KwaZulu-Natal’s Tugela River flows from the mighty Barrier of Spears, the Drakensberg mountains, all the way to the Indian Ocean. In its depths lurk Natal Yellowfish – or Scalys, in local lingo. Rhuan Human has the inside track on successfully landing them. Just suspend your judgement on the method.


or successful? 

I’ve been told that I can be stubborn, downright difficult at times, and it’s true; I’m as stubborn as they come. I have always danced to my own tune and done so with conviction. I wish I could say that this attitude has forever served me well but sadly, I’d be lying.

My pig-headedness stems from my proclivity for going against the grain and trying to always be the proverbial square peg. Perhaps some of the blame lies in the music I listened to as an angsty teenager or maybe I was just born with the personality of a Lesotho mule? Whatever it is, I have always done things differently and in my unique way.

The same stubbornness and rebellious nature hold true for my preferences in fishing. Over the years I’ve noticed that many anglers appear to walk a similar path to me. I’m not talking about the purists. They are a whole different breed. No, there are things I’ve done with a fly rod that can never be considered pure. Here, I’m referring to the anglers who part from the conventional, the proven and successful, flies, techniques and tackle to walk their own path and figure out their way of doing things. Once you start heading down that path, it’s very difficult to return to the straight and narrow.

Recently, I spent a couple of days fishing with Jeremy Rochester (pictured above) at Zingela Lodge on the Tugela river, hunting the Natal variant of Yellowfish. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I dedicated quite a bit of time to the Natal Yellows – or Scaly as we like to call them – trying different techniques and flies to catch them. I’ve always preferred the technique of swinging flies for Yellows, whether it be for the ones with the large mouths or those with smaller mouths and big appetites. I was using this technique more and more in our KZN rivers.

A burrowing dragon fly brought Rhuan Human success in landing this Yellowfish

I also started to experiment with bigger flies, fishing them in the slower moving pools over sand and gravel. A burrowing dragon proved to be very successful in these situations and over a few outings this became my go-to fly and technique for quality shark-finned yellows.

The Zingela visit was to be my very first to the Tugela and rumour had it that large specimens patrolled its banks. Needless to say, I was brimming with confidence, had a big fish catching fly and technique in my arsenal. Those Tugela beasts were in trouble …

As soon as we arrived at the river’s edge my confidence took a delicate knock. The river was high, a bit discoloured, and flowing quite strongly – not what I’d call ideal conditions for the fishing I had in mind. To start, I tried with some nymphs on a long leader, casting fairly long lines in the head and tail of the pools and had a few fish commit to the tried and tested, making my first session a good one to start with.

The next day I strapped on my dragon pattern, marched to the tail of the nearest pool I could find and proceeded to swing some bugs through the water column. Pride comes before a fall, so it’s said and thus I’ll spare you the boring details and swiftly skip to the part where I’d surrendered half my fly box to the mighty Tugela, leaving me with zero dragon nymph patterns and no fish to show for it!

After my embarrassing defeat, I met up with Jeremy, secretly hoping that he at least shared some of the struggles for the day, but even from a distance I could see from his characteristic smile that he’d caught fish. I could hear the words “happy days” ringing in my mind. Now normally I celebrate with my mates when they catch good fish, and catching good fish was exactly what he did, but I was a little jealous and decided to tag along with Jeremy to see where and how he was successful.

Jeremy led me down to a run with a strong flow where he’d previously landed two good sized fish in succession. He tied on a standard yellowfish nymphing rig with a heavy control fly and a lighter nymph pattern. Then things got a touch weird: he pulled out some sort of crochet kit and a big fluffy green ball of hair that looked like it was harvested from a neon green sheep!

“I’m out Jerr,” I mumbled, and walked my holier than though self downstream to create some space between myself and the atrocities about to occur up current. I made sure to keep Jeremy and his indicator in view though, which wasn’t hard; that thing lit up the whole Tugela valley. The indicator was spending more time under the water than it was above, as he proceeded to klap the fish. You’ll never catch me fishing with a “poeliesman” is what I kept telling myself trying to ease the pain of blanking. Sour grapes? Me? You bet!

The fish couldn't resist the fluffy Incredible Hulk addition to a nymph pattern – with a side dose of humility

Remember I said I wasn’t a purist? Well, I’m not and I firmly believe that every angler chooses his poison. So when you spend your own time, effort, and money, you fish the way you bloody want to. The thing is, we were on assignment and there on someone else’s time and dollar. Jeremy wasn’t necessarily fishing the way he wanted to, but we needed to film fishing shows and he has logged enough hours on this river to know which technique to fish in what conditions simply in order to get the job done.

That night at camp, trying to drown my sorrows, I decided to conceed and stop being a stereotypical bloody-minded angler. Dawn the next day saw us head out. Jeremy provided a quick crash course on rigging the radioactive yarn on my leader and off I went, a mix of tungsten and feathers drifting under an indicator. It didn’t take long for the indicator to disappear and the first scaly to make it into my net. Four more followed soon after and we wrapped up the second show and got back to the lodge in time for brunch.

I’ll be the first to admit, I had fun during the short morning session indicator nymphing and caught quality fish in quick succession with this very effective method. Would I go out and get myself an indicator rig for future trips? Probably not.

The one thing I can say is that I learned a valuable lesson on bending my own rules and fishing out of my comfort zone to use tactics and techniques that are proven fish catchers. In my angling journey, I’m discovering that you don’t always have to prove a point, sometimes it helps to not overthink it and have some fun while you’re out on the water.

At the end of the day, we call ourselves fisherman and all we are trying to do is catch a fish …