How To Catch Spawning Trout In South Africa During Winter
There's something magical about approaching the stillwater on a cold Winter morning armed with a fly rod and reel, with the mist coming slowly off the water and the sun peering out over the Highveld hills. The Winter period is my favourite time to target Rainbow Trout in the still waters of Mpumalanga. From my perspective, this is one of the most challenging times to target Rainbows, due to them being in full spawn and hard to tempt with a neatly presented dry fly or a dropping nymph. For this precise reason I change my fly fishing tactics during the colder months, during the spawn, I use my sinking line setup and use a more unconventional method. Due to the lack of feeding the Trout participate in during the spawning season, the best way to catch them is by provocation. This entails using a large, flashy and buggy wet fly and stripping it as fast as you can until one of the Trout attack it. A lot of the time the hens will be the first fish to “hit” the fly, but the prize for me in spawning season, is catching a large cock fish. This is because the male Rainbows will not eat while they are breeding.
Stillwater Trout are fish that have been stocked in dams, weirs or manmade lakes. These fish cannot breed in stillwater systems as they need a flowing river or stream for breeding to take place. Because of this, many fly fisherman, consider “stockies” (as they are known) as a poor target, and would rather target wild Trout in the rivers and streams around South Africa. The fact is that there are some great places to catch stockies in South Africa, and during the Winter months, this can be absolutely exhilarating. While the fish are in spawn, they lose a lot of weight and when you see them they are beautifully coloured stream-lined fish. A lot of the time the pink and greys and black spots on the hens are outstanding to see. The cocks have a fully extended jaw, a striking pink stripe, and a lot of them often will change to a light yellow or gold colour. They are really amazing fish to see during the spawn. It is best to try and not remove the Rainbows from the water during spawning season as they are very weak and will fight a lot harder than normal. It is best to keep the fish in the water, remove the fly and gently revive it until it swims off.
Due to the fact that the Rainbow Trout (especially the males) do not feed very actively when they are spawning, a lot of preferred methods will struggle to get you fish. For example, if you want to fish a dry fly or a nymph you have to either have a lot of patience or you will have to sight fish. This can be exciting as the Rainbow Trout come into the shallower areas of the stillwater systems during spawning season, and you can sneak up on them and present your fly in a very natural way. The fish will generally take the fly out of annoyance here rather than imitation, which is what would happen during an insect hatch. The best method during the spawning season is to let your line sink all the way to the bottom of the dam or weir, regardless of the depth, and then start stripping the line quickly without pausing or varying your retrieve. The Rainbow Trout will hit the fly hard here and you will often see them chase the fly right to your feet. If this happens, on your next cast retrieve the fly slightly faster. Remember during this period you are not trying to imitate anything; you are trying to get the Trout’s attention, and irritate them into taking the fly. This is important to remember. This method will work on any stillwater venue in South Africa during the spawning season and will catch you a lot of fish, and a lot of big fish!
When practicing this method on the water, it is best to use fast sinking or intermediate line on a 5 weight fly rod, paired with the appropriate reel. A 2.7kg maxima leader of about 6 feet is perfect. Remember to check your knots thoroughly and have a camera and a landing net handy. Also make sure you keep your rod tip up high and do not give the fish any slack line.
As mentioned previously, a large, flashy, buggy and colourful fly will do the job when targeting these spawning Rainbows. From my experiences the flash is probably the most important component of your fly when targeting these fish. A lot of people say Orange is the way to go during spawning season. This is due to the colour of the hens eggs. Rainbow Trout cannot see colour however, so this cannot be proven, but it has definitely worked for me. I have noticed that attractor colours, such as Orange, Purple, Yellow, Red and White do work better than natural colours such as Black, Brown and Olive during this period. My favourite flies to use during the spawn (In the attractor colours mentioned above) are: Woolly Bugger, Woolly Worm, Zonker, Damsel Nymph, Fritz and Aggrevator Nymph. Play around with these flies and colours and you are bound to catch a lot of fish!