Bushmans River Fly Fishing
1 hour from Estcourt
The Bushmans River, set in a spectacular mountain environment and part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park, rises high in the central region below the prominent buttress known as the “Sleeping Giant”. It is here that it begins its long journey as it flows through the Giants Castle Wilderness Reserve.
As one of KwaZulu-Natal’s premier brown trout streams, the Bushmans in its upper reaches is a small stream with a steep gradient flowing quickly through deep valleys, cascading through gin-clear runs, pockets and riffles as it winds its way between boulders and natural vegetation.
It is a perfect habitat for the self-sustaining brown trout population, descendants of the first seeding of the Loch Levern variety from Scotland that were introduced into this waterway in the 1890s. They are wild, small and seldom exceed 25 centimetres - as pretty as you will find anywhere.
Within the reserve area, there are about 12 kilometres of stream to explore in a natural wilderness environment – a small stream that is a light-line fly-fisher’s delight. However, much of this is not easy going, requiring a scramble through gorges, over boulders and, in places, thick bank-side vegetation. The section that has the easiest access, with defined pathways along the stream, is from the Giants Castle Camp up towards the mountains. It is also well worth taking some time to explore the small tributaries that enter the main stream in a couple of places, but especially the Twee Dassie Spruit above the camp and the uMtshezana close to the spot known as “Champagne Pools”, a short distance after entering the reserve.
This entire upper area is under the control of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. A daily fishing permit is required as well as the normal reserve entry fees. These can be paid at the gate on entry into the park. Good quality, comfortable self-catering accommodation is available at Giants Castle Camp. For on-line bookings visit their website (www.kznwildlife.com).
There is also a restaurant in the main camp complex for those preferring not to cater for themselves. There are no overnight camping facilities and day visitors are required to make use of the picnic area provided.
As the river leaves the reserve, the gradient flattens gradually as it enters a prime stretch of private water at the Bushmans River trout hatchery. Here the river widens into an open valley in a more pastoral setting, with grassy banks, longer, deeper runs and the occasional riffle and flat bedrock structure. The trout are markedly larger, with an average of 30-35 centimetres and the occasional fish reaching 1,3 kilograms.
Amongst the browns, there is also the possibility of catching the odd rainbow that has escaped from the hatchery. There is a small private cottage, “Snowflake”, a short distance below the hatchery, but this is reserved for the landowner and his guests. Fishing the private water is not allowed.
Below the lower boundary of the private water, the Bushmans continues to be fishable for many kilometers through tribal lands and a rural subsistence agricultural area. Although there is good fishing to be had in this area when conditions are favourable, poor farming practice has resulted in considerable siltation and, during summer especially, the water becomes discoloured and even muddy, often remaining that way for long periods at a time.
As the river continues to flow downstream through this area, water temperatures and other factors make it unsuitable as a habitat for trout. It must be mentioned that in this area visitors must be aware of potential security and theft problems. Fishing alone and leaving vehicles unattended is not recommended.
In short, the Bushmans is a prime brown trout river, in particular as it flows through the Giants Castle Reserve. The trout, so typical of browns, are secretive, wily, but in the upper reaches will rise freely to a carefully presented dry fly. In the deeper, slower runs of the lower stretches outside of the conservation area, a drifted mayfly nymph imitation may prove more successful unless the trout are actively feeding on the surface.
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Giants Castle Gate
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Giants Castle Camp
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Reserve Lower Boundary
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Reserve Upper End
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Two Dassie Spruit Confluence
Bushmans Fly Fishing, uMtshezana Confluence
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Private Water Upper Boundary
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Private Water Lower Boundary
Bushmans Fly Fishing, Tribal Lands Water
The Drakensberg mountain range begins its rise in the Eastern Cape, running along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. It also extends in fits and starts into Mpumalanga and covers a vast area stretching into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
It is generally agreed that the ‘Dragon mountains’ got their name from their ragged, irregular silhouette that looks like a dragon’s back from a distance. It was so-named by Dutch settlers. Another, albeit less popular, explanation is that early settlers were told by the locals that dragons lived in the mountains. This theory was given a bit more credence when numerous dinosaur footprints were discovered in the Eastern Free State.
The Zulu tribe has given the mountains its own, equally descriptive name – Ukhahlamba, or ‘the barrier of spears’. Whatever the language and whatever the explanation, there is no argument that the Drakensberg mountains are evocative and mysterious. It is a wild and beautiful area that can change from sunny to snowy in mere moments.
In 2001 a park was established that encompasses a huge tract of the mountains. Known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area, it covers 13 000km² of Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. It includes the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site that by itself covers some 2 400km² and is 150km long.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a place of immense beauty and enormous spaces. It is one of the few true remaining wildernesses where hikers can walk for days without encountering other people.
It is no surprise, then, that this place is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and one must be well-prepared if tackling it on foot.
In the very north of the park is Royal Natal National Park. It is one of the jewels in the crown of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the proud guardian of the world famous ‘Amphitheatre’. This can be easily viewed from the road to the main camp of the park. A short walk along the river gives amazing photographic opportunities. The attractions of this park are many, from pleasant walks to fly-fishing and swimming in clear mountain streams. It is also home to the 850m-high Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world.
Other notable parks within the greater Drakensberg Park are Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Loteni Nature Reserves. Each has its own attractions, capable of keeping the tourist busy for days on end.
The Drakensberg was declared a World Heritage Site for a number of reasons. It is an area of incredible natural diversity with over 2 100 plant species, more than 200 of which are endemic to the area. It is also home to over 60 species of mammal, including the threatened oribi and herds of eland and black wildebeest. It has nearly 50 species of reptile and more than 300 bird species. The naturalist will definitely find a visit to the Drakensberg incredibly rewarding.
No less interesting is the human history of the area. A prime drawcard is the San rock art. Excellent examples can be seen in Giant’s Castle. There is also a recreation of how these people prospered in the mountains until they were ruthlessly hunted out of existence by both black and white settlers.
Look out for
The Bushmen paintings are a unique art form that shrouded in mystery and deserving of at least an afternoon’s attention. The fact that they are almost always to be found in remote, beautiful caves adds to their allure. And the walk there adds to the attraction.
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in the Drakensberg. Depending on fitness and time, hikers can choose from short but beautiful walks to multi-day hikes. On the latter one needs to be entirely self-sufficient and equipped for inclement weather - including snow - no matter what time of the year it is.
The Giants Cup Hiking Trail is the premier ‘Berg hike, totalling almost 60km and usually taking five days to complete. It runs from Sani Pass to Busman’s Nek in the south.
The Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park is one of the first things that should be put on the ‘To Do’ list. You haven’t really been to the Drakensberg until you’ve viewed it from below - and then again from the top. Here you will encounter one of the most breathtaking views in South Africa.
Fly-fishing is another excellent reason to visit the Drakensberg. KZN-Ezemvelo has a collection of very good trout waters in their reserves. Other dams and rivers are privately owned, but many are accessible to fisherman for a day fee.
The Lammergeier Hide at Giant’s Castle is an amazing place from which to get incredible sightings and photographs of birds. Highlights are the bearded vulture, Verreaux’s eagle, white-necked raven, lanner falcon and Cape vulture. Many smaller species can also be spotted. Booking is essential.
Sani Pass is one of South Africa’s great drives. In winter the pass is often closed due to ice and snow and can be a very hazardous drive. Remember that a passport is necessary to get onto the pass and a 4x4 vehicle is required by law.