It’s been a surprisingly long time since I first walked up the Witels River. It was my third year of varsity that my partner in crime, Rex Fey, and I donned backpacks and set off up this mystical river.

Mystical because for so long I had struggled to find any decent literature on this piece of water, no one could tell me who controlled it or how to get access and when it was spoken about – which wasn’t often – the conversation always seemed to drop slightly in volume. I always felt like every snippet of info we gained about the river was a hard won secret extracted from the closed circles of some secret fly fishing fraternity.

Rex and a Witels Beauty on one of his later trips.
While this may be exaggerated slightly, it is how we felt. All we had collectively learned about this “Prince of Streams” was that it could get dangerous if you were caught in the rain, there were rumours of big brown trout that ate dries and that the lower sections, while in the past being the prime waters, where now a shadow their former glory.

It was a simple decision really, for us. Grab the topographical, our backpacks, stuff them with the basics – sleeping bag, bread, cheese bangers, a couple cans of condensed milk, coffee, the hiking pots and, of course, a couple of bottles of cheap whisky. The plan was straight forward: Park downstream of the junction, walk up the N1 to where the stream enters the upper reaches of the Breede River and see how far we could get. JFDI is still today Rex’s motto.

“Let’s Just F****ng Do It” was the summing up of most hare-brained scheme conversations and a statement that forced any misgivings about said scheme to be happily pushed aside, caution to be thrown to the wind and resulted in many of the funnest, craziest fishing trips with exceptional fishing and memories!

And so, we found ourselves late one Friday afternoon, standing under the precipitous Castle Rock. The peak stood proud and, as one does when in the presence of such magnificence, I felt intimidated by nature. I couldn’t wait to get up into the kloof. We had decided to hike as far as the afternoon light would let us get and make camp as soon as it started getting dark. Fishing would commence the following day in great earnest. The stunning valley was steep sided and I soon realised why a heavy rain could cause trouble for hikers. This was serious countryside that was not to be trifled with. And I fell immediately in love with it.

Castle Rock looking over the entrance to the Kloof
A fire, hearty camp meal and a bottle of whisky made for a cracker evening. Not even the bag of rolls growing a striped tail and disappearing into the darkness could distract us from the magnificence that surrounded us. We were happy and I’m sure that the Genet that was feasting on our fresh rolls was too.

 

I was woken by shouts from Rex that he had hooked one. I opened my eyes to see a half-naked diary farmer’s son with a bent fly rod. He had been brushing his teeth when he saw a rise and, hygiene forgotten, sent our first fly onto the Witels. He promptly hooked into his first (of many) Witels Brownies.

The day that followed still rates as one of my favourite days of fishing ever. The browns were eating dries like there was no tomorrow; the fish would come up from the bottom of the deepest pools to smash the big DDDs and hoppers. It was magic. Every corner that the river followed up the kloof snaked around and led to new, fascinating and glorious water. And the browns kept coming. Fish after fish after fish. Never before nor since have I had such exceptional brown trout fishing.

That night, after having explored up the Happy Valley and through a few of the swims, we decided that we had discovered heaven. I most certainly slept well.

This trip started a love affair with a river that few will understand. Strangely, Rex and I never made it up that river again together. We did however, at different times explore it higher and higher, right up to where the narrow swims seem to be entrances to new worlds.

I never truly understood my father’s deep seated connection to the Loteni until after one of my numerous future trips up the Witels. Like him, I grew to know my river intimately. Which incoming weather patterns meant good fishing – and which meant stay away. I recognised, from summer to summer, the changes wrought by the rushing winter floods. Even the path that lay in disrepair wasn’t needed; I had my own meander up the river and through its boulders. We explored, used the old fisherman’s path over the mountain from Ceres and even found different sets of bushman paintings in small eerie caves. It was my happy place up there.

We caught some big fish up there over the years. The biggest was a fish that must have run 3 and half pounds which Rex brought to hand. Over time, word spread (not that this river was unknown – just less spoken about) and its popularity grew. We even bumped into other anglers up there, but never right at the top, in my hallowed grounds.

Whoever of you may fish this water, remember, it is a bigger place than us; a last refuge for the explorer and seeker of quiet places. Keep it so. It is a place where we may let the soul fly free. The fishing is awesome but the experience is better.

This and all the below photos are from that first trip up the Witels, a long time ago and taken on a little point and shoot. Rex and one of many.
Me and a cracking speciman of Witels perfection.
Timing, as always, is everything.
Cooling off on the return trip – packs and all. It was far easier to swim down the river and float on our packs that actually bundu bash down the neglected path.
One of my happy places in this world… Happy Valley…