Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My First trip as a host – Three Rivers Lesotho

After a year of planning and making arrangements with clients that booked their spots through www.flyloops.net, it was at last time to make my way to the Three Rivers Lesotho Camp. This is a new and exciting location Tourette Fishing has opened for guided trips. The focus of these trips is targeting Smallmouth Yellowfish on dry fly with some big Rainbow Trout also coming out from time to time. I decided to take of an extra day and stay over in Fouriesburg where I would meet the clients before crossing the border. This would be my first trip acting as a host and also my first time fishing Lesotho. Understandably I was quite excited and nervous at the same and I was really hoping that everything would go down according to plan.

Day 1 – 13 December

I woke up early on that Friday morning and checked my phone for the time, I was met with a message of bad news. Two of our clients, a couple of friends, would most likely not be able to make the trip due to personal family matters. The show had to go on though and the remaining clients would be arriving soon. When both clients arrived we decided to take only one vehicle and quickly transfered all the luggage. We soon crossed the Caledon River and arrived at the border, after a few minutes of paper work we soon entered the Mountain Kingdom.

The first hour of the trip the landscape was characterised by valleys and farms, this however quickly turned into a beautiful mountainous landscape with various small rivers and streams. We soon reached the top of the pass and every corner of the road had a new surprise, a broken down Land Rover, a donkey car and a land slide (luckily we were able to get pass these massive rocks). 

One of the massive rocks that almost blocked the road - Photo by Christo Els
One of the valleys we drove past
After another hour or two we started seeing some glimpses of the Katse Dam. Around the dam there are a few villages and we saw our first signs of fish, a few small Rainbow Trout netted by some of the locals.

We would meet our guides from Tourette Fishing at the Katse Hotel… I must admit with this being my first trip to Lesotho I had no idea where it was. On the GPS we could only find a location called the Katse Lodge and we hoped that this would lead us to the Katse Hotel. After a while we reached the bridge below the Katse Dam wall… this stretch of river really got us itching to get to our final destination.  A few kilometers further we arrived at the Katse Lodge aka the Katse Hotel, quite confusing but the hotel staff soon confirmed that they are also known as the Katse Hotel.

View from the Katse Dam Lodge
Having arrived with time to spare we decided to order some Maluti Lagers and relax until the guides to arrive. Luckily our guides, Mark Murray and Yuri Janzen, also decided to arrive early! I decided it would be a good opportunity to check up on our other clients; however they confirmed that they will definitely not be joining us. After finalising that matter we made our way to the camp!

We soon arrived on a stretch of gravel road with a bay of the Katse Dam to our right. It reminded me of scenes at Sterkfontein Dam, with clear blue water and from time to time you could clearly spot some fish rising. The bay started getting narrower and soon we could see sections of the river that we would fish the next few days. The Three Rivers camp is placed in a perfect setting, a flat bank between two big pools. The pool below the camp is just perfect… with a set of riffles flowing into it with a small forest of poplar trees on the right hand bank and willow treed on the left. The pool is fairly deep and ends with a set of rapids below it. It is fairly deep and it seems that the Smallmouth Yellowfish use this as a resting pool before heading upstream to spawn.

Tourette Fishing Three Rivers Lesotho Camp

After unpacking the guides gave us a quick tour of the camp, the camp is very basic however very functional and comfortable. With a small hut as a kitchen, three canvas tents (each with two stretcher beds with mattresses and a small cupboard), a paraffin shower (nicknamed the jet). After orientation we got our rods ready and decided on a game plan, I would fish the section of the river below the camp and the guides would take the clients above the camp.

I took the trail through the poplar forest and I got really excited with the sight of schools of Yellowfish in the pool. I decided that I would walk a few hundred meters downstream and work my way back to the camp and finish of at the home pool. Soon I met a local herd boy fishing from the bank with a hand line and I tried my best to communicate with a little bit of Sotho and hand gestures. He seemed to be fascinated by my rod and reel and the whole outfit (I am sure most fly fisherman would agree we look quite ridiculous most of the time with all our gear and gadgets). The thing that caught his eye the most was my bait (a stimulator with rubber legs) and he laughed when I explained it was suppose to be a grasshopper. He decided to follow me around and for my first few hours of exploring I had a fishing companion.

The riffles below the camp pool was fairly void of big fish and I only managed a very small Rainbow Trout, I must admit there was millions of them and it does seem like smaller fish stay there to grow to bigger sizes and then move to the upper sections of the river or back into the Katse dam. I eventually worked my way to the home pool and crossed the tail section to fish it from the opposite bank. When I passed the pool earlier I noticed a lot of fish in the head of the pool and decided to fish that section. I had a size 12 Stimulator on and this did not seem to attract any attention. I decided to size down to a size 16 Ed’s hopper and with the first cast it got smacked… I missed this opportunity and placed the fly down again. The fly drifted for a moments and I could see a fish rising for it, this time it was a confident take and the fight was on. I was amazed by the fight this fish put up, it was not a massive fish but still respectable. After a very spirited fish I had the fish in the palm of my hand (I forgot my net at home… enough said…), the golden color of these fish where just spectacular and they fish where in great condition. I managed another couple of fish out of this section in similar fashion and then decided to head back and fish the riffles at the tail of the pool. I noticed a school of males and changed to a dry dropper NZ-rig.  On the first drift, fish starting rising to my dry, however none of them took it. The next moment a fish hit my nymph incredibly and shot of into the pool. It gave an incredible fight considering that it was a small male and I was quite shocked that he could pull that hard. That concluded my days fishing and I head back to the camp.

