This is a somewhat experimental attempt by me to put to paper a selection of the memories and stories I have collected over my many decades of fishing. It is precisely because of these memories that I continue to love fishing.
If anything, I only hope that these stories provide motivation for some potential anglers to pick up some gear and head out and fish.
Fishing Tales from South Africa
#1 – Spinner Surprise
When I was about 15 years old, I approached the owner of a neighbouring farm with a request to introduce tilapia to one of his farm lakes. Although unfamiliar with the species, I did quite a bit of research and considered them an ideal angling species for that specific lake.
It was a beautiful piece of water with various natural features. However, since its construction for irrigation purposes during the 1970’s, no one had bothered to stock it with fish. After obtaining the necessary permission I promptly ordered 200 fingerlings which were eventually released into the lake.
A subsequent change in personal circumstances denied me the chance to see how well the little tilapia adapted to their new environment and it was only seven years later that I had the opportunity to visit that specific lake again.
Boy, what a surprise! Not only did those first pioneers adapted to their new environment, they seemed to have thrived. At that stage the lake supported a fair number of cormorants as well as a resident pair of African fish eagles; a first for the area.
Anyway, back to the fishing. My brother and I, armed with light tackle, floats and bread dough as well as earthworms for bait, got stuck into some serious fishing and fun times were to be had.
In actual fact, that was the first time we fished for that particular species and the learning curve was quite steep in the beginning. We were highly successful with our rudimentary tackle and tactics, but were also hooking a lot of small fish.
Because of its body shape, the tilapia is a dogged fighter and the bigger specimen definitely give a very good account of themselves once hooked. They also taste excellent.
As time went by, I started experimenting with different fishing methods and eventually tried my hand at spinner fishing.
It gradually dawned on me that tilapia, notably the bigger males, could be quite aggressive especially around the breeding season. Not only that, but at certain times and under certain conditions, they actively hunt insects and small water invertebrates, similar to well-known predator species like bass.
So, one late summer afternoon I found myself at the lake again at a spot where a river entered it. Attached to my line was a small number zero Mepps spinner. I was experimenting with different casts and retrieve for about half an hour without so much as a nibble.
Then it happened. I suddenly became aware of strange, slurping sounds and around a bend in the river appeared a big school of tilapia, feeding on emerging insect larvae on and just underneath the water surface as they slowly made their way towards me. Palms sweaty with anticipation I started casting to the front of the school.
During the next hour or two I experienced some of the most exciting fishing on light tackle I’ve ever had. I caught nearly forty fish, but I hooked and lost countless more on that little Mepps spinner.
Since that day I sight fished for tilapia numerous times again and I am of the firm conviction that they are one of the most exciting and challenging freshwater species to hunt with artificial baits.
#2 – Yellow Submarine
When my daughter Rebecca was about two years old, my wife decided that weekends were perfect for the two of us to do some quality father-daughter bonding. Who was I to argue?
Counting angling among my hobbies, the natural consequence was that my daughter would automatically be introduced to this wonderful pastime.
In practice, however, the first couple of years were not so productive. To me it was perfectly clear that kids of that age seem to have an attention span of about 5 minutes, any lack of serious action during that time and they lose interest.
Be that as it may, we had wonderful and hilarious times together. The first time she tried her hand at fly casting she promptly embedded a size 12 hook in my nose calling for emergency surgery (by yours truly) with a pair of long nosed pliers using the rear view mirror of my car. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, Rebecca was about four years old when her maternal grandmother bought her a fishing rod for Christmas. It was one of those garish pre-packed jobs in a hideous yellow colour, complete with a few hooks and floats. Rebecca, however, adored that little rod and it accompanied her almost everywhere she went.
One specific Sunday the two of us were off again. I just needed to relax a bit and wasn’t thinking seriously about fishing at all.
When Rebecca, however, appeared with her little yellow fishing rod, I thought, what the heck, grabbed a piece of white bread and headed for a pond next to our local high school.
It was actually not a bad place at all. Fringed by weeping willows with green grassy banks and inhabited by both carp and bass it was the ideal location for a bit of peace and quiet on a lazy Sunday morning.
