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!