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Fly fishing in Lesotho: The Kingdom in the sky

Updated: Aug 11, 2019

The Maletsunyane River has its headwaters at some 3400 meters near the Thaba Putsoa peak in central Lesotho; the journey downstream from here to its confluence with the mighty Senqu River is relatively short but intensely dramatic. After flowing past the picturesque little Basotho town of Semonkong, it tumbles almost 200 meters down the Maletsunyane falls into the most amazing gorge where the steep cliffs and remote location guard its special fishing from the masses. This gorge gradually opens out into a beautiful sandstone valley, where rare indigenous trees such as the White Stinkwood and Ouhoud are common, as is an incredible range of birdlife, with regular sightings of Black Eagles and Bearded Vultures.

This river presents some unique fishing opportunities. The river was stocked with Trout in the mid 1950’s by Jan Du Preez, the town’s storekeeper; Dick Southworth, a pioneering pilot with Basotho air and Ken Shortt-Smith, an officer of the Basutoland police. The fish were brought from Jonkershoek Hatchery near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape Province, one of the first successful hatcheries in Southern Africa and which was established with Brown trout ova brought by sea predominantly from Scotland. One can only imagine the journey these little fish underwent in those days, travelling by rail, air and finally by donkey to be released into this wonderful and remote waters.

The fishing is divided by the mighty Maletsunyane falls which forms a formidable natural barrier to fish movement and creates two distinctly different fishing zones in the river: In the section upstream of the falls, as so often happens one species prevailed and today this stretch is exclusively browns only. With around 60 years of natural selection strengthening their genes these browns have adapted well to their river and prospered. Having found the river to their liking and with the ample flow rate, abundant food supply and minimal fishing pressure these browns have developed into a population of fish that rivals those in the best trophy rivers in famous destinations in New Zealand, Patagonia and Alaska. There is unlikely to be another location in Africa where there is such a realistic possibility of catching a 10 pound wild Brown trout in a natural river and the average size of catches in this part of the river is impressive.

This piece of river is easily accessible, with Semonkong Lodge nestled roughly midway between the falls and the road bridge weir, above which trout are not found and the Maluti Redfin Minnow (Pseudobarbus Quathlambae) proliferates. The fish in this stretch readily take a variety of nymphs and streamers and in the late afternoon and early morning when weather conditions permit there is strong rising in most of the pools which provides spectacular opportunities on dry fly.

Downstream, the stretch of river between the falls and the confluence with the Senqu is truly magnificent. Here the Browns are still found, but they share the river with Rainbow Trout and Yellowfish, with the challenge of achieving a ‘grand slam’ by catching all three of these species. This prospect is made even more exciting because all of these species are found in this stretch of river in trophy proportions.

The Maletsunyane has carved a spectacular gorge downstream of the falls and this fantastic piece of river provides some unforgettable fishing, though access is not as simple as above the falls. Semonkong lodge arranges a 4 day hosted trek into the gorge, where equipment is carried by pack horses and donkeys.

This trip is strenuous and unfortunately limited to those who are physically fit. The trip departs from the lodge with fishermen travelling by 4x4 vehicle to a point above the gorge where we rendezvous with the pack horses, the equipment is loaded and the horses are lead down the decent by guides .Fishermen and guests carry only their fishing packs/daypacks. At the bottom of this climb one finds the first night’s camp and after making oneself comfortable and having lunch the rest of the day is spent fishing, all meals are prepared by your guides, leaving you to concentrate on the fishing. After breakfast in the morning the fishermen depart to fish the river with the fishing guides while the camp is packed up and loaded onto the horses for the journey to the next night’s camp. Lunch is served en route on the river and that afternoon the fishermen arrive at the next night’s camp. The gorge changes around every bend with the sides becoming steeper and more rugged and imposing as one proceeds upstream. Depending on weather and river conditions it is possible to fish right up to the base of the Maletsunyane falls; this stretch is truly wild with fabulous scenery and bird life and has been fished by very few people. The trip will leave you spellbound!

