A return to Dodge City
After a stellar 2014 season it was with great excitement that I returned to what I feel is the best Stillwater destination in South Africa, Dordrecht.
Over the past few years dodge has become somewhat of a sanctuary to me, away from the pressures of everyday life, extremely remote (no cellphone signal), extreme conditions (wind for days and extreme swings in temperature), monster trout and hospitality that has been lost in our modern culture.
My home for these trips is on the Birch's farm Vogel Vlei, made famous for its first prolific race horses. And dubbed the home of the ten pounder by Vogels heir Colin.
But you aren't reading this to hear my ramblings about the people or their hospitality, we'd sleep under a highway overpass if it meant we'd have a shot at that fish of a lifetime, and that's the reason I return every year, to this little piece of nirvana.
My first two days were spent on a cluster of Stillwaters where I'd spent an afternoon last year plugging 5lbs fish on almost every cast. My theory was that a year later these fish would all be up ward of 8lbs and my pops and I may be on for a few days of smashing fishing!
This however, wasn't meant to be. On our first day we were greeted with howling winds, so strong that we were being beaten by waves making it impossible to tube and near impossible to cast. To add insult to injury the dams had recently been stocked, so while we managed in excess of 20 fish, few broke the 4lbs mark. I managed a fiesty cockfish of 7lbs but not quite the day I was hoping for.
Thankfully the wind abated on day 2, but unfortunately the fishing remained a lesson in stocky bashing! I managed a beaut hen of 10 1/4 lbs just after lunch, that gave me an absolute hiding. We fished until well after dark but nothing of any consequence came to hand... We retired back to the Vlei where Colin helped ease our frustrations with an epic steak braai and copious bottles of wine.
For our final day we decided to change tact and head back to a water we have nicknamed Jurassic Lake after Lago Strobel in Argentina. I had an afternoon on this water last year where I managed 4 fish over 10lbs, a day that will live in my mind forever.
The morning arrived full of expectations, standing next to the water I told my Pops, that if we managed to net one of the previous years fish we were looking at getting up into 14lb territory. Deep inside I was contemplating the fact that those fish may have passed on and we could be staring down the barrel of a long frustrating day, on what at the best of times is a gin clear and extremely finicky dam that holds on tightly to its leviathans.
The fishing started with a bang, with my dad managing two 5lbs fish in his first four casts, both running him deep, but ultimately a sense of anti climax at their size. And herein lies the dichotomy of fishing Dodge, in most places two fin perfect, hard fighting 5lbs fish would be celebrated, but in Dodge on this stillwater its almost disappointing that they weren’t double figure fish.
Both the fish were chockablock with small damsels, daphnia and fry which lead to a rethink of our strategy. I rigged up a new tandem and paddled over to a corner that usually held a few fish…
As I arrived and started peeling off line two cockfish of waaaaay over 10lbs were leisurely cruising between the candles of weeds in the relative shallows of the corner, the whole scene appeared as if everything was suspended in fresh air, such was the water clarity. After sitting still and allowing the fish time to ‘forget’ my presence i slowly started working the area with no success. Knowing that my rig was correct i decided, possibly foolishly, to step down my tippet from 10 to 7lbs tippet (I’ll address this madness later). First cast i was into one of the hogs which almost ripped the rod from hands and in what felt like three second hand spooled my line and ten metres of backing before running me around a weed bank and snapping me off. DAMN IT!!!! My hands were shaking, my heart racing and I knew that was the fish of a lifetime, gone.
I signalled for my pops to paddle round and have a go in the same area as he’d been cleaning the floor with me in the morning session… He manage to repeat my ordeal, getting absolutely owned by another monster fish which also rapped him up and snapped him off on some under water structure (on 10lbs tippet). Heartbreak hotel.
We fished all the structure using varying techniques for another few hours but were only managing to raise fish between 2-6lbs, not quite the reason we had made the trek. I had switched back to ten pound tippet, but wasn’t confident knowing the water clarity and the fact that I hadn’t hooked any substantial fish since my brief encounter with Hog Johnson. This prompted me to return to my 7lbs set up and hit the bank to squeeze a kidney and get some chow.
About three metres from the bank i placed a cast between some candles of weed and immediately had a hard hit on my fly, but no hook set… After completing the retrieve i fired back another cast and on the drop i felt my line get ripped from my hands, I was in… I managed to turn the fish into open water and a battle Royale ensued, twice having to lift the fish out of a dense weed bank.
It wasn't until, after about ten minutes when, the fish turned on its side that i realised the true enormity of the fish i had hooked into. My heart began to race as i tried to net the fish, knowing a head shake at this stage would dislodge the fly. Fortunately today was my day and I managed to slide the fish into my net (it barely fit, with me scrambling to grab its tail), quickly weight it (the scaled tipped to 15lbs or 6,79kgs and some changed), the length and girth were astounding 30” long with a girth of 21,5” I had finally caught Hog Johnson!
The fish swam away strongly, so hopefully we will meet again in the future… The rest of the day ended with some more fish of between 2-6lbs, but no other trophy fish.
To address my tippet choice, I have found that in these particular lakes the water is the clearest I have ever fished in, on a par with the Khubelu River in Lesotho. The trout are big and clever, and I’ve had many days where people fishing 10-12lbs tippet will pick up the odd stocky, where as on 6-8lbs tippet I’d have a double figure day with double figure fish. The way in which i counter the use of light tippet is by boiling my home made tapered leaders. This gives my leaders incredible stretch which actually gives my tippet a much higher breaking point as the stretch prevents quick episodes of extremely high tension. It has proved itself in the field both on still and running waters and I’m a complete convert.
Fly wise, the old faithfuls produced fish again this year including GRHEs, Orange hot spots, Big olive dragons, Midges, blood worms and Zonkers.
Its great to see the waters of Highlands Lodge producing specimens of this nature on a regular basis, as time was short we weren’t able to fish most of the dams, but hearing the accounts there are no doubt many more fish of this size cruising around the blue depths of the Dodge dams…