Pongola River Trip Report
It has been awhile since the last time that I posted on my blog. There are numerous reasons for it but the main ones being that I moved recently as well as changed jobs which comes with little time and money to fish. Fortunately I recently went on a long weekend trip to the Pongola River to get my tiger fix. Here follows my trip report –
On the Friday morning a mate, Willem Vermaak, and I started our journey to Jozini to meet with Peter Calverley from The Pongola River Company who were our hosts for the weekend. The evening prior was spent at my flat in Richards Bay with the usually pre trip activities taking place in anticipation for the weekend ahead. Each fly tied with a wire bite tippet and all the gear checked and repacked to their dry bags.
Our journey to Jozini started at 5am on Friday morning with the sun nowhere in sight and 210km of road ahead of us. A quick stop for ice to keep the beers cold and we were off. The sun started rising just before we hit Hluhluwe, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful sunrises with a deep red colour meeting us as the sun’s rays had to penetrate the dusty sky.
It was evident that the area was in dire need of rain as the farms adjacent to the N2 had no grass left with only dust remaining under the thorn trees. Livestock and wild animals are forced to scavenge for sugar cane that falls off the passing transport trucks heading to the sugar mills. We even noted Baboons next to the road not anywhere near any form of hill or mountain.
The full extent of the drought was yet to be realised however when we reached the pass before Jozini where the Jozini Dam can be seen from the road. I had not personally ever seen the dam levels this low in my lifetime, which I guess is not that long?! Official stats indicate the dam is currently at 56% capacity with last year the same time being at 74% [Source:https://www.dwa.gov.za/Hydrology/Weekly/ProvinceWeek.aspx?region=KN]
We planned to arrive at the Jozini Tiger Lodge to meet with Peter at 8am. The plan was to leave our vehicle at the lodge and transfer to the river with Peter to meet up with our guides for the weekend. Being a bit excited we arrived 30 minutes early and waited in anticipation. By 8h30 we were on the water with our guides Sam and Sifiso, brothers, that grew up on the area. I met Sam a few years ago on one of my visits and was surprised to see him still working there.
As we started our drift from less than a kilometer below the dam wall to our camp site for the night at Lunch Pool we realised the extent of the drought is not isolated to the areas next to the N2. The grass on both sides of the river is non-existent and the local livestock have been forced to eat the reeds and young grass that grows on the moist soil on the river banks and small islands created by the currents. The river was also not flowing as strong as the years before creating the perfect habitat for aquatic plants to grow also something I have not seen in the years prior.
The fishing throughout the day was tough as the aquatic plants have taken over most of the slower sections of the river and only the main channels were fish-able. All the current lines and back currents that I used to fish could not be accessed with a fly. I am sure the plants will do some good in giving tilapia and local minnow species a place to hide and grow in numbers, but all it did at the time was frustrate me as after every cast I had to clean my fly and I was convinced that the total time my fly was favorable to a tigerfish was limited to three strips after it landed in the water as I only managed to catch one small tigerfish by 3pm that day. Willem on the other had was already on his tenth fish by the same time and all caught on a small black and red clouser minnow I had discarded from my fly box the evening before. Lesson learnt.
I asked Sifiso, my guide for the weekend, to take me to Lunch Pool for the last few hours of the day before we head to camp which was setup on a sand bank adjacent to the same pool. Lunch pool is probably one of the deepest pools in the river and has great rock wall with scattered rocks underwater to the northern side of the river is a known hot spot for the bigger tigerfish. I asked Sifiso to set the boat up next to the rock wall so I can fish parallel to it.
I stripped some line off my reel and started my cast upstream, not a great cast. I stripped some more line hoping to get some more distance on the next cast. Strip, Strip, Bang, fish on! I knew this fish was a lot bigger than the others caught during the course of the day as I started to clear my line and get the fish on the reel. I was fishing my Pentz Predator 789 hoping to get a nice fish on it as I have not really had the opportunity to fish it after I purchased it 2nd hand off a local forum.
After a short 3 minute fight I had the fish next to the boat and realised the only net was on the other boat with Willem who was in the pool above still fishing. The fly was sitting outside the fish’s mouth only held there by a small piece of skin surrounding its hard jaws. Time to make a plan… Stripping basket? I asked Sifiso to grab my stripping basket and land the fish, first attempt and the fish was in the basket. I was relived that I caught a fish that could make up for my poor performance throughout the day.
Eventually Willem joined me fishing Lunch Pool and we spent another hour or two trying to get something bigger, but only one more small fish came out. We called it a day and headed to the camp for some ice cold beers sitting next to the camp fire enjoying everyone’s company. Gareth the camp manager treated us to steaks and pot bread with a few sides for dinner and a awesome banana and chocolate pudding.
On Saturday morning we started the morning off early fishing Lunch Pool. There were a lot of large fish smashing on the surface on what we believe to be silver robbers but none obliged to take a fly. This was the start of a hard days fishing as the air pressure dropped and a light shower of rain indicated early the morning. We continuted to fish the river down stream fo the rest of the day with 6 small fish coming out between the both of us by the time we reached the main camp for lunch at 2pm. Willem had lost a nice fish on a nice sand drop off in the pool right above camp before we arrived.
After lunch we headed down stream to a Sand Pool, a pool were I had my first encounter with a 6lb tigerfish on my first visit to the river a few year back. Another mate of ours,Shane, has also landed a 3kg fish here two years prior and our guides had indicated that a client had landed a 6kg fish there the previous season. Willem was armed with a floating line and a few flippers that I had sponsored before we left camp hoping to get some top water action. The pool has a shallow sandy section that leads into a deep pool with a dead tree in the center as the pool starts and Willem was casting along the northern bank where we found a lot of small minnows moving up and down the current along the bank. It was not 5min and he got one hell of a strike by a huge tigerfish, the hook unfortunately did not set. But it was some of the most fierce top water action I have seen in a long time and I am sure was enough to ensure the both of us come back armed with a dedicated rod rigged with a flipper next time.
All in all it was a great trip and we hope to be back soon. I think the next time will be after the annual flood release in October with the hopes that it clears the river up a bit.
Till next time.