Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Current flyfishing conditions

Like most passionate flyfishers, I keep my ears to the ground about weather and fishing conditions. When I am heading out, I want to gather as much information I can, to try to establish what water levels, clarity or temperature I should expect. I also like to know how others are doing; not because I want to follow them to their private hotspot, but just to know if things have been slow, or brilliant, or somewhere in between. In keeping with that, this page is definitely not intended to blow good fishing spots, so if that was what you were hoping for, sorry!

My fishing news is also sporadic, as are my opportunities to get out, and this page will be updated according to when I get news, so I’m afraid I can’t commit to a schedule. What I can share is “Updates” (more comprehensive) and “Check ins” (bullet style one-liners). I will share these on twitter and Facebook, so check that out to keep up to date:

Twitter and Facebook: click here and follow

or check in here as you need.

Check in: 6 April 2021

There were a number of reports over the Easter week-end of dirty stillwaters. It seems the Kamberg had a deluge ahead of the holidays, and many dams were off colour. Presumably the rivers were affected too, but they seem to be clearing, while dirty stillwater reports continue to come in.

Check in: 1 April 2021

I am told by a local that the Bushmans this morning down at Bhungane beat, is “like Sprite”. Good news for the Easter week-end!

The Inzinga was a tiny bit milky and flowing strong. Midmar dam’s overflow was going like a steam train.

Yesterday I measured a water temp at the surface of a high altitude dam, at 19 degrees at 3 pm. That is promising!

Check in: 29 March 2021

In the last week there has been a sudden drop in air temps, and water temps are certainly following. There were big rains last Sunday that blew out the lower stretches of the Bushmans and the Mooi,

A tributary of the Mooi on Reekie Lyn a week ago

but oddly the uMngeni was looking fine.

Since then, more rain has fallen and there are reports of the Inzinga, Amanzinyama and Mooi all being blown out, as well as many stillwaters being off colour. As soon as those clear, autumn fishing, both for stillwater and streams, should be at its absolute peak

Update: 21 March 2021

We have had a few weeks of warmth, and for a change, limited rainfall. So while the streams warmed up a fair bit, they had a fortnight of lovely clean water. I noticed that Midmar’s overflow had slowed down to a trickle three days back. The problem is that this covers two week-ends at best, and then late last week we had storms again. I wasn’t aware of the extent of the storms upcountry, but a foray over the last two days revealed off colour water. Midmar is pumping over again.

On Thursday, I found the uMngeni tinged slightly with a mid brown muddiness, and coupled with that , strongly stained with its usual summer peat stain.

The uMngeni from the bridge below Chestnuts

From a distance it looked totally blown out. Up close I could see the bottom four foot down. I have come to appreciate that the subtlelty of water colour as as nuanced as a photographer’s light!

The Furth Stream (tributary of the uMngeni) was a lot cleaner, and I took a water temperature mid afternoon of 19 degrees C.

The Furth stream at Brigadoon farm on 19 March 2021

What is interesting about that is that a few hours earlier, at higher altitude, I took a surface water temp at a stillwater and got 22 degrees. It goes to show how a tumbling, partly shaded, running stream is sometimes more hospitable to Trout than an impoundment.

Back to colour: The Bushmans yesterday was surprisingly off-colour too.

The Bushmans at the bridge on the eClinic beat on 20th March 2021

Its colour was slightly more on the yellow/fawn spectrum, at least down at the Clinic beat. Higher up, it had more of a slate-like colour.

The same Bushmans some 9 kms upstream at the parking spot on Ezibukweni Kwaundaba

I attribute the difference to the extent of the bare earth, wattle and overgrazing in the tribal area, vs the thickly grassed state of Snowflake and the park above.

Either way the river was fishable in my view, and the catch returns of two parties on the river yesterday bear testimony to that.

A temperature reading at Ezibukweni kwaundaba showed 17.5 degrees C.

Across on the Mooi, we were back to slate grey flow at the bridge at Riverside, and the river was full.

The Mooi at Riverside

The dairy stream looked like it was contributing much dirtier flow, but interestingly the centre pivot was running, suggesting that most of the rain fell in the berg. No farmer would waste electricity pumping water onto soil that is already saturated!

