This is just a very brief overview of the
techniques used by us to catch Clanwilliam Yellowfish in the Groot
River and Olifants River systems in the Cederberg area. My fishing
friends and I only fish the main rivers for mature fish and as a
result we have no experience in catching the smaller fish in feeder
streams. I would however suspect that standard nymph fishing
techniques with small beadhead patterns would work well enough on
these smaller fish.
The average size of fish in the Groot River is approximately four
pounds with the odd fish going up to seven pounds. The Olifants River
produces the same average size fish, but here you will always find the
odd really big fish and we have seen and hooked numerous fish that
would top fifteen pounds and more.
Five to six weight rod (10 ft is best)
One hundred metres of backing
Floating or clear intermediate line (we only fish the intermediates)
9ft tapered leader with a 4lbs to 8lbs fluorocarbon tippet
Nymphs - Zak nymph (#10 14)
Girdle Bug (#10)
Dragons (#8 6)
All these patterns should only be weighted
sufficiently to help the fly break through the surface tension and
sink very slowly to the bottom.
We have found that a Zak nymph tied with a single strand of red
Krystal flash mixed into the Peacock herl body works really well. A
Girdle Bug with hot orange or chartreuse rubber legs produce well in
deeper water. Although a lot of guys fish dragons and other similar
natural imitative patterns for Clanwilliam yellows I have never done
well on them. When blind casting for Clanwilliams in the deeper pools
these patterns should produce well when fished slowly along the
bottom. Sight fishing is simply more fun and it is productive enough,
so I have not experimented much with these techniques.
Woolly Buggers (#10 6)
Zonkers (#10 6)
Successful colours include black, brown and olive.
Avoid patterns where the flash is too aggressive. By this I mean
excessive use of flashabou or pearl mylar tubing for the bodies of
Zonkers. Cactus chenille bodies work well on the Woolly Buggers and
rather tie the bodies of your Zonkers with gold coloured mylar tubing
or chenille. Beads can be added to help sink the fly a little faster
and to give it some built in movement.
The best times to fish are certainly spring and autumn. During winter
the water levels are generally much too high and the very high summer
temperatures makes fishing uncomfortable. Because we prefer sight
fishing we tend to only start fishing once there is light on the water
and similarly we stop fishing when the light conditions starts to
deteriorate in the afternoons.
Mature Clanwilliams are almost always to be found in the pools of the
rivers. On the Groot River these pools are really huge (up to five
hundred metres long), but relatively shallow. On the Olifants River
the pools are much smaller, but with more solid structure and as a
result of this they are generally much deeper. Water clarity on the
Olifants River is always better than on the Groot River and this makes
sight fishing easier on the Olifants. We have however had some of our
best trips to the Groot River when the water visibility was less than
one foot after heavy rains. At times like these the fish seem to be
far less skittish and blind fishing in open water can produce some
The only time of the year that you will consistently find fish in
shallow water is during early November when they enter the shallows to
spawn. At this time the fish will almost always be in water
approximately knee deep at the tailouts of the pools. These spawning
fish are very easy to find (and catch), as they tend to move around a
lot faster and generally not on a repetitive feeding patrol. I
absolutely do not recommend that you target these spawning fish
because this resource is already under tremendous pressure from alien
invasive species and they need all the help they can get.
Although Clanwilliams are severely threatened and their numbers
dwindling fast, it is still relatively easy to find them and on an
average day you should get between five and ten chances to cast a fly
at one. To get these opportunities you must be prepared to hike and
bundu bash long distances through some really rough stuff. Very few
people fish these areas and there are no footpaths next to the water.
On the Groot River the going is particularly tough and spots where you
can actually access the river to look for fish are very limited. Our
general approach is to start off by getting as far away from
civilisation as possible. This would mean a hike of between two and
four hours to get away from the access point. Once you are far away
from the last traces of civilisation you can start looking for fish.
Because the Clanwilliams patrol the pools in search of food any spot
where you can get close to the water is good, but the best spots are
those where you have a bit of height over the water and where you can
just make out the bottom structure. If you can see the bottom then you
will also be able to see any fish cruising close to the bottom. Areas
close to the eye of a pool (slow and deepish glide, not riffle water)
is normally very productive as long as the water is at least one metre
deep or deeper. It is important to stay out of the water, as this will
spook ninety percent of the fish you might have seen. Most of our
fishing is done from rocky structure and on the Olifants River it
would often mean standing up to three metres above the water when a
fly is cast to a passing fish.
Clanwilliam Yellows spend their whole day patrolling for food in the
pools. Most of the time they will cruise just off the bottom, but I
have often also seen them swimming just under the surface feeding on
terrestrials such as flying ants or hoppers. Most of this surface
feeding will take place right up against the banks and well hidden
under the overhanging trees. We have under these conditions taken fish
on dry flies, but the lightly weighted nymphs are normally also
accepted by the fish.
