Rereading John Gierach’s book, ‘Flyfishing the High Country’, the following words got me thinking about my favourite streams, Mountains-any mountains-can make you pay for your fishing with time, shoe leather, exertion, and even disappointment. But they usually give back more than they take in terms of solitude and the sense of adventure that you just won’t find on more civilized waters.
The upper waters of the Riflespruit a tributary of the Bokspruit in the North Eastern Cape Highlands is in my top five streams in SA. Although I have fished some of the lower sections closer to the confluence with the Bokspruit, I was first introduced to the Francisdale waters of the Riflespruit by Miles and Inge Divett in 2014. Miles at the time owned the undeveloped farm Francisdale.
The freestone stream begins its journey high in the surrounding mountains flowing steeply downstream before reaching the common boundary with the farm Mt Mourne where the gradient eases and the character changes into more pastoral settings. The stream as it crosses Francisdale, has a lot of pocket water that can hide some beautiful fish, but there are also fair sized runs, slick glides, braided fast-water and even stair-step plunge pools – here in my mind the dry fly is king. It is a typically healthy mountain drainage unaffected by human impacts and farming operations. The home-grown rainbow trout are on average between 10 and 12 inches, and their numbers determined by the environment. If you happen take a 16 incher you’ve probably caught one of the old mossbacks in the stream – Miles tells me that they’re there. To make the point, on a subsequent visit, Ian Cox and I stood on high ground looking down on a long deep run watching two fish that were clearly a lot bigger than the average. We guided Grant Visser, unsighted, to an almost impossible position, but his cast over shot mark and the two mossbacks were gone in the blink of an eye.
My first visit. After a leisurely breakfast at Walkerbouts in Rhodes, we drove under leaden skies, the 25 odd kilometers to the end of the road at the Mt Mourne farm house, met Braam Botha salt of the earth farmer with a handshake of steel, tackled up and walked the 20 minutes to our starting point at the lower boundary of Francisdale. A light drizzle had begun, fishing, we leapfrogged our way upstream. Fifteen minutes in, with a couple of small fish netted, the heavens opened and we were drenched within minutes. Miles suggested we give it 10 minutes and unless the rain eased that we should pack it in and try another day. Like some divine intervention, the weather gods were kind to us and the rain stopped, skies began to clear, the mist lifted and the beauty of the surrounding mountains literally sparkled after the rain. The day warmed and the caddis and mayflies made an appearance – the trout were looking up. We fished on spending a sublime day on the upper Riflespruit and for me, the excitement of discovering new water in such a pristine environment. The day passed all too quickly and eventually, we needed to turn for the long walk back to our vehicle before nightfall so that we wouldn’t break a leg scrambling over boulders or falling off a ledge in the dark.
Since this first introduction I have fished the Riflespruit on Francisdale on a number of occasions – under blue sky days, then after a drought when the stream was down to its bare bones and once in flood when the many crossings were impossible and when we were forced to admit defeat. The trout have on each occasion been mostly cooperative, fat, healthy – and full of fight.
It is a magnificent upland stream deservedly in my top five favourites – it has never disappointed.
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