The Reekie Lyn stream was flowing strongly and arguably a tiny bit more tinged than the main river at Riverside.

The Reekie Lyn from the road bridge

As I left the valley late yesterday, dark clouds were massed over the berg. Who knows what it will look like tomorrow!

Generally you are going to find the rivers cooling and dropping, and the bankside vegetation particularly rank after a very wet summer. I was shocked to see how bad the bramble and wattle growth is on the upper Mooi and upper Umkomaas in recent weeks. The uMngeni and the Furth stream have a ‘fine crop’ of blackjacks this year (an expected aftermath of alien invasive clearing in recent years). If you can put up with these things, you are in for some mighty fine autumn fishing. Already some superb fish have been caught in the last two weeks on various rivers (and no….I am not tattling as to where!)

For those less inclined to brave the chest high growth along rivers, the NFFC has just opened its stillwaters after the seasonal warm water closure. The opening is arguably premature, but as I write a cold front has moved in, night temperatures are down to 11 or 12 degrees, and the water temps will be falling below 20 very soon indeed. Enjoy!

Check in : 16th March 2021

It has been mighty hot this past week! Even up in a high berg stream, water temps of 21 to 22 degrees C have been recorded in the late afternoons, coming down to about 17 or so as at early morning. Air temps, even in the berg reached 30 degrees on Saturday and Sunday. On the positive side, the rains have abated for a while, flow has dropped, and clarity has been magnificent everywhere. From the Bushmans:

The Bushmans at the Clinic today

To the Mooi to the uMngeni and the rivers to the south: Clear everywhere. I looked in on several of them last week from high up to low down, and without exception, they looked great. Except that is the Bushmans where I am told that someone marked off beats with plastic danger tape, and left the markers behind after they left….at a pristine a world natural heritage site. I don’t know who did that, or if it is still there. Sies!

Check in: 9 March 2021

The Umgeni, the Mooi, the Bushmans, the Lotheni….all “Sprite”…beautifully clean. Water temps are sitting at 20 degrees by midday. Flow is good. There’s just a hot week predicted this week, but I was up at 1800m yesterday and the air temp was 23 degrees, while in Maritzburg it was 32…so I reckon there’s no excuse at all. Go fish a river. Its beaut! (some good fish coming out too).

Stillwaters: 24 degrees C measured in a dam near Giants a few days back. At the surface no doubt, but the stillwaters still need time off.

Check in: 4 March 2021

News in from the Bushmans, is that the community waters are full, blown out and off colour from a storm last night that stretched from there to Kamberg and probably across to Lotheni. The upper stretches will be fishable, but there is a lot of white water for a few days.

Check in: 3 March 2021

News from my mate on the banks of the Bushmans near the “e-clinic” beat yesterday, is that it looks like “Sprite”…in other words, crystal clean. The Mooi at Riverside yesterday was ever so slightly milky, but spotting fish was definitely possible, so very acceptable. The uMngeni at Chestnuts is stained (usual for summer), but you can see the rocks on the bottom off the bridge, so as you go up to Furth and Sheardown, it will no doubt be perfect.

Water temps: 19 degrees at Riverside on the Mooi yesterday at 3pm. Highmoor has been hovering around 18 degrees in the early afternoons, so temps are definitely dropping.

Check in: 27 February 2021

The Bushmans at the Clinic is full and brown this morning after extensive rain yesterday and last night.

Water temperatures of 17 degrees were reported yesterday morning in a high altitude dam on a syndicate in the upper Dargle.

Check in: 25 February 2021

A friend tells me they have had rain on and off all week up on the Bushmans, and that it is currently running high and milky.

Check in: 21 February 2021

The Mooi, uMngeni and Bushmans are all looking perfect at present. After some substantial rain, we have had it hold off long enough for the rivers to clean up. We have seen some very hot days, but night time temperatures in the mountains are helping water temps. The upper Mooi measured 15 degrees C yesterday morning.

Update : 17 February 2021

It has been a wild ride! The week-end just gone was devilishly hot, and it followed floods in northern KZN (Winterton area) and in southern KZN (Underberg), but nothing noteworthy rain-wise in the central area (uMngeni and Mooi). Then the heat was followed on 16th Feb, by a cold front which was preceded by a morning of heavy rain in some places (but not all). So 2 days back the Bushmans was clean. Yesterday it was chocolate. Yesterday, when I crossed the uMngeni and the Furth Stream, they looked perfect, but the day before a fisherman on the Furth stream reported it dirty. And so it goes….

