Yellowfish Season In South Africa

Fly Fishing For Yellows In South African Waters

When we talk about Yellowfish Season in South Africa we, as fly fishers, are normally talking about the Smallmouth Yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) in particular, especially when speaking about river fly fishing. In truth all Yellowfish species in South Africa do have a “season”, if we can call it that. The Yellowfish season is the time of year where the water heats up, and the fish species start moving into shallower water and rapids in order to feed on the vast diversity of underwater and hatching insects.

Releasing Smallmouth Yellowfish

They move into these more shallow, warm waters not only to feed, but also in preparation for spawning, which normally takes place after the first heavy rains or sparsely, between October and February. The spawning season is a long and drawn out affair, and depends heavily on the amount of food available, good rains, and a good flow of water of shallow gravel bottoms in-between rocks. When Yellowfish spawn, please try and avoid those areas. Many fishing venues in South Africa will warn you about the areas where spawning occurs. It is best to stay clear of these spawning spots, and it is bad to fish for Yellows during the spawn.

Yellowfish Season starts in Spring, when the water starts warming up. I like to refer to Spring as the 1st of September, but generally after the first extended hot spell, the Yellowfish Season commences. The Yellowfish hold in the deeper pools during the colder Winter months and as soon as the water temperature (In most Rivers, anyway), hits 13 degrees Celsius, they start moving into the shallower, warmer, fast flowing water. This obviously differs in stillwater systems and the Yellowfish start moving into the shallows when the water warms up drastically.

Golden Smallmouth Yellowfish

Vaal River Yellow

The optimum water temperature for Yellowfish is 19 degrees celsius, but anything between 16 and 24 degrees is good as well. The Yellowfish season generally runs from September to April, but this is fully dependent on the weather conditions and water temperatures. The best months for Yellowfish are arguably October through to February.

Large Scale Yellowfish Caught On Fly

Largescale Yellowfish

We have written an article on the best 10 flies for Yellowfish in the early season that you might find interesting. Yellowfish are an extremely popular angling species on fly for many fly fishermen. The variety of Barb species (Of which the Yellowfish belongs to) is vast and we have 9 species Endemic to South Africa. The more common of these species is the Smallmouth Yellowfish, but the Largemouth, Largescale, KwaZulu Natal (Scaly) and Smallscale can actively be pursued during this time of year. The more rare Yellowfish species such as the Clanwilliam and the Whitefish also fall into the same boat.

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The Yellowfish season is one of our favourite times of year, and the Fish The Fly team generally fishes once a week on the Vaal River for these slabs of gold. Some may call it Yellow Fever, but catching a Yellowfish on fly is something every angler should do. Once you have experienced this first hand, you will have Yellow fever as well!

Sterkfontein Dam Smallmouth Yellowfish

Sterkies Smallmouth

Yellowfish Season: Where/What/How?

Where To Catch Yellowfish? There are many fishing locations in South Africa where one can actively pursue a variety of Yellowfish species on fly. The most popular destinations, without a doubt, are the Vaal River, Kraai River, Orange River and of course the legendary Sterkfontein Dam! The tributaries of these water systems hold some great fish, and the Western Cape waters hold some rare species that one can target. First prize would be (For me, anyway), a small and clear stream in the Highveld holding Largescale Yellowfish, but those are few and far between and very difficult to find.

What To Use To Catch Yellowfish? Depending on what Yellowfish species you are targeting, you will have to plan accordingly. Generally you will need heavier tackle to target bigger Yellowfish. Here is a species guide:

Smallmouth Yellowfish Caught On Dry Fly

  • Smallmouth Yellowfish: 5/6 weight fly rod, floating line, 3x tippet.
  • Largemouth Yellowfish: 9 weight fly rod, floating/intermediate/sinking line, 1x tippet.
  • Smallscale Yellowfish: 4/5 weight fly rod, floating line, 4x tippet.
  • Largescale Yellowfish: 4/5 weight fly rod, floating line, 4x tippet.
  • Kwazulu Natal Yellowfish (Scaly): 5/6 weight fly rod, floating line, 3x tippet.
  • Clanwilliam Yellowfish: 5/6 weight fly rod, floating line, 3x tippet.
  • Berg-Breede River Whitefish (Witvis): 5/6 weight fly rod, floating line, 3x tippet.
  • Papermouth: 4/5 weight fly rod, floating line, 5x tippet.
  • Clanwilliam Sawfin: 4/5 weight fly rod, floating line, 5x tippet.

See our guide on tippets and leaders for more information.

Orange Hotspot PTN Nymph

How To catch Yellowfish? There are so many ways in which you can target these beautiful Yellowfish. We have more specific articles for help on catching these species. In general techniques used to catch Yellowfish are normally on dry fly, wet fly and nymphing tactics such as Czech Nymphing and Short Line Nymphing. Flies are also very important, and with the huge amount of flies and colours out there for Yellowfish, we have compiled a list of the best to help you!

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