“Peter Brigg and I recently attended the WTA (Wild Trout Association) Festival held annually in Rhodes, Eastern Cape – this year festival was held over the long weekend 18-21 March. After a period of good weather, the forecast didn’t look good for the Festival...unfortunately confirmed upon our arrival at Moshesh’s Ford to see the confluence of the Bell, Sterkspruit and Kraai very full and very brown. The only positive sign was that it appeared that water levels had been very much higher…the trip in on the dirt road between Barkley-East and Rhodes took us some 2 hours, being very careful not to slip off the road into a ditch and have to call for a tow! (we had one good slippy slide but Peter kept the car on the road).
We arrived somewhat early and since fishing was not on the cards for the afternoon, Peter and I spent the afternoon strolling around Rhodes taking photo’s in the extremely photogenic village. Not bad actually, as most fishing trips are usually in-and-out, leaving little time to take in the surroundings. It actually looked like the weather might play ball and things looked brighter by late afternoon, however it was not all that it seemed. That evening’s meet-and-greet went off well, with the usual apologies by the organisers (Dave Walker and Tony Kietzman) for the inclement weather…with the standard “You should have been here LAST week…! And it started raining.
The following morning everybody was up and about and eager to get to it, and after a hearty breakfast at Walkerbout’s, we were all sent off to beats on the Bokspruit as it was deemed that was the only river that would be clean enough to fish. Well, water colour not withstanding, we couldn’t get to our upper beat as the 2nd to last causeway was uncrossable. Lower down was totally unfishable due to the run off. We had to call it a day and various parties headed off to crowd the few stillwaters (with some degree of success) while Peter and I took another photographic survey of Rhodes. This time it really looked like it was clearing in the afternoon, and the forecast was actually in agreement.
With prospects looking better for the following day, the usual shenanigan’s in the Walkerbouts Pub were avoided and we gathered the following morning under patches of blue sky. Back to the upper Bokspruit it was – absolutely amazing it was to see how fast water levels drop in that part of the world: where we failed to cross the previous day had dropped by at least a foot, and although there was some trepidation, we went across. The last causeway was however still gunning, so we abandoned the car there and waded across and walked the last section up to Gatehead. The flow was still very strong up there, but clean – so it was time to throw some “spark plugs” (as Tony Kietzman called my tungsten bead creations)…and not only 1, but a tandem rig, was necessary in some places! In that kind of flow, the fish were holding either very deep in protected slots, or right on the very shallow edges – the technique employed here was to throw the “plugs” into the white water at the head of the pool and simply feed line to get the flies down in the washing machine and then simply hang on and let the rig lift out in the tail end of the pool. Followed by 1 or 2 strips and you usually enticed a take – many were blindingly fast as no doubt the fish couldn’t afford to hang about in the current, so many “on-off’s”. But we got fish…and the day proceeded to clear even more, so held better promise for our final day in Rhodes. With the better weather, that evening’s festivities took the form of a braai, with a Walkerbouts tradition: a starter of stokbrood and “Prairie Oysters”!...if you don’t know what this is, see here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=prairie%20oysters
Day 3 dawned clear and with no rain for the 2nd, we were extremely hopeful. Back to the Bokspruit it was, but onto a lower “dry fly” beat, but even though the water had dropped probably another foot or so overnight, the flow was still too deep and fast and the fish weren’t coming up for anything. Back to spark plugs it was simply to break the ice and we took a few fish, and then we spent the day chopping back to dry whenever it seemed possible. Tony picked up 2 fish on dry and Peter found a very nice fish in a small side stream that took a “Klippies and Gans” elk hair and CDC. It wasn’t my day however.
Although the weather and the fish didn’t really play game, it was just simply great to be in Rhodes, and actually be afforded some time to have a peek around - Peter and I discussed this very fact and we now know why Tom Sutcliffe will take off 3 weeks for a trip to the area! (although I wouldn’t really have complained about 3 days hard fishing :-))).
Hat’s off to the WTA for running the Festival without any major sponsorship for the 2nd year in a row (no “Well’s and Bhisthles”…), but that being said, thanks for the contributors who put some great kit that went on the final nights auction to raise funds for the WTA.
And of course, to the excellent crew (Dave Walker, chefs Bruce and Sue, and of course Pen behind the bar) – and a tip of my fishing peak to the guides (Tony Kietzman, Richard Viedge and Jason and Nick who I didn’t get a chance to fish with) who no doubt had the hardest time trying to find us fish. I will be making every effort to be back for the Festival next year!”