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!

Fishing at Barkly..

We recently had to go to Barkly East to pick up a canopy for our vehicle. As we do not have lots of time off during the fishing season, we thought of combining the trip there with a spot of fishing. After chatting to young Robbie Millar and local guru Andrew Clarke, the wheels were set in motion.

On our way there we were met with torrential downpours for the last 200km. The rain is a blessing for the local farmers but we knew that it would not be great for our fishing. Never the less we still kept our spirits up!

First stop was visiting Andrew to hear what’s been happening. He just pointed at the sky and shook his head! He suggested we try an area called the weir that afternoon. We rushed off to get our canopy (poor farmer thought we are weird, we refused coffee and rusks and I working like a crazy person to fit the canopy!) Got it half on and rushed back to town. After checking in at our stunning accommodation, we dumped our stuff, grabbed our waterproofs and headed down to the weir. Our worst fears were true – fast flowing, chocolate water fit for catching ragged tooth sharks. We still had a ball throwing a few flies and got put off mushrooms after seeing them grow out of cow poop!

Andrew called again saying that he managed to pull a few strings for us to go fish a dam that has been closed due to the drought and subsequently low levels – a hard concept to grasp when its bucketing down around you. That night we braaied in the rain, like all normal people do. Early the next morning we set off, not used to 8deg temperature, not really boardshort weather. After a very slippery ride we got to the dam. It was very low and full of weed. We walked and looked for any sort of opening in the weeds without luck. As a last attempt we walked out on a shallow point and it looked doable. Unfortunately, for Chenelle, the clearing was just out of reach. I managed a few fish only on a full fly line cast and then only had 10 strips to get a bite.

We really had to manhandle the fish to get them over the weeds, which was not ideal. If it was not for the finest quality hooks, that Robbie ties his flies with, it would all have been a tragic story. What an amazing, world class fishery right on our doorstep. The really is no excuse not to travel locally.

The town

The town is relatively small and has a few basic shops to get odds and ends. If you plan on visiting the area, especially for a longer period of time, we would suggest taking along majority of your groceries etc.

The route

One of our favourite parts of any trip is the driving – we actually really love taking in the scenery and appreciating as many of the local views as we can. As a rule of thumb, we always try to travel there and back via different routes. We made our way from PE early on Friday morning, travelled towards Barkly East passing through Cradock, Hofmeyr, Steynsburg and Aliwal north. Sunday morning we decided to return via Elliot, Queenstown, Whittlesea (a quick stop at Oxkraal dam to have a look-see), Grahamstown and then back home.

The accommodation

We stayed at the lovely Stonehouse B&B. Situated on a Merino Ram farm at the foot of scenic green mountains, approximately 15km out of town. We were hosted by Dassie and her wonderful family, who go out of their way to ensure that you are able to make the most of your stay! Just a warning that signal is non-existant (a great way to force a detox from technology) and the B&B is a typical farm house – rustic and simple but absolutely beautiful and perfect!

If it isn’t already – we would highly recommend adding Barkly East onto your list of local spots to visit! The people are all super friendly and helpful, the scenery stunning and the quality of the fish, even in terrible conditions, was amazing. We cannot wait to get back to see what all those lovely streams have to offer. A special THANK YOU to all that made our trip awesome!

Breakaway at the Breede

Breede River Lodge

In March, after applying for our visas, we had a few days to spare. It had been a long summer season at the lodge and we were desperately in need of a break! So, we went fishing!! Our destination, the Breede river – a first for myself and Chenelle. Rotten with flu, I missed most of the drive there, lying with the rentals seat as flat as it could go.

After booking into the Breede River Lodge (an awesome spot, with super helpful and friendly staff, which we would recommend to anyone) we made ourselves a comfortable bed infront of the fireplace and the TV and settled down to watch some T20.

The following day we had allocated to late lie in’s and lazing around. After a hearty brunch we headed down to the marina to book ourselves a boat for the next day. Your’s truly had no copy of his skippers ticket so we were limited to a 3m dingy and a 15hp. After a day of R&R and an afternoon prepping our tackle, we headed over for a braai and catch up with one of Nelle’s friends, Sarah Halse. Sarah is currently based at the Lower Breede River Conservancy (breede-river.org or on Facebook). After a great supper, lots of chit chat and too much wine, we were off to bed.

At 5am the next day we got up and got ourselves sorted. Before 7am we were on the river on our ship (which later earned itself a name) – The Electric Ray. We started by drifting downstream off the NSRI between the kayaks which were partaking in a comp on the river that day. After a few casts we noticed some surface action closer to the lodge. We moved up as fast as we could, which was only slightly faster than a determined kayaker. On arrival we witnessed some leeries hitting small baitfish, which had now decided to seek refuge below our vessel. In situations like this you are extremely grateful for Costa’s.

After not a single follow on a surface lure we decided to change over to my “go-to” lure – a bucktail jig! First cast, three tweaks and ON! This carried on for about 2 hours – all that was needed was to locate the baitfish and the leeries were there. We never managed to land anything big but a leerie is a leerie, and on 8lb braid and a light rod, it’s always fun! We must have landed in excess of 20 fish between the two of us whilst surrounded by kayaks which seemed to be oblivious to the happenings on the Electric Ray. In between all the action we spotted a pair of humpback dolphins, we didn’t think too much of it as they are spotted regularly at Flamingo, however we later learnt that this was not a common occurrence.

