Vaal River Tactics

River Article # 1

Fly Fishing, Yellows & The Vaal River

By: Shayne Prinsloo


Fly fishing on the Vaal has been around for many years, but as a sport, growth has increased over the past 10 years. The river allows fly anglers to utilise many techniques of fly fishing. It has fast-moving water, riffles run’s and pools where the Yellow Fish will hold up at different times of the day. Different techniques should be used with various water types to achieve the maximum catch rate. The aquatic environment is very diverse, which in turn allows anglers to use a wide variety of flies to imitate the insects being foraged on. There are two species of Yellow Fish targeted on the Vaal namely the Large Mouth and the Small Mouth (Labeobarbus aeneus). Both types are hard fighting and will run your reel onto the backing in no time.

A Starting Point, Fly Choice On The Vaal

We could talk for days on how certain flies catch more fish than others. The most important part of choosing a fly is the understanding and knowledge of the aquatic insects in the river system and which of them the fish will be feeding on at a time of day. Two insects I want to concentrate on are Mayflies and the Caddis groups, as these would be the first two choice flies to rig up.

Yellows feed heavily on both groups throughout the day and night, making it a good choice to start fishing with. Both insect groups have different life cycles that they must undergo, and this is important, for the angler, to know which stage of the life cycle, the fish are feeding on. Although Yellows will take a dry fly (adult cycle), nymphing will out-do this method on the Vaal.

For the purpose of this article, which is aimed at the novice or weekend angler, I am writing about nymphing on the Vaal. The Vaal River is a muddy colour, causing the fish to spend 90% of the time feeding in the middle and bottom water columns. This makes it important to have the correct weighted fly for a specific water type, in which you are fishing. For example, if you were fishing a shallow part of a run and moved onto a deeper section of riffle water, the fly you are using will be too light to reach the bottom of the riverbed. The lighter fly would travel over the top of the fish and out of the feeding line.

Learning the correct weight for a fly takes time and practice. Remember not to go too heavy or you will get snagged up on every cast. The balance must be right. If you are using purchased flies simply keep a split shot on the dropper section, changing it for different depths.

Two stages of the Mayfly and Caddis Fly can be used beneath the surface with great effect:
First stage: Nymph (Mayfly), Larvae (Caddis) and Emerger.

Next stage: Pupa for the Mayflies and Caddis. Both aquatic insects spend most of there life in the first stage and it is this stage that we need to focus on, before moving into the other life cycles.


Reading The Water

It is important to know that you will not catch Yellows on the fly everywhere in the river. There are certain criteria that needs to be dealt with. Fish need the following to live oxygen, food, protection and the right temperature. It is important to under where to find fishable water. Fly Fishing terms for such places are called ‘lies’. They can be anywhere on the river. Prime ‘lies’ are the most important. They will provide all the fish’s needs mentioned, oxygen, food, (not necessarily protection) and the right temperature. Fish will hold up here to feed, unless the ‘lie’ is well hidden and offers full protection, which in that case you will probably not have access to. They will then retreat to a secondary ‘lie’ for protection when threatened by other predators or anglers.

Unfortunately, learning to read the rivers does not happen overnight, this takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Having an experienced fishing mate can help speed up the learning curve. But sadly, many anglers don’t have the benefit of somebody else’s expertise. The use a guide for a day will certainly move you in the right direction faster. In rivers and streams most of what a fish eats is delivered by currents. In any river or stream there are usually several currents of varying strength and width across any section of the river. Where some of these currents are ‘compressed’ into one strong current, the maximum amount of food will be concentrated in the smallest area. Compression can be caused by bottom and bank formation, rocks, boulders, fallen logs etc. ‘Prime lies’ means where there is the best shelter close to the most compressed currents, thereby delivering the most food. The fish that in the ‘prime lies’, for example, can feed to the left or right of ‘their’ boulder, while being sheltered from the current by that same boulder.

Techniques and Presentaion

This is where it gets interesting. There are many styles of fly fishing one could use. You need to make the right choice for the specific section of the river in which you are going to fish. The Vaal River is wide open in most places thereby offering you as the angler, different types of water. It allows you the Czech Nymph, Spanish Nymph, Upstream Dead Drift as well as Downstream and across Nymphing. It is all about using the right technique for each section of the river. You are likely to catch fish using any technique, but you catch more using the right one. For example, I find that using the Down and Across method on a slow run or glide, just after some fast riffle water will yield the most takes as it allows the flies time to settle down near the bottom and will give a long steady rise of the flies towards the end of the drift. Most of the takes on your fly will happen around this time as it imitates the insect lifting off the bottom and making its way to the surface (emergence stage). In faster shallow water, I would use the Spanish Style Nymphing technique, as this allows me to fish further away, so I am not detected by the fish. This technique offers you more control over your Drift Downstream, whereby you can control the speed of the flies. Along with each technique you can vary the placement of your control fly (the weighted one) on the leader. Changing this fly to the middle dropper for example will keep your three flies in the middle to bottom current of the river a longer period in the drift. Making the right choice out on the river will improve your catch rate considerably.

The Vaal River offers relief to fly anglers that have not yet mastered the art of fly casting because the water is a muddy colour, thereby enabling them to get away with fly presentation for the most part. It is only when the fishing really gets tough and water clarity is clearer that better presentation of the flies will play an important part in catching Yellowfish.