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ALAN and ANNABELLE HOBSON - A PROFILE

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 16:59

ALAN AND ANNABELLE HOBSON – A PROFILE

 

By Ed Herbst

 

Just as the Eastern Cape has been the catalyst for momentous events in South African history, so too has it played a momentous role in the evolution of the country’s fly fishing.

 

In 1892, the Pirie hatchery, the first in the country, was started in the Amatola Mountains near King Williams Town and, thereafter, fly fishers in this province have taken the lead in many significant respects.

 

http://www.amatolaflyfishing.co.za/index.php?pid=6

 

In 1894 the Frontier Acclimatization Society was formed to assist with the administration of the Pirie Hatchery.  It was disbanded in 1946 when the hatchery was handed over to the Cape Provincial Administration but, by then, ova produced by the hatchery had been distributed throughout South Africa, to Kenya, Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Mauritius.

 

In 1976 a Welsh fly fishing fanatic, Martin Davies, visited South Africa on what was to be a year’s sabbatical. He had an MSc in oceanography and an insatiable curiosity. He ended up working for Margaret Smith, Director of the then JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 1985 when government hatcheries stopped breeding trout he started a trout hatchery in the town which functioned on tap water. His role in establishing a burgeoning trout fishery in the Eastern Cape – with its concomitant benefits to local tourism and job creations, is now the stuff of South African fly fishing legend.

 

In 1986 two local fly fisher’s, Ronnie Pitt and Fred Croney, started the Federation of Southern African Fly Fisher’s (FOSAF). It is an umbrella body and lobby group which, much like Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fisher’s in the USA and the Wild Trout Trust and the Grayling Society in the UK, seeks to advance and promote the interests of fly Fisher’s and to conserve the environments in which they fish.

http://www.fosaf.org.za/

 

In April 1991, Martin Davies and Dave Walker started the Wild Trout Association, a now flourishing trout fishery which now encompasses Rhodes, Barkly East and Maclear in the North Eastern Cape Highlands.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/index.php/pete-briggs/185-the-wild-trout-association

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/198-profile-on-dave-walker

 

This article, however, is about a new frontier in South African fly fishing and the couple who are playing a singular role in promoting the sport in the Karoo.

 

If you asked the average South African to sum up the Karoo is a single word, they would probably say “arid” – which is not conducive to thoughts of fishing in general or trout in particular.

 

 A_typical_seemingly_arid_Karoo_landscape._Altitude_provides_good_trout_fishing

A typical Karoo landscape – seemingly arid - but its altitude provides good trout fishing

 

At the turn of the last century, Sidney Hey was commissioned by the government of the day to survey the country’s rivers and streams and, where suitable, to stock them with trout.

 

Hey, in his classic book, “The Rapture of the River”, quoted a 1925 report submitted by Mr Warrington Smyth: “The physical conditions met within rivers of South Africa vary very greatly.  A large percentage of our river courses are dry for a great part of the year and little more than sand pools blocked by rock barriers at intervals, which during flood carry off immense quantities of storm water in short spates much discoloured and laden heavily with detritus.  Such are many of the river beds of the Karoo districts of the Cape Province.”

Rapture of the River has been   re-published by Platanna Press and copies are available from Craig Thom’s Stream-X  fly shop in Cape Town.

 

http://www.platannapress.co.za/rapture.html

 

http://www.streamx.co.za/index.htm

 

According to Wikipedia, the Karoo covers some 400 000 square kilometres and while for much of this area, the statement holds true, the Great Karoo, particularly around towns like Somerset East and Cradock, routinely produces dam trout up to ten pounds.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karoo

 

What makes this possible is the fact that the dams are situated at high altitudes and their waters are exceptionally fertile.

 

In 1965 the consensus, as expressed by Smyth was challenged by an avid Somerset East fly angler, Bill Moolman. He persuaded Fred Birch of the Pirie hatchery near King Williamstown, to stock the Naudeshoek Spruit, a tributary of the Little Fish River that rises at 4500 feet at the summit of the Coetzeeberg.

 

Floods and droughts were initial setbacks, but the local fly fishers were undeterred and in 1971 the Somerset East Piscatorial Society was constituted.  A year later the Society started stocking local dams and the Little Fish River and its tributaries as well. In 1992 the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club was formed as well and in 2006 the two clubs amalgamated  - using the latter name.

 

In 2002 Alan and Annabelle were looking for an opportunity to escape their stressful life in Johannesburg. They ran a thriving company producing corporate clothing and artefacts but Alan yearned for a return to his roots – he was born and raised on a farm in the little Eastern Cape village of Pearston which is close to his present home in Somerset East. Some of his earliest and dearest memories were of fishing trips with his father and he believed that he could create a viable lifestyle by setting up a guesthouse which promoted fly fishing in the area.

 

In 2003 the Roman Catholic church in the town put its property on the market because it could no longer accommodate all its members and needed bigger premises. Alan and Annabelle bought the property, something that required permission from the Vatican, and began converting it and the residence next door into the guesthouse complex.

