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!

Romantic getaway…

From my experience of dating a fisherman, there is no “romantic” getaway, only a masked fishing excursion. On our fishing holiday in Mozambique, Carlos suggested that we take two days off from marlin fishing to go spend some quality time together, just the two of us…well, and Antonio, our very friendly skipper.

A boat ride across clear waters to set up camp on the secluded peninsula of San Sebastian -I was sold!

At 5am, whilst I was still lazing in a comfortable bed (because it was my day), Carlos was making a hell of a racket! Upon stumbling out to see what all the commotion was about, Carlos was standing surrounded by fishing tackle – all packed and ready for “romance”. Jigging rods, popping rods, surf spinning rods, light spinning rods, bait rods – you name it, it was there! Being a (soon to be) fishwife, I thought it was a bit excessive but as I had never fished on that side of the continent before I was keen to get a few species under my belt!

We loaded the boat, climbed aboard and set off for a night of solitude. But first we had to stock up on some fresh carapao which meant a quick stop at all the local fishing boats. We then had to drop off Antonio’s cousin on Paradise island. A slower start than expected but the clear water,thousands of garfish, dolphins, turtles, birds and the isolation that one can experience out at sea, made it all worth it!

Upon arrival at San Sebastian, we grabbed our spinning rods and headed across to the seaside of the peninsula. We managed a few wave garrick and black fin kingies but the GT’s eluded us. After setting up camp, we put out a few baits which saw us land a sandshark and black tip reef shark. We called it a night, lit our fire, drank some wine (out of stainless steel mugs) and had a lovely beach-spiced braai. Whilst enjoying my sandy steak, I noticed a rather peculiar amount of (what I classify as rather large) crabs surrounding us and notified Carlos about it. But not a problem, Carlos assured me that the tent was crab-proof!

Mozambique

After too much wine we made our way to the tent.. only to discover that the zips were non-existant. Even though after previous use (which was 4 years before) “everything was perfect”!  We climbed into our tent, propped up the entrance with bottles and attempted to sleep – Carlos was out within seconds whilst I lay awake listening to what seemed like millions of pincers grabbing at our tent in the few seconds of silence, between snores. However, the fresh air and excitement from the day eventually got the best and me and I drifted into a solid two hours of sleep only to be woken by a crustacean attempting to make its way into my sleeping bag. Needless to say, I could have set records for the potato sack race with that sleeping bag. After having the intruder removed from the premises I was interrogated as to why I had so much fear of something so small and harmless… not something a woman wants to be lectured about at 2am in the morning, after very little sleep, whilst under constant crab attack. After a few minutes of heated debate, and after securing all entrances to my sleeping bag, we drifted in and out of sleep between crab removals.

Sunrise, (at 4:30am) and the instant heat that came with it, saw us pack up our campsite – after a lovely nights rest, and head back to the boat. We both attempted to be enthusiastic about the day that lay ahead of us – targetting the reefs for a few decent pulls. But the lack of sleep, coupled with a grand total of zero fish for the morning, saw the last of the enthusiasm disappear rapidly. We secured the tackle, zoomed “home”, showered and had the most amazing sleep on the most comfortable bed in the world!

Whilst our romantic getaway was not exactly what I had envisioned, I would not change a single thing… Life is too short for uneventful holidays and a few spanners in the works. The few new species on the catch list also had its role to play in preventing our getaway from turning into a nightmare.

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PS. We said good riddance to the tent upon packing up to return back to South Africa. Antonio, I hope you will grow to have fonder memories of that tent than me.