Rudolph's Reel Adventures

Hunting Bushveld Bonefish – Part 1

Venue: Sabie River

22-24 January 2016

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I while back Evert sent me a photo of our good friend Francois Nel with a solid Smallscale Yellowfish that he caught on a spinner at the Sabie River. Obviously, after seeing this beaut, we were both hung up on the idea of fishing this river. Evert also mentioned before that he has caught some good size yellows on spinners at this river when he was still a young lad. After a few calls we set a date to visit these pristine waters. I must admit that I am no expert when it comes to this river; in fact I knew fairly little about it. My knowledge of the river was limited to knowing that it is the river with the most species in South Africa, it has Southern-barred Minnows (an interesting fish I caught many moons ago as a child at the Blyde River), it host trout and chiselmouth in its upper reaches and lower down one find Smallscale and Largescale Yellowfish. I also didn’t know that this river is insanely clear – it literally looks out of this world when you see the clarity of this system! The area we would fish was between Hazyview and Kiepersol. Most of these waters are private venues that don’t allow fishing though, but you can find fish-able waters if you are persistent. Another factor to take note of is the fact that there are crocodiles and hippos in this river, so one needs to be vigilant at all times.

The game plan was to drive through to Francois’s farm on Friday evening, fish a full day on Saturday and fish a half day on Sunday before heading back home. Some might say that travelling such a distance for one and a half day of fishing is nuts, but once you see the pristine water and experience the fun fishing this area has to offer, it makes perfect sense!

We finally arrived at the farm on Friday night, after going through all the different scenarios we might encounter on the river and how we would tackle them during the long drive. As if we weren’t excited enough already, Francois showed us a video clip of one of his friends catching two quality yellows on the river – it would be difficult to sleep now with the excitement in the air!

The next morning we got up at sunrise and soon enough we were gazing upon the river with high hopes! The river was very low which meant we would be fishing very skinny waters with limited fishing waters. Due to the limitation of fish-able waters, we needed to make sure we capitalize on every opportunity that came our way – there was little room for error! The river was crystal clear, so long accurate casts was at the order of the day. I immediately saw a few small yellowfish cruising about as I got closer to the area designated to me.

Spinning rig for targeting yellowfish:

  • 7ft Abu Garcia Veracity medium action spinning rod
  • Penn Clash 2000 spinning reel
  • 7kg Berkley Nanofil line
  • 2 cm Salmo Hornet (Hot Perch colour)

I approached the water as cautiously as I could to prevent the yellows from spotting me. Yellowfish have excellent sight and normally won’t take your lure once they see you. To my frustration, my first cast was an epic fail! I overcompensated on the cast which caused my lure to fly into the branches of one of the trees on the opposite bank. The lure was stuck out of reach in a very healthy tree. So, my first casts cost me a brand new Hornet…

I retied my rig with another Salmo Hornet, this time it was in Hot Perch colour. A made a few casts between the cruising yellows in the area, but they flat-out ignored my presentation. Again I made a cast straight in to one of the trees down the bank and again my lure got stuck. As I tried to pull the lure out of the branches, I noticed how a big yellow came cruising down the bank and heading straight towards me! I watched as it was swimming down the bank in search of its prey until it made me and made a run for it. I freed my lure from the trees and decided to stop casting towards the yellowfish I could see and rather make long casts on the shadows created by the over-hanging trees on the opposite bank. With the very first cast in the shadows I went tight with a feisty little fellow. After a good few runs I landed the beaut. The Smallscale Yellows remind me a lot of Saltwater Bonefish as they look very much alike except for their colours; same mouth, same streamline profile and both of them are excellent strong fighters. I released the beaut and managed to catch another three small ones in that area. I also noticed how the small Southern-barred Minnows would chase my lure every few casts, though they are much too small to take my lure!

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We moved on to another spot; the area had some promising deep pools and we saw a few decent yellows cruising around. Only problem – the dense forest made it difficult to fish the area effectively. I managed to pick up the biggest yellow for the day which gave a good fight, but after this I could only idly standby and watch as the yellows swam where I couldn’t reach them – well, to be honest they could be reached…if I waded. With my luck the shore was relatively high where we were fishing. There was one place where I could make it down into the water, but this lower ground was right next to a deep pool. Evert and Francois was fishing higher up in between the rapids, wading in about 30 cm deep waters. The difference between our scenarios was that I would be wading waist-deep in the water. After seeing enough yellows that I couldn’t target, I gathered enough courage to enter the water.

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As soon as I entered the water I quickly moved over to shallower water. Little did I know, pool I was fishing was mostly waist deep with limited shallow areas. I only managed to catch three yellows in the stretch, slowly but steadily they got bigger and the fights improved substantially. I also spotted some leadfish feeding on the rocks in this area – one of the species I still need to add on my life list. As I didn’t have the right tackle with me to target them, I continued focusing on the yellows. After spending a lot of time I this particular pool with limited success, I decided to head back to the bakkie and get something to eat and drink.

Evert and Francois moved downstream, it has been a while since I have seen them – they are probably stuck on some fish which are keeping them busy. I decided to try my hand at the small species while I wait for them to return.

Small species rig:

  • Shimano Exage Telescopic rod
  • Shimano Axulsa 500 spinning reel
  • 1.964kg Berkley Nanofil line
  • Gamgatsu size 22 hook with a splitshot 10 cm rigged above it and a small piece of pink Berkley Powerbait Wiggler as bait

The Southern-barred Minnows were relentless, in a few minutes I managed to catch several of them. This is one of the most beautiful indigenous species in our country and also very feisty for their size.