 

The deconsecrated church building became the dining room and bar and the confessional a fly tackle shop. The renovations to convert the guest house on the property into luxury accommodation took a year and half. “We basically stripped it down to its bare brick and plaster and renovated it completely,” Alan said. “The garden took another six months. We rode in 240 tons of soil and 260 tons of stone and had several teeth of the back actor broken digging holes in the solid rock for our 30 odd indigenous trees,(yellow woods, white stinkwoods, karee trees, wild peach trees, bush willows and several aloe species), that we planted. We levelled the two open plots which are now the garden and parking area and pushed a rockery in the far corner where we replanted all the aloes and succulents from the original garden of the church, after having kept them alive all that time.”

 

 

http://www.anglerandantelope.co.za/

 

Angler_and_Antelope_pub 

Annabelle Hobson in the former church that now houses the bar and the dining room

 

Alan became chairman of the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club in 2012 after having served as secretary and treasurer for five years and began looking for more waters for the club.

 

The fishery has already been covered in two reports on this website.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing-diary/286-fly-fishing-on-the-edge-of-the-karoo

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/247-fly-fishing-the-karoo

 

I visited the Angler and Antelope recently as guests of two friends, Andre and Gia de Goede who have a strong attachment to the guest house – they were married there – and the town and its fishing.

 

Gia_and_Andre_de_Goede_centre_with_Alan_and_Annabelle_Hobson_at_their_wedding 

Gia and Andre de Goede (centre) with Alan and Annabelle Hobson at their wedding

 

Alan and Annabelle are hoping that fly fishers from Cape Town will break their journey en route to Rhodes and Barkly East.

 

Our route took us along the N2 from Cape Town to Swellendam where we opted for the scenic route and linked with the R62 at Barrydale. The R62 took us through Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. We then travelled on the N12 to De Rust and cut eastwards on the R341 to link with the N9 to Willowmore. We continued northwards on the N9 to Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet. Then one turns south on the R 75 for 23 kms before taking the R63 eastwards via Pearston to Somerset East.

 

As it turned out, the balance and mobility problems I have experienced since I was affected by a neurological illness two years ago put paid to any chance of effectively utilising the fishing opportunities that were available.

 

The only way I could fish was if I was helped to the waterside where a folding camping chair was strategically positioned for me.

 

In the late afternoon of our first day we drove to the dam on top of the Boschberg Mountain which overlooks the town. It receives about 30 inches of rain a year and its altitude and prolific weed beds produce significant evening caddis, mayfly and chironomid hatches. On the way up we could see the towering Glen Avon waterfall on the Naude’s River

 

Ed_Herbst_using_his_new_Sage_ENS_on_the_high_altitude_trout_dam_above_Somerset_East

Ed Herbst using his new Sage ENS   on the high altitude trout dam above Somerset East

 

A rocky outcrop near the entrance gate was the easiest place of access for me but not the best place to be as all I could do was wistfully watch the constant rises next to the weed beds on the far side of the dam and enviously listen to the happy chirps from my friends as they landed trout from time to time.

 

I drew solace from my new outfit, a superb ten foot 2-weight Sage ENS built for me by Cape Town master craftsman Steve Boshoff. It had his trademark all-cork handle, matte finish blank, non-reflective black sliding rings on the reel seat and black, ultra-light wire Pacbay guides.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/102-ed-herbst-in-search-of-the-ultimate-small-stream-fly-rod

 

I coupled it with a weight forward Sci Anglers Supra line, recommended to me by Dean Riphagen at Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg.

 

http://www.frontierflyfishing.co.za/home.html

 

It was loaded on the superb Waterworks ULA Force 2SL reel. It is touted as “the lightest full drag, true large arbor reel in the world” and it holds about 100 yards of #20 backing behind the WF2 line while weighing less than three ounces.

 

http://waterworks-lamson.com/products/ula-force-sl/

 

 

http://flyfishinginsider.blogspot.com/2011/04/waterworks-lamson-ula-force-sl-reel.html

 

Mine cost me about R3000 which is in the ballpark for such reels and I got it from Kelvin Fuller of Scylla Fishing in Johannesburg.

www.scyllafishing.co.za

 

The_Sage_ENS_built_by_Steve_Boshoff_and_the_ultra-light_Waterworks_ULA_Force_reel

The Sage ENS built by Steve Boshoff and the ultra-light Waterworks ULA Force reel

 

The next day Alan drove me to the Little Fish River near Cradock. Along the way we saw a flock of several dozen Blue Cranes and the Somerset East, Pearston and Cookhouse magisterial districts are collectively known as the Blue Crane Route. As the Angler & Antelope website notes, there are more than 350 bird species to be seen in the area but it also abounds with game. Farmers have found that hunters will pay up to R75 000 for a Roan Antelope, for example, a considerably greater return than can be obtained from livestock. Accordingly, one sees three different shades of springbok – conventional, white and black – as well as kudu, impala, reedbuck and other antelopes.

