The Twenty-Pounder Club
There are many coveted fish that fly fishermen will travel the world for. Fish like a meter GT or a 200lb tarpon come to mind and the 20lb largemouth yellowfish is in the same league. For those of you who do not know what a largemouth yellowfish is; it is pretty much the African version of the golden mahseer. They are South Africa’s premier freshwater gamefish and the most sought-after trophy to be found in the Orange River system. To catch any largemouth yellowfish is a special event, but to get one of 20lb is something very few people have done and to sight fish one in gin clear water is almost unheard of. And yet it happened.
It was the pre-season guide’s week for the X-factor Angling team and we were fishing an unspoiled section of the lower Orange River. The fishing gods had been good to us all week, but what they had in store for us on the third day blew our minds. We set out to film the first largemouth yellowfish eat by drone. It was an overcast morning with a light drizzle coming down in the valley and the air was thick with anticipation as we rigged up. The water was gin clear and we could see the shadows of fish moving over the brightly coloured riverbed. We were waiting for the one special fish to make its appearance. I was the lucky angler in the group who was given the chance to make a shot. I rigged up my weapon of choice: a Thomas and Thomas Exocett 7wt, Shilton CR4 reel, a sink tip line, 10lb Fluorocarbon tippet and my favourite white baitfish imitation. We crept into position behind some large boulders and there we waited, hopeful that a big fish would show itself.
It wasn’t long before a long dark shape appeared a little downstream of us. Luke was first to lay eyes on her.
“There is a fish, do you see it?” he said.
“I’ve got it.” I replied.
Within a few seconds the drone was in the air, the camera was rolling, and my line was rolling out. I shot out a cast about two rod lengths ahead of her and waited for the fly to sink into her line of sight. One strip, two strips and then she turned onto the fly. My heart was thumping in my throat as I watched the big white flash as she sucked in the fly. I strip-set and swept the rod up to the right and she was on. It was at this point that instinct and adrenalin took over. Without any hesitation I began an Olympic sprint downstream to keep up with the fish. She tore line off my reel and the only way I was going to land her was if I made a run for it. I jump over boulders, side-stepped thorn trees, all the time trying to keep the fish from wrapping me on the rocks. A few minutes, lots of fancy footwork and a bucket load of luck later we rolled the fish into the net. Shouts of relief and joy echoed across the hills. The realization that she was a true trophy only sunk in once we saw her in the net. The numbers on the scale kept ticking over and finally settled on 21.9lb and that is when we knew that we had done something truly incredible.
A sight-fished, filmed trophy largemouth yellowfish had never happened before and yet here I was holding this amazing fish in my hands. After a few pictures we let her recover to full strength and watched her slide back into the depths where she came from.
Photography by Luke Pannell