Finding a river that has not yet seen a fly, or any angler for that matter, is almost unheard of.
Chances are, if you are hearing about any fishing, it is rarely first hand in this digital age and by virtue of the story itself, some if not many fisherman, have flayed the water before you.
The quest to find virgin waters might prove more difficult than the pursuit of a vestal partner itself.
So when we stumbled upon word of aquatic research taking place in South Africa’s largest game reserve, a real opportunity to encounter wild habitat that had not yet seen a fly was seized upon.
Danie Pienaar is a man who has spent his entire life conserving the heritage of this incredible game reserve and as the chief scientist, he manages a team that is dedicated to protecting it’s fauna and flora.
Danie Pienaar Head of the Science Department at SANParks
Our job was to record everything that we caught and released as part of their population census and take certain species to the biologists for testing.
We were focusing on the Letaba and Olifants rivers, being the main tributaries of the Limpopo system, flowing through the Kruger park.
The main tributaries of the Limpopo system, flowing through the Kruger Park.
The waters were remarkably clean, as it was the peak of the dry season, which meant that the fish should be concentrated in the larger pools. But what lurked in every single pool was evidence of how precarious our position was in this food chain.
Cast for cast is an old fisherman’s tale reserved for barroom banter, unless you happen to throwing a fly in these rivers.
With a bit of height to assist in sighting what lay below revealed an unbelievable population of fish battling it out in this aquatic sanctuary.
We needed to sample the larger fish to get an indication of this ecosystem and the only sensible strategy was to sight the bigger shadows and be pinpoint accurate with your cast. Which, along with a change to a heavier fly pattern, to sink down to their cruising depth and slower retrieve started to yield dividends.
And while we notched up the fish count Robin, SANParks resident Biologist and his researchers took the necessary samples from those fish that required testing.
Samples taken from Test Subjects
Not an easy task when everything in this river system savages anything smaller than itself.
Tilapia in particular were required for testing, which proved to be very challenging, when fishing with no wire and having to content with the ravenous appetites of the adolescent tigers.
Jeremy whittled his nymph collection down, until he managed to put a shot right into the path of the Mozambican variety.
Now you would naturally think that this is Trophy Tiger country…and you’d be right, but they give way to a machine whose evolutionary efficiency is simply scary. Every single thing that swims is on the menu, which conversely means that everything that swims is also hunting.
Hunter becomes the hunted.
To witness a food chain in motion is a beautiful sight indeed. Albeit quite sobering in terms of where we sat in this hierarchy.
Sighting from the cliffs allowed us to throw for specific species that were revealed as the sun rose. And if there’s one fish that is designed to detect movement in water, it’s old whiskers himself.
We averaged over 25 tigers a day, so more than 200 for the census, of which 36 were definitely larger females. With just a couple of juveniles sacrificed for science.
Barbel, Blue and Red breasted tilapia were tested as well and we witnessed both Purple Labeo and Small Scale Yellow fish that refused our offerings or just didn’t beat the little tigers to the fly.
One of many Tigerfish caught in the Buffalo and Letaba Rivers
Just being able to walk in the footsteps of the rangers who protect this invaluable reserve was an experience that we will reflect on, until our dying day.
A Special Thanks to the Danie Pienaar and the SANPark team.
But to have the privilege of sampling the rivers of the Kruger National Park and contribute in some small way to their conservation efforts is far greater reward than the incredible fishing
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