joined with my hand. I clinched my teeth as I pushed the hook to penetrate my skin. After some painful minutes passed, I managed to pierce the point of the hook through my skin and eventually the barb exited my skin. Jacques used the pliers to cut of the hook’s point below the barb which made it possible for me to pull the hook out of my hand. Just another reminder that one needs to be extra careful when working with yellowfish, they tend to jump a lot and because they are super slippery, they have the tendency to bury hooks in your hands.

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Though the river was coming alive, it was time for us to take over the responsibility of looking after our bakkies. We headed back up the dam and found Evert and Koos close to the launch. They informed us that Chris managed to organize another person to look after our vehicles, so we didn’t have to worry about this. We were relieved to hear this news; it would have been sucky to be restricted to fish close to the launch for four hours. Koos also informed us that he caught his very first largemouth yellowfish on lure a few hours earlier while trolling with the 4.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet in GFP colour and it was one beautiful golden specimen!

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We headed back up the dam to some promising looking flats. The area was alive with smallmouth yellowfish spawning in the shallows with a few bigger smallies moving up and down the shore – looked like they were feeding on the eggs of the other yellows that were busy spawning.

Spinning rig for yellowfish:

  • 7 ft. Abu Garcia Veracity medium action spinning rod
  • 2000 Penn Clash spinning reel
  • 12 lbs. Berkley Nanofil line
  • 2 cm Salmo Hornet Silver White Shad and Hot Perch (sinking)

I managed to catch two solid smallmouth yellowfish on my spinning rig with a 2 cm Hornet in Silver White Shad colour. Jacques also managed to catch his very first smallmouth yellowfish on lure with a Hornet and it was a solid specimen which put up a great fight.

As I was spinning for the yellows, I noticed a small point submerged under the surface. This looked like the perfect spot for a big smallmouth yellowfish, so I made long cast with my 2 cm Hornet over this small island and commenced slowly retrieving my lure. I suddenly felt a solid knock, followed by my line becoming heavy. At first I thought I was on with a big yellowfish, but this thought was changed in the next few seconds when a monster bass surfaced at the end of my line! I shouted at Jacques “it’s a monster bass, get the net!!!”. I knew that I was in for a massive fight as my light spinning rig was not the right tackle for such a big fish! Needless to say, my heart was pounding in my throat! It immediately loosened my drag and kept my rod tip down while trying my best to control the beast at the other end of the line. The bass didn’t really give a damn, it still managed to surface 3 more times while ferociously shaking its head in an attempt to throw the miniature hooks of my 2 cm Hornet. I managed to bring the beast closer, but it then swam underneath the boat which resulted in my medium spinning rod bending over the side of the boat while the bass was jumping on the other side of the boat. Next the beast ran towards my trolling motor and I shouted to Jacques to lift the trolling motor, with a lot of luck, Jacques managed to lift the trolling motor just as my 12 lbs. Nanofil line passed within inches of the sharp bladed of the trolling motor. I then managed to bring the bass close to the surface and Jacques netted the monster! I shouted with joy! This was an incredible catch! If someone asked me beforehand if this was possible, I would have laughed it off, yet somehow I managed to land a 3.91 kg bass on a 2 cm Salmo Hornet – totally nuts!!!

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I screamed with joy of this incredible catch and I was shaking immensely as the adrenaline was pumping through my veins – this is what fishing is all about! We took a few photos before reviving and releasing this beast! So it happened that I caught my PB bass within SA borders while spinning for yellowfish as a freaking by-catch!

 

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After catching this beautdsc06953 I decided to work for bass in the area with my plastics rig. A simple Zoom Superfluke (Junebug) on a light mojo-rig worked slowly on the bottom did the trick.

 

 

 

 

After about an hour of working in the area I managed to catch another lunker of 2.8 kg.

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Evert and Koos also joined up with us and tried their hand at working for the bass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evert was lucky enough to catch a 2.6 kg bass and a 2.5 kg largemouth yellowfish in the area with the 6.5 cm Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet in Sexy Shad colour – two great catches!

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I decided to see if I could also catch a bass on this lure. I moved to work the cliffs opposite the spot where we were fishing up to now.

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Cranking rig for bass:

  • 7.4 ft. Halo Cranking series I medium heavy action casting rod
  • Abu Garcia Orra Winch casting reel
  • 16 lbs. Double X high abrasion monofilament line
  • 5 cm Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet Yellow Hot Perch colour

I made long casts down the cliffs and was pleasantly surprised at the superior casting distance I got out of the Halo Cranking rod. The action of the rod is excellent for cranking as its tip is very soft which helps to work the cranks through timber without getting hook-ups easily. The rod also loads very nicely which allows getting that extra reach which is a necessity for cranking. The 6.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet has a long cast system as part of its design which is perfectly complimented when paired with the Halo cranking rod. The Yellow Hot Perch colour looks very much like a vlei kurper (banded tilapia) which is found in most waters throughout SA, most predators including bass, like to prey on these fish. As I steadily retrieved my crank, working it through the underwater trees and laydowns on the bank, I felt the line get heavy and a big golden coloured largemouth yellowfish appeared on the surface. Ironically, this beaut didn’t put up a fight until it was pulled into the landing net.

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I was very satisfied to open my account on my new Halo rod with such a beautiful fish (also not a bad fish to start off with for my first catch on the 6.5 cm Rattlin’ Hornet. We promptly took a few photos before releasing the beaut. Probably around the 4 kg mark.

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I continued working down the cliffs, but didn’t get any other fish in this area. At this stage it was evening, thus we called it a day.

Everyone had plenty of stories to share around the braai that night and we were all excited to see what the next day would produce.

Look out for Part 2 of High Stakes, High Rewards to see what we caught on the second half of this amazing trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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