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Fly Fishing in the Eastern Cape

Highlights

Fly Fishing the EC

Lying in a rough quadrangle across the southern border of Lesotho in the Eastern Cape highlands is one of Africa’s most celebrated wild trout fisheries. The scale of the area is so vast and the range of fishing so varied that you could literally spend a lifetime exploring this region with a fly rod and never cover half of it.

The quadrangle includes the towns of Lady Grey to the northwest, Queenstown, Molteno and Dordrecht to the south, Elliot, Ugie and Maclear to the east and the Pitseng district and Naude's Nek to the northeast. Centrally, you have the pivotal towns of Rhodes and Barkly East. The area includes the southernmost tip of the Drakensberg range, extending southwest towards the town of Molteno and on into the Stormberg mountains. 

Fly-fishing opportunities cover the full spectrum, from countless, little-fished, high-altitude, gin-clear mountain streams, such as the Vlooikraalspruit, Hawerspruit and the Riflespruit, where the trout are mostly small but plentiful and free-rising, to reaches on sizeable and well-known freestone rivers, such as the Karnemelkspruit, the Bokspruit, the Mooi, the Langkloof and the Sterkspruit, which more than occasionally produce trophy-sized trout and yellowfish.

The still waters, mainly around Queenstown, Dordrecht and Molteno, regularly produce double-figure trout, but there are no fishable streams around these towns. The lakes in this area are spring-fed, generally no more than a few hectares in size, easily accessible and most comfortably fished from a float-tube.

There is excellent fly fishing in the Kraai River for indigenous smallmouth yellowfish and, more recently, largemouth yellowfish. The Kraai is a very big river by any standard and runs in dramatic gorges over many parts of its course. Fishing for yellows is better in the warmer months and activity tails off as the water temperatures drop. Yellowfish move into most of the larger trout rivers in summer and some superb catches have been recorded. Most anglers approach them using the same techniques they would for trout.

In areas above the tree line, streams zigzag across isolated plateaus reachable only on horseback, or in 4x4 vehicles. They then cascade, often in towering waterfalls, to more pastoral valleys lower down, which are lined in places with poplar trees and willows, and are easily reached in a regular sedan. A considerable amount of the fly-fishing falls under the control of the Wild Trout

Association (WTA), www.wildtrout.co.za, an organization of riparian owners who have made more than 350 km of water available to the public on a dozen different rivers. In addition to the fishing, the WTA also promotes other attractions in the area, such as hiking, bird watching, horse riding, mountain biking, San art-viewing and botany in the form of alpine and sub-alpine flora. 

The headquarters of the WTA is the village of Rhodes (now declared a national monument) at Walkerbouts Inn. Dave Walker, Susan Koelz and Penny Watson (secretary/treasurer) administer the entire fishery, including the central booking system. Rules are pretty straightforward: fly only, strictly catch-and-release, no fires, close gates, never drive over a farmer’s lands, the sort of rules most anglers stick to out of respect for the rare privilege of being able to fish these pristine places. Riparian owners have also steadily developed on-site accommodation, so whereas there were two bed & breakfasts in the Barkly East / Rhodes and Maclear districts a decade ago, there are now more than 40. 

On the Maclear side of the Drakensberg, the Maclear Fly Fishing Club, www.maclearflyfishing.co.za, controls access to three mains streams in the area: the Mooi, the Pot and the Little Pot.

Practically

The best of the river season for trout, which stretches from September to the end of May, is early summer and early and late autumn, but good fishing can be had in just about every month of the season, depending on water levels. Lakes can be fished all year round. Fishing pressure is low, mainly because this is a remote part of the country and not that easy to get to. Each day you will have your beat to yourself, alone with nothing but rolling mountains, running water and some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery in the country. 

It would be accurate to say that the Eastern Cape highlands has the largest selection of fly streams in South Africa, and some of the best quality fly fishing, weather allowing: Droughts stalk this part of the country no less than they stalk any other, and in some seasons the rivers can get far too low to bother taking a trip up to the region.

On the reverse side of the coin, occasional wet months can put the rivers out for weeks on end. But then the vagaries of weather are a common denominator in fly-fishing success worldwide.  Phone to check on conditions before planning a trip. Droughts and floods aren’t fun and they also aren’t rare in this part of the world. 

Take plenty of warm clothing, even if you intend doing a trip in high summer. A lightweight raincoat should be part of the kit in your fly vest. You will wade these rivers, so take waders for the times when the water is too cold to stand in. When it’s not, wading boots are all you need, preferably with rubber soles and not felt or studded. To make best use of the lakes, you should pack a float-tube. For float-tubing, warm legs inside good waders are non-negotiable. And don’t forget the flippers. 