Either way, I can tell you that KZN has had magnificent rains, and water is pouring out of everywhere. What this means is that the water table is up, the ground is saturated, and any additional rain quite quickly runs off, dirtying the rivers. In between the rain, we have had some really hot days, so water temperatures haven’t been great for Trout, certainly not in stillwaters, and on the lower reaches of our rivers. If I had to sum all this up, I would say your best bet has been to go high in the berg and fish the rushing mountain streams. Even those have been blown out their fair share, but at least they clear quickly. If you get them at a low ebb between storms you may be lucky and be able to fish a dry fly, but for the rest it has been nymphs and heavily weighted ones for the most part. The fish have been either on the bottom, requiring lots of lead to get down there through the white water, or, perhaps the more appealing option: in the slack margins and eddies tight against the bank. But here is something to think about….If you own that wonderful old book titled “Masters on the Dry Fly”, go and read the chapter by Art Flick. It is about fishing pocket water, but at some point he covers fishing rushing white water….with a dry fly…and having success to the amazement of his colleagues. I am just putting that out there.

In the meantime, we have a sunny but cool day today following the cold front, and it feels autumnal. But not being March yet, I think it is an anomaly, and I expect a lot more heat before I can start claiming to feel the change of the season. We just have to sit this out for another 3 or 4 weeks, and then……..!

Check in: Thursday 11th February 2021

The Mooi at Riverside is full and strong and a bit “creamy”, but it is fishable. Kamberg definitely didn’t have the radical storms of 2 days back.

Check in: 11 Feb 2021

Videos and pictures are pouring in of the floods to the North and South of KZN’s berg…..Garden Castle and the Umzimkulu river basin down at Underberg, and Winterton to the North. Storms of 130mm, bridges washed away etc etc.

In the middle, a report of the uMngeni looking perfect yesterday. A picture of the Bushmans near Giants Castle from a passer by suggests the river is full and dirty, but nothing like those others.

Check in: 5 Feb 2021

The uMngeni right up at the top was flowing full and strong. The water is clean, but there is a particularly strong tannin stain at the moment, which might put people off, because they will think it is muddy. It is not! A mate reported that the Mooi at Stillerus is looking superb at the moment, just the odd batch of milky water coming through, probably from activities upstream, but eminently fishable. I suspect the Bushmans, Lotheni, Umko and everything else will be similar, since I am not aware of any major downpours in the last 5 days or so.

Check in: 29 January 2021

My friends at the Bushmans confirmed that this afternoon the river is still muddy brown and pumping full. I reckon the week-end is out everywhere. Of course all club stillwaters are closed due to peak summer water temps, and the private ones that aren’t, arguably should be. Time to tie some flies.

Check in: 27 January 2021

The Bushmans today was milky down at the clinic, but clear enough to fish comfortably up at Thandabantu.

The Little Mooi was as clear as a bell, as was the Mooi at Riverside and the Reekie Lyn stream.

The Reekie Lyn beat of the Mooi was clear too. All were of course flowing strongly and water temps were around 18.5 degrees C. BUT: Heavy clouds hung over the berg, and before the day was over there were widespread downpours. Coupled with this, heavy rain is predicted over the next 3 or 4 days…..

Check in : 24 January 2021

The uMngeni was remarkably lower today than a week ago. The water was crystal clear, and it was looking beautiful. The water temp was however at 22 degrees!

The Injisuthi was also reportedly running beautifully clear. But of course cyclone Eloise is on the way and Injasuthi is likely to be more affected as are other Northern streams….let’s see how much rain it dumps on us!

Check in :21 January 2021

The Mooi at Reekie Lyn and at Riverside was looking superb today. Levels good and water clean, but for a slug of milky water mid afternoon. Should be perfect for the week-end, as should be the Bushmans, Lotheni, uMngeni et al……unless it storms of course.

Check in: 17 January 2021

The uMngeni is looking wonderful at the moment. Water temp: 19.5 degrees C.

uMngeni, Stoneycroft

The Mooi is looking superb up top, but a bit milky down at Reekie Lyn. The Bushmans is just too strong. Forget colour…its just pumping!.