Leerie reflections

As the tide began to push we decided to go have a look up river – what an amazing body of water! The guys which get to fish this river often are definitely nothing less than spoilt! Nelle managed to the leerie of the day after spotting some nervous mullet. By now the south easter was blowing a steady 20knots. Over the course of the day I had occasionally experienced the odd tingle from the tiller arm but took little notice. Heading back, into the chop, the motor got drenched. Needless to say the little tingle turned into a heart-stopping jolt which sent Nelle into hysterics everytime it gave a kick! We managed to work out a plan with a Shimano Terez and a cooler box, which allowed for minimum contact.

By now the wind was howling and spotting fish was impossible. We handed the boat back and decided it would be best to report the shock! After an office full of laughter it was revealed that they were aware of the problem and had forgotten to warn us – a good laugh was had by all!

Thank you to the Breede locals – Keith Tait, Paul Anderson and Mike Dolhoff who all steered us in the right direction allowing us to get the most out of our limited time on the river. It was also great catching up with my old friend, Arno Dames, who was spending some time on the river with his family.

Breede

A lot of upset was caused with the implementation of new rules on the river (i.e. no night fishing and no trolling of lures) but I honestly have to say well done to the people that made this possible. The Breede is a truly special place and should be looked after.

Our estuaries in South Africa are under severe fishing pressure and it is up to all of us to try and educate our fellow anglers of the importance of catch and release.We all need to play our role in ensuring healthy stocks for the next generation – each and everyone of us makes a difference.

Lobito…

Everybody has a “place”, for me it has to be Lobito, in Angola. There is just something magical about the place. I don’t know if its the name, the scenery or perhaps it is because it is without a doubt the best billfishing destination in Africa!! For the past 10 years Lobito has hosted its now famous Lobito Big Game Tournament. I have been fortunate enough to have taken part in some of these tournaments, with mixed results.

In 2009, we hooked 8 blue marlin, one of which was a grander, and never scored a point.

In 2011, a tiny impeller cost us the tournament and saw us arrive late for the weigh-in with a total of 5 sailfish, tagged and released, which was the most fish in a single day in any tournament in Angola (at that time we were the first team to practice bait and switch in Angola). We came back strong and managed to place second.

2012, I had fishing clients and was unable to compete and my team won – maybe I am the Jonah? Up until 2012 I had the honour of fishing with the greatest teachers, gentlemen and all round nice guys- Dr Iain Nicholson and his brother Cam, on the Marlinheiros team.

2014 was my debut as a Captain in the tournament. By now the other Angolan teams had fished the World Champs in Costa Rica and Mexico and had improved their methods and adapted to suit them to their local waters. Amongst the fleet we had the FIPs-M World Champions, the IGFA World Champions and five of the top ten anglers in the world!!! Quite a line up. We arrived with our tiny 28ft Butt Cat with high expectations but knowing that we were fishing amongst the best. Practice days saw us attempt to establish our rhythm and master our techniques- as we had never fished as a team and were trying something entirely new- swimming baits for sailfish as the days of bait and switch were over. The first day of the comp, everything came together and we ended up with 11 sailfish caught. We lost some points at the jury due to videos and ended up tied first. Second day was disaster for us and from there on it was all downhill. I wanted a top ten finish, we managed seventh so I was sort of happy with it but I know we could have done a lot better. We ended up with 28 sailfish for the competition, with a total of 480 billfish caught amongst 40 boats in 4 days fishing.

2015 saw me fish with a new team. Due to charters we only had one practice day. Fishing was slow for us but we managed to find a small pocket of fish as we were about to up lines which gave us confidence for the first day. After the binimy start majority of the boats headed north, we however (along with a few others) decided to make our way south. We just set out our full spread and in come a sailfish – 1 from 1. in these competitions full points are rewarded for fish which are tagged and released. As we tagged the first fish, the tag stick broke, so no tag = half points! With the spread out we immediately raised 2 and hooked 2. Now we had to make a plan to tag! A bit of improvisation with a leatherman and a piece of wire saw us tagging those two fish but our adapted tag stick cost us valuable time as we had to bill each fish. A quick call over the radio to Iain resulted in a new tag stick. The day carried on in a blur, making baits, tagging, releasing, shouting, high-fifing, more shouting, more high-fives and so it went on until lines up. The last half an hour saw us fighting hard to land just one more fish, which unfortunately did not join the cause. We ended the day with 19 from 26, setting a new daily Angolan record. By far my most special offshore tournament day.

Lobito 19

The rest of the competition did not go so well for us and we managed to place fifth, however day 1 made it all worth our while. A staggering 993 billfish were caught over a period of 4 days by 40 boats. All fish were tagged and released, besides the 6 which died during fighting or for world record purposes.

Lobito Prize Giving.jpg

Due to a busy charter schedule we were unfortunately not able to fish Lobito in 2016 but you never know what the future or the deep blue holds! Lobito will forever remain one of my favourites.