If you are new to fishing in the area and plan to tackle the rivers, hire a guide for a day to learn the ropes.  In Rhodes, there are two guides: Fred Steynberg, www.linecasters.co.za, and Tony Kietzman, while in Maclear there is Richard Viedge, [email protected]

For rivers and streams, the gear you want is a 2 to 4-weight rod and floating fly line. This is ideal water for floating-lines, free-drift, indicator nymphing and dry fly. You will mainly be on 5X to 6X tippets with leaders from 9 to 12 feet. Fly pattern recommendations would include the Adams, RABs, a good hopper imitation, some ant and beetle patterns, a good all-round mayfly emerger (the Klinkhammer is excellent) and a few nymphs such as the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Zak or Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail Nymph. Flies should range in size from 12 to 18.

For the lakes, use a 5-weight rod and a floating, intermediate or sinking line, though you will have most fun with the floater. A floating, clear, intermediate tip fly line  (Sci Anglers) is worth considering. Use heavy tippets, say 3X fluorocarbon, and take a very wide-rimmed landing net.

Fly patterns should include dry flies tied on heavy wire hooks (DDDs, Kaufman’s Stimulators and Humpys are all excellent flies), attractor patterns (such as the Strip Leech or Woolly Bugger), nymphs, including large-sized dragons and damsels, and something to cover the stages of the midge life cycle, such as the Blood Worm, Suspender Midge and the Griffith’s Gnat.

Practically

Contacts

Useful Contacts

To fish the Barkly East/ Rhodes district contact the Wild Trout Association on +27 45 974 9290, Fax +27 45 974 9306, or e-mail [email protected] , or visit the website www.wildtrout.co.za. Fishing on WTA water is arranged by purchasing a day permit, which costs R160 a day. Dave Walker will provide you with a list of bed & breakfasts and hotels in Rhodes and Barkly East. You can also rent a house in Rhodes or stay in the Rhodes Hotel or Walkerbouts Inn. 

To fish the Lady Grey area, also WTA water, contact Alf and Denise Ross of Lupela Lodge on +27 51 603 7034, or Dick and Mary Isted of the Lammergeier Reserve on +27 51 603 1114. Both offer fly-fishing and accommodation on the banks of the beautiful Karnemelkspruit. 

To fish the Elliot/Ugie/Maclear district, contact Richard Viedge on +27 82 657 1728. 

To fish still waters in the Queenstown district, contact the Queenstown Fly Fishing Club chairman, Andre Naude, on +27 82 651 8502 or visit their web page on www.qffc.co.za. 

To fish the Dordrecht area’s WTA stillwaters, contact Vicky Bell of Highland Lodge on +27 45 941 1001 or e-mail [email protected]

To fish the Pitseng area, which is right in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg and again WTA water, contact Juan-Marie Naude of Vrederus on +27 45 932 1574 or e-mail [email protected] Self-catering or catered accommodation is available and they offer both lake and stream fishing. 

Guides

Fred Steynberg
+27 45 974 9298
+27 82 640 2930
www.linecasters.co.za

Tony Kietzman
+27 82 894 3946 

Richard Viedge
+27 82 657 1728
[email protected]

Articles & Blogs

Malaria in Rhodes

Valda 9:16pm 14 Aug

By George Brits

The Rhodes area has had some of its best late summer rains in a long time this year. After a stupidly long absence, we thought it a good idea to look up old haunts and re-acquaint ourselves with the magical art of waving a stick around. (Fishing images from an earlier trip, as will become apparent later).

We arrived at the farm Balloch in the Wartrail district late on Sunday afternoon, fresh from two weeks in the Kruger National Park. This is obviously not our normal route, but it involved a best friend’s daughter getting married, an eldest son who was keen to...

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In Search of Snow and the Magic Fly Box

Valda 9:55pm 25 Oct

Words Alan Hobson pics courtesy of Angler & Antelope

Emotions are stirred when one thinks of, sees and feels snow, certainly in areas where it is an irregular occurrence. Call it a brain freeze if you like, but I have always had the desire to catch a trout either whilst it is snowing or in snowy surrounds. It just has a magical allure that makes cold, icy thoughts vanish.

The power rendered to one creating or tying your own flies also takes on magical proportions in a never-ending fly-fishing journey in the quest of designing that 'ultimate fly', which magically produces...