Alan_Hobson_with_one_of_the_stiles_that_he_has_built_to_assist_fly_fishers_in_the_Karoo

Alan Hobson with one of the stiles that he has built to assist fly fishers in the Karoo

 

The Little Fish River provides what Alan calls “dam fishing in a river bed”. Some of the deep pools were scoured out by hippo centuries ago. It is not the shallow, clear water of my beloved streams near Cape Town but the trout grow a lot bigger. Because it is a game farming area, the fences are not to be trifled with if you want to keep your expensive waders waterproof so Alan has built metal styles to cross them. He was, as ever, solicitous and empathetic in getting me to the river bank and parked on my camping chair. This is tactile rather than visual fishing with a varied retrieve and the occasional lift being necessary to animate a weighted nymph. It was here that I caught my only fish of the trip but I have no doubt that, had I been mobile, my success rate would have been far higher.

 

Late in the afternoon we drove to our next destination, stopping in Cradock for petrol and then heading for the farm Grootkom. It lies adjacent to the Mountain Zebra National Park and we were delighted to spot three cheetah next to the fence which adjoins the road. The owner of the farm is one of an increasing number who are approaching the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club for advice on trout stocking as they seek to diversify the income from their farms. Empty houses are being restored to cater for hunting and fishing clients and Alan recently did a presentation to the Somerset East Municipality which indicates that fly fishing contributes more than R2m to the local economy where most of the people are dependent on government grants for survival.

 

 

Pauls_River_lower_reaches

“Dam fishing in a river bed”. The author hooks a fish on the Little Fish River

Grootkom farm contains the upper reaches of the Pauls River which I had never heard of but which is unusual in having trout in its headwaters and indigenous fish such as yellowfish and moggel lower down near Cradock.

 

The recently re-furbished farm house is comfortable, serviced and has six bedrooms, three of which have en suite bathrooms

 

Near its source the Pauls River reminds me of the Swith stream in Rhodes and is ideal for upstream, dead drift nymphing with a strike indicator. Once again Alan helped me down to the stream edge and set me up in my camping chair. There was a strong and vexatiously variable breeze however and as ten foot rods don’t cast tight loops I quickly lost four of Alan’s nymphs as I tried to thread them between two tree branches in the water. When I got it right I was rewarded with a strong take which I missed. I gave up then because I was cold but, cold notwithstanding, Alan climbed into the freezing water to remove the branches so that the next fly fisher will have easier access.

Pauls_River_upper_reaches

Small stream fishing at its best – the upper reaches of the Pauls River near Cradock

We drove further downstream where Alan paused to take a rainbow of about a kilo in a pool skirting a rock ledge and then joined Andre, his brother Frans and Gia who had caught several trout in one of the farm dams which is already producing trout of  more than three  pounds only a year after being stocked.  These fish were stocked as 19 cm yearlings weighing 60 grams. Alan says the growth rates are about 170 grams per month in dams and about 80 grams per month in the river.

 

Each winter the Little Fish River canal system south of Somerset East produces outstanding sight fishing for yellowfish when the canal which brings water from the Gariep Dam via the Great Fish River is closed for maintenance. The water from this dam increases turbidity and, when this flow is temporarily cut off, the water clarity is enhanced and the fish congregate in large numbers in the pools. Alan says it is nothing unusual to catch twenty fish of up to 2kgs in a morning.

 

Moggel

Andre de Goede with a moggel caught on the lower reaches of the Pauls River

One of my favourite fly fishing authors is Oliver Kite and in his book A Fisherman’s Diary, he describes the perfect end to a good day’s fishing as being “ … a hot tub and clean linen.”

http://www.amazon.com/A-fishermans-diary-Oliver-Kite/dp/0233961232

 

He was also an epicure of note:

 

http://www.caughtbytheriver.net/2011/06/oliver-kite-a-visit-to-normandy/

 

He would thus have felt very much at home at the Angler & Antelope because the baths are deep and capacious, the bathroom floors are heated and the region’s renowned ports from producers such as Axe Hill, Boplaas, Calitzdorp Cellar, De Krans, Du’SwaRoo, Peter Bayly, TTT and Withoek are the ideal complement to such pleasures.

 

Kite would, I am sure, have enjoyed not only the dining room surroundings of the old church but also Annabelle’s cooking

 

And if she is reticent about it, her husband is less so: “Annabelle’s cooking has developed by default by being in the hospitality industry, as she was always a phenomenal baker, evident in her desserts and the breads she bakes. Patrons even dream about her cheese cake! Having said that her slow food is fast gaining reputation with people travelling literally over one hundred kilometres from neighbouring towns like Graaff-Reinet, Fort Beaufort, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth to come and enjoy Sunday lunch. Her food definitely brings guest house visitors back for more. Her freshly baked bread and Deli sandwiches are also impressive.”

 

I am no foodie but I can testify that her omelettes are memorable, her lunchtime sandwiches on homemade Ciabatta and whole wheat bread equally so and her evening meals in which Karoo meats like lamb and oxtail predominate, are the perfect end to a fishing day, particularly when rounded off by a variety of what Alan calls her “to die for” desserts.