Camp pool

Top view of the camp pool

Around the camp fire we exchanged our day’s events and both clients where happy with their afternoon’s efforts with both getting fish on the scorecard. At that point I really felt relieved and relaxed, sitting in the middle of nowhere with a beer in hand, with the calming noise of the river a few meters away, a sky full of stars and our guide “chef” Yuri Jansen preparing a great meal over the fire.

Day 2 - 14 December

On our first morning I woke up fairly early and upon leaving my tent I was greeted by Yuri, who offered me a cup of coffee. After finishing my cup of coffee I decided to give the early morning rise a go, this proved to be fruitless as the fish where rising to very small mayfly at quite a distances and it was nearly impossible not spooking the large school of fish. I decided to head back for breakfast and prepare for the long day ahead…

One of the clients netting a fish in the Camp Pool

On this day we would drive a few kilometers upstream and fish a completely different stretch as the previous day. We drove in an old Toyota Land Cruiser that is kitted out with extra benches and a cooler box fridge. It was quite a scary piece of road for me as I have a mild case of vertigo and it had some high drops on the one side. Luckily it is a very short drive and we soon arrived to our parking spot. The arrangement was the same as the previous day, I would fish the bottom section and the guides would head upstream with the clients. I set off downstream and decided to cross the stream and see how far I could get before starting to fish back upstream towards the parking spot. This specific stretch of river had a long straight section with various large pools and faster water with a large bend that created a deep slower flowing section.

Amazing water clarity - Photo by Christo Els

I started fishing in a pool a few hundred meters before the bend in the river. I could see fish feeding on the bottom of the pool; however it was too difficult to get the flies down to them. The shallow fast flowing pocket water above the pool looked like a better prospect and soon I caught some of the smaller male yellowfish. I soon attracted a small crowd of spectators, a bunch of young local kids, watching me pull out fish after fish. They looked very curious yet very cautious of this funny looking man with a big beard and strange outfit. I found the fishing too easy in this section of the river and I decided to move up to the pool on the bend of the river.
There were various rises in the tail of the pool, although they looked like small Rainbow Trout. This assumption was soon confirmed with a small little Rainbow taking my fly. Closer to the head of the pool I had a fish come up to my fly, that I could have sworn looked like a Brown Trout, it however go rid of the hook very quickly. While changing flies I spotted a massive Rainbow Trout cruising a meter from me, he must have seen me as he just slowly disappeared into the depth. I made a few drifts in the general area, however I had no reaction. A few casts later I had a golden flash under my fly, I immediately made another cast towards the same spot and got smashed by a decent sized Yellowfish. This was the biggest of the day thus far and the fat female soon gave up the fight and settled the palm of my hand. I thought it would be a good idea to change tactic and drift a streamer through the pool. This proved to be a great decision and I got smashed by a big rainbow, unfortunately after about a 2 min fight the fish jumped out the water and the hook flew out of its mouth.

The sections above this pool had a few deeper pockets to the left and they just screamed trout. With the river having quite a high temperature in these lower sections it seems that the trout prefer deeper pockets and pools with a lot of oxygenated water entering them. I soon landed a small Rainbow Trout above the pool on a dry fly, I then switched to a nymph setup and landed a decent fish in a deeper pocket. For the next half an hour or so I fished another section of shallow fast water and again landed  quite a few of the smaller male yellowfish. After this productive stint I decided to head back to the Land Cruiser and have some lunch. I was quite exhausted when I got to the parking spot and decided that I would take a rest, I think the high altitude was getting to me…

Another Beautiful fishing coming to the net - Photo by Christo Els
After my rest I made my way back to the river and I spotted one of the guides, Mark Murray with one of the clients. I met up with them briefly and enquired how their day had gone and at what time we would head back to the camp. There was about a half an hour of fishing left and I decided to fish a nice slow flowing section below the parking spot. I made a perfect cast into the head of the run with a green deer hair bullet head grasshopper pattern. A large pair of lips appeared and slowlysipped the fly of the surface, I set the hook and all hell broke loose. The fish ran the leader over a large boulder and head straight for the faster flowing main stream. I quickly ran after the fish and tried to stop it from heading downstream. After a few nervous moments I managed to get the fish close to me and slip my hand under her belly. This was my biggest fish of the trip thus far and I was happy to end days fishing. We all met up back at the Land Cruiser and made our way back to the camp.

One of the clients catches of the day - Photo by Francois Roux
After arriving at the camp I decided it was time to test out “the jet”. An interesting geezer that works with paraffin and sounds like a yet engine you start it up. Having a hot shower in a remote place I always a great experience especially spending a whole day in a cold river. With the shower having no roof it is an even better experience, with the Milky Way as a view. 

The outdoor shower aka the "Jet" - Photo by Francois Roux

That evening we were treated to a plate of curry and some interesting fishing stories from our guides ranging from Salmon fishing in Russia to raging hippos chasing boats in Tanzania while catching trophy Tigerfish.

Day 3 - 15 December

On our third day we head back to the same parking and would be our last full day to explore the river as far possible upstream. I would fish the same stretch the guides and the clients covered the first day and they would hike further upstream on a narrow mountain footpath.

The weather was not playing along this day with a strong wind howling down the valley that made casting very interesting. I decided to fish with two rods on this and rigged my 10ft 3 weight with small black nymphs and my 5 weight with a dry fly. I started off by fishing nymphs across and down to simplify casting and also not to spook the big schools of Yellowfish migrating up the river. This proved to be highly effective and I soon landed a fish in the first pool. I moved up to the next pool and on my first cast hooked into another good fish.

It was not long before I attracted some attention from the local herd boys and I soon had my own “guide” that showed me some of the good fishing spots. I found the fishing fairly challenging on this day as there where higher densities of fish moving up the river. It was especially challenging to catch fish on dry fly this day, making a well presented cast in the strong wind without spooking large schools of fish seemed nearly impossible. On this type of river you can really understand the value of a guide and/or fishing buddy.  From higher positions it is easy to spot fish, however when you get close to the river bank where you are hidden from the fish it becomes fairly difficult to spot fish and determine which are the best ones to present your fly to.

This section of river was truly beautiful with a lot of variety, it would change from fast riffles to long deep with the most amazing shaded of blue. During lunch I stopped at a long pool to eat a sandwich and observe the fish swimming through the pool. In that moment I realised what a special place this is and I couldn’t believe I was sitting there, watching these large schools of fish, in such a relaxed state that I could probably have taken a nap and not be bothered to fish further on that day.

My lunch Pool
After lunch I decided to try my luck with a dry fly on this pool. I slowly moved into position behind a bush close to the water’s edge and made a gentle cast in front a smaller group of fish close to the opposite bank. One fish slowly rose to my fly, it slowly sucked it in, I slowly set the hook and then I completely missed it for some reason. The whole school spooked and I missed my chance for that section of the pool. I decided to move to the head of the pool and drift a nymph towards some tailing fish in the faster moving water. After a few drifts I hooked into one of the energetic males and he gave me a spirited fight.

It was getting rather late and I decided I would finish of my day at a big pool I found about a hundred meters or so above the long pool. I could see some big Yellowfish rising in this pool and decided to have a go at them. This proved to be a rather frustrating exercise as I would make a perfect cast and then the wind would push the leader over fish and spook them. I decided to give the pool a rest and Czech nymph a very fast and deep section of the river above this pool. It was not long before I picked up a small Rainbow Trout and after releasing the fish I decided to dead drift a streamer into the pool. I carefully watched the streamer drifting past a huge bolder and saw a shape moving towards it. The fish suddenly darted towards the fly and grabbed on to it, however I could managed to set the hook properly and he was gone in a second. 

Time to head back to camp, the last pool I fish on that day - Photo by Christo Els

I made a few casts after that with no results and I soon spotted the guides out the corner of my eye. We made our way back to the car and I was glad to hear that the clients also had a good day picking up some good fish on the narrower upper reaches of the river.

That evening there were some more camp fire stories to be told and certain parties of the group felt celebrations was in order with it being a successful trip. It ended up being quite an early night with the long days fishing, good food and some very good whiskey resulting in some very tired and relaxed fisherman!

Day 4 - 16 December

As usual the day of departure was perfect! We decided to fish close to the camp for a few hours and stop art around 9:30 when brunch would be served. This proved to be a good decision as the fish seemed to be fairly active this morning. I decided to fish only with my 3 weight this morning and 5x tippet to get a perfect presentation. My plan of attack was to change flies until I found something that fish would eat with confidence. I soon tied a size 16 brown CDC and Foam beetle on and on my first cast with this fly it got hit aggressively! The first fish missed the fly and I immediately put it down in the same area. Another fish spotted the fly and also attacked it with speed, this time I firmly set the hook and the fight was on! The same trend followed the rest of this short session and I managed 5 fish in an hour, missing several more a perfect ending to one of the best trips I have done.

After arriving back at the camp we quickly packed our bags had a good brunch and then made our journey back to Ficksburg.  During our drive back we swapped stories of the fish we caught, lost opportunities, funny encounter and I think we all had mixed emotions leaving this little piece of fly fishing heaven.

The Video

Three Rivers - Lesotho Yellowfish Trip 13 to 16 December 2013 from flyloops.net on Vimeo.

Trip Details

If you would like more information regarding this destination contact me at pieter@flyloops.net


  1. Thanks Pieter! Nice video footage too!

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