Smallmouth Yellow fish (Labeobarbus aeneus)

The Smallmouth Yellowfish is the most sought after fly rod species in South Africa, giving excellent sport to fly anglers. This species is the single-handed reason many anglers in South Africa have taken up freshwater fly fishing.

The species has been caught up to 18lbs, however fish over 6lb’s are considered as trophies, with many fish in the 8-9lb range being caught by fly anglers each season.

The natural range of the Smallmouth Yellowfish is the Orange-Vaal River system, but the species has been trans-located to larger Cape coastal rivers including the Gourits, Great Fish and the Kei Rivers. The biggest concentration of trophy sized Smallmouth Yellows however, are still found on the Vaal River between Parys and Orkney.

The Smallmouth Yellowfish prefers clear flowing waters of large rivers with sandy or rocky beds. They are also found in large dams like Sterkfontein just outside of Harrismith. The species occurs at higher altitudes and in smaller tributaries than its cousin the Largemouth Yellowfish. Smallmouth Yellows breed in spring through to midsummer after the first substantial rains of the season. The larger specimens are broadly omnivorous depending on the available food supply. They are opportunistic feeders and will feed on anything from aquatic insects to small baitfish, crustaceans and algae.

Techniques – Sterkfontein

For many fly anglers, sight fishing is the quintessential essence of all that is fly fishing and Sterkfontein offers all fortunate enough to visit her majestic waters a multitude of different sight fishing scenarios to choose from. From stalking large cruising fishing from high up on a rocky ledge to wading the productive gravel flats in search of rising fishSterkies is sure to leave a lasting impression on even the most internationally travelled angler.

Due to the immense size of the lake, the varying prevailing winds and rugged shoreline it is certainly advantageous to have the use of a powerboat to reach many of the better fishing options. The FlyCastaway guides all have intimate knowledge of the water and the conditions and will ensure your experience is both fun and enlightening.

Techniques – Vaal

The majority of your fishing will be done using the upstream nymphing technique, due to the fast water they enjoy feeding in. Make sure you have a selection of nymphs including Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, Caddis larvae in olive mustard and chartreuse, as well as a handful of Lafontaines Deep Sparkle Pupa. All flies should be carried in weighted and neighed versions. Caddis patterns should be in sizes 10 – 14, with your Mayfly nymph patterns ranging from #12 – #16. Leaders should be 9 foot in length and 3X diameter (about 6lb’s), adding on two or three feet of 3X or 4X tippet depending on water clarity.

Most fishing will be done using two flies, namely the New Zealand rig style. A heavy Caddis larvae pattern is generally used as the dropper, with a lighter Mayfly nymph as the point fly.

On certain sections of the Vaal River and during certain times of the year the species can be targeted successfully with dry flies. This is very exciting fishing, with fish up to 9lb’s coming up to the dry fly time and time again. Make sure you have some lighter tippet material (4lbs), lighter tapered leaders (4X), some fly floatant and a selection of Kaufmanns Stimulators, Elkwing Caddis, Klinkhamer’s and Parachute Adams’s in #12 to #16.

As you’ll be wading most of the time, good protective footwear is essential. The river has a slippery rocky bottom, with felt soled wading boots without cleats being essential (not 5/10 rubber compound or aquastealth type boots). As the water temperatures will be at least 18Celsius, the guide’s wet wade almost right through summer, except for early and late in the season (September and May). If you are comfortable with light weight Gore-Tex breathable waders you can use them but bear in mind you will be walking a lot and it can get very hot. During winter we recommend neoprene waders or Gore-Tex breathable waders with thermal underwear and thick socks. A handy tip: Normally the reason you suffer from cold feet with your waders and wading boots is not layers but circulation. You are better off going for a bigger wading boot or one less pair of socks giving your feet space so that your circulation can improve.


  • Fly Rod: Medium to fast action nine foot five weight fly rod.
  • Reel & Backing: Large arbor reel with a minimum of 80 meters of 20 30 lbs backing. A Bimini Twist to Double Surgions should be tied into the braid, following which the fly line and backing should be joined using the loop to loop method.
  • Fly Lines: Weight forward five floating line with a nail knot on the front of the line and a 30lbs braided loop knail knotted onto the back.
  • Flies: Selection of mayfly nymphs like Gold Ribbed Hares Ear and Pheasant Tails in tan, brown and black from #12 – #16. Caddis Larva in olive, chartreuse and mustard from #8 – #14, make sure have weighted and un-weighted nymphs. Dry flies to include Klinkhammers standard and Parachute Adams, Elk Wing Caddis and Stimulators. For fishing Sterkfontein a selection of terrestrials including large size beetles and hoppers will come in handy.
  • Boots: A good quality felt or vibram soled boot with ankle support. No cleats.
  • Gravel guards: A good idea to prevent brambles and thorns scratching your ankles.
  • Sunglasses: Dark amber or yellow depending on light.

Before leaving on your trip you will be briefed in detail by the FlyCastaway guides as to exactly what fly patterns you are going to need and how you should prepare your tackle. For all our destinations we have compiled a comprehensive tackle list.


South Africa Vaal River
South Africa Sterkfontein Dam