 

tACKLE_SHOP

Alan Hobson in his tackle shop with the DVD, A South African fly tying journey with Ed Herbst and friends”.

 

(A recent addition at the Angler & Antelope has been a delicatessen – appropriately named the “Hobson’s Choice Deli”. As Anabelle points out, a trip to Woolworths in Port Elizabeth is a round trip of more than 400 kilometres, so her deli stocks staples like Lindt chocolate, Parma and Black Forest ham and Italian salami as well as cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Parmesan that are not available elsewhere in the town. Annabelle also places a strong emphasis on locally produced delicacies based on local family secrets such as jams, relishes and biscuits. One of the most unusual items in the deli is the dill pickled agave buds, the flower buds from the introduced American aloe that is best known for its role in the distilling of tequila.)

 

You then move from the dining table in the old church to the nearby bar which contains Alan’s collection of single malt whisky which now stands at 51.  “My favourites are Lagavulin, Briuchladdich, Coal Ila, Benraich and Glenkinchie. I personally tend towards the slightly peaty flavours”, he says.

 

After supper the dining table is cleared and the fly tying vises are set up. As the tadpoles of the platanna clawed frog is one of the main factors in the rapid growth rate of trout in the Eastern Cape waters, Alan has developed two patterns to imitate its stages.

 

http://www.aquarium.co.za/species_exhibits/browse_species/common_platanna_african_clawed_toad/

 

They have earned an iconic reputation for catching large trout locally, in the legendary Thrift Dam and as far afield as Ugie and Maclear.

Tadpole_BB

Hobson’s Original Tadpole which imitates the first stage in the Platanna life cycle

Alan writes for the Do It Now magazine on his fly fishing experiences and the on line July issue features an article on Thrift Dam and some of his patterns.

 

http://www.doitnow.co.za/dart_jul12_3

 

These flies are tied for him, as are most patterns in his fly shop, by Pierre Swartz from the nearby town of Graaff-Reinet. Pierre has tied professionally for leading Johannesburg fly shops and his craftsmanship is evident in a variety of patterns developed for local conditions including #14 DDDs made with klipspringer fur in several dyed colours, a daphnia imitation and an imitation for a moth, known colloquially as the “Rusper”, which is abundant locally.

 

His fly shop is exceptionally well stocked with brands like Shilton, Xplorer, Stealth, Scientific Fly, Veniards, Hareline and Grip and there are few needs of visiting anglers that he cannot immediately supply.

 

Platanna_2

Hobson’s Platanna – which imitates the second stage when the tadpole grows legs

 

I believe Alan and Annabelle will make a significant contribution to fly fishing progress in the Eastern Cape.  He sees angling though as just one strand in a matrix of tourism attractions. He is chairman of the local tourism organisation, Blue Crane Tourism, chairman of the Karoo Heartland Marketing Association, a non-profit organization of like-minded hospitality product owners throughout the Karoo heartland, which includes the towns of Steytlerville, Jansenville, Graaff-Reinet, Murraysburg, Nieu Bethesda, Cradock, Bedford and Somerset East. He also sits on the board of Ectour, (Emfuleni corridor of tourism) and is chairman of the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club and the East Cape chapter of FOSAF.

 

He also sits on the local Heritage Committee, an important body because, as I said, the area is steeped in colonial and more recent history.

 

He showed me around the Somerset East museum which contains many intriguing artefacts showing how the early settlers lived and what they did to enhance their lives.

 

He also took me to the art museum which celebrates the life and times of Walter Batiss, an iconic South African abstract artist.

 

He has plans to improve the fishing in the spring-fed municipal dam, which is a 5-minute drive from the Angler & Antelope and has, as its backdrop, the magnificently wooded slopes of the Boschberg Mountain, a municipal nature reserve.

 

It is in this forest, filled with centuries-old yellowwood and wild olive trees that mountain bike trail builder, Meurant Botha of Cape Town is constructing a 30 km trail which will have routes suitable for everyone from beginner to expert.

 

Looking back at my trip, I think the most tantalising prospect is the winter sight fishing for yellowfish when the maintenance work on the canal system clears the water in the Little Fish River.

Buffelshoek_Dam

Alan Hobson with a 4 kg trout caught on in the Buffelshoek Dam near Somerset East

But, be warned – the cold can be invidious. I was frozen when I came off the Boschberg Mountain Dam at twilight despite wearing breathable waders, trousers and a single layer of thermal underwear. Darryl Lampert, a friend and an authoritative tackle junkie recommends the Simms half-finger Windstopper Gloves and two layers of thermal underwear.

http://www.epinions.com/review/Simms_Windstopper_Half_Finger_Fleece_Gloves/content_177646046852?sb=1

 

Tom Lewin of Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg, the Simms agents in this country, says that he has fished with comfort in water temperatures of 1 degree in Patagonia when wearing breathable waders over the Simms Guide Fleece Pant and poly underwear. They retail here for R850.

