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Catching Clanwilliam Yellowfish by/deur MC Coetzer

Sean Mills

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.

Tackle selection

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.

Finding fish

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 spectacular results.

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 day’s 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 the fish.

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.


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