Wriggleswade…

We tend to try and always avoid public places over public holidays. We prefer having the water and beach to ourselves having been spoilt with this in the past. But with Carlos being stuck in a classroom everyday and limited time off we decided to make the most of the Easter break and get out the house! We thought considering it’s nearing winter most people would make the most of the sunny beaches and so we decided to move in the opposite direction and head inland to Wriggleswade dam.

In true Moran fashion, we packed the car, hitched the boat and headed off, all in the rain. The rain stopped just before we reached Stutterheim and there was a sense of relief in the car when we realised we would not be setting up in the rain (only in the dark). We setup camp, lit the fire, braai-ed and retired to our tent, all excited for the next days fishing.

The fishing

The first day we spent moving around a lot trying to work out a pattern as the dam was at 60% and we had never fished it so low. After a few stops we began to put 2 and 2 together and saw fish were holding just off weed beds in the shallows and the most successful lure to target them was the RattleTrap.

Stella caught her first bass! Probably the highlight of the trip for all of us. She has her own rod on the boat, when she wants to fish, we cast out a lure for her and she reels it in (sometimes with speed, sometimes she gets distracted and stares at the cows for 5minutes before continuing her retrieval – we let her work on it as she wishes). Upon hearing her squeal I looked around to see the bent rod. My first thought – “there goes our lure, stuck on some structure at the bottom of the dam”. Only to then realise she was on – chaos erupted on the boat to make sure the fish was landed. SUCCESS!

The second day was a lot easier as we knew where to target the fish and the fish were obviously feeding before the approaching cold front. We caught a fair amount of fish throughout the day but the sad part was the size and state of the bass. Its sad to see this in a dam where a few years ago all your fish in a comp were 1.5kg plus… now 85% of the fish were not even classed as “keepers”.

The third day, produced a few fish in the morning. However, at about 10:00am we were all standing on the boat when the air suddenly got that chill. We both looked at each other and knew our long weekend of fishing had come to an abrupt end. Its amazing how the fish literally just switched off with the arrival of the cold front. We started slowly working our way back towards base, got hit by a few premature rain drops but avoided being caught out on the dam in the downpour.

The problem? A battle of the aliens?

Bass size and numbers seems to have drastically decreased over the years. One of the first two things that we noticed was the lack of visibility in the dam and the complete lack of blue gills. Upon talking to some of the local fishermen, these observations were confirmed by them too. Third worrying observation (for bass fisherfolk) is that the dam currently seems to be overpopulated by common carp, Cyprinus carpio. At anytime there were at least 4 carp swirls around the boat.

Carp, much like bass, are categorised as alien invasive species primarily distributed due to sport fishing. Carp, especially in large enough numbers, can have severely detrimental effects on the habitat in which they are introduced. Carp are benthivorous fish, meaning that they feed on insects, crustaceans, worms etc found on the bottom. This feeding behaviour is extremely disruptive and often leads to the uprooting of vegetation as well as the increase of turbidity and suspensoids in the water. This results in a multitude of effects on the aquatic environment – (to briefly summarise) murkier water results in a reduction in light penetration subsequently leading to a loss in aquatic vegetation. This in turn leads to a decrease in primary productivity, decreased visibility as well as (but not limited to) a loss of vegetation. As such, ecosystems lose their diversity (both in terms of niches and species).

Could it be that the increase in the Wriggleswade carp population has resulted in a near eradication of suitable prey for bass? Or perhaps the decrease in submerged aquatic vegetation has had detrimental effects on bass spawning and recruitment success? Alternatively, the turbidity of the water could have resulted in a lower prey-capture rate of these visual predators? Could it be that the low dam levels have had a severe effect on the population? We can not be sure of the exact reason for the reduction in both the size and the numbers of largemouth bass in Wriggleswade dam however it is unlikely that the population will recover without some type of human intervention.

IMPORTANT: Please note that you require an Eastern Cape Provincial freshwater angling license if you intend on fishing!

The dam

Wriggleswade Dam is a relatively new dam. Only being completed in 1991. It is built on the Kabusi River and is part of the Amatola water infrastructure. The dam has a full storage capacity round-about 91.2 million cubic metres however it is currently approx. 60% full and as such is relatively low. The dam is well renown for its bass fishing, although this is just one of the few activities that take part within its waters.

The route

We stuck true to our rule of thumb and once again departed and returned via different routes. Heading there via Grahamstown, King Williams Town and Stutterheim and then returning along the coast via East London and Port Alfred. In both directions the roads were well maintained, although they are currently doing roadworks between EL and PE. Time wise, it was much of a muchness although the inland route is a bit more hectic when towing a boat (lots of steep inclines).

The accommodation

We stayed on the dam itself at Wriggleswade Caravan and Campsite. The campsite is super well maintained and there is access to electricity (should you need it) as well as to clean ablution blocks (hot showers and flushing toilets). There is a very basic shop where you can purchase ice and wood etc however Stutterheim is only approx 20km away should you need anything else. We setup camp as close to the water as possible so we could moor our boat right in front of us – not many places left in South Africa where you are still able to safely do this! Should you wish to visit Wriggleswade, get in touch with Amanda on +27 83 313 5551, she will be able to assist you with all your booking requirements and answer all your queries.

Overall we were disappointed in the fishing, the fish were small and not as plentiful as we had expected. However we had an amazing time at a beautiful place and any day out fishing is better than a day stuck indoors!

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