If you’re into trout and you live in South Africa, you have to make the pilgrimage to Rhodes, as Pierre Joubert and his mates discovered when they made the journey to the mountains of the Eastern Cape.
“Early in the new year, I started a WhatsApp group with the opening message: “I really need to go to Rhodes.” While I’ve never been there myself, the tales and photos of perfect pastoral streams and immeasurable miles of fishable water have gripped my imagination since I was a kid. It was time to put a peg in the ground.
A couple of months later, Wit Blits pulled up at my place in Paarl at the crack of dawn, her small petrol engine purring with anticipation of what lay ahead. Kyle, on the other hand, was less optimistic once he saw my gluttonous supply of fishing equipment and booze that had, somehow, to fit in the back of the van. That morning, needless to say, some tough choices were made.
We met up with the rest of our group on a farm between Barkly East and Lady Grey (LG). Carlo the ice skater, which is a story for another day, and Rob, the country singer. They had fished the Karringmelk Spruit (KMS) the day before and tales of more than 100 fish in a morning had Kyle and me frothing like two mad dogs. We had to get on the scoreboard, even if we only had an hour or two of light left.
Rods set up, waders on, and a couple of cold yeasts packed, we set forth. Kyle treated us to some freshly burnt CDs for the trip (yes, we still rock CDs). Inserted disc two, selected track four. The characteristic twang and rhythmic pulse of Run Through the Jungle by Creedence Clearwater Revival elevated the excitement levels to the max. We had arrived.
The four of us dropped down into a small valley where the river cuts through the farm. It wasn’t long before trout started rising everywhere and, soon after finding the correct caddis pattern, all of us were in with good numbers.
I remember spotting a couple of small fish hammering adult mayflies off the surface. They reacted positively to my fly but wouldn’t stick. They were way too small, or like the choir on the bank suggested, I’m kak at catching fish. I flung the fly back to the boys and asked them to put something on the end of my line that would catch something decent: the logical choice – a black Woolly Bugger.
Now, what always blows my mind is how well a large fish can hide itself, even in the shallowest water. I chucked the fly into this tiny trickle, and after the third strip, I was in with my best river fish of the trip.
We spent the following two days fishing the Diepspruit. If I could choose one river to fish again, the day before I die, this would be it. The river structure constantly changes. One moment you’re picking fish just off the edge of a pasture’s bank, and the next you’re trapped in a deep gorge where time and trouble seem to forget you. The number of fish we saw was staggering.
We casually walked past an extremely shallow run with our eyes fixed on the first pool of the day. Glancing to my right, I saw a fish hovering in water at most three inches deep. It was feeding in broad daylight, completely unaware of our presence.
A quick round of Ching-Chong-Cha, and it was my shot. I drifted a size 14 hopper over its head, and it didn’t flinch. After the second cast, it veered off slightly to the right but kept on feeding. Kyle took the next cast. A lekker parachute mayfly tied Gordon van der Spuy style, with CDC and all. Nothing. Like they say, not even an utter. My next attempt, in the form of a small black Klinkhammer, also got the middle finger. After three flies in such shallow water, the fish kept going about its business. Kyle’s following approach was more daring, and it paid off. The first time the chunky Tabanas skated over the fish, it reacted and murdered the fly.
We left for Rhodes early on the fourth day of the pilgrimage, and seeing that old Wit Blits was so heavily loaded, Carlo and Rob put foot to make up time. Our destination was only around 120km away, but we still had to make a turn in Rhodes itself to book our beats for the remainder of the week and pick up half a lamb for the evenings’ braai and Kyle’s legendary potjie.
We estimated that we would arrive at around lunchtime, but how wrong we were. The last stretch was slow going, and we were already tired out by the previous three day’s hard fishing. I reckon all that pulled us through was that scratched Bruce Springsteen CD with I’m On Fire put on repeat. After what felt like forever, we finally turned into the old farm gate; we were there. Bothwell.
If you’re looking to unplug yourself from the world and sort some shit out in your head, this is the place. No electricity, no cellphone reception, and a stone’s throw away from a healthy trout river. Living in such an elementary place forces you to follow a different rhythm. Here you’re woken up by the sound of birds, and you only start fishing once the warm sun hits the water. Time moves along at a different pace here.
On the Bok, I witnessed with my own eyes what an incredible fly the original design of RAB is. Time and again this fly out-fished everything else throughout the entire day. Slow water, fast water, pocket water, or pools – it slayed. And, to me, it seemed the wonkier it looked, the better it fared.
Read the rest of this story and more in issue 28 of The Mission. As always, it’s free.