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Lupela Lodge

Nightjar Travel 6:30am 26 Aug

Lupela Lodge  

We had recently spent a couple of days with our friendly, salt of the earth hosts, Denise and Alf Ross (www.nightjartravel.com/accommodation/lupela-lodge) on the banks of one of my favourite South African streams, the Karingmelkspruit. Unfortunately the devastating drought conditions had taken their toll on the river, which was down to a mere trickle between the larger deeper pools. Conditions that were currently being experienced over most of the inland, central to eastern...

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Karoo Acacia, Trout and a Favourite Stream

Nightjar Travel 6:30am 19 Aug

Karoo Acacia, Trout and a Favourite Stream

I had just returned from a road trip for a family celebration in Port Elizabeth. On the return journey I managed to use up some accumulated brownie points and sneak in a little flyfishing among the Karoo Acacia. It is my belief that a road trip or any trip for that matter, isn’t complete unless it involves flyfishing at some stage – not that difficult because if it’s wet there is almost always something to tempt with a fly.

Alan and Annabelle Hobson were our welcoming, friendly hosts at their comfortable and quaint...

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Lindisfarne Bridge

Tom Sutcliffe 6:30am 28 Jan

Lindisfarne Bridge is one of my all time favourites. It crosses the Sterkspruit River up in the Eastern Cape Highlands and I have written about it quite often. Upstream there is a pretty run coming in and downstream there’s a slow swirling, cavernous pool where we nearly always see large trout and sometimes, in season, phantom-like yellowfish swimming restlessly in the bottle green water.

For years I spelled the bridge with an ‘e’, as in Lindesfarne, and no one pointed out that this may well be wrong. Google will tell you Lindisfarne is an island off the...

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Bokspruit River

Tom Sutcliffe 6:30am 21 Jan

The Anatomy of the Bokspruit River 

I’d rate the Bokspruit as one of the greatest fly waters we have, the more so if you enjoy fishing the dry fly. I have twice dusted the source of this river on Albert Hall at the summit of the Drakensberg where it’s a sinuous and strangely luminous stream with a good head of heavily spotted rainbows. Then on a few occasions some years back I fished the very last section of this river, on the farm Black Rock, where it joins the Sterkspruit as a river of some size.

From Albert Hall the stream...

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The fat lady sings

Nightjar Travel 2:45pm 19 Nov

Alan Hobson sent us this photo of a 6.48kg rainbow hen caught in the Little Fish River in Somerset East. He thinks it is possibly the biggest trout caught in a river in South Africa. If not, it must be pretty close! Amazing that he could land the fish with all that structure in the river. Well done Alan.

www.wildflyfishinginthekaroo.co.za

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Image of the week

Tom Sutcliffe 6:05pm 24 Sep

This week, seeing as most of you are off on holiday and having too much fun to be reading blogs, I've decided to share Tom's Image of the Week. Do remember to click through to his site and subscribe to his fantastic weekly newsletter if you are an interested flyfisher... after all, the only thing that remotely compares to being out fishing is reading about fishing! ( - Erik)

Here are the photo details: Fishing a lake in the Eastern Cape Highlands at sunrise. Canon EOS 5D, ISO 400, f/11 at 1/500th, Canon 24-105 mm lens at 105 mm, hand held.

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Deep In Wild Trout Country

Valda 5:55am 13 Sep

Words and Pics by Peter Brigg

Tucked away in the folds of the most southerly region of the Drakensberg mountains, in the valley of the Bell River, the picturesque Victorian-era village of Rhodes was granted National Monument status in 1997. Now preserved for posterity, it is quiet and beautiful, and its characterful streetscapes and period architecture exude a timeless feel and ambience. 

There are some 25 permanent residents in Rhodes, the rest of the...

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The Sneeuberg

Tom Sutcliffe 11:55am 27 Aug

THE SNEEUBERG FROM PIERRE SWARTZ

(The Sneeuberg Mountains are in the vast and arid plains of the greater Karoo, inland of the historic town of Graaff-Reinet and about the last place on earth you would ever expect to find a trout stream!)

Says Pierre Swartz, local guide in the area

I had the good fortune of being up in the Sneeuberg again on Saturday and had a walk up a tiny stream we have discovered to see how the trout are doing.  

I was fishing with a young boy, Hardus du Plessis, who is...

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Fishing Highland Lodge

Tom Sutcliffe 11:55am 13 Aug

This was a wonderful August to be fishing Highland Lodge because the trout were exceptional and the weather was a touch milder than in previous years. My performance was dismal when it came to hooking and landing trout and I got nowhere near the results my mates Chris Bladen, Darryl Lampert, Gerrit Redpath and Jean Bence did. They out fished me with ease. I had a few days of a flu-like illness, even had to spend a valuable angling day resting up, but that to one side, my fishing was simply not on song on this trip. Next year I will turn the tables around.

