GREG CARSTENS REPORTS ON A RECENT TRIP TO THIS WONDERFUL VENUE
Text and images by Greg Carstens
One of the great things about being a fly fisherman is the endless pursuit of new places. This year fortune favoured us and we found ourselves in the Eastern Cape Highlands. Our hosts Luke and Vicky Bell of Highland Lodge offered us a much sought after time slot fishing their lovely farm and neighbouring waters, an opportunity we seized with both hands.
(Click inside the images to enlarge them)
Arriving late Sunday under overcast skies with a frosty wind put a chill deep into our bones. This was late autumn but the difference in temperature from the Highveld sent me digging out my winter woollies. Bear in mind that the mercury showed 6°C and apparently this very site is host to a vast gathering of the world’s top village idiots that fish through the winter with temperatures dropping to -15°C!
Vicky popped in on Sunday evening to explain the generator and gas geysers to us city folk. On her way out she explained that the house had a permanent resident by way of a ghost that often walked the passage or shifted random things about but not to be concerned she had been there for years. She mentioned some well-known and trusted fly fishermen that had witnessed said ghostly activity! Sneaking down the passages and giving my brother a fright seemed like a great idea at the time and I nearly popped out a hernia laughing, but when the generator was switched off and inky blackness of night engulfed us it didn’t seem so funny anymore. Fly fishing takes us to remote places, where the air is clear and silence rings in your ears, so in the dead of night the creak of an old wooden floor sounds like an elephant charge. To be honest I never heard any ghostly activity but to be perfectly honest I never slept that well either! I still think this may be a conspiracy by the fly shops to guard these waters.
The wind was up early on the first morning as we set out layered in warm clothing and moving like a bunch of overstuffed sleep-deprived teddy bears. We made for Spurwing Dam. Before any trip you tend to figure out the fishing so that you know what to expect. This helps in avoiding disappointment and I had figured that we would catch a couple of 2 pounders and every now and again a bigger fish of say 5 pounds and if we were very lucky, a fish of 7 pounds.
My Brother went tight first and after screaming, both him and his reel, a long dogged fight ensued. He netted what must have been a 6 pound cock fish and whooped with joy. The rest of us paddled over with cameras in hand. I mean what were the odds, a 6 pounder, a prime example of karma and no doubt ample pay back for the frights we gave him.
I was still paddling back to my weed bed when he shouted once again. This time it was a cock fish more like 7 pounds. It dawned on me that there were no small fish to be had here and the shock of that threw me off of my game! Knowing that each take was a fish of over 5 pounds seemed unreal and more than a little daunting. I missed more than I should have and ended the day with 3 or 4 fish. It must be said that these fish are amongst the biggest trout I have ever caught, my brother, well let’s just say karma favoured him…….
The picture above is entitled shore leave, however it should be entitled, and “why the hell did I drink that third cup of coffee!”
From then on the wind stopped the weather cleared and we fished the Bernard’s next. According to the log book this is where the monsters lurked. Looking back I still didn’t expect really big fish, somehow it seemed all but impossible, so we headed out filled with trepidation.
Bernard’s dam lived up to its log book entries and the last time I saw so many fat fish in one place was whilst standing in queue at McDonalds in Los Angeles! I half expected the fish to have stretch marks. I struggled that day, but the lads managed some exceptional fish and my nephew Shaun catching the first fish we guessed at the magical 10 pound mark.
I redeemed myself that evening as we fished Norman’s and a ND dragon fished on the drop produced a measly 3⅓ pounder! The big problem with big fish is that you get spoilt quickly and end up feeling pretty guilty about it. The stream flows through my veins and I fish neither for size nor number. 20 years behind a fly rod allows for some evolution, but I found myself caught up in the allure of a 10 pound trout and to be honest I felt a little ashamed, but I got over it!
Day 3 saw us back at Spurwing. The weather was warmer and the wind had all but died. The fish were on and we caught such a number that nobody cared to count. They went up to 8 pounds and hammered my Papa Roach variation with vigour. It was a stunning day and we had a triple header. Fly choice was as easy. They all worked.
Burnt out and having caught more monster trout in one day than in an entire lifetime we gave in to the call of a hot shower and beef stew washed down with sweet Irish whiskey as the blue dome of sky gave way to streaks of pastel pinks.
We fished Bernard’s one more time having pigged out the day before on Spurwing and I found the fish feeding tight in the weed beds, a small olive Papa Roach on a twitchy retrieve brought up the biggest trout I have caught and it smashed my fly leaping clear of the weeds and stripping me well into my backing. It weighed 9. 5 pounds and nearly broke my fly rod, Ross reel, fly line and my soul.
We all managed a couple of monsters and fished the day out until sunset when the last big fish of the day towed Shaun around the lake as we dried off. My 15 year old neoprene waders, a gift from my long-time friend Murray Pedder had finally given way to old age and the seams were seeping cold water. It had grown worse by the day and finally I was soaked up to my waist!
We fished a neighbouring farm on our last day thanks to the generosity of the both Vicky and the proprietor. Trout Dam gave up some nice rugby ball shaped fish that were all too keen on a dragon pitched close to the weeds and induced with a lift. We had decided to try Sid’s Dam on the very last afternoon. Rumour had it the dam was home to some old and sneaky browns, tackle breakers. I was already down to one rod as the drag had broken on my standby reel some days back. We fished this most picturesque dam without a sniff but all in all it didn’t seem to matter and paddling back to the car one last time a dragonfly hitched a ride as if to say “Y’all come back soon now, the trout are eating the hell out of us!”