Gerrit Redpath describes a new-found stillwater venue that is not only extraordinarily pretty, but holds some really large trout. He also relates a rare incident in fly fishing, almost a once in a lifetime event!
For fly fishers in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, there are yellowfish aplenty – the Vaal River flows just 187 kilometers away – but trout are not so easily accessible.
I try to make several trips each year to Rhodes and Barkly East where I fish the many streams controlled by the Wild Trout Association and in spring, summer and autumn these waters are a four-hour drive from my home which makes an overnight stay imperative.
In winter, however, stillwater trout are accessible on a day trip from Bloemfontein and my favourite venue is Leliekloof, a cattle farm which takes three hours to reach from my home via Aliwal North and Jamestown.
The entrance to Leliekloof farm
Click in images to enlarge
The farm’s altitude, at 1800 metres on the plateau of the Stormberg mountain range, provides the winter temperatures in which trout thrive and the idyllic surroundings merely add to the experience.
It has long been so. One of South Africa’s most renowned artists, the late Walter Battiss, called Leliekloof the Valley of Art because its many San rock painting sites testify to others who have long revered this beautiful area.
There are more than twenty rock art sites on the farm along the banks of the Skulpsruit stream which has, over aeons, chiseled a twisting gorge through the sandstone.
But it was a later arrival, trout, which lure me, time and again to this valley.
In his recent book, Are Trout South African? (Picador Africa, 2013) Duncan Brown explores the indigenous/alien conundrum, but there can be little doubt that this species significantly contributes to the tourist revenue of small rural communities.
The owners of the farm, Dries and Minnie de Klerk, are passionately committed to conserving the heritage of this area but they have been persuaded by fly fishers to stock the two dams on their farm.
George Brits sang the praises of Leliekloof in an essay posted on this website in April and I can only say that I echo this praise.
Erik Brits on Leliekloof from a previous visit this year. Photos by George Brits
I left home at 04:00 on June 15, packed and ready for a weekend stay. I arrived at first light to find another angler from my home city, Bertu van Rensburg, fishing the aptly-named four-hectare dam, Aquarium, and already fighting what looked like a formidable trout.
And so it proved when he landed a beautiful hen fish of 62 cm which we estimated to weigh about three kg.
Float tube joy
Our hopes were high after such an exciting start but the rest of the day proved hard work.
A pretty hen fish
Our patience was rewarded though with several beautifully-conditioned trout, the best of which was a cock fish which fell to my #4 Girdle Bug nymph. I measured it at 71 cm before releasing what I estimated to be a four kg trout. As it swam away the absolute clarity of the water in Aquarium Dam enabled me to spot a small v-shaped scar near its tail – probably the result of encounter with a kingfisher or cormorant when it was younger and smaller.
The author with his 4 kg trout
But the best was yet to come.
After a pleasant supper with the de Klerk’s where the main course was Springbok pie, we retired to our warm and comfortable rooms.
Sunday morning dawned a chilly -8 Celsius and it was with numbed fingers and multiple layers of clothing covered by breathable waders that we took to the water again in our float tubes.
Bertu was already on the water and with amazement I watched him bring a big fish to hand using his favourite pattern, an olive leech.
The trout measured 71cm x 40cm, exactly the same size as the bigger fish I had caught the previous afternoon. And then we spotted that it had a v-shaped scar near its tail…
Bertu’s trout – the same fish as was caught the day before
It was the same fish! What a tribute to the catch and release policy that prevails at Leliekloof!
If you are looking for a trophy trout venue combined with good food and warm hospitality then Leliekloof is hard to beat.
The rates are:
Full catering: R500 per person per night
Rod Fee: R150 p/p per day
B&B: R300 p/p
Self catering: R250.00 p/p
Two rooms have en-suite bathroom facilities and the loft has a separate bathroom.
Leliekloof, which is about 700kms from Johannesburg, also offers excellent mountain biking, hiking and of course, South African art viewing.
The existing farmhouse
Dries and Minnie are building a new home on their farm and hope, by next winter, to have the existing farm house fully converted for use by guests. The conversion will include a third en-suite bedroom.
Detailed location map