Believe in something,

Like mountains and mountain streams,

Trout and mountain people.- Harry Middleton


The title of this report stems from anglers “complaining” over the years (now who exactly moans when you are in The Center of The Universe?) about low water conditions in the rivers and streams surrounding the village of Rhodes in the North Eastern Cape, attending the Wild Trout Association Festival that takes place annually over the long weekend in the latter part of March – to which they receive the standard response from Dave Walker, “The Keeper of The Center of The Universe” and event Grand Puppetmaster : “It is thin … and so?” … arms wide, palms up in a sign of ‘And what do you expect me to do about it?

Conversely, in the years that there has been water, and sometimes even too much, Dave issues notice of “fat water”, followed by a friendly warning ... “En laat net een donder kla!”

In terms to rainfall across South Africa, this year is definitely a fattie, a very FAT one indeed … and memories of my first Festival in 2011 came flooding back (pun intended).  Around that time, the Festival was a 3-day affair, with anglers arriving mid-week on the Wednesday, followed by three days of fishing over Thursday to Saturday, and departing on Sunday – and if memory serves, we sat in the Thanksjalot Pub at Walkerbouts Inn for 2 full days, tin roof thundering from the rain bucketing own, only venturing out late morning on the third day to get a couple hours on the river before departing the next day … but, it is The Center of The Universe after all, and did we complain? … No! … and bar one, I have been back every year since … thick or thin water notwithstanding … and will continue to do so as long as possible!

Fat / Slim / Thick / Thin … you see where this is going, right?  So, this year I went prepared with much in the way (fat!) tying supplies for demo’s, and sadly slim (not so fat!) in the way of wallet in anticipation of time to be spent in Walkerbouts pub…

After my 2011 introduction to the Festival, I would make a proper sortie of the event by heading down the weekend before to get a couple days of “scouting” (as guides are supposed to do ), but in recent years, life’s pressures have made inroads on time away, meaning that I have only been able to get down for the Festival days.  This year, I got my ducks in a row and decided to make a week of it and in keeping with the theme of this report, enjoy some fat time away…

After initially planning a solo trip, I received an offer from friend Graham Evans who was travelling down the Monday before the Festival’s scheduled Wednesday arrival date.  I had also been chatting to other long-time Festival attendee’s, Paulo and Louis, and as they were also of plan to come down on the Monday, plans were hatched for some pre-Festival fishing … I mean scouting…

The heavy rains of 2011 demanded that Peter Brigg and I travelled the long way round on the tar via Maclear / Ugie / Elliot, before arriving at Barkly East and traveling into Rhodes on a shorter section of dirt … however, every year thereafter, I have travelled in via the lower Pitseng and Pitseng Pass and over the top of Naude’s Nek, an offroad journey of 2-2.5 hrs give or take.  And so, with the fat rains, Graham and I were anticipating the long way round, but then heard that Pitseng was reportedly “not that bad” … Challenge Accepted! Pitseng turned out to be, well, “interesting” … let’s just say that my 2x4 would not have got us through, but with Graham’s 4x4, an off-road detour through some fields, and a couple of “no hesitation” / “let’s not think about this too much” puddles, we were through and headed up Naude’s Nek which was dry and in good condition.

It is usual custom to stop at the top of Naude’s Nek and celebrate our arrival in the hallowed Festival grounds with a wee dram of the traditional Amber Liquid, but it was getting dark and we could smell the beer at Walkerbouts still some 30km down the other side … so, a total of four hours after leaving the blacktop, we had a cold one in hand.  A couple more libations, and a famous Walkerbouts pizza for supper, and it was off to bed … we had fishing … I mean scouting … to do the next day!

Paulo and Louis had made it in shortly before us, and along with Rhodes guide Tony Kietzmann, who on hand to greet the early arrivals the previous evening, some lively discussion ensued about current water levels and, most importantly, prospects for the Festival fishing that lay ahead.  As the Bokspruit / Riflespruit / Sterkspruit Rivers on the Barkly side were blown out at that stage, it was decided that we should head up The Bell River back up Naude’s Nek and recon the waters there.

