The life and soul of Walkerbouts Inn (walkerbouts.co.za), the Wild Trout Association and Rhodes village, Dave Walker is an institution in the world of South African fly fishing.
My first fishing experience was fishing for “Bullies” or “Klipvis” in rock pools at Cape Aghulas using a length of cotton and a bent pin with periwinkle bait. Thereafter, another clear memory is of a barbel (Sharptooth catfish), in a farm dam near Dewetsdorp using a home-made bamboo rod. The most memorable part of this catch was having had my Dad there at the time.
I’ve had many different jobs over the years, starting with painting garden furniture during school days at the behest of my Mom. I was an admin clerk during national service; a student at Wits (hard work after all); a building society clerk (didn’t last long); boutique clothing shop manager; a student at Glen Agricultural College; a game farm manager near Hopetown; a farm manager in the Ficksburg district and subsequently factory manager on the same farm. There we grew and packed vegetables, mainly asparagus but also carrots, mushrooms, gherkins, sweet-corn and pumpkin pieces. I established a farm holiday venture in the Bokspruit valley in the Barkly East district in 1990 and “over-wintered” at the Tiffindell Ski Resort when the run-up to the first elections killed the tourist trade in the Eastern Cape Highlands. Then in 1996 I established Walkerbouts Inn in Rhodes.
A typical day at the moment is daunting under the Covidian circumstances but full of promise, politicians-willing. There’s the daily admin, e-mail responses, financial management plus the seasonal processing (bottling/pickling) of fruit or vegetables and the growing of herbs for processing into herbal salts – old habits die hard. I have to supervise the regular maintenance; meet and greet guests, both new and returning ones. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the return rate. Then there’s the Wild Trout Association administration and guidebook editing, plus arrangements for our Dirt Road Wild Trout Association annual festival.
I’ve called several different places home from Bloemfontein; to Kimberley; Egerton near Hopetown; Ficksburg; Tipperary farm in the Bokspruit and eventually Rhodes.
“The Bokspruit is magnificent, ranging from high altitude bedrock pools, with occasional waterfalls tumbling down to a sandstone-based stream bed interspersed with gravel beds that provide fine spawning grounds for both rainbow trout and smallmouth yellowfish. ” – Dave Walker
My homewaters are the rivers around Rhodes village. The Bokspruit is magnificent, ranging from high altitude bedrock pools, with occasional waterfalls tumbling down to a sandstone-based stream bed interspersed with gravel beds that provide fine spawning grounds for both rainbow trout and smallmouth yellowfish. It then becomes wider in places as a soil-based meandering watercourse. The best thing about the Bokspruit is that much of it is owned by a farmer who no longer saw any value in ploughing and planting fodder crops. All of the lands on his properties have been seeded and left to gradually revert to their original state. Accordingly, the Bok generally runs clear except for very short periods when it is off-colour after severe thunderstorms. This is unlike, for example, the Bell River whose catchment has been severely compromised by way of ploughing up mountainsides and ploughing down to the riverbanks, often without contours, which destroys vleis and wetlands essential for flow velocity control and water retention.
The best advice I have ever been given was, “We’ll agree to disagree” which was told to me by my father. As a rebellious Wits student I had tried to “enlighten” him, an Augean task considering he had been a product of the “Depression era”, WWII, the advent of the Nationalist government in 1948 and a firm supporter of De Villiers Graaff. Accordingly, he was firmly set in his ways. Although I do not share Dad’s views entirely, I find that I am equally intransigent when dealing with young “pontificators”.
I am most proud of having divested myself of corporate employment and then having established tourism entities that have had a positive ripple effect and contributed to the development of the industry in the entire Eastern Cape Highlands.
One of the things I have had to work at in life is exercising patience. Planning and organisation have come naturally to me.
The most satisfying fish I ever caught was on the Bokspruit, where the water is crystal clear. In summer, you can observe trout in a pool at Tipperary using a snorkel and goggles – and then, knowing their habits, catch them with consummate ease.
My go to drinks are beer, Scotch and Polisie koffie, in no particular order.
One place, never again would be Torrabaai or, in fact, the entire Skeleton Coast Park in summer or, alternatively, a cell in the then-John Vorster Square in Johannesburg but where they didn’t try and teach me to fly!
One place I have to return to is the whole of South Africa. There is so much more to do than I have done and so many places to visit that I have not been to yet.
It is never okay for an angler to lie. Karma sorts them out, sooner or later.
The handiest survival skill I have is wisdom born of decades of experience.
A skill I would like to master is being able to exercise greater patience.
The biggest adventure I have ever been on was a wind-surfing trip to the dam at the Letseng mine in Lesotho at a time when the mine had been abandoned by De Beers and the premises were being used as a training base by the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress).
The best way to face one’s fears is with fortitude and by addressing the problem(s) with a sanguine approach.
What I want to do before I die is to be able to do exactly what I want to do whenever I want to do it. This includes unplanned road trips to places off the beaten track.
What I get out of fly fishing has changed over the years. The hunt and the catch approach has become history and I spend more time administering fly fishing for others than I do fishing myself. I find the former to be a great pleasure and it is rewarding creating opportunities for others to indulge their passion.
If I could change one thing in fly fishing, it would be to encourage more fly fishers to support FOSAF (Federation of South African Flyfishers) in its endeavours to oppose the Department of Environmental Affairs’ absurd war on trout.
Looking back on my life, there is nothing I would do differently. “Make your bed now lie in it,” comes to mind so, whatever I have done, albeit positive or negative, has always been part of a learning process with no regrets that matter.
Something I have changed my mind about is religion. It is based on, in geological terms, the immediate past which is hazy to say the least, and which, like history, is adjusted to suit ideological and/or the political doctrine or sovereign rulers’ of the era.
The last fish I caught was a rainbow trout, way back!
For more on Dave Walker, get stuck in to The Mission Issue 26 below. As always, it’s free.