Gabriel Botha and a 70cm "slab of power" caught on the 11th September 2012, in the "Loch Ness" dam at Tiffindell by Gabriel Botha
NB. Fuel, both petrol and diesel can be unobtainable in Rhodes. Visitors are advised to fill up their vehicles' fuel tanks before embarking on the last leg to Rhodes.
Also, when traversing the Naudesnek Pass (and any other high-lying areas) always park facing into the wind. Gusts of wind have been known to rip doors out of travellers hands resulting in serious damage to the door and vehicle.
The Pitseng Pass route from the Mt Fletcher/Maclear road, a "short-cut" to Elands Heights or Naudesnek has recently been repaired so for the moment, is eminently drive-able.
The good news is that work is currently being done on the Naudesnek Pass road. How long it will take to be completed remains to be seen!
Lastly, the R396 from Barkly Pass/Mountain Shadows Hotel is in a reasonable state.
Introduction to the Eastern Cape Highlands
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.
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 4x4 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 occassional 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