Upon arrival at the scene of the crime, I started rolling bits of bread into dough balls and flicking them into the water in front of me to establish a feeding ground in order to attract fish.
Rebecca was, as per usual, fascinated by the proceedings and energetically participated in chucking bread into the water and shouting at nearby ducks and geese that wanted part of the action.
Rigging up with a float and a single hook (baited with a piece of bread) we settled down to do some serious carp fishing. For a whole five minutes. No bite. And then Rebecca lost interest, of course. She promptly turned her attention to the nearest willow tree which appeared a much more exciting prospect and off she went on a climbing expedition.
Being the conscientious adult I am I watched with a mixture of pride and concern as she tackled the tree trunk and cautiously ascended among the green foliage.
About twenty minutes went by with the occasional chatter you can expect between a father and his offspring pertaining to the various skills inherent to trees climbing but still no movement from the float.
Then the inevitable happened: “Dad, I’m stuck!” a little voice came from the tree about 6 metres away. With a sigh I put the rod down on the grassy bank and ambled over to rescue my intrepid explorer while still keeping one eye on the fishing rod.
After completing the rescue mission I suddenly noticed that the float was bobbing madly and I quickly moved into the direction of the rod. Alas! A second before I could grab it, the line went taught, the float disappeared in a flash to be closely followed by the rod which launched itself like a yellow missile into the murky depths of the pond accompanied by an impressive trail of bubbles.
Rebecca was inconsolable, I felt like a dork and my mother-in-law was definitely not amused. Parenting, I tell you. Not for the faint hearted.
#3 – This One’s Got Legs…
One day, while vacationing on the farm, I decided to take my fly rod and head for a medium sized bass lake. In my tackle box were various fly patterns which proved to be effective for bass fishing. Among others were Woolly Buggers, Mrs Simpsons as well as oversized dragon fly patterns.
I knew the odds were stacked against me, because it was in the middle of a bright and sunny day, with almost no clouds in the sky and very little or no wind.
Notwithstanding these less than optimum fishing conditions, I decided to head out to the water anyway, if only to practice some fly casting.
This was an ideal haunt for bass, because it had different areas with varying depth. It was situated at the confluence of two perennial streams. The one inlet was shallow and obscured by dense reeds beds, while the other one emptied into a deep hole with a medium height cliff on the one side.
Both of these were highly productive fishing spots. However, when I reached the water I approached it from the outlet side which was relatively shallow (less than 2 metres) with a reed bank on one side.
I decided to start at this spot in order to flex the muscles and practice a couple of long casts. My weapon of choice was a five weight outfit loaded with a bright orange four weight forward tapered floating line.
Due to the fact that bass flies are normally big and bulky, I seldom used a leader of more than a metre. At the end of my tippet I tied a black tadpole fly which I acquired recently. It was a simple yet realistic pattern.
I carefully neared the water’s edge, making sure that I kept a low profile in the high visibility conditions.
From the nearby reed beds came a cacophony of noises as a horde of weaver birds were flitting to and fro, frantically building nests or feeding hungry chicks.
My first cast was almost parallel to the shore and I tried to drop my fly at the very edge of the reed bed where I suspected potential prey might be hanging out.
While retrieving the fly in short, jerky strips I noticed the water making a sudden bulge behind the fly half way through the retrieve.
My excitement levels sky rocketed, because I immediately knew something out there showed interest in the fly. And I was correct!
During the retrieve of my second cast a sudden jolt bent the little five weight double and I registered a solid hook-up. I carefully played a decent sized fish to my side and eventually grabbed it by the lower jaw to unhook my fly.
Then something odd caught my attention. I noticed something weird protruding from the bass’s mouth. On closer inspection, and to my utter amazement, I recognized the legs of a weaver’s chick which the bass was still in the process of swallowing.
The unfortunate fledgling must have lost its footing on a reed stalk and plunged into the water to be promptly snatched up by a hungry fish. However, that did not dissuade the marauder shortly afterwards to attack my tadpole fly while still trying to gulp down its previous meal!
Yet again I was reminded of how opportunistic this species can be.
These tales are my attempt to give you a glimpse of the life of a keen angler. If you enjoyed the stories then leave a comment below. Thanks.