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The Fish Of A Lifetime [Part 1/2]

Prologue

Agostino is a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa as well as a long time, devoted customer and an avid fly fisherman.  He is a member of the Wind Knot Fly Fishing and Conservation Club.  Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of speaking with Agostino via phone at least once a month.  He is a gracious person with a keen sense of humor.

When Stillwater Fly Shop [SWFS] was toying with the idea of starting up our blog I immediately sent Agostino an email asking if he would write a few posts for us highlighting the beauty of South Africa and her fly fishing destinations.

Recently Agostino and his mates traveled to the Vanderfloof Dam area in search of a fish species called the Largemouth Yellowfish – Labeobarbus Kimberleyensis and the Smallmouth Yellowfish – Labeobarbus Aeneus.

Over the next four days Agostino and his friends would come in contact with many of these fish species but one would be a fish of a life time and would unofficially set the South African record!

Enjoy this article Agostino’s friend Jeremy wrote, which will be posted in two parts, and check out their fly club’s website:  The Windknot.

Tight lines

Paul

Day One – 20 March 2014

Agostino Pic1We checked into our accommodations for the weekend at about 12 o’clock and moments later we had the boats inflated, cooler boxes full and most importantly, the fly rods ready for action. I set up my trusted Sage VXP 9 foot 7WT paired with an intermediate line and a size 4 black Muishond fly. This would be the set up that I would end up fishing most of the trip.

About an hour later I was into my first “smallie” of the trip taken with a long cast along a rocky island. This fish was approximately 1kg, Agostino Pic2but put up a serious account of himself. “Come to Papa!” I shouted as she sped off on his first long run. Gusty and Rob were on the Jet Ski nearby just as excited as I was. Bringing her to the net I felt the pressure being relieved. I had just “unblanked” myself. When fly fishing with the gang from Klerksdorp the only thing that matters is that you have caught one fish for the day (it could even be a sardine). This one fish had just saved me from being the subject of abuse around the braai in the evening.

Agostino Pic3After releasing the fish, I was joined by the Italians and it was time to snack. There is only one thing I enjoy more than the fishing when out on the water with these Italians around. Gusty’s saying, “When in doubt, eat.” epitomises these trips. Parma ham, Mortedella and Salami were pulled from the cooler boxes and stuffed into fresh rolls. There will be no starvation when they are around (actually you would have more chance of dying from stomach rupture).

The sun started to dip towards Agostino Pic4the horizon and the surface activity picked up. The particular area we were fishing had 2 rock piles barely submerged, which produced another 5 fish between the 3 of us on baitfish imitations, with only 1 small largie and 1 miniature barbel. Herman and Erich (christened the “B team”) managed to entice some smallies to their nymphs, including a beautiful specimen of close to 2kg.

The sun flaunted her final display as the flies were pulled from the water. Gusty was kind enough to save me a slow putt back, by clipping my boat’s anchor rope to the rear of his jet ski.

Day Two – 21 March 2014

agostino pic5The next morning we were out on the water at 6:30am, and this time I was teamed up with Rob. We succeeded in beating the “W-word” to the water (we were hoping she would sleep in today, being a public holiday and all. A heavy night on the brandewyn and coke is what we were actually wishing for). The flies were thrown out breaking the ice. I made my second cast to rocky ridges within 100m from the launch site and my fly was attacked with unbelievable force by a juvenile largie. Not a bad start to the day.

We started working some of the same productive spots as the previous day when we immediately noticed that the water level had risen by at least 100mm. Agostino Pic6There was evidence of evacuated nests of the weavers conscious about a property with a “sea” view.

Our flies were cast at every piece of structure, each having the potential to hold a largie in wait for passing prey. Nothing. We reached a deep drop off where a dead tree cast a shadow onto the water. “Check this, there’s got to be a largie sitting there.” I told Rob. A rolled out a perfect cast into the shade and straight away a largie smashed the fly, no tension. I kept stripping and he came back for the kill. Fish on! This was a slightly better fish.

Agostino Pic7A quick photograph later and we were back to probing likely holding spots. The next corner opened up to a deep gorge narrowing to an inlet, absolutely beautiful. Cast after cast produced nothing, until I had a knock and then a split second later a bend in the rod. This fish powered away and felt substantially heavier than the previous fish. A tail emerged from the depths, “Ah no, it’s foul-hooked!” I cried. This is the fish I wish I hadn’t caught or even hooked it anywhere else on the body. Unfortunately it was too close to the anal fin and so for the rest of the trip I was termed the “Rear gunner”. I thought the abuse from blanking was cruel…

After trying every possible hole we moored the boat to fill the stomachs. Agostino Pic8“Lunch time!” we shouted over the radio. Herman and Erich drifted across the opposite bank when Erich suddenly went on to his first fish of the morning on a brown clouser minnow.

