TYING THE TVN NYMPH AND SOME HISTORY OF FISHING FOR YELLOWFISH IN SOUTH AFRICA
By Charl du Plessis and some history from Justin McConville
Theo van Niekerk tied the TVN to imitate a small fresh water mussel, Corbicula fuminalis. These are very plentiful in the Vaal River and grow to about the size of a thumbnail on average. They are black with a white spot where the hinge connecting the two halves of the shell is located.
(See Ed Herbst’s article on the South African fly of the century on this site
Charl du Plessis with a yellowfish caught in the Vaal River
They are not attached to the rocks but are a free-living species which burrow in the sand and sediment much like the saltwater sand or white mussel found along beaches. Corbicula fuminalis grows to about the size of your thumb nail and has about the same shape of the salt water white mussel. It is predominantly black with a white spot at the hinge where the two halves of the shell join.
They are found in large numbers in shallow sandy or muddy stretches of the Vaal and many other rivers. I have often found them in the stomachs of yellows. Yellow fish have a set of crushing teeth in their throats to deal with hard prey of this nature. All in all the TVN is a reasonable imitation of this mussel. Yellow fish are capable of turning over rocks weighing as much as 3 kg to get at prey organisms. At times, while fishing in the rapids, one hears a dull, clunking sound and this is the sound of Yellowfish upending rocks in search of prey. The fact that they can do so in such tumultuous flows, is testimony to the extraordinary strength of this superb game fish.
A yellowfish on its side digging for insects
The same fish as pictured above. note the scarring on its nose from turning over stones
To tie the TVN one starts by tying in the tail. This can consist of a variety of materials which may tickle your fancy. (Theo's original used a small strip cut from the wrapping of a Crunchie chocolate bar)
The TVN nymph tied by Theo Van Niekerk
Because the fly should be fished close to the bottom, where mussels tend to spend their time, it is advisable to incorporate a few turns of lead wire. The thread should be black and fairly strong, because it must be used for spinning the deer hair head. It is also important to remember to keep a portion of
the hook shank immediately behind the eye open for spinning the deer hair.
For the body of the fly I normally use black embroidery thread and for the ribbing any thin tinsel (gold or silver and flat or round).Because the body of the fly must be built up fairly thick, it helps if you wax the embroidery thread before tying it in. Otherwise it tends to slip when applying the second or third layer.
So after tying in the tail and lead wire, tie in the ribbing above the barb and then the embroidery thread. Now build up the body with two or three layers of embroidery thread, giving it a bit of a taper to the rear and leaving a space for the deer hair behind the eye. Wind the tying thread over the body to
the front to hold everything together. Now spiral the ribbing forward and tie it down.
For the head of the fly, use white deer hair. This is spun behind the eye and trimmed to shape with a pair of scissors or razor after tying off the tying thread. Theo preferred to singe the deer hair to shape with a lighter or match.
From Justin McConville
From Bill Hansford-Steele's "Fishing Flies for Africa" Justin quotes from the first chapter (p 9) "Although trout were not introduced anywhere in Africa until the very late 1800s, fly-fishing was nevertheless practised by a few even as early as the late 1700s. Their quarry was the indigenous yellowfish of the South African Western and Eastern Cape streams and in particular the whitefish, or witte visch as it was better known then. In Natal, the scalie became the main target, and as fly-fishing spread to the then-Transvaal, the smallmouth yellowfish as well as the largemouth yellowfish (known then as silver fish) were the main attractions. The very few who practised yellowfish on the fly were confined to English fly patterns, and there is no evidence of any yellowfish flies being developed locally in those early days."
And then at p 124 when discussing the 'Kom Gou' fly, described as the oldest local fly first tied circa 1855, Hansford-Steele says "The Kom Gou was a very popular yellowfish fly well before the 1920s when Bertie Bennion recorded it. It was tied as a traditional wet fly, and was used in rivers and streams only. Eventually, with the first trout arriving in Africa in the late 1800s, it also became popular with the trout anglers."
It seems then that yellowfish were reportedly caught on the fly in the late 1800s and early 1900s (possibly even as far back as the late 1700s) and, from 1855 onwards, on at least one South African fly pattern too. It may be that between the 1920s and the 1980s the yellowfish fell from favour and became all but forgotten after trout gained their foothold on the continent.