Winter Fishing

In the autumn of 2011, it was proposed that the streams and rivers administered by the Wild Trout Association (WTA) remain open during the winter months to allow enthusiasts to fish for rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) during the “closed season”. In South Africa it has long been a tradition to stop angling from June 1 to August 31 as this was assumed to be the trout breeding season when they should be left undisturbed. The proposal was duly circulated to various members and luminaries in the world of ichthyology and fly fishing.

The motivation for this proposal was based on the following:

  • On behalf of farmers, the WTA administers more than a two hundred kilometers of river and streams which experience relatively low angling traffic. Redds will therefore not come under any significant threat as there is minimal fishing pressure on WTA waters
  • Over-breeding in these rivers and streams  is evident in  most seasons
  • Rainbow trout breed according to prevailing conditions unrelated to human calendars, particularly in an area where unseasonal weather extremes are common
  • Most anglers practise catch and release so pressure on the existing stocks is low, other than for poaching in some sections e.g. at Rhodes, however despite this pressure, a few bigger fish have been taken on this water thus confirming the concept that where there are fewer fish, they grow bigger
  • Beats that reflect a negative impact due to winter fishing can be closed or managed accordingly
  • Pre- and prevailing winter weather conditions will determine the “fishability” of WTA waters
  • Protective legislation relating to trout no longer exists



  • Anglers wading across gravel beds suitable for use as redds by trout may disturb these redds and therefore have negative impact on spawning


  • The population may well be reduced by winter fishing thereby alleviating pressure on the food resource
  • Decreased numbers will result in more bigger fish – analogy: “100 sheep on 1 hectare do not fare as well as 1 sheep on 100ha”
  • Allowing winter fishing will result in more fly fishing visitors
  • Increasing the number of fly fishing visitors will contribute to local economic development



  • Beats be monitored by way of regular catch return analysis, particularly of the catch returns during the  annual Barkly East  fly fishing festival which takes place in March every year
  • The festival is a sound source of data that provides a bulk overview that will be a reliable indication as to the impact of winter fishing, weather willing!
  • The brown trout section of the Willow Stream on the farm Balloch is not included


After a consultation process with suitably qualified people in a wide range of relevant disciplines, it was concluded that the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Additional information

A recent study by Dr Marius du Preez and Deborah Lee of the economics depart at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth 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 economy. In the process more than 30 jobs have been created. This vindicates a decision twenty years ago to establish an organisation – the Wild Trout Association – that would benefit farmers in the area by getting visiting anglers to pay them a rod fee but also indicates that, where possible, increasing this tourist income has humanitarian ramifications. If fly fishing opportunities can be offered throughout the year, there could be a small but not insignificant opportunity for revenue generation and the residents of the nearby Zakhele township would benefit from the trickle down consequences of expenditure by visiting tourists in the Rhodes village.

1          du Preez, Mario and Lee, Deborah E.(2010) ‘The contribution of trout fly fishing to the economy of Rhodes, North Eastern Cape, South Africa’, Development Southern Africa, 27: 2, 241 — 253

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/03768351003740654


Footnote:In summer, the indigenous smallmouth yellowfish (Labeobarbus aeneus) migrates upstream from the Kraai River into its tributaries to spawn. During this period they are a prime quarry for wading fly fishers

Despite the fact that there has never been any protective legislation or “closed season” for yellowfish, they have survived and continue to flourish in the Kraai and its tributaries despite the disturbance of their breeding grounds by humans fishing for trout and yellowfish! If, in the past, there have been no ethical qualms expressed by fly fishers and their guides about angling for this species during their summer breeding season, it ill behoves any of them to express concerns about  fly fishing for trout  in winter.

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