Check in: 15 January 2021

In the last week, I haven’t been up to the Mooi or Bushmans, and there have been just a trickle of reports indicating that flows have been abating and clarity improving since last Friday’s/ Saturday’s significant storms. I expect they will be looking superb this week-end, and my best guess is that the Lotheni will be similar. The uMngeni, and by the looks of things, chiefly its tributary the Furth Stream (which joins at Brigadoon) received an absolute deluge last Saturday. Small streams running into the Furth were still dirty on Wednesday when I crossed them, and the main uMngeni at Chestnuts was clearing but still unfishable yesterday. I would try the uMngeni above the Furth confluence, where I reckon you will get some clear water.

uMngeni below Chestnuts on 14th Jan

Check in: 8 January 2021

The Bushmans and Ncibidwana were in full flow this afternoon and milky, and storms broke over the Giant in the afternoon, no doubt worsening the situation. Stream temps were at 18degrees C . The Mooi is very full, and was cleaner than the Bushmans, but storms were swirling around the catchment. The Reekie Lyn stream was crustal clear today, but around 4 pm a big storm broke in that catchment. Looking from there to Spionkop, it looked possible that the uMngeni maybe escaped the storms, but info in showed a massive storm hit the slopes of Inhlosane Mountain, blowing out the Furth stream and the uMngeni below the confluence completely.

Frequently updated info on fishing conditions in the KZN Midlands, of relevance to the Trout waters .
The “Mavela stream” that feeds the Furth Stream at 5 pm 8th Jan.

Check in: 7 January 2021

The Bushmans confirmed flowing strongly and a bit milky this morning.

Update: 6 January 2021

December hit us with all the heat, drizzle, wild storms, and rain that it is known for. Anglers staying over for Christmas will have had days when it was too hot to go out, followed by ones that were too dangerous on account of the lightning, or too miserable due to the drizzle. That is summer for you. You grab the opportunities for an hour in the early morning, or after the storm. In between you are dealing with rivers that are blown out, sunburn and purple patches that lasted a few minutes and which you missed on account of some turkey, revelry, or family obligation.

But you know what…I have been missing typical wild Decembers for years, and it has been so good to have one again. A December of extremes. Wild, wet and beautiful. I don’t mind that the fishing had to be eked out in between.

I had a few days on a Stillwater where, when it was cool and pleasant, the fish were down. Then it was too hot, and the fish were on the prod for a while, and then an east wind came up, or a storm, and it was over.

These times are best spent in a cottage beside the water,  where your rod can stay rigged and on a hook under the eaves. Its expensive, in that you may pay for a week’s worth of accommodation and total only a few hours here and there.

I fished the Mooi one day where it was hot and humid and stuffy, but the water pulling at my legs was clean and refreshing, and the lightning a few hours later wasn’t all that frightening. My companion got a few little browns on nymphs. I blanked. The amount of time spent behind a camera lens or catching up on my pal’s news may have had something to do with that. We spoke about going back a few days later to do it again “but properly this time”. Then the heavens opened, and I am not sure if the river has cleared up yet.

A call to the Bushmans yesterday yielded news that it was very full and “The colour of Stoney Ginger Beer”. I am trying to picture it. I reckon you could nymph it, unless they too had the downpour we had yesterday. Maybe high up will be better. It certainly cleans up quicker up there.

Even on the top beats though, the flows are strong, and it will be a case of dropping a fly into the pockets of slack water or in the back eddies.  For the rest it will require nymphs heavier than I care to fish.  If you catch it for a day before the next deluge, the Gods may shine on you and you will get to fish a dry.

River temperatures are highly variable. From just after a hail storm, to the evening after a stinker of a day, you can expect anything from 14 degrees to 22 degrees C. If I had to report an average of what I have experienced it would be 19.5 degrees. That will do. In a strongly flowing river the water will be fully oxygenated, which as you may know, means different things depending on the water temperature. Either way, the temps are better than the stillwaters, and so is the oxygenation. That is why the Natal Fly Fishers Club has exercised their annual Stillwater closure thing. So for now it’s the rivers.  

And who knows what you will get.

Go anyway.  Just do it.