Fly Fishing With Elephants – Jamie Melvin

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The journey to the Aberdares is usually a short one, and within a few hours of Nairobi you arrive at the park gate. You’re greeted by a smiling KWS warden and the scampering of dainty bush buck that graze by the KWS office.

The warden checks your entrance tickets and you can’t help but gaze upon the lush afro-montane forest and listen to the symphony of it’s inhabitants. Bird song harmonises with the sound of the wind in the leaf filled branches. This is a special place.

Driving up through the salient section of the Aberdares, giant forest hogs stand on the side of the red soiled roads and buffalo clumsily move off to a safe distance. You begin to peer into the dense forest and to contemplate how elephants work their way through this ancient woodland and how you could ever spot a shy leopard.

Giant Forest Hogs
Giant Forest Hogs

The land rover slips and slides up the steep hills and the foliage begins to change as you climb in altitude, moving slowly to bamboo and then giant heather in the moorland. Old man’s beard hangs prehistorically from the trees, and the plants surrounding the river come from a time long before us.

It is here in the moorland that we access a number of rivers. Some hold rainbows and others hold the ever superior brown trout. Parking the car by the river, we hop out and set up, always with our ears and eyes open for the wildlife we know surrounds us.

We start our trek up river and tread where a bull elephant has once stood. We feel again our insignificance, the hole he has left comes to our knees. Our plan is to walk way up stream to a place within the thick heather that holds large pools and bigger fish. We follow game trails and make noise in order to ward off any lurking buffalo and climb up on to the brow of a hill which sets our course.


We see the bull elephant who’s giant footprints we had graced with our ant like comparison and with his two companions, they drink from the first pool we intend to fish. Staring in amazement we watch him move up the hill ushering his buddies to follow. He can sense us and we notice a trunk being raised “they’ve got us”, we know they have our scent.


With the elephants at a safe distance, we get to the pool and see fish lying undisturbed and rig up a dry fly to tempt them. The fly is delicately placed upstream and the fish rises aggressively with a territorial splash. A beautiful equatorial brown trout is brought to the bank and quickly released.

Kenya’s brown trout are not indigenous and were introduced by the British in the early 1900’s. They have evolved and adapted to their equatorial home and are painted with unique markings. Their red spots are circled with blue rings and they have a beautiful golden base, reminding us of a dramatic sunrise where the clouds play tricks with the sun’s pallet. Are these an evolved form of brown trout, one to to add to the bucket list? We think so.


The day moves on as we meander up river and we are consistently blessed by the mountain. Bush bucks and duiker cross our paths and many more equatorial brownies are convinced by the dry fly.

The evening comes and we must walk back to the safety of the car. Following the ridge as the mist rolls in, moving calmly through this rough lush paradise, we understand why Africa is the birthplace of all creation. Even sitting in central suburbia as I scribble this in my book of stories, I can not help but relive this experience and my heart and body are re-energised with the joy of my passion. I can only hope it lasts until the next adventure.


** This story was originally featured on the Iolaus blog. Be sure to check out their website for the amazing guide trips they host throughout Africa.

6Jamie’s take on fly fishing in Africa’s wilderness comes direct from his childhood. He grew up fishing the wild rivers of central Kenya’s mountains and he uses his depth of experience to really put you in the situation with his writing below. He now runs Iolaus with his partner Sven, and together they specialise in taking clients into Africa’s magical waterways. Drop him an email to chat about fly fishing Africa,


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