I don't have a crystal ball, but I have lived through enough bone dry, tadpole-throttling droughts in the Eastern Cape Highlands not to lose hope for the eventual full recovery of the trout fishing in this area following this last long dry spell, bad as it was.
I remember a few terrible droughts in years gone by, including back to back affairs where one summer's miserably poor rainfall followed hard on the heels of yet another, and to add to the dilemma, there were no winter snowfalls. At times it felt uneasily as if this could be the end of the fishing in this beautiful part of the world, only to discover – always with a great sense of relief and wonder – that once the summer rains and most importantly, the winter snowfalls, had returned, things miraculously mended and in no time the fishing was back to strength again.
As we now know, good late summer showers and heavy winter snowfalls have returned to this part of the world and the rivers and streams are flowing well again.
Click in images to enlarge them
The Bell seen flowing well again in the village of Rhodes. Photograph per Dave Walker.
Recent snowfalls. The parking lot at Walkerbouts Inn. Mike Wade photo.
In this vein, let me quote a piece (slightly abbreviated) from the Rhodes Tourist and Information Centre’s most recent monthly newsletter. Here's what they say:
Snow means many things to many people, especially the tourist trade in the Eastern Cape Highlands that certainly feels the pinch in snowless years. This not only in winter but in summer as well, as the fact of the matter is that snow brings moisture and the snowmelt feeds the groundwater and streams.
Our streams are home to fish and fish attract fly fishers. The impact of the past three snowless winters combined with the ravages of the El Niño weather phenomenon has resulted in a significant reduction in the trout population. But the good news is that Mother Nature bounces back. Schools of fingerlings seen towards the end of the past summer augur well for the future but that, of course, remains to be seen.
The recent snowfalls resulted in a good flow in the entire Kraai River catchment. The continuing cold nights and cool days have ensured that the melt remains gradual. By all accounts, La Niña is taking over at last. In the absence of the stiff competition for food in of years gone by, the surviving fish will grow out well. Perhaps late spawning will augment the existing stock, but that remains to be seen.
All in all, the prospects for fishing this summer are looking rosy at present.
I think an important thing was that even in the dire epicentre of this recent drought, when many rivers, the Sterkspruit included, actually stopped flowing, there were still reports of a few big trout hanging on in the deep pools. Even just a few weeks before the arrival of the first rains in late January this year, I got a report from a friend, Mike Hammond, that he'd spotted two monster trout on the Birkhall section of the Sterkspruit even though the river had virtually stopped flowing! They were each holding up in one of those special, deceptively deep, emerald-coloured holes you get under some of the larger willow trees up here.
A typical, classically deep, emerald-coloured hole under a willow tree marked with a white arrow on the Branksome Beat of the Sterkspruit just above Birkhall
Then more recently Basie Vosloo, owner of Birkhall and Branksome, received reports of a few tiny fingerlings around the weir at the top end of Branksome, obviously from this winter's spawning. Wonderful news.
The weir on the Branksome Beat
Margie Frost of the farm Balloch on the Vlooikraalspruit told me that their stream, wafer thin at the best of times, had never actually stopped running throughout the drought and speaking this week to a member of the Ross family of Lupela Lodge about the Karringmelkspruit, he said small fish had been evident before the river rose with the snow melt and that the aquatic insect life was unusually prolific.
The author fishing the Vlooikraalspruit (or Willow Stream) on Balloch; wafer thin at the best of times
With the arrival of drenching late summer rains and recent heavy snowfalls I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the fishing will recover fully and that it will peak towards March and April next year. Right now it looks good for a little dry fly practice on very small fish just to sharpen the edges, but who knows, maybe someone will hook a hog from one of those emerald-green holes under the willows, like the ones Mike Hammond saw. I think there're a lot more big fish around than we rightly imagine.
Mario Gelenhuys releases a yellow in the Sterkspruit
Over and above this, fishing for yellows this summer should be excellent. Signs of them were evident right through the worst of the drought.