Umkhomazi River Fly Fishing
45 min from Himeville
The Umkhomazi River lies in the valley to the west of Lotheni and about 30 kilometres from Underberg in the southern Drakensberg area. It is an underrated stream as far as fly-fishing is concerned and is infrequently fished.
However, it is very challenging fishing and at times the brown trout that inhabit these waters can be picky in the extreme. Quite what makes them that way and different from how they behave in other streams is difficult to understand – just part of the enigma of trout.
The trout population is considerably smaller than other similar waters and the fishing requires a more technical approach. For these reasons, it is not recommended for beginners. There is very little fishing pressure on the Umkhomazi but, even so, the trout are wily and elusive – on average they are in the 25cm-30cm range.
The Umkhomazi rises high in the mountains above the Vergelegen Nature Reserve in the iNqamadolo Pass below Thabana Ntlenyana (at 3428 metres, the highest point in southern Africa) and is part of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Park falling under control of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
It is a typical freestone mountain stream in a wide grassy valley, cutting its way as a stepped, fast-flowing vein, jostling through the foothills of the main Drakensberg escarpment arena.
The water, although clear, has an almost glacial look to it in place, green-tinged as it flows across beds of shale. There is a variety of structure, with banks protected by grasses and woody vegetation, large boulders with plenty of shallow riffles, deep mysterious slots, pools and good pocket water – a lively habitat for the brown trout that have been self-sustaining here for a century or more.
Nymphing has generally proved more successful in the Umkhomazi than dry flies, unless the fish are actively feeding off the surface. Wading is possible along most of the Umkhomazi.
It is recommended that fly-fishers concentrate on the portion of the stream from the conservation boundary up towards the mountains for as far as they choose to hike. The boundary is not clearly defined and instead is generally accepted as being about one kilometre downstream of the low-level causeway over the stream on the entrance road.
Although there is some good-looking water, once the stream flows out of the conservation area it enters a sparsely populated rural area and the question of security arises, especially theft from unattended vehicles. It is also advisable that, if these areas are fished, fly-fishers do so in a group of no less than three people for safety reasons.
The river conditions continue for many kilometers downstream until the conditions become unsuitable as a trout habitat. As with most of the KwaZulu-Natal rivers, it is in these lower reaches that some excellent Natal scaley fish are to be had. However, in the rural areas, fly-fishers are reminded to be aware of security risks.
The small tributary, the Umlahlagubo, runs immediately to the east of the campsite, joining the Umkhomazi below the Ranger’s house on the entrance road. It is suggested that fly-fishers don’t overlook this little stream, especially the section between the confluence and the campsite; occasionally it will provide some exciting fishing.
There is only a very basic campsite at Vergelegen, with limited and rustic ablution facilities. All provisions and equipment needed for the duration of the stay must be taken along. There is no electricity, so alternative cooling facilities for perishables will be needed, as will wood or charcoal for fires.
This valley is a wild and picturesque place, accessed from district road R38, with the turn-off to Vergelegen about 18 kilometres from Underberg. It is worth a visit, especially for those well prepared for camping and not afraid of roughing it.
Entry fees and fishing permits are obtainable at the campsite office, where visitors are required to report on arrival. Bookings may be done online through the Parks head office (www.kznwildlife.com).
Umkhomazi Fly Fishing, Vergelegen Campsite
Umkhomazi Fly Fishing, Low Level Causeway
Umkhomazi Fly Fishing, Ranger’s House
Umkhomazi Fly Fishing, Umlahlagubo Confluence
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.