 

http://www.simmsfishing.com/site/guide_fleece_pant.html

 

I think the fly fishing in Somerset East can only get better as more and more water is stocked and as local expertise and knowledge accumulates.

 

Alan has taken the trouble to hire an aircraft for a reconnaissance flight over the region and he says the best is yet to come.

 

Alan_and_Gia

Alan helps Gia de Goede land a trout in Mountain Dam which is managed by the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALAN AND ANNABELLE HOBSON – A PROFILE

 

By Ed Herbst

 

Just as the Eastern Cape has been the catalyst for momentous events in South African history, so too has it played a momentous role in the evolution of the country’s fly fishing.

 

In 1892, the Pirie hatchery, the first in the country, was started in the Amatola Mountains near King Williams Town and, thereafter, fly fishers in this province have taken the lead in many significant respects.

 

http://www.amatolaflyfishing.co.za/index.php?pid=6

 

In 1894 the Frontier Acclimatization Society was formed to assist with the administration of the Pirie Hatchery.  It was disbanded in 1946 when the hatchery was handed over to the Cape Provincial Administration but, by then, ova produced by the hatchery had been distributed throughout South Africa, to Kenya, Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Mauritius.

 

In 1976 a Welsh fly fishing fanatic, Martin Davies, visited South Africa on what was to be a year’s sabbatical. He had an MSc in oceanography and an insatiable curiosity. He ended up working for Margaret Smith, Director of the then JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 1985 when government hatcheries stopped breeding trout he started a trout hatchery in the town which functioned on tap water. His role in establishing a burgeoning trout fishery in the Eastern Cape – with its concomitant benefits to local tourism and job creations, is now the stuff of South African fly fishing legend.

 

In 1986 two local fly fisher’s, Ronnie Pitt and Fred Croney, started the Federation of Southern African Fly Fisher’s (FOSAF). It is an umbrella body and lobby group which, much like Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fisher’s in the USA and the Wild Trout Trust and the Grayling Society in the UK, seeks to advance and promote the interests of fly Fisher’s and to conserve the environments in which they fish.

http://www.fosaf.org.za/

 

In April 1991, Martin Davies and Dave Walker started the Wild Trout Association, a now flourishing trout fishery which now encompasses Rhodes, Barkly East and Maclear in the North Eastern Cape Highlands.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/index.php/pete-briggs/185-the-wild-trout-association

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/198-profile-on-dave-walker

 

This article, however, is about a new frontier in South African fly fishing and the couple who are playing a singular role in promoting the sport in the Karoo.

 

If you asked the average South African to sum up the Karoo is a single word, they would probably say “arid” – which is not conducive to thoughts of fishing in general or trout in particular.

 

 

A typical Karoo landscape – seemingly arid - but its altitude provides good trout fishing

 

At the turn of the last century, Sidney Hey was commissioned by the government of the day to survey the country’s rivers and streams and, where suitable, to stock them with trout.

 

Hey, in his classic book, “The Rapture of the River”, quoted a 1925 report submitted by Mr Warrington Smyth: “The physical conditions met within rivers of South Africa vary very greatly.  A large percentage of our river courses are dry for a great part of the year and little more than sand pools blocked by rock barriers at intervals, which during flood carry off immense quantities of storm water in short spates much discoloured and laden heavily with detritus.  Such are many of the river beds of the Karoo districts of the Cape Province.”

Rapture of the River has been   re-published by Platanna Press and copies are available from Craig Thom’s Stream-X  fly shop in Cape Town.

 

http://www.platannapress.co.za/rapture.html

 

http://www.streamx.co.za/index.htm

 

According to Wikipedia, the Karoo covers some 400 000 square kilometres and while for much of this area, the statement holds true, the Great Karoo, particularly around towns like Somerset East and Cradock, routinely produces dam trout up to ten pounds.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karoo

 

What makes this possible is the fact that the dams are situated at high altitudes and their waters are exceptionally fertile.

 

In 1965 the consensus, as expressed by Smyth was challenged by an avid Somerset East fly angler, Bill Moolman. He persuaded Fred Birch of the Pirie hatchery near King Williamstown, to stock the Naudeshoek Spruit, a tributary of the Little Fish River that rises at 4500 feet at the summit of the Coetzeeberg.

 

Floods and droughts were initial setbacks, but the local fly fishers were undeterred and in 1971 the Somerset East Piscatorial Society was constituted.  A year later the Society started stocking local dams and the Little Fish River and its tributaries as well. In 1992 the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club was formed as well and in 2006 the two clubs amalgamated  - using the latter name.

 

In 2002 Alan and Annabelle were looking for an opportunity to escape their stressful life in Johannesburg. They ran a thriving company producing corporate clothing and artefacts but Alan yearned for a return to his roots – he was born and raised on a farm in the little Eastern Cape village of Pearston which is close to his present home in Somerset East. Some of his earliest and dearest memories were of fishing trips with his father and he believed that he could create a viable lifestyle by setting up a guesthouse which promoted fly fishing in the area.

