Trip reports

Eastern Cape Highlands 2023

10 Apr 2023 to
1 May 2023

We headed down to the Eastern Cape Highlands for our annual Autumn River expedition. We kicked off the 3 week trip on the Karringmelkspruit¬† outside the town of Lady Grey. Pierre Joubert, from Stream and Sea, and I arrived a day before our guests to get a feel for the conditions and to plan the next few days fishing. All in all we fished a whopping 100m or river! The number of fish in the system is staggering. If you didn’t hook a fish on a drift, you immediately suspected something was amiss. We stopped counting in short order and headed back to the lodge with massive smiles.

Our guests for the first week were returning guests from our first season, Mark, Shawn, Johannes and Kenny. The next few days on the Karringmelk were magical, hundreds and hundreds of fish were landed between 4 anglers over 2 days of fishing, no massive fish but what they lacked in size they made up for in volume and aggressiveness on the dry fly. We had one of the most memorable days fishing on a beautiful scoured sandstone run. The bottom a mixture of cream white and olive green, speckled with dozens of trout in every run. a hopper sent up to a sighted fish was almost always met with a quick darting bullet hammering the fly and the usual laughs of disbelief and bewilderment.

We left the Karringmelk for the Bell river valley and specifically up the Bokspruit. We had returned here to experience this area in normal flow conditions. The previous year had been washed out considerably, forcing us to fish the highest beats to find fishable water. This year however was perfect! We could not have asked for more perfect weather and flows for the duration of our 3 weeks in heaven. Although the flows were great, the water was clear as gin. The fish were super spooky and long leaders, sneaky approaches and delicate flies were required to avoid spooking the whole run. After a few practice pools the guys got into the groove and the fish played their cameo roles. There is nothing quite like standing in a skinny run with a light rod and a RAB, placing the cast where you had seen a fish rise seconds earlier, and that same fish leaping clear out of the water at the RAB!

Week 2 started off on the Bokspruit with a fresh set of guests; Carel, Ernst, Gideon and Janita, some returning and some fresh into the flyfishing obsession. With anglers new to the sport and having never fished small streams for wild trout before, this was the place to start that lifelong passion. It didn’t take long for the reality of how incredible the place is to set in, and the rest is history!

The guys fished incredibly well, and towards the end of the second week the whole machine was working, and they were into some seriously good fish on the Diepspruit, just outside Barkley. Carel and I had stationed ourselves in a run that produced over 30 fish, without moving more than 2 meters forward, and the majority of them over 25cm, the biggest of 39cm.

The third week started off like a picture book scene, incredible afternoon lighting bouncing off the impossibly beautiful sandstone cliffs, green fields and the river bristling with life. Hugh and Carlo Joined us for the final week and this week was the one we keyed in on the big fish. Carlo had joined us the previous year and had been banned immediately from pouring the drinks, owing to a slighly heavy hand an the love of a bit of a party and stories of him ice skating at the Tiffendel lake. Hugh had just retired and correctly decided to spend his retirement fishing, and what better a place to do this than in this magical place. With the smaller group we decided to explore the lower gorges which turned out to be a phenomenal journey into the most dramatically beautiful pieces of river we had fishe. Both Hugh and Carlo got fish of 39cm on the day with many more really beautiful trout coming to hand.

On the last day on the Diepspruit we all fished, and Pierre took some photos. Here Rob hooked and landed what can only be describes as a small stream fish of a lifetime of 47cm and as thick as a rugby ball!

Not to be outdone, on the last day of the trip, Pierre landed a 60cm beauty from a high altitude still water that produced more than 20 fish in the session. Both Carlo and Hugh made pigs of themselves that day with several good fish each from the tube and the shore.

Although the stories are based on the fish we have caught, the experience far exceeds merely the lengths and numbers of rainbow trout. Those stories tells you nothing of the impossibly perfect views of golden Poplars, red Oaks, emerald fields and the warmth that lingers in your heart as you ramble through the inspiring countryside that makes up the Easten Cape Highlands. Also, you cant convey the hospitality of the people, the smell of the fireplace on a crisp evening and most definitely not the booming laughs and clinking of glasses at the Walkerbouts Hotel bar where every hat has a story, and every wall is an artwork.

We are back next year. And every year thereafter. Amen.

Rob Jeffrey