Basic Trip Itinerary:

Day one: Monday: Arrive at Semonkong Lodge, settle in and have a scrumptious lunch, fish the close pools near the lodge in the afternoon with the possibility of a good hatch and “dry fly mayhem”. If you want to arrange to also do the world record abseil then you will do the abseil training & training cliff in the afternoon.

Day 2: Tuesday: Depart either early, at first light, or after breakfast to fish the Maletsunyane above the falls for browns for the day, either returning to the lodge for a brilliant lunch or taking a packed lunch for those that want to fish all day. Those that are going to do the unforgettable abseil will do this in the morning and still be able to fish a decent session in the afternoon. Be sure to eat up of the delicious dinner in the lodge that evening because you will need your strength for the walk into the gorge tomorrow.

Day 3: Wednesday: After Breakfast, depart the lodge by 4x4 and rendezvous with the pack horses on the ridge above the gorge. The view of the river far below will put a sharp edge on your anticipation as the pack saddles are loaded, tie your bootlaces tight for the steep walk down. By lunchtime we arrive at Camp 1. The pool at Camp 1 is deep and mysterious and it’s your choice whether to rush through lunch and start the afternoon session early or relax and fish it when the fish start to rise in the evening. We take pride in making you as comfortable as possible in our camp with ample canvas tents and helpful team serving great campfire food. We allow you to focus on the fishing.

Day 4: Thursday: Wake early and have a quick, light breakfast with coffee & rusks. Pack only your own gear and leave to fish upstream, our guides will take care of the camp and be waiting for you at camp 2 that night. Enjoy the 1st section of river where the slopes are gentle, the water wider and the pools slower. Your guide will serve a sandwich lunch on the river en route to camp 2. By the time that Camp 2 is reached you will notice the gorge changing; the slopes are getting steeper, the rocks darker and bigger and the river a bit more powerful.

Day 5: Friday: Leave early again and fish to camp 3. This is the day to get the grand slam in one day or even in the same pool! The gradient gets steeper and the river narrower and stronger but there are some really amazing huge, deep pools that harbour some scary fish.

Day 6: Saturday: Depending on weather and river conditions it may be possible to fish from camp 3, all the way to the Maletsunyane falls, fishing the amazing steep river with sheer cliffs and very good rainbows, before climbing out at the falls. If the river conditions do not allow this we will still fish part of this section in the morning before climbing out by another route using the old shepherd’s trails. At the end of the climb we walk a victory lap across the high meadows to the lodge, passing the chief’s horseracing track and singing ladies in stone huts and not stopping before we are holding that beautiful cold Maluti Lager in the lodge bar.

Day 7: Sleep in! There is lots of time for a leisurely breakfast and a session in the river before you leave to go tell your friends!

Equipment requirements:

Above the falls:

Rods in the 3-5 wt range are recommended with floating & intermediate lines.

Successful flies include Zak, PTN, Copper John, GRHE & Flashback nymphs in dark colours, size 12-16, Black, brown & green weighted Woolly buggers & Papa Roach in size 10-14, RAB, Parachute Adams & Elk Hair Caddis size 14-18.

Tippet sizes 3x, 4x & 5x (lighter tippets are not recommended because of the size of the fish you are likely to encounter)

Suitable, large capacity fishing pack or vest.

Sunblock & hat.

Always carry a rain jacket as the weather can change suddenly as in any mountain area.

Below the falls:

Rods & flies much the same as above but do be sure to bring some black mayfly nymphs in size 18 and even 20 as turning over rocks in the gorge reveals some really small nymphs and these small sizes can be very successfull.

In addition to the equipment for above the falls the following equipment is recommended:

Footwear for the gorge needs to be suitable for very rough terrain and quality hiking or wading boots are essential.

Tents are provided but a sleeping bag, torch and personal technical outdoor equipment & clothing for wilderness trekking is required; please contact us before your trip for a comprehensive list and advice if required.

It should be understood that the trek into the gorge is extreme and physically demanding, although this trip has been done by a 70 year old fisherman he was in peak physical shape, a pre-trip fitness program is recommended.

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