 

In 2003 the Roman Catholic church in the town put its property on the market because it could no longer accommodate all its members and needed bigger premises. Alan and Annabelle bought the property, something that required permission from the Vatican, and began converting it and the residence next door into the guesthouse complex.

 

The deconsecrated church building became the dining room and bar and the confessional a fly tackle shop. The renovations to convert the guest house on the property into luxury accommodation took a year and half. “We basically stripped it down to its bare brick and plaster and renovated it completely,” Alan said. “The garden took another six months. We rode in 240 tons of soil and 260 tons of stone and had several teeth of the back actor broken digging holes in the solid rock for our 30 odd indigenous trees,(yellow woods, white stinkwoods, karee trees, wild peach trees, bush willows and several aloe species), that we planted. We levelled the two open plots which are now the garden and parking area and pushed a rockery in the far corner where we replanted all the aloes and succulents from the original garden of the church, after having kept them alive all that time.”

 

 

http://www.anglerandantelope.co.za/

 

Annabelle Hobson in the former church that now houses the bar and the dining room

 

Alan became chairman of the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club in 2012 after having served as secretary and treasurer for five years and began looking for more waters for the club.

 

The fishery has already been covered in two reports on this website.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing-diary/286-fly-fishing-on-the-edge-of-the-karoo

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/247-fly-fishing-the-karoo

 

I visited the Angler and Antelope recently as guests of two friends, Andre and Gia de Goede who have a strong attachment to the guest house – they were married there – and the town and its fishing.

 

 

Gia and Andre de Goede (centre) with Alan and Annabelle Hobson at their wedding

 

Alan and Annabelle are hoping that fly fishers from Cape Town will break their journey en route to Rhodes and Barkly East.

 

Our route took us along the N2 from Cape Town to Swellendam where we opted for the scenic route and linked with the R62 at Barrydale. The R62 took us through Ladismith, Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. We then travelled on the N12 to De Rust and cut eastwards on the R341 to link with the N9 to Willowmore. We continued northwards on the N9 to Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet. Then one turns south on the R 75 for 23 kms before taking the R63 eastwards via Pearston to Somerset East.

 

As it turned out, the balance and mobility problems I have experienced since I was affected by a neurological illness two years ago put paid to any chance of effectively utilising the fishing opportunities that were available.

 

The only way I could fish was if I was helped to the waterside where a folding camping chair was strategically positioned for me.

 

In the late afternoon of our first day we drove to the dam on top of the Boschberg Mountain which overlooks the town. It receives about 30 inches of rain a year and its altitude and prolific weed beds produce significant evening caddis, mayfly and chironomid hatches. On the way up we could see the towering Glen Avon waterfall on the Naude’s River

 

 

Ed Herbst using his new Sage ENS   on the high altitude trout dam above Somerset East

 

A rocky outcrop near the entrance gate was the easiest place of access for me but not the best place to be as all I could do was wistfully watch the constant rises next to the weed beds on the far side of the dam and enviously listen to the happy chirps from my friends as they landed trout from time to time.

 

I drew solace from my new outfit, a superb ten foot 2-weight Sage ENS built for me by Cape Town master craftsman Steve Boshoff. It had his trademark all-cork handle, matte finish blank, non-reflective black sliding rings on the reel seat and black, ultra-light wire Pacbay guides.

 

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/pete-briggs/102-ed-herbst-in-search-of-the-ultimate-small-stream-fly-rod

 

I coupled it with a weight forward Sci Anglers Supra line, recommended to me by Dean Riphagen at Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg.

 

http://www.frontierflyfishing.co.za/home.html

 

It was loaded on the superb Waterworks ULA Force 2SL reel. It is touted as “the lightest full drag, true large arbor reel in the world” and it holds about 100 yards of #20 backing behind the WF2 line while weighing less than three ounces.

 

http://waterworks-lamson.com/products/ula-force-sl/

 

 

http://flyfishinginsider.blogspot.com/2011/04/waterworks-lamson-ula-force-sl-reel.html

 

Mine cost me about R3000 which is in the ballpark for such reels and I got it from Kelvin Fuller of Scylla Fishing in Johannesburg.

www.scyllafishing.co.za

 

 

The Sage ENS built by Steve Boshoff and the ultra-light Waterworks ULA Force reel

 

The next day Alan drove me to the Little Fish River near Cradock. Along the way we saw a flock of several dozen Blue Cranes and the Somerset East, Pearston and Cookhouse magisterial districts are collectively known as the Blue Crane Route. As the Angler & Antelope website notes, there are more than 350 bird species to be seen in the area but it also abounds with game. Farmers have found that hunters will pay up to R75 000 for a Roan Antelope, for example, a considerably greater return than can be obtained from livestock. Accordingly, one sees three different shades of springbok – conventional, white and black – as well as kudu, impala, reedbuck and other antelopes.