Water temperatures were...

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The Annual

Tom Sutcliffe 11:55am 23 Jul

The regular flow of this newsletter will be interrupted next Sunday by my annual week-long trip to Highland Lodge in the Eastern Cape where we regularly fish a bunch of stillwaters. I’ll again be in the company of Chris Bladen, Gerrit Redpath and Darryl Lampert.

Note the snow drift on the hillsidesIt’s character building stuff up there fishing  in midwinter, with evening temperatures hovering around -16° (or lower), lake margins icing up overnight, occasional snow falls and even in your float tube and...

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Arriving at Gateshead

Erik Brits 10:32pm 8 Apr

It had been a long day's fishing, and despite being advised not to, we began the trek up the Bokspruit valley well after sunset. In the foothills there is an ever-present sense of remoteness, but trundling along the rough dirt road with not a single farm light or sign of life in sight, driving past dilapidated buildings with their window panes broken, we felt like we were on the furthest edge of civilisation... and it felt wonderful. The driver proceeded to look for an unlocked door into the cottage, and, as is the passenger's duty, I walked to the rear of the vehicle to begin the...

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Malpas beat

Erik Brits 10:24am 7 Apr

We have a family tradition that when we are in the Rhodes area, the Bell is running low. Despite this being correlation and not causation, our strike rate is still 100%. However, as most fishermen tend to be, we are a stubborn bunch, and insist on giving it a bash nonetheless. Usually, we have good sport with the finger fry, and this year was no different. Trout so small that it is feasible to retrieve the fish entirely through the air, thereby not disturbing the run for further fishing... not that these fingerlings are easily disturbed.  In such thin...

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Strange Trout

Tom Sutcliffe 8:36am 4 Apr

I chanced to spot this 10 inch trout from a bridge over the Bokspruit the other day. The current was flowing towards me and the fish was sitting on a shallow sandbar facing downstream, in other words looking straight at me! Don't worry trying to spot it. From this picture that's all but impossible, save to say he is in shallow water on the extreme right of the run. 

At times he would move a meter or more right or left to intercept drifting nymphs. I was mildly amazed at how far he would travel to fetch food and how fast he was doing it....

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Of men and monsters

Nightjar Travel 9:53pm 2 Apr

Those of you who like winter sports will probably have heard of Tiffindell, "South Africa's highest resort". During the winter months, lying at around 2750m, Tiffindell provides an excellent setup for learning to ski, and even a bit of entertainment for the more experienced skiers. During the summer, the challenging road lures bikers of the motorised and non variety, and the peaks are a hiker's playground. However, Tiffindell has a deep, dark secret... the fishy waters of Loch Ness. This Loch is a wee bit smaller than the famous lake in Scotland, but our...

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Rhodes

Tom Sutcliffe 11:30am 19 Jan

Rhodes is the epicentre of fine fly fishing in this country and the conduit for the aggregation of some of South Africa‘s finest anglers. It came as no surprise to hear from the laird of the town, Dave Walker, that the Wild Trout Festival held every year in this picturesque setting is already oversubscribed. Is this not our country’s most successful and prestigious fly fishing event?

 - Tom Sutcliffe
www.tomsutcliffe.co.za 

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Big Fish, Bruised Egos and Bionic Flies

shane 5:18pm 7 Jan

Words by Alan Hobson, Pics by Angler & Antelope

One of South Africa’s top fly-fishing still waters is Thrift Dam, located in the Winterberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape. This is hard-core fly fishing! Snow in December, snarling winds that whip the water into a frothy cauldron of metre-high waves or experiencing four seasons in a day, are all nothing out of the ordinary. What is extraordinary though is that this venue...

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A TRIP TO THE EASTERN CAPE HIGHLANDS

shane 9:33pm 14 Sep

Photographs and text by Jade Dos Santos

No matter how much you watch the weather before a trip to the Eastern Cape Highlands, the one thing you can bet on is that it will be temperamental. It is best to contact a local farmer before embarking on the long drive there.

The Eastern Cape Highlands does have a forgiving side for the adventurous though. The rolling hills are closely divided by many catchment basins and the thunderstorms are localized. No matter...

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FISHING ALONE

shane 10:37pm 24 Jul

Text and pictures Tom Sutcliffe

Fishing alone hasn’t got that much going for it, other than that you are at least out fishing, which implies you aren’t working. The positive side of fishing alone is that fetching your own flies out of branches is less irritating than fetching someone else’s, and you can fish at a pace that’s as gentle or as racy as you want it. And if loneliness sets in, you can remind yourself that standing in running water with...

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Nightjar

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Erik