Clanwilliam Yellows are extremely line shy and for this reason blind
casting, as a first option, is not recommended. We almost exclusively
do sight fishing to individual fish with the clear intermediate lines.
The sink rate of the line normally has no influence on the sink rate
of the fly because casts are mostly very short. Only cast at a fish if
you are sure that you will present the fly well ahead of the sighted
fish, If you are not sure about your presentation then rather wait for
the fish to circle back to you.
Once you find a piece of structure from which you can actually see
into the water you can start worrying about casting a fly and this is
where the longer rod really helps. The 10ft rod will give you better
clearance over structure behind you and in really overgrown areas it
can be used to simply drop a fly into the water ahead of a fish.
Because the fish tend to cruise along the banks distance is not a
problem and the farthest you need to cast is approximately three
metres. At each spot you should spend at least fifteen to twenty
minutes waiting for cruising fish. The biggest challenge at this stage
is to ignore the Smallmouth and Spotted Bass, some around 1.5
kilograms, that are always within easy reach and clearly visible. Be
patient and do not cast at these fish!
The choice of fly pattern and leader strength is dictated by the mood
of the fish on the particular day. You will find that Clanwilliams
sometimes react very aggressively to a big fly and at other times they
will spook at the mere sight of a static Zak nymph. Unfortunately you
only get very few chances during a days fishing and selecting the
correct approach early in the day is vital.
As a general rule I will start off with an 8 lbs tippet and a Zonker
type pattern. Make sure that the fly is well soaked and present it at
least two to three metres ahead of a cruising fish. If the fish is in
an aggressive mood it will turn on the fly immediately and a long slow
pull of the fly should be enough to induce a very aggressive attack.
If the fish does not accelerate towards the fly it is best to simply
stop the fly and let it slowly drift down towards the bottom. A
reluctant Clanwilliam would often just keep coming and suck the fly
down very gently. The other reaction you can expect from a Clanwilliam
is one of total shock and panic. The fish would simply turn around and
get away from the offending fly as fast as possible.
If you experience the shock reaction then it is time to scale
everything down. Replace the heavy tippet with 4 5 lbs fluorocarbon
and tie on a Zak nymph or a Girdle Bug. Degrease the leader thoroughly
to help the lightweight fly sink naturally. The fly should still be
presented well ahead of a cruising fish, but here you should also
attempt to lead the fish by a long enough distance to allow for the
fly to reach the cruising depth of the fish by the time it gets to the
fly. It is vital not to move the fly at all. Simply present the fly
and let it slowly sink on a collision path with the fish. Nine out of
ten times the Clanwilliam will just keep on swimming and gently suck
the fly down on its way past. The brightly coloured rubber legs on the
Girdle Bugs makes them highly visible at depth and this can really
help detect takes. When the bright spot disappears simply lift into
After spending twenty minutes in a spot (without seeing any cruising
Clanwilliams) you can cast at the Bass at your feet, but aim for the
smallest fish. The Bass will immediately eat any fly that you throw at
him. Keep the hooked fish in the water for five seconds and then
quickly pluck it out, remove the hook, throw the fish on the bank and
get ready to cast again. The commotion caused by the hooked Bass will
attract inquisitive Clanwilliam Yellows into the area very quickly.
The drawback is that these fish are now slightly on edge and often
more spooky than normal. The static presentation approach works best
under these conditions.
If no Clanwilliam Yellows show up you can catch the Bass around your
feet before making a couple of blind casts in the area and moving on
to the next accessible spot. For blind fishing and for the Bass a
Zonker or Woolly Bugger is highly successful.
Good fishing for Clanwilliams is found in really remote areas and it
is therefore absolutely important to always keep safety in mind.
During a days fishing you will always do some rock climbing and
stumbling upon a Cape Cobra along the river is very possible.
Never fish alone.
Make sure that family or friends know exactly where you are fishing
and when you will be back.
Wear protective eyewear and shin guards (Cobras spit and bite).
Take in enough fluids (the river water is good to drink).
Take warm clothing.
All Clanwilliam Yellows must be treated with extreme care as they are
highly endangered. On the Groot River they will more than likely not
be around for your children to enjoy and the current stock of fish
might be the last of these beautiful fish.
The primary reason for the dwindling numbers of Clanwilliam Yellowfish
is the Bass and Bluegill populations that are encroaching on these
rivers and simply wiping all juvenile Clanwilliams out before they
reach maturity. For this reason you must kill all Bass and Bluegill on
rivers where they are found alongside Clanwilliam Yellowfish.