It was March 2016. I was in Rhodes for the annual Trout Festival and helping out with a little guiding. Having said that, I’m not a professional guide, never have been and never will be, but happy to help if Dave Walker is willing to take a chance on me.
On day 2 head honcho of the motley crew of guides, Tony Kietzman, asked me to look after a couple on the Bothwell beat of the Bokspruit. They were in the stage of passing from ‘late middle age’ into, ‘the early elderly’. On the drive out, I gathered that they were well-to-do professionals, had travelled widely and fished extensively. Twenty minutes in it was clear that they were averse to my guidance and preferred to do it, their way – I didn’t push it. Turns out it was a tough day, paper thin water, trout that were as scarce as hens teeth and to make matters worse the husband and wife team needed help, plenty of it – i was frustrated. It was slow going, enough false casting to wear a grove in the rod guides, spooked trout and tangled leaders – I was however, asked to help with retrieving what seemed like a bucket load of flies from almost every tree along the stream. Despite what I’d been told in conversation, the truth of it was that they had no clue how to go about it – they did accept a few of my flies – it also didn’t help. Their enthusiasm waned early in the day as did mine. By the time we eventually made it back to our vehicle at the old Bothwell farmhouse the sun had begun its slide towards the western horizon – we were ready to leave, tired and thirsty. Their approach to my guiding efforts aside, I had no beef with the couple, they were good people, friendly and interesting.
I was left with a newfound respect for the perseverance and patience of those who guide for their keep.
Approaching the bridge over the Bokspruit at Cleft Hill, there was a vehicle parked under the willow on the northern side of the bridge with boot and doors wide open and the occupants milling around. Assuming they’ed had engine or tyre problems, we stopped to see if we could assist. It turns out they had just come off the Cleft Hill beat. It was the ‘A Team’, Warren Koch aka Woz on Reel, Russell Dickson or Rus, according to him, an older version of George Clooney and then Wally aka, well, just Wally. We were offered a chilled beer that turned into a few. Stories were exchanged of the days fishing, mostly blanks, sad tales of the scarcity of fish – there was agreement that the drought over the past year had taken its toll on the fish population.
L to R. Wally, Rus and Woz – The A Team
Near the end of the third or fourth beer, someone mentioned that we needed to get back to Walkerbouts if we were going to make it in time for dinner – we knew better than to keep Dave Walker waiting. Forty minutes later we were in Rhodes and enjoying a soup starter and homemade bread rolls.
Little did we realise then that this chance meeting under the willow was the birth of a festival tradition. It has since become the place for regular late afternoon get-togethers of those that had fished the upper reaches of the Bok or Riffelspruits. The time spent there is characterised by plenty of good humoured banter, expansive stories mostly to do with the days fishing, trout and reflections in fact on all things piscatorial.
The bar was raised earlier this year when on the last afternoon of the festival, the A Team added to the usual chilled beers, a whiskey tasting. When I say whiskey, I’m talking about seriously good single malts including a couple of surprisingly fine Japanese whiskeys and the remaining contents of a few hip flasks. We still managed to make it back in time for dinner.
‘The Roadblock’, as it’s known, is now etched in the annals of the WTA Trout Festival.
Catch you under the willow.
A. short while after I published this post I was reading Tom Sutcliffe’s wonderful new book, “Yet More Sweet Days” and came across a comment (page 407) that caught my eye. In a way it had relevance to the willow tree meeting place, the ‘togetherness’ and bond among flyfishers. He had this to say after an evening spent enjoying the company of fellow flyfishers that he had by chance bumped into in the pub at Walkerbouts, “I got to thinking that a good collective noun for us fly anglers might be ‘a communion of fly fishers’” I think that Tom nailed it perfectly.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2019. All rights reserved