We were joined moments later by Herman, Erich and Gusty (who seemed to smell out our location for lunch). Taking a seat on the banks, we reflected on the mornings fishing. Not as productive as we had hoped. No cruising or rising fish presented themselves as sight fishing opportunities. All the fish were taken blind casting towards structure. But we were all optimistic as the amount of largies around was much greater than any piece of water any of us had ever fished.

Agostino Pic9With the encouragement from the sugar in the cokes, the “A-team” set off along the same bank. Rob tied on a Muishond joking, “I’ll even out the playing field and put on a fly.” We reached a tiny bay with a scum line blown in by the northerly wind. Both of us had a take at the same time under an overhanging tree but none of them stuck. Rob then made a textbook cast along the rocky bank into the scum line. I saw the fish swirl as Rob shouted, “Come to papa!” I immediately knew this was a decent fish by the size of the wake it left behind. The fish darted off causing the excess fly line on the boat to get tangled. “I’ll follow it with the boat,” I shouted. I turned on the trolling motor before the knot could reach the first eye. Once closer to the fish I assisted Rob at unknotting his line while he fought it by hand. The line was quickly untangled and on the reel with the fish nearing exhaustion. I wet the net and Rob guided the monster’s head in. The scale sunk to 4kg, what a fish!

Agostino Pic10It wasn’t even a minute after safely releasing the fish that Rob started with his chirps, “All I needed was 2 casts with the Muishond.” He lay back on the boat basking in the glory and savouring the moment. “Aren’t you going to fish?” I asked. “I don’t need to, I’ve shown you who the champion fisherman is,” he replied. We both laughed and knew the rod would be back out soon. I repositioned the boat in the bay and almost immediately I spotted my first largie (around 2kg) cruising along the scum line. Agostino Pic11I plonked the Muishond down hard onto the surface nearby and in a flash the largie charged it down and inhaled the fly. I striked and pulled the fly straight out of the fish’s mouth and left the fish dumbstruck looking for his meal. “Dammit!” I cried out. I threw the fly back at him, but this time he had wised up and just slowly disappeared into the depths. I sat disappointed at a missed fish, but I took this as a valuable lesson (rather make a strip-strike and keep the fly in the zone for a follow up hit).

Now Rob had this great idea that we should visitAgostino Pic12 a promising looking island “just” around the corner that he had scoped out the day before on the Jet Ski with Gusty. So we set off around the first corner. Nothing. 30 minutes later we rounded the second corner. Nothing. “Rob you are properly rigting bedondered!” I joked. We decided to cross the dam as the water was declared “dead” after a couple of casts. We were met by Gusty halfway across who’s first words were, “What the hell are you doing here in the middle of the dam?” We had a good chuckle as Rob had to explain his “Christopher Columbus” moment.

Now every time we meet in a situation like this (middle of the dam, fishing slightly off, at least 2 hours since lunch and available food in the cooler boxes) it is time to chow. Gusty told us of his smallie that he managed to entice to the fly earlier in the day. Our personal outboard motor then kicked in and we were towed in to a quiet bay. Here the fishing picked up as we had various chases from young fish. The occasional piece of structure held 2 to 3 largies that would dart out to inspect the plop of your fly. Although we saw plenty fish chase our flies, we didn’t manage to get any hungry (or brave) enough to commit.

Agostino Pic13Our outboard motor returned and lugged us further along the same bank back towards town. We found another favourable bay to prospect. Our initial enquiries came up empty handed, until I went tight with a fish a few retrieves out from a sunken tree. This fish hit the fly surprising softly, but the sheer weight of this giant got my heart pumping like a race horse. I allowed the fish to sluggishly swim out into the open away from any hazards to my tippet. Rob swopped positions with me on the boat in an amazing display of skill (I don’t know how the both of us didn’t end up swimming). He took control of the motor to chase him down. At first Rob was a bit rusty (or rattled from the acrobatics), exhibiting a 360 degree spin then gathering composure. 10 minutes into the battle the ol’ faithful decides to let me down at the most inopportune moment. I heard a crack and looked down at my 7 WT Sage VXP. The arc was no longer uniform. “Crap!” I shouted. This resulted in a lost fish and the million dollar question – Largie or barbel? I had my suspicions that it was a largie, as barbel would always attempt to run into the backing a few times during a fight. Then again diving for comfort in structure is more barbel-like. So it was anyone’s guess, I guess.

I jumped on the back of the Jet Ski and Gusty flew back to the docks, where I would pick up another rod from the bakkie. I was faced with a choice that would ultimately give me the edge the next day. 5wt Sage Z-axis or the 9wt Sage RPlXi? I decided on the latter. With haste the rod was pieced together and I was back holding on to Gusty tightly as we accelerated to 100km/h with ease. We fished the evening out at the same spot as the previous evening, with little luck. I landed a juvenile largie that could barely fit the Muishond into its mouth. After the fish I took a slow trip back, ending up lasting 30 minutes, while I enjoyed the amazing scenery and setting sun over the vast flat water. My mind could not help wondering back to the earlier fish. The “Rod Breaker”. Would this be the only chance I would get at a monster largie?

To be continued…

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