Two days of pre-Festival fishing ensued in the high water conditions.  The Bell being a rather narrow (for the most part), deep channel (in places) river, was bank-to-bank. The shallow sections were more suited to white-water rafting, and no place for fish to be sitting, trying to make a life for themselves … eddies, and deeper pools therefore became the logical prime spots to target. Dry fly anglers all of us, we started with hopper patterns in various guises – natural and foam – but all on the larger end of the scale to compensate for the high flow.  Fishing was slow on the first day, with the fish ignoring our offerings in the swift water. To counter the speedy flies, a heavily-weighted tungsten bead nymph was suspended off the bend of the hook of the hopper, and thereafter, fish started rising to the dry (with a some “accidentally” taken on the nymph). Only a handful of fish landed for each of us, but enough to say that we were back in Wild Trout Country, the fish were still there and they were hungry!

As is the case with the rivers and streams at The Center of The Universe, barring any more rainfall, levels dropped dramatically over the course of the day and that night, and conditions were much improved the following day.  Again, the hopper patterns proved to be surefire fish-takers and our catch doubled. Of note was a solid 18.5 inch / 47cm fish taken by Louis on one of his own-tied foam hoppers.  The drive back to Rhodes the evening was filled with excitement at how much the water level had dropped over the last 2 days, and all that bode well for the Festival fishing.

Upon our return to Walkerbouts, we were greeted by the Festival anglers had arrived over the course of the day and gathered in Walkerbouts Thanksjalot Pub, and it was time for the opening festivities to begin.  The victuals – and beverages! – at Walkerbouts Inn are legendary and bountiful.  A notable exception to this year’s culinary offerings however, were the (in)famous “Prairie Oysters” … described by Peter Brigg in his “Call of The Stream” blog as “those little oval shaped parts that come wrapped in a bag from the nether regions of young rams in the district” … considered to be a rite of passage for Festival newcomers, causing the event to be renamed “The Testicle Festival” by some. Next year please! (but I will see them sooner at the Tiffendell aid station on this year’s Rhodes Run in July).

And so it began : the event was called to order by Dave Walker, Festival Chairman and veritable Keeper of The Universe – and various parties introduced to the 50-strong group of Festival anglers … “Ministers of Water Affairs and Beat Selection” : Heather Ralph and Rudi Hiestermann, and Guides (or rather “Sheppards”) : Tony Kietzmann, Mike McKeown, Mark Yelland, Niel Hiestermann and Jan Korrubel (Heather and Rudi were also pressed into duty as required).  Festival proceedings were also laid out as follows : “Tackle Fair” to take place the following morning (presentations included casting with Mark Yelland, and flies and river gear by Peter Brigg) on the Rhodes Commonage (ably maintained by Shaun De Wet – Thank You!), followed by 3 and half days fishing, with the ever popular Festival Auction to take place on the Saturday night before the final days fishing on Sunday.  As is usual, The Keeper called the anglers literacy skills into question by with respect to the submission (or lack thereof) of daily catch returns, and a Festival evening doesn’t end without Dave’s booming “Don’t forget yer lunch packs!”

With the rains having abated, both the Bokspruit and Riflespruit were back in play and most of the anglers were allocated beats up these two rivers, with other groups being allocated to the Glen Nisbett tributary of the Bok, as well as The Upper Bell River at Tenahead … and some anglers choosing to go and play with the submarines cruising in Loch Ness up at Tiffendell.  Requests were entertained daily by the aforementioned Ministers of Water Affairs, and groups rotated so that all got a taste of the variety of fishing on offer.

In summary, the initial fat water slimmed down rapidly, and the fishing was FANTASTIC! Some 2362 trout were recorded, but The Keeper – rightfully – moaned again about angler illiteracy, as only 154 of an expected 212 catch returns were received; i.e. 73%, equating to an average of 15.3 fish/return/day. The size range was much as expected from previous years (average 4-6 inches / 100-150mm), but there were 6 fish reported in excess of 15.5 inches / 450mm. While we cannot divulge the exact whereabouts of these 450+mm fish, we can safely report that the bulk of the catches, and the best performing beats, were from/on the Bokspruit. All fish were noted to be in excellent condition (fat!), testimony to the fine waters of the area.

