The Greatest Concentration Of Fly-Fishing On Wild Running Water
The waters of the Wild Trout Association are to be found in the Eastern Cape Highlands located on the southern border of Lesotho.
This area straddles the magisterial districts of Barkly East, Dordrecht, Lady Grey, Maclear and Ugie, and includes the village of Rhodes, located at the geographical centre of the most beats within the association.
Rhodes was declared a Conservation Area (National Monument) in July 1997 and is the headquarters of the Association.
Fly fishing can be enjoyed both above and below the escarpment in this, the southernmost portion of the Drakensberg mountain range that extends northwards from here through Lesotho to the North Eastern Free State and Kwazulu-Natal.
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The Eastern Cape Highlands:
It is rugged terrain and has numerous streams at over 2500m above sea level that drain into sizeable rivers. These either flow into the large Umzimvubu River that enters the Indian Ocean at Port St. Johns on the east coast or into the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast. The mighty Kraai River flows from the junction of the Sterkspruit and the Bell River at Moshesh’s Ford which is 1724m above sea level to eventually enter the Atlantic more than 1000km downstream at Oranjemund.
Above the escarpment, narrow streams in the headwaters meander across remote plateaus, some of which can only be reached in 4×4 vehicles. These streams eventually tumble down waterfalls and rapids that can only be reached on foot or on horseback. They gradually descend into more readily accessible valleys lined in places with indigenous trees and occasional exotic species such as poplars and willows that can be reached with ease in saloon cars.
Below the escarpment, the streams grow in size as the tributaries join and gather in deep sandstone gorges spilling out onto meandering flatlands before continuing their journey to the sea. This great variety of water caters for practically every taste, degree of fitness and skill.
Through the Association you will have access to fishing that will keep most enthusiasts occupied for a lifetime! The waters of the Eastern Cape Highlands were first stocked with rainbow trout from the Jonkershoek and Pirie Hatcheries in the mid-1920s. These fish then bred prolifically in the wild as they still do today and within a decade, Sydney Hey fished for them and subsequently waxed lyrical about his experiences in his classic book “Rapture of the River”.
Stocking in a limited manner, particularly of still waters, continued from the Pirie Hatchery until the 70’s. By the 80’s fish were obtained from as far afield as Grahamstown where the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science of Rhodes University had established a hatchery that has expanded considerably and continues to operate although often under very trying circumstances, municipal water quality being an issue and more recently, urbanised otters have taken their toll!
It was also during these years that Ron Moore’s hatchery at Millburn in the Maclear district came on stream followed shortly thereafter by Margie Frost’s hatchery at Balloch in the Wartrail area of the Barkly East district. These hatcheries supplied most of the relatively limited stocking needs of still and selected running waters in the Highlands and indeed, the entire region, as far afield as the Queenstown district. Unfortunately, both of these enterprises have ceased operating.
Stocking strategies are carefully planned and managed under the supervision of the Association’s fishery consultant, Martin Davies of the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University. The montane environment encourages rapid weather changes and all four seasons can be experienced within a day. Historically, snowfalls have occurred in every month of the year in the higher lying areas hence warm clothing and rain gear is essential.
Although a tar road that runs from Lady Grey through to Maclear bisects the Eastern Cape Highlands, the rest of the roads are gravel, narrow and winding. They must be traversed with patience and driven with care. This area provided shelter, a hunting ground and a home to many groups of San (Bushmen) who visited during the warmer summer months for centuries.
Traces of their presence are still evident in the numerous caves in which shamans (medicine men) recorded their mystic experiences. Their rock art abounds and visits to these sites can provide a fascinating alternative to fishing!
White farmers first populated the area in the late 19th century and have been here ever since. It is known for quality wool and meat production.
Nothing is easy in these parts. The Highlands of the Eastern Cape are remote and not within easy reach of the main centres of South Africa. This is undoubtedly the key to being able to fish undisturbed on kilometres of water and indeed, a blessing in disguise.
It could also be said that the Highlands in the Real Southern Drakensberg is the true domain of the wild trout of Southern Africa.
About the WTA:
The Wild Trout Association (WTA) is an organisation of riparian owners with touting waters at their disposal, and affiliate members, who provide services and facilities such as guiding and accommodation. The WTA is thus a fly-fishing marketing body that promotes fly-fishing on a sustainable basis on behalf of its members. The headquarters of the WTA is Walkerbouts Inn, Rhodes Village. Day permits are obtainable from the Rhodes Tourist and Information Centre, Muller Street, Rhodes.
General rules of the Association:
Fish by fly only with recognised fly-fishing equipment
Leave gates as you find them
Please do not drive through lands of any description, ever
Do not litter and fires are prohibited
No dogs pets allowed on beats
Remember that you are on private property that is precious to the owner. Treat it as such.
What does the WTA do?
The formation of the WTA brought about long-needed access to these waters and has been remarkably successful in doing so. It has taken many long years for the association to expand the scope of its access to fishing.
The WTA is responsible for the administration of the fishery, including the central booking system and other administrative functions such as data capture and processing, permit fee disbursements and marketing.
Riparian members have been encouraged to develop the necessary infrastructure to accommodate visiting fly-fishermen to the area. Fly-fishing cottages and lodges have duly been established along the rivers and in the village of Rhodes where a host of different accommodation options has become available.
In addition to making the fly-fishing resource more easily accessible, the WTA has concentrated a great deal of its efforts on making the attractions of the Eastern Cape Highlands known to the general public. Although trout fishing is the major sport practised in the region, there are umpteen other attractions such as snow-skiing, hiking, mountain biking, bird-watching, pony riding, rock art viewing and, for the hunting enthusiast, greywing francolin shooting to be enjoyed as well.
Where does the WTA operate?
The greatest concentration of fly-fishing on wild running water available to the public in Southern Africa is to be found in the Highlands of the Eastern Cape. The Highlands straddle the southernmost portion of the Drakensberg and continue into the Stormberg. The WTA administers and has access to more than 350km of running water throughout the Highlands and is the largest sport fishery of its kind on the entire continent of Africa.
The waters range from Lilliputian streams found at the headwaters of the tributaries of the Kraai River that grow as they tumble down into the valleys below. These freestone streams and rivers are mostly fed by summer precipitation including thunderstorms and to a lesser extent by melt water from occasional snowfalls in winter.
The preferred method of fishing was on a catch-and-release basis. This was promoted to create an awareness of the sustainable utilisation of a natural resource – a “put them back so that someone else can catch them again” policy. Experience has shown that although a commendable principle, the headwaters provide a most suitable breeding ground to the extent that after years of complaints about only catching “small” fish, the policy now revolves around “window fishing”. Cull the fingerlings, return the breeding stock and take the trophy fish, if it’s a trophy fish that blows your hair back, in a manner of speaking! Enthusiasts are accordingly welcome to sample the fruits of their fishing “labour” by way of removing pan-sized trout for culinary purposes whilst in the Highlands. Resorting to the historic “South West fishing trip” practise of filling cool-boxes/deep-freezers is definitely frowned upon!