 

Alan Hobson with one of the stiles that he has built to assist fly fishers in the Karoo

 

The Little Fish River provides what Alan calls “dam fishing in a river bed”. Some of the deep pools were scoured out by hippo centuries ago. It is not the shallow, clear water of my beloved streams near Cape Town but the trout grow a lot bigger. Because it is a game farming area, the fences are not to be trifled with if you want to keep your expensive waders waterproof so Alan has built metal styles to cross them. He was, as ever, solicitous and empathetic in getting me to the river bank and parked on my camping chair. This is tactile rather than visual fishing with a varied retrieve and the occasional lift being necessary to animate a weighted nymph. It was here that I caught my only fish of the trip but I have no doubt that, had I been mobile, my success rate would have been far higher.

 

Late in the afternoon we drove to our next destination, stopping in Cradock for petrol and then heading for the farm Grootkom. It lies adjacent to the Mountain Zebra National Park and we were delighted to spot three cheetah next to the fence which adjoins the road. The owner of the farm is one of an increasing number who are approaching the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club for advice on trout stocking as they seek to diversify the income from their farms. Empty houses are being restored to cater for hunting and fishing clients and Alan recently did a presentation to the Somerset East Municipality which indicates that fly fishing contributes more than R2m to the local economy where most of the people are dependent on government grants for survival.

 

 

 

“Dam fishing in a river bed”. The author hooks a fish on the Little Fish River

Grootkom farm contains the upper reaches of the Pauls River which I had never heard of but which is unusual in having trout in its headwaters and indigenous fish such as yellowfish and moggel lower down near Cradock.

 

The recently re-furbished farm house is comfortable, serviced and has six bedrooms, three of which have en suite bathrooms

 

Near its source the Pauls River reminds me of the Swith stream in Rhodes and is ideal for upstream, dead drift nymphing with a strike indicator. Once again Alan helped me down to the stream edge and set me up in my camping chair. There was a strong and vexatiously variable breeze however and as ten foot rods don’t cast tight loops I quickly lost four of Alan’s nymphs as I tried to thread them between two tree branches in the water. When I got it right I was rewarded with a strong take which I missed. I gave up then because I was cold but, cold notwithstanding, Alan climbed into the freezing water to remove the branches so that the next fly fisher will have easier access.

 

Small stream fishing at its best – the upper reaches of the Pauls River near Cradock

We drove further downstream where Alan paused to take a rainbow of about a kilo in a pool skirting a rock ledge and then joined Andre, his brother Frans and Gia who had caught several trout in one of the farm dams which is already producing trout of  more than three  pounds only a year after being stocked.  These fish were stocked as 19 cm yearlings weighing 60 grams. Alan says the growth rates are about 170 grams per month in dams and about 80 grams per month in the river.

 

Each winter the Little Fish River canal system south of Somerset East produces outstanding sight fishing for yellowfish when the canal which brings water from the Gariep Dam via the Great Fish River is closed for maintenance. The water from this dam increases turbidity and, when this flow is temporarily cut off, the water clarity is enhanced and the fish congregate in large numbers in the pools. Alan says it is nothing unusual to catch twenty fish of up to 2kgs in a morning.

 

 

Andre de Goede with a moggel caught on the lower reaches of the Pauls River

One of my favourite fly fishing authors is Oliver Kite and in his book A Fisherman’s Diary, he describes the perfect end to a good day’s fishing as being “ … a hot tub and clean linen.”

http://www.amazon.com/A-fishermans-diary-Oliver-Kite/dp/0233961232

 

He was also an epicure of note:

 

http://www.caughtbytheriver.net/2011/06/oliver-kite-a-visit-to-normandy/

 

He would thus have felt very much at home at the Angler & Antelope because the baths are deep and capacious, the bathroom floors are heated and the region’s renowned ports from producers such as Axe Hill, Boplaas, Calitzdorp Cellar, De Krans, Du’SwaRoo, Peter Bayly, TTT and Withoek are the ideal complement to such pleasures.

 

Kite would, I am sure, have enjoyed not only the dining room surroundings of the old church but also Annabelle’s cooking

 

And if she is reticent about it, her husband is less so: “Annabelle’s cooking has developed by default by being in the hospitality industry, as she was always a phenomenal baker, evident in her desserts and the breads she bakes. Patrons even dream about her cheese cake! Having said that her slow food is fast gaining reputation with people travelling literally over one hundred kilometres from neighbouring towns like Graaff-Reinet, Fort Beaufort, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth to come and enjoy Sunday lunch. Her food definitely brings guest house visitors back for more. Her freshly baked bread and Deli sandwiches are also impressive.”

 

I am no foodie but I can testify that her omelettes are memorable, her lunchtime sandwiches on homemade Ciabatta and whole wheat bread equally so and her evening meals in which Karoo meats like lamb and oxtail predominate, are the perfect end to a fishing day, particularly when rounded off by a variety of what Alan calls her “to die for” desserts.

 

 

Alan Hobson in his tackle shop with the DVD, A South African fly tying journey with Ed Herbst and friends”.