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I also managed to catch a small yellow on my small species rig which gave me a good rev. Seems like the barred minnows and yellows stuck to the open waters with sandy bottoms and a strong current. I saw some reeds close-by which was breaking the current and decided to try next to it. I saw a few small kurper in the area, but I wasn’t really interested in catching them. In between the kurper I saw some Orangefin Barbs which I was keen to catch. The last time I caught one of these barbs was during my visit to the Kafue River a few years ago. These barbs are super fast; I missed a few of them before I managed to time my strike and hook one. This is also a very unique barb, nice colours and not too often found in the waters I fish. It was time to move on to the next spot as Evert and Francois returned to the bakkie. They managed to add a few small yellows to the tally as well.

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Our next spot was under a bridge. We saw a few small bass hanging around the rocks in this area and I wasn’t too pleased to see them in this river as they will have a negative impact on the small species in the long term. Evert managed to catch a few different kurper and Francois landed two of the biggest yellowfish for the trip so far. We also saw a few bus yellows swimming around which showed no interest in our presentations. I was unfortunate to be snapped by a big one (this is what happens when you force your line through structure without checking it for weak spots). I also managed to land two in the area of which the one was probably around 800 g.

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It was around 15:00 when we moved to our final spot for the day. The spot looked extremely promising with a nice big stretch of water which was accessible to fish from the bank. Evert decided to take on the bush and hike upstream in search of other waters. Francois decided to take a short; thus I had the big pool in front of us to fish by myself. I noticed that the stretch I fished made a shallow flat that extended from my side of the rover all the way to the other side before a drop off was formed next to the other side. One could clearly see through the crystal clear water how the sandy shallows turned into darkness on its edges which indicates a drop off is present. The key to success here was casting distance and accuracy. Thanks to the Nanofil I was casting with I could easily flick my lure across the river into the strike zone. Quickly I went tight and managed to catch quite a few small yellows in a few minutes. I was very exhilarating as some of the yellows smashed my Salmo Hornet on the drop and I also saw how a few of them would come up and attack my lure as it hit the water or chase my lure as I retrieve it!

We were joined by a few other guys who also know the owner of the venue we fished. They threw spinners in the area, but it was quite amazing to see how they struggled to catch one yellow while I was standing next to them; hooking one after the other. They used way heavier setups though – big spinners on baitcasting setups. I believe this heavy tackle influenced their success as well as the fact that they just cast randomly without giving much thought to it, while I made accurate casts to specific structure which led to hook-ups. Eventually, I moved up the river to a part which was less accessible to fish. I needed to stand on some dodgy reeds that the farmer has pushed down on one another; needed to watch my every step to ensure I don’t fall through the fickle platform. To add to this difficult situation was the fact that I saw some solid yellowfish cruising up and down in the waters next to these fickle reeds. My problem was that I couldn’t land them from the shore as I couldn’t get close enough to them. I did manage to catch one of about 1 kg which I struggled like hell to land on a Hornet. After struggling to catch this fish I decided to take on the river; wading would allow me to fish this productive stretch effectively and land the beauts without the risk of losing them.

I decided to change to a spinner for my last few casts to see what I could catch on it as the Hornet has caught 16 yellows for me up to now. I decided to try an Abu Droppen 6 g Tiger spinner and see what it can produce. I waded down the river towards where I saw the yellowfish cruising a few minutes ago. This was a daunting experience as I was standing waist-deep in the water (where crocodiles theoretically should be found). I made a long cast up river and just as I began retrieving my lure I got smashed by a big yellow. It sped off causing my reel to scream as I try to hold on! The fished dashed from side to side with impressive speed and power! It gave long runs up and down the river and also tried to wrap me between the reeds on two occasions. On both times I saw the fish splashing on the surface while I prayed that it manages to swim itself out of the structure; both times I was lucky enough that my prayers were answered as the fish managed to free itself. Between all the reel runs and heavy headshakes I finally managed to subdue the amazing catch. Francois was with to help with a few quick pics before we released the beaut. We estimate it around 1.5 kg. What a magnificent fighter; enough to get any angler’s adrenalin pumping! After this catch I managed to land four more catches and ended the day with 22 yellowfish – what an epic day of fishing for a first-time visit!

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Evert and Francois also encountered some amazing spots and managed to experience some of the best freshwater fishing of their lives! They shared with me how they caught seven yellows between 1.5 and 2.1 kg after one another at the same spot! Evert also managed to land a new PB of 1.9 kg and Francois was stoked with his 2.1 kg job. Both of them shared with me how they enjoyed the epic takes and astounding fights of these unique fish.

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I also managed to catch several other small species and help one of the other anglers there to catch his first small species and add seven new species to his life list. It was incredible to see how infatuated he was after catching these different small species – he absolutely loved it and couldn’t get over it! In a very short time I managed to catch redbreast kurper, vlei kurper, dwarf kurper, blue kurper, silver robber, southern-barred minnow and orangefin barb. Catching so many different small species in such a small area is a good indicator of how healthy this system is.

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So, we ended the day with a few great stories to share with each other under the Lowveld- night sky, while preparing some tasty steaks on the braai – what a way to end a good day of fishing. That night we all went to bed, wondering what the next day would hold in store for us.

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