The Great East Cape … The Wild Trout Association Festival in Rhodes.
High up in the far North Eastern corner of the Cape Province, on the edge of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho sits the tiny village or Rhodes, nestled in the hills of the Southern Drakensberg range. It’s an isolated spot, serviced by dirt roads and protected by the natural barriers of high and often snow-capped peaks, well off what most people might consider to be the “beaten track”.
A little Easter Weekend Graphic frivolity.
If you are one for night life, theatres, entertainments of various kinds or even a reliable supply of electricity then it isn’t going to be your cup of tea. This is somewhere where children still arrive at school on horseback, it is a place of rugged 4 X 4 trucks, poor cellphone reception, and a shop that may or may not have the most basic of foodstuffs depending on the latest interval in a shelf restocking program that involves a lengthy drive to the Aliwal North several hours away. An unpredictable spot where the weather can turn on a sixpence and one might experience baking sun or freezing hail pretty much any month of the year. A proclaimed conservation area surrounded by remote sheep farms and not a lot else. Well not a lot else unless you are a trout fisherman, because if you are, the place boasts more running trout water than you can shake a rod at.
If this picture doesn’t make your mouth water, you aren’t a fly fisherman.
The headwaters of the mighty Orange River, South Africa’s largest river, flow down the slopes all around the village and the Wild Trout Association, a conglomeration of riparian land owners who allow angling on the waters that flow through their farms provides access to literally hundreds of kilometres of trout stream. The Bell, Sterkspruit, Bokspruit, Riflespruit, Klopperhoekspruit and other smaller streams all meander in an extensive network of prime fishing water bringing the rain waters and snowmelt down the valleys to join the Kraai River and ultimately the Orange.
Sharland Urquhart nets a fish on the Bokspruit.
In the summer months yellowfish move up into the highlands to spawn and all year round trout inhabit the clear cool waters, thriving an impressive food chain of various aquatic insects and breeding prolifically in the extensive redds of clean gravel. It is a trout’s and therefore by default an angler’s paradise.
Shadows and Clear Water on the “Bok”.
Each year the WTA (Wild Trout Association) hold their annual Fly Fishing Festival, a laid back and yet in some ways intense get together for those of piscatorial bent, where the talk is of fishing, fishing and more fishing. Although conditions can vary dramatically from frigid downpours to baking droughts the scope of the angling generally means that there is still good water to be had, irrespective of climatic conditions. One can sit in the pub at Walkerbouts, WTA guide in one hand and a glass of the good stuff in the other and select your fishing as one might select a fine wine from an expansive cellar.
Morne Liebenberg plays a fish on a very low flowing Bell River.
If the waters are low, as they were this year, one might venture further down river in search of flow, at times of high water the feeder streams high in the mountains could be the ticket. This year the wandering thunder showers which affect the valleys in a rather aberrant manner, caused some streams to become murky whilst others flowed clear. One river might be near high and dry whilst just down the road and alternative catchment will be flowing smoothly over its green hued bedrock.
In fact some anglers ventured a good way downstream to the Kraai to target some remaining yellowfish which had yet to retreat from their summer haunts in the high-country whilst others chose to wade the gin clear waters of the Bokspruit which held so many fish that nymphing became the norm simply to avoid the constant re-drying of soaked dry flies.
There is something about rural life which is as appealing as it is amusing.
All in all approximately forty anglers converged on the village to participate, there was some late night fly tying around the pub tables, a lot of idle chatter about flies and fly rods and some really great fishing.
Whether you choose to participate in the festival one year, a great introduction to the region’s angling, or simply plan to add a visit to your bucket list Rhodes and its surrounds should be in your fishing diary somewhere. Fishing guides are provided to those in need during the festival and outside of that Fred Steynberg and Tony Kietzman both provide guiding to visiting anglers. To put a South African spin on a popular book title, it really should be one of the “Fifty places to fish before you braai”..
Books available from the author of this blog from Smashwords
Tags: Bell River, Bokspruit, Damian Stander, Fly Fishing, Kraai, Morne Liebenberg, Orange River, Rhodes Village, River, Sharland Urquhart, Sterkspruit, Tim Rolston, Walkerbouts, Wild Trout Association, WTA