With my wedding looming Nick stepped up to the plate as my best man and took me fly fishing in Lesotho as part one of my bulls.
At 3:30am I lazily climbed out of bed, pulled on my Columbia kit and did a last minute check of my gear. One of the pleasures of fishing small streams is just how lightly one can travel. My float tube was left in firmly its box and I picked up my 2 weight rod, backpack with lunch, and fly vest and headed out the door.
By 4am we were on the road to Lesotho stopping off at our usual garage. The only difference was that when we pulled in they were yet to put out the doughnuts. Thankfully I managed to spot the fresh apple danishes coming out of the oven and grabbed a few to go with our coffee.
From our coffee stop we headed up the dreaded 111km Underberg road which thankfully passed faster than usual. Just before 6am we pulled into Underberg and stopped off for a quick toilet break at one of the local garages. Amazingly they had no toilets on offer and we were forced to continue to Himeville for that pleasure.
Back on the road I was pleased to discover that they’d finally tarred the dirt road as far as the Sani Pass Hotel. This meant 30kms less dirt and a significantly faster and more pleasant trip to the pass. However once we finally hit the dirt our excitement peaked as we knew the adventure was finally beginning.
We reached the border at 7am, had our passports stamped, and headed up the pass as the first car of the morning. As we began our slow climb towards the switchbacks the sun treated us to a spectacular sunrise painted above the mountains. And just to make the moment more magical, a black backed jackal ran in front of the car for close on a kilometre, lit by the glowing morning light.
Just before the switchbacks we pulled into one of the viewpoints and took the skottle out the back of the Terios. It was time for a cooked breakfast. We threw eggs and bacon onto the hot metal and listened to them sizzle in the cool air while hot cups of coffee warmed our hands. The egg and bacon rolls that followed were just what we needed to give us the energy for what was going to be a long day in Lesotho.
As we were packing up a group of bikers passed us on their trip up the pass and gave us a friendly smile. We watched their dust vanish into the distance as we put the final items into the car, let down the tyres for a smoother ride, and removed the tow bar. Then we set up a few cameras and started the steep, final ascent of the famous Sani Pass.
Things were going smoothly until half way through the switch backs where we met up with the bikers. Unfortunately for us they had parked on one of the corners meaning we needed to make an exceptionally tight turn and take a far from ideal line over a rocky section. Thanks guys! In future please don’t stop on the corners and, if you absolutely must, at least park your bikes off the road.
Slightly annoyed we continued up the pass reaching the badly iced up corner. There our spirits were instantly lifted as we watched a mountain reedbuck flair around on the ice as it tried to get off the road as quickly as possible. Clearly hooves are not designed to work on ice.
By 8am we had crested the pass and were through the Lesotho border post. We ventured forth towards the smaller, rougher roads which rumour told us were a good place to head down to the Sani River.
Once on these roads it was all new territory to us. We could see the river winding far below us as the road we were driving on got rockier and rockier. We opted to not head down to the river before the backpackers and continued down a very steep section of rocky road, if you could call it that. Nick nervously eyed the terrain as I climbed out of the Terios to move the bigger rocks blocking our path.
Once we’d reached the bottom of the hill and parked next to the river we chatted nervously about whether we thought we’d make it back up. Thankfully kitting up our rods next to the cold water quickly made us forget our concerns. All that really mattered now was whether we’d find fish in this unchartered water.
We slowly began making our way upstream opting to cast only at sighted fish. The water looked incredibly shallow with the average pool being only ankle deep. Having never seen this river before it was tough to say if this was normal.
After more than a kilometre of slow walking, while inspecting pool after pool, I eventually spotted a few small fish. They looked like trout but were no more than 4 inches long. Carefully I stripped out some line and gently presented my dry fly on the surface just past them. With the water being so low (and slow flowing) it barely drifted back towards them, but when it did they completely ignored it. I tried a few more casts, as did Nick, but eventually they moved off un-phased. At this point I took a seat on a cold rock and changed from a dry fly to a nymph.
We continued upstream for another kilometre without spotting another fish. The water was a freezing 3 degrees with ice forming along the edges and the wind was rather chilly as it pulled over the mountains. We opted to take a break and sat down to a quick snack as we had the normal tactical discussion one has whenever failure is on the cards.
Thankfully, just as we got going again, we found a deeper pool. That combined with the fact that the wind had picked up heavily meant that for the first time I couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. I flicked out my nymph and, almost instantly, my strike indicator was pulled under the water. I struck and missed the fish, but it got the heart going and I was feeling more positive.
I threw out another cast and this time got into a small wild rainbow, my first ever fish in Lesotho. After calling Nick over we stuck a nymph onto his tippet and it wasn’t long before he’d missed his first fish.
We continued the hike upstream and continued to find deeper pools, all of which now held fish. For some reason I was missing more fish that I was landing, as was Nick, but at least we’d worked them out and were having fun.
After landing a couple of fish each, and quickly nearing the road, we decided to take another break and enjoyed our lunch next to the river overlooking one of the local’s stone huts. This seemed to remind Nick that his Terios may just be stuck at the bottom of a very rocky hill and the conversation quickly turned to Bear Grylls and just how we’d survive the night if we couldn’t make it out.
We decided to head back to the car to check that we could indeed make it out of the valley. The plan was to then explore another stretch of the river in the hopes of finding more deep water.
The walk back was relatively quick and by the time we got back to the car we’d covered a decent 8kms of Lesotho landscape. Back at the car I spotted a deeper pool downstream and we gave it a quick flick with the fly rod. The end result was me missing three hits in a row. Somewhat annoying but still great fun.
The trip out of the valley was highly exhilarating. Thanks to the altitude the Terios was a little short of power which meant revving the engine and taking the obstacles faster than one should. That said we made it out rather easily (bumpily) after all of our concerns.
Back on the main road we headed for the nearby river crossing to inspect the water at that point. Sadly the river there was rather shallow. This combined with the fact that water was being pumped out meant that we didn’t hang around for long.
It was fast approaching 2pm and definitely time for a beer. We turned the car around and headed for the Sani Top Chalets where we popped into the highest pub in Africa and enjoyed a Maluti by the roaring fire. Still a little chilly from the near freezing water we followed it up with a hot mug of gluwein as the day wound down.
At around 4pm we decided that it was time to call it a day. People were slowly entering the pub but while they got to relax by the fire it was time for us to head back down the pass and home.
The pass seemed like a piece of cake compared to the valley we descended into earlier. And we breathed a sigh of relief as we got back onto the tar and started the 2 and a half hour journey home. It had been an epic adventure on waters unexplored by us before. We will most definitely be back, however next time it will more than likely be for a full weekend worth of fishing.