Winter Fishing For KZN Yellows
For the fly fishing addicts who prefer to target harder fighting yellows, winter is an ideal time to get out and fish rivers without running into other fishermen. Most winter fly fishing boils down to sub-surface activity, although one could encounter a decent mayfly hatch. Nymph fishing is a very effective way to target winter yellows and an excellent opportunity to get out and perfect their skills. This time of year provides excellent opportunity to perfect the technique of dead-drift nymphing. The cooler winter flows are slower and runs cleaner than warmer waters, making your leader setup and presentations a bit more challenging. To counter this, many fishermen will use slightly longer, finer leaders and tippets than they would in warmer months.
Most nymphing opportunities will come from deeper, slower pools. In recent years, these pools have provided the majority of the fish for me. Yellows will often be found in the depths of the pool, especially in the deep curling eddies off the main flow. Dead drifting nymphs through these slow pools, using long leaders in the 12 – 16 foot range and a tungsten nymph heavy enough to get your flies down quickly, and keep it drifting at the same speed as the current, will usually be your most effective way of connecting with yellows. Having only a short section of fly line out is essential for line control and detecting the subtle takes that winter yellows are known for.
Rivers such as the Mooi, Umgeni and Bushman’s provide loads of winter Mayflies, Caddis Flies and emerging Midges. On hot sunny days one will have opportunities for both shallow water nymphing and a little dry fly action. A small #16 - #20 PTN (Pheasant Tail Nymph) to imitate small Mayfly nymphs , a Trico Spinner, and a variety of midge emergers have worked well. Hatching winter aquatic insects are more often than not on the small side, but even sluggish cold water yellows find it hard to resist a big, easy meal. Flipping a few rocks over from the river bottom will help you decide what to put on to the business end.
Winter fishing for Scalies can be a little more technical than at other times of the year. Scalies are found in both pools and rapids of the rivers they live in. Bigger fish start moving upriver in early spring and summer to seek out the better spawning areas and retreat downstream to deeper pools in winter. They feed on a variety of food forms, such as algae crabs, small fish and aquatic insects.
Flies can be presented close to the surface, but it’s usually most productive when fished near or on the bottom. You can fish it with an indicator or tight line presentation, the latter being my choice. To achieve the right depth when fishing rivers, you may need to put weight on the leader or use the pheasant tail nymph as a dropper with a heavy control fly on the point. If indicator fishing is your preferred method, then your leader length should be no less then 12ft And a fluorocarbon tippet section of 3-5ft in the 5x range. It can also be very productive during a hatch. Yellows might be taking nymphs off the bottom rather than adults of the top!
It’s a good idea to start fishing from the tailout of a pool and working your way slowly up along it, fishing the different lies as you go. This involves wading upstream, casting ahead of you and allowing your flies to drift back towards you at the same speed as the current, stripping in line merely to take up slack and to keep in touch with your fly. Do not strip the flies back towards you; always allow your flies to drift naturally in the water. One last tip think like a fish, fish look for two things in rivers, namely shelter and food.
Tackle and Tactics
Fly Rods in the 4-6wt range would be the norm. In some instances, on the small streams you may fish 3wt rods. Weight Forward floating lines and reels loaded with 50 yards of 20lb backing will be all that’s needed. 3x, 4x nine foot tapered leaders and 4x and 5x fluorocarbon tippet material are used.
Productive flies include mayfly nymph patterns (PTN, Flashbacks and GRHE) in Size 14 – 20, Olive and Mustard Caddis in size 12-16 and brassies in 14-18. Dry Flies: Elk Hair Caddis, CDC Caddis and Trico Spinners in size 14-18.
Take care of your fish and they will take care of you!