Introduction to the Eastern Cape Hihglands

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.

Rhodes was declared a conservation area 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 in relation to the RSA

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 that 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 then gradually descend into more readily accessible valleys lined in places with indigenous trees and exotic 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 and capability.

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 very successfully although often under very trying circumstances.

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.

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.

It could also be said that the Eastern Cape Highlands, technically- speaking, the Real Southern Drakensberg is the true domain of the wild trout of Southern Africa.


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