 

(A recent addition at the Angler & Antelope has been a delicatessen – appropriately named the “Hobson’s Choice Deli”. As Anabelle points out, a trip to Woolworths in Port Elizabeth is a round trip of more than 400 kilometres, so her deli stocks staples like Lindt chocolate, Parma and Black Forest ham and Italian salami as well as cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Parmesan that are not available elsewhere in the town. Annabelle also places a strong emphasis on locally produced delicacies based on local family secrets such as jams, relishes and biscuits. One of the most unusual items in the deli is the dill pickled agave buds, the flower buds from the introduced American aloe that is best known for its role in the distilling of tequila.)

 

You then move from the dining table in the old church to the nearby bar which contains Alan’s collection of single malt whisky which now stands at 51.  “My favourites are Lagavulin, Briuchladdich, Coal Ila, Benraich and Glenkinchie. I personally tend towards the slightly peaty flavours”, he says.

 

After supper the dining table is cleared and the fly tying vises are set up. As the tadpoles of the platanna clawed frog is one of the main factors in the rapid growth rate of trout in the Eastern Cape waters, Alan has developed two patterns to imitate its stages.

 

http://www.aquarium.co.za/species_exhibits/browse_species/common_platanna_african_clawed_toad/

 

They have earned an iconic reputation for catching large trout locally, in the legendary Thrift Dam and as far afield as Ugie and Maclear.

Hobson’s Original Tadpole which imitates the first stage in the Platanna life cycle

Alan writes for the Do It Now magazine on his fly fishing experiences and the on line July issue features an article on Thrift Dam and some of his patterns.

 

http://www.doitnow.co.za/dart_jul12_3

 

These flies are tied for him, as are most patterns in his fly shop, by Pierre Swartz from the nearby town of Graaff-Reinet. Pierre has tied professionally for leading Johannesburg fly shops and his craftsmanship is evident in a variety of patterns developed for local conditions including #14 DDDs made with klipspringer fur in several dyed colours, a daphnia imitation and an imitation for a moth, known colloquially as the “Rusper”, which is abundant locally.

 

His fly shop is exceptionally well stocked with brands like Shilton, Xplorer, Stealth, Scientific Fly, Veniards, Hareline and Grip and there are few needs of visiting anglers that he cannot immediately supply.

 

 

Hobson’s Platanna – which imitates the second stage when the tadpole grows legs

 

I believe Alan and Annabelle will make a significant contribution to fly fishing progress in the Eastern Cape.  He sees angling though as just one strand in a matrix of tourism attractions. He is chairman of the local tourism organisation, Blue Crane Tourism, chairman of the Karoo Heartland Marketing Association, a non-profit organization of like-minded hospitality product owners throughout the Karoo heartland, which includes the towns of Steytlerville, Jansenville, Graaff-Reinet, Murraysburg, Nieu Bethesda, Cradock, Bedford and Somerset East. He also sits on the board of Ectour, (Emfuleni corridor of tourism) and is chairman of the Bankberg Trout Fisher’s Club and the East Cape chapter of FOSAF.

 

He also sits on the local Heritage Committee, an important body because, as I said, the area is steeped in colonial and more recent history.

 

He showed me around the Somerset East museum which contains many intriguing artefacts showing how the early settlers lived and what they did to enhance their lives.

 

He also took me to the art museum which celebrates the life and times of Walter Batiss, an iconic South African abstract artist.

 

He has plans to improve the fishing in the spring-fed municipal dam, which is a 5-minute drive from the Angler & Antelope and has, as its backdrop, the magnificently wooded slopes of the Boschberg Mountain, a municipal nature reserve.

 

It is in this forest, filled with centuries-old yellowwood and wild olive trees that mountain bike trail builder, Meurant Botha of Cape Town is constructing a 30 km trail which will have routes suitable for everyone from beginner to expert.

 

Looking back at my trip, I think the most tantalising prospect is the winter sight fishing for yellowfish when the maintenance work on the canal system clears the water in the Little Fish River.

 

Alan Hobson with a 4 kg trout caught on in the Buffelshoek Dam near Somerset East

But, be warned – the cold can be invidious. I was frozen when I came off the Boschberg Mountain Dam at twilight despite wearing breathable waders, trousers and a single layer of thermal underwear. Darryl Lampert, a friend and an authoritative tackle junkie recommends the Simms half-finger Windstopper Gloves and two layers of thermal underwear.

http://www.epinions.com/review/Simms_Windstopper_Half_Finger_Fleece_Gloves/content_177646046852?sb=1

 

Tom Lewin of Frontier Fly Fishing in Johannesburg, the Simms agents in this country, says that he has fished with comfort in water temperatures of 1 degree in Patagonia when wearing breathable waders over the Simms Guide Fleece Pant and poly underwear. They retail here for R850.

 

http://www.simmsfishing.com/site/guide_fleece_pant.html

 

I think the fly fishing in Somerset East can only get better as more and more water is stocked and as local expertise and knowledge accumulates.

 

Alan has taken the trouble to hire an aircraft for a reconnaissance flight over the region and he says the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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