DAVE WALKER – A PROFILE
By Ed Herbst with pictures by Tom Sutcliffe and Ed Herbst
The Wild Trout Association in the North Eastern Cape Highlands was started on the 18th April 1991 as a means of creating a mutually rewarding link between farmers and flyfishers and it now administers more than 200 kms of water within an hour’s drive of Rhodes with more water further afield.
The Association, which is based in Rhodes, organises day ticket fishing for visitors, giving 70% of the rod fee to the riparian owner and retaining the rest for admin and marketing costs.
The decision to start the Association is outlined in the article on this site – http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/index.php/pete-briggs/185-the-wild-trout-association
Typical Eastern Cape Highlands landscape
That decision was vindicated by a recent study by Dr Marius du Preez and Deborah Lee of the economics department at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. It concluded that fly fishing tourism in Rhodes plays a beneficial role in an area where poverty is endemic and most of the residents are unemployed. According to the data collected by du Preez and Lee, some 700 fly fishers visit Rhodes during the traditional angling season and contribute almost six million rand a year to the Rhodes economy. In the process 39 jobs have been created.
I have no reason to doubt these figures. All over the world fly fishing for trout makes a major contribution to regional economies.
Mark Yelland coaching at a WTA festival on the lawns of Walkerbouts
Over the years Dave Walker, the WTA chairman, has generated a huge amount of publicity for the region on behalf of the Association. Publicity is always difficult to quantify but Dave has played a singular role in the dozens of articles written in angling and other magazines about the fly fishing in the area. If the average article runs to four pages and the current advertising cost per page is R10 000 then each article has generated R40 000 across the country. It is generally accepted that an article is four times more likely to be read than an advertisement and has substantially greater credibility so it would not be far fetched to consider each article as worth a hundred thousand rand in free advertising. He has also attended tourism trade shows throughout the country largely at his own cost and established promotional websites.
The Wild Trout Association played a role in bringing two significant festivals to the region, the Bells Wild Trout Festival and the Pajero Ladies Fly Fishing Festival in Ugie.
Derek Cuthbert, the Brandhouse official responsible for fly fishing event Co-ordination Company’s Marketing Manager says that Bells Extra Special Old Scotch Whisky started sponsoring fly fishing events in South Africa as long ago as 1995 and that while the list of festival venues has changed over the years, the Wild Trout Association event has been a constant.
The recession and a changing business climate saw Bells cancel their involvement with the WTA Festival two years ago but Dave took a gamble and decided to continue the event despite the loss of sponsorship. The gamble paid off and the Festival has been fully subscribed ever since.
Just one example of the way in which the local community benefits from the Festival was the donation of R2400 to the Rhodes Public School in the adjoining township of Zakhele in return for the school’s pupils who had helped to prepare the daily lunch packs supplied to the anglers. In the few days I was at last year’s Festival, I spent close on two thousand rand in the village on gifts for my wife back in Cape Town, toiletries, sweets and liquor and on equipment at the Rhodes Fly Fishing shop. Multiply this by the number of people attending the Festival and the benefits of fly fishing tourism become obvious.
Towns like Barkly East, Rhodes, Maclear and Ugie offer by far the best fly fishing for trout and yellowfish in the country and the anglers who visit the region make a significant contribution to its economy.
The figure of Dave Walker looms large in all of this. He first visited Rhodes in 1978 and moved to the village in 1990. Behind him was a peripatetic career which included studies in agriculture, running a game farm and managing a men’s clothing shop in Kimberley. Finally, prior to making the move of his life to the Rhodes area, he spent 10 years growing and processing vegetables, mainly asparagus and gherkins, which were canned, bottled, pickled and packed fresh – all of which equipped him for the multi-faceted demands of running a country guesthouse.
From 1994 to 1995 he was responsible for the development of summer activities and capital development at the then embryonic Tiffindell Ski Resort on Ben McDhui Mountain which further honed the skills which today ensure the smooth running of Walkerbouts Inn with its six en-suite guest rooms, bar and restaurant.
Walkerbouts staff Penny and Bruce with Dave
Walkerbouts was a family home, then referred to as the Opstal, located on the slopes of a hill overlooking the village and was then utilised as the boarding establishment for the local school. It then became the base station for building the Tiffindell Ski Resort until Dave leased it in 1996 then bought it in 1997 and started a process of renovation and upgrading that continues to this day. Walkerbouts Inn is a fully graded venue, both by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa and the AA Quality Assured Programme. A virtual tour can be taken on the website www.walkerbouts.co.za
To ensure that the daily needs of guests are catered for requires a fine eye for detail covering everything from menus to laundry lists and the relaxed ambience of Walkerbouts shows that Dave has mastered what is a very intricate and demanding process.
The Centre of the Universe - Dave and Penny in the Walkerbouts' pub
Along the way the Walkerbouts pub has made it into a book listing the top 100 bars in the country. ...the book entitled “101 Favourite Bars in Southern Africa” by Chris Marais and Pat Hopkins.