The Sterkspruit is the quintessential South Africa fly stream, not big, but big enough; wide and shallow in some runs where the fish are still strangely plentiful, sombre in other places where the river runs into slow-flowing, deep pools that hold really good fish some seasons, trout and yellows.
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Down near Mosheshe’s Ford
I have fished most of this river over the years, from the sections low down near Mosheshe’s Ford where it’s a lot like a river in Montana and runs in pastoral farming country, to its source on the escarpment where it’s as tiny as a beck in the hills of Scotland. I’ve even fished a few of its tributaries, like the Coldbrook and the Koffiehoek, both so tiny you can step across them in places.
The Coldbrook seen over the back of a trout
The Sterkspruit has always been a great fishing river, with trout often holding in the shallowest of runs, though when you wade over to net them you find that what looked like a flat and lifeless piece of water actually is a deeper hollow than you though, maybe even knee- or mid-thigh deep, though from a distance it seemed you just hooked a fish in six inches of flat water.
These shallow little runs can be deceptively productive
It’s also a forgiving stream, at least in the sense that your favourite dry flies and nymphs will probably work as well as mine. Yet each season seems to develop its own favourite killer pattern that you begin to believe is the ultimate Sterkspruit fly until the next trip comes around and produces a pattern that replaces it.
Typical Sterkspruit run- very productive water
Over the years I’ve had enough success with Zaks in various guises never to spend too much time trying something new, though I now tie my Zaks in a bigger range, from near weightless right up to heavy patterns tied on jig hooks with slotted tungsten beads at the head.
Philip Meyer’s Parachute RAB
But the dry fly is different in that I remember years when one or other pattern was so good we’d swear we had cracked the ultimate dry fly code. Patterns like Ed’s Hopper, the Adams (parachute or otherwise), the DDD, Klinkhamers, RABS and Parachute RABs, Spiders, the CDC Mirage, all worked well enough up here at one time or another for us to imagine we would never need any other dry fly, which though obviously not entirely reliable, in some cases, was close to the truth. The Parachute RAB and Agostino Roncallo’s brilliant Mirage dry flies come to mind.
The Mirage (Photo per Agostino Roncallo)
The trout here won’t disappoint you for strength even if they don’t average out at much more than 10, or maybe 12 inches. It’s just when you have one on your line kiting about the river it will typically feel like a fish of 15 or 16 inches.
An average-sized rainbow kiting around the Sterkspruit
And mostly they will be a lot prettier than you can simply take for granted and deeper in the shoulder and fatter than you’d expect of river trout.
Sometimes they are a lot prettier…
…and often deeper through the shoulder
You will take a genuine 16 incher now and again and some years I’ve even had one or two that were over 20 inches, not that it’s important because the Sterkspruit stays the sort of river where you’re anyway going to be more impressed with the quality of its fishing than with the size of its fish. In fact, I’d say that when the Sterkspruit is on song, meaning the flow is perfect and the fish have wintered well, then I can’t think of a river I’d rather be on, which is true as far as it goes, in that none of the really great rivers I’ve been lucky enough to fish, ever come as readily to mind as this one. Of course there are years when juvenile fish are abundant enough to be a nuisance, but we have learned to live with that reality and it's something that goes for most streams in this part of the world.
But the intention of this piece is not to dissect the anatomy and physiology of this stream in any detail, or to tell you how to fish it – the fishing is as straight up and down as a starched shirt, dry fly or nymph – but simply to celebrate the place and to share some of the pictures I have taken on this water over the last two years. For this I have set up a themed gallery of some 40 plus images at the following link:
I hope you enjoy them.