If you were lucky enough to be fishing the Bok/Riflespruit side, the return trip from the days fishing usually involved a “forced stoppage” at the now notorious Roadblock, a tradition begun a few years back by those Renegades of The North, The A-Team : Russell, Woz and Wally ... a finer, and wider range of whisky for tasting you will battle on find anywhere else!

The auction table was loaded for Saturday night with some spectacular items up for grabs.   Books by Peter Brigg and Ed Herbst, and artwork by Tom Sutcliffe generated a lot of interest, as did the fine nets from Andrew Savides and Tim Martin, stream tackle from Frontier Fly Fishing and The Kingfisher, RAB’s tied by Tony Biggs and fly packs from Scientific Flies, along with various accommodation vouchers sponsored by well-known Rhodes venues and some further afield.  And not forgetting the famous blankets from the Rhodes Stoepsit Fees, the auction raised just shy of R54,000. Of the total, R6,000 accrued to the Tony Biggs fund, R2,800 to the Rhodes Animal Care Project, and the balance of R45,150 will be applied to worthy causes such as the FOSAF NEMBA war chest as required.

One more day of fishing was had, followed by the closing dinner.  Festival Chairman Dave Walker toasted Basie Vosloo, who was key in the development of the WTA (along with Dave and others), and whose recent passing has left a big hole in the community.  Dave then thanked the numerous sponsors, Dirt Road Traders in particular, the anglers and their sheppards for their support, along with the staff at Walkerbouts for keeping us fed and watered.  Importantly, thanks must go to the WTA Riparian members without whose loyal and much‑valued support, there would not be as much fly fishing water open to the public as there is … and no Festival for that matter. 

In closing, there was a small matter of fines for various infractions on and off the waters (we won’t name and shame here), and a Thank You once again to artist Joyce Carreira, who previously donated a magnificent sculpture entitled “The Nymph” which is awarded annually to the person with the most Festival spirit : the 2022 winner is Ken Quick in recognition of his longstanding support of the WTA and the Festival as well as his exemplary conduct towards fellow anglers … we couldn’t think of a nicer guy!  Finally, Peter Brigg was asked to demonstrate a couple of his flies, ably done to the interested gathering on the JVice donated to the WTA by Ed Herbst.

“Once you get into Fly Fishing,

The other kinds of fishing isn’t good enough anymore.” Ansil Saunders

The Dirt Road Wild Trout Association Festival is considered to be South Africa’s premier annual wild trout fly fishing event - bookings for the 2023 Festival are already open – dates are Thursday 16th to Monday 20th March – anyone interested in participating should email Dave Walker (, or Margie Murray ( the sooner the better, as the number of participants is limited!  DIRT ROAD TRADERS and The WTA look forward to hosting YOU at next year’s Festival … Thankshjalot, and see y’all in Rhodes!

List of Images and captions in approximate order of presentation w.r.t. the text:

All images by Jan Korrûbel unless otherwise indicated.



Safely over Naudes’s Nek – Welcome to Wild Trout Country


The upper Bell River – flowing bank-2-bank pre-Festival

Walkerbouts Inn – the hub of the Festival

Gathering in Thanksjalot Pub – the very epicentre of the Centre of The Universe!

Tackle Fair and eat Allocations on the Rhodes Commonage

New rod and reel bags in development by Dirt Road Traders

Decisions Decisions!

Highwater logjam on the middle Bokspsruit

Brian Jacobs with a feisty 12” / 30cm rainbow at Buckstone on the Bokspruit

Colin Stier working a pretty section on upper Birnam on the Bokspsruit

Graham Warne’s ‘Dirt Road Hopper’ in mating!

The middle Bokspruit showing off.

Marlon Nair tight into his 1st river fish on the Brucedell beat of the Bokspsruit

Brucedell braids

Brucedell waterfall looking good after the rains

Norman van der Mescht into a fish on the Knockwarren beat on the Bokspruit

Lombardy Poplars on lower Birnam just starting to turn

Chased off the river by an incoming storm and hightailing it out

View of the middle Bokspruit with the infamous Roadblock at the Clefthill Bridge

The Roadblock … ‘nuff said!

The one-and-only Dave Walker – The Glue that keeps The Centre of The Universe from unravelling!

Closing dinner at Walkerbouts – Dave doing the Thank You’s

Artist Joyce Carreira presenting