Flyfishing report: Yellowfish - Middle Vaal

Date of Report: Sunday, 7th July 2024
Name: Chris Williams
Email: chris@willship.co.za
Phone: 071 565 1688

 

As fishing is seasonally slow at present we will update you on Vaal River fly fishing-related topics before a brief fishing report. 

The ‘Wildebeest Government’ has ushered in two new Ministers with portfolios that affect us fly fishers, our fish and our waters.  

The new Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment is Dr. Dion George, who replaces outgoing Barbara Creecy. He has a solid financial background including as the recent Shadow Minister of Finance. It is hoped he will be more forward-thinking and realistic than his DFFE predecessor especially with respect to the trout issues on which FOSAF has been tirelessly campaigning for us all. 

Pemmy Majodina takes over from Senzo Mchunu as the new Minister for Water & Sanitation. Bearing in mind the national water quality/quantity crisis and how it was largely caused, one hopes that despite her total inexperience in this mega-portfolio, she is up for the job and that the Minister liaises with and heeds the advice of qualified experts in the field.  

‘Country First, Party Second’.  That’s what the incoming British Prime Minister vowed to his nation overnight.  

Winter has firmly set in, and a cold front is sweeping through our area next week. River temperatures are down to around 11 degrees C. The river flows at the Barrage are 17 cbm/sec and downstream at Woodlands 31. The Vaal Dam level is 54% full. Or 46% empty, if you prefer. Sterkfontein is at 99% capacity. 

The next predictable water crisis is when the Lesotho Highlands Water Project/Trans-Caledon transfer and delivery tunnels are closed for maintenance commencing 1 October for at least 6 months. Water is released from Katse via the tunnels to Sterkfontein when the Vaal Dam is down to 18 per cent capacity. Our Integrated Vaal River System is dependent upon this. Rand Water is dependent on the IVRS. IVRS requires minimum 780 million cbm water per annum. The Government said back in March of this year that there will be 80 million cbm shortfall to the IVRS from 1 October 2024 to 31 March 2025. Minister Majodina no doubt has a contingency plan to offset this shortage.   

The Vaal Barrage is the ‘canary in the cage’ barometer for the health of the Vaal River. At the confluence of the Rietspruit and the Barrage currently the E. coli count is 155,000 ppm. The maximum safe level for human health is 400 ppm. 

The eradication programme against water lettuce and water hyacinth is progressing. The most efficient option in the short term is physical extraction using aquatic weed harvesters and trash skimmers which dump the weed on the shoreside. Front-end loaders then transport the weed to bakkies for dispersal. Water hyacinth hoppers and water lettuce weevils are an effective longer-term enviro-friendly solution. The herbicide Kilo Max which contains glysophate is luckily in short supply and it appears is no longer being sprayed onto the river. It’s effects on other flora and fauna (including fish) remain a grey area and ecologically uncertain. Weed mats are expected to be cleared out of the Barrage within the next month. Partial ‘curtaining’ of the weed in and below the Barrage allows for weed to collect without affecting river traffic or fish movement. Rand Water has a currently unused R2 million allocated towards this programme but to date the funding and weed clearance has been borne by organisations such as SAVE, local tourism venues and residential estates. FOSAF is represented on SAVE by the writer. A grim reminder, these aquatic invasive plants are unlikely to be completely eradicated.  

Sight fishing and wading/boating for smallmouth yellows in the pale winter sun is still possible with a bit of stealth, patience and warm undergarments. The river visibility is pretty good. See May’s report for further detail. A simple Griffith’s Gnat in size 14/16 is a great searching dry fly. This can make for a stimulating and engrossing afternoon.  

You can of course fish across and down with streamers and the like or specialise in targeting likely holding spots for largemouth yellows. But you need the patience of Job - and the luck of the Irish rugby team! 

A tribute to my late friend Samson Mokoena, who passed away this week aged 47. I first met Samson when we were both testifying at the SA Human Rights Commission quite a few years back. I was representing FOSAF in our campaign against Vaal River pollution and polluters. Samson was a mover and shaker environmentalist with a booming voice, huge heart and unlimited energy. He was brave, outspoken and a man of supreme integrity. He did so much with his Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance team to improve the mid Vaal River and community. He also possessed a wicked sense of humour. Once when we were together at a usual ‘no show’ meeting hosted by the corrupt Emfuleni Local Municipality: ‘Maybe the Municipal Manager’s Range Rover is still in the garage having it’s 10-kilometre service.’ 

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A stretch of the winter-time Vaal at Eendekuil.