In search of ‘gold’ at Vanderkloof dam – by Marc Towers
I had spent many hours over the past year or two looking into options for a challenging trip to target smaller mahseer species and jungle perch at far flung destinations – Malaysia, Borneo etc when one day (the proverbial ‘light bulb’ moment – prompted by Rudolphs reports!) it dawned upon me – why was I looking to travel so far when similar challenges and arguably better quality fishing options are available ‘closer to home’ on the African continent. The largemouth and to a lesser degree smallmouth yellowfish, the main targets of our trip, are justifiably highly regarded as the premium freshwater sporting fish in South Africa, notably amongst the fly-fishing public. Although yellowfish may not be as well-known globally as a species such as the mahseer, they offer a similar challenge. Venues such as Sterkfontein dam are much talked about in ‘yellowfish circles’ – often for the sight-fishing fly opportunities it presents, but I had my heart set on another venue – Vanderkloof dam, the ‘hidden jewel of the Karoo’ as a friend described it, which is located on the Orange river.
I had seen a few great reports by Rudolph Venter, who had fished it with his father and friends on a few occasions with some superb results; it was a no brainer – this would be a great venue to visit, not least of all because I have, growing up in Africa, held the yellowfish in high esteem. Admittedly although yellowfish can’t reach the heady weights of the larger mahseer species, with a good largemouth specimen going 12 lbs or so and a ‘fish of a lifetime’ catch a 20lb plus specimen, they still offer a really superb challenge on light tackle or fly, and can be as fickle as mahseer to boot.
A few e-mails later and it was all arranged – Rudolph was keen to return back to VDK and I was delighted to have his knowledge and artlure experience to call upon, and the chance to learn a few new ‘tricks’ along the way hopefully. After an overnight flight from Accra to Bloemfontein (via Jo’burg) and I had soon met up with Rudolph and his father – Bernard, who would be fishing on a separate boat with a friend. I think everyone was feeling a bit of ‘viskoors’ to borrow a word from Afrikaans.
The plan was to fish five full days – largely in the dam itself, with the option of doing a bit of river fishing below the dam wall. VDK is a large water body – in fact almost 100km long and 15km wide in places, and as such can be quite an intimidating venue without some ‘local or expert’ knowledge. We would be staying at Pride Rock Lodge, which is a great homely and reasonably priced venue in terms of accommodation. I had loaded up on Salmo ‘hornets’ and ‘minnows’ which are two of the banker small lures which produce the goods at this venue upon Rudolph’s advice, as well as getting a host of other light lure options. Light reels (I chose my Sustain 2000 and Vanquish 3000 as my reels of choice) were spooled with 12 lb Berkley Nanofil, and some light Temple Reef prototype rods (all travel rod configuration) were chosen.
In addition to the main target of the ‘largies’ we would also target the ‘smallies’ which were plentiful and spawning in the gravel beds at the time of our trip, and also other great local species – barbel (sharptooth catfish) and even carp – all on artlure, through novel methods such as ‘calling’ and ‘dipping’ as well as sightcasting to cruisng/resting fish in the case of the barbel – polarized sunglasses were a must!
Needless to say a lot of fun was had all round, and we only really had one ‘poor day’ on the second day were the wind bust us up a bit and made fishing really tough. My three best largies went 15.5, 17.5 and 21.5 lb’s – pretty awesome by any standard, and I also had a 4.5 lb smallie which is a good fish at this venue. Then there were the carp – the largest I took was 16lb on dipping – presenting a small leadhead with a curly tail to visible/tailing fish, and the barbel – these were a lot of fun. Rudolph had a few monsters – his biggest going 46 odd lb’s, and I had some nice specimens up to 36 lb’s – big black shapes abounded in the shallows, and casting Lume pumpkins to these shapes made for exciting fishing..!
One of the real ‘bonuses’ about this venue from a foreign fishing perspective is that, flight apart, with the weakness of the rand currently, it works out as a good value trip.
A huge thanks to Rudolph and his father for sharing their knowledge on the venue and of course all the artlure techniques used, and to Pride Rock Lodge for their great hospitality.