Rhodes in the NE Cape is a long drive, from anywhere, if you go there you want to be there. Quinten Austin, his son Cuan and I left from Kloof at 7am stopping in Kokstad for the traditional Wimpy breakfast and at Mt Fletcher for a fuel top-up. The kilometres passed quickly. To avoid white line fever our conversation drifted towards fishy matters, experiences, exaggerations of trout caught and lost within the limits of believability, we even managed to come up with solutions for a few of the worlds pressing problems – the excitement and anticipation of being in wild trout country was palpable. It was Cuan’s first visit to the NE Cape, he was like a kid about to be let lose in a candy store.
By the time we turned off onto the dirt road between Mt Fletcher and Maclear to take the Pitseng Pass short-cut, it had begun to rain heavily – the wipers lashed sheets of water, we slipped, slid, eased our way through washaways, bumped and ground our way to Vrederus and then up over Naude’s Pass at 2587m. The temperature dropped, the wind gusted strongly, a misty drizzle enveloped us as we drank a dram to celebrate our arrival at the top of the pass.
Naude’s Pass on the Rhodes side was drier, but with overnight rain the upper Bell River had burst its banks. By the time we had settled into our accommodation in Rhodes, downed a few cold ones, the rain had started again. The river as it flowed silt laden through town was bank to bank, like a tongue of dark chocolate it rushed downstream towards its meeting with the Sterkspruit River at Moshesh’s Ford to form the mighty Kraai River – like all the rivers in the district, it was in flood – it was becoming tough to hold onto optimism.
The annual Epson Wild Trout Festival is a social affair as much as it is about the fishing and as more participants arrived in muddied vehicles, the party got underway at Walkabouts, the recognised Centre of the Universe.
Walkerbouts (the Centre of the Universe) and breakfast by candlelight courtesy of Eishkom.
We awoke the next morning to clearing skies, but halfway through the tackle fair the sky darkened with ominous looking clouds pushing in from the West. The afternoon was spent exploring the district to assess the possibilities for fishing. Trees were down, low-level causeways impassable, bridges were log jammed – it wasn’t encouraging. The rain started again in the evening and continued thoughout most of the night, intensifying and bucketing down the following morning. It rained for most of the day – beers flowed, a couple of impromptu presentations and fly tying demonstrations helped to pass the time.
Then the rain stopped. Morning brought hope once again as skies cleared and groups left for allocated beats on the upper reaches of the Bell, Bokspruit and Rifle. Conditions were challenging, wading was risky, crossing was life threatening, the trout were hunkered down in undercut banks, eddies and under rocks as tons of water rushed above them on its way to the Atlantic ocean on the West Coast. Surprisingly, reports filtered in of trout caught, most involving not casting, but a technique foreign to me that I coined, “the Vaal lob” of weighted rigs with large tungsten beads and split shot, sometimes two, the size of your average garden pea. My size 14 and 16 nymphs with 3 and 3,5 mm tungsten beads and 6 to 8 turns of lead, floated like skated dry flies on the rushing water – I thought I was prepared. Before each cast I searched the bottom with my feet to wedge my boots in between rocks to anchor myself. I did eventually manage to tempt a few hungry, unsuspecting trout out of their sheltered lies. There were even a couple of decent 20 inch fish caught high up on the Bell. I was reminded of a bumper sticker I had once seen, Any day above ground is a good one, and a bad day fishing is better than a good day.
Extreme fly fishing, log jams, rush hour traffic with a difference, pristine high altitude streams and wild trout
The last day was the most rewarding as levels dropped quickly and the water began to clear. Ken Quick, a great fishing buddy and all-round good guy and I, had a peach of a day on a special high altitude stream, Glen Nesbitt, a small tributary that joins the Bokspruit just upstream of the house at Bothwell. Snaking its way through a deep valley among weathered sandstone outcrops, beneath willows and through pebbled runs, It has a steep gradient and plenty of pocket water, riffles, plunges and deeper pools. We took a mess of brightly coloured, plump and spirited rainbows from 8 to 16 inches all on dry flies. A fitting end to an enjoyable and memorable few days shared with friends in a landscape that oozes trout and fly fishing – South Africa’s wild trout country, a slice of heaven on earth.
Wading boot graveyard – Walkerbouts
Thanks must go to all involved in organising the event, Dave Walker and his team of helpers at Walkabouts, the guides, old friends and new, riparian owners, the weather Gods and the trout – see you again next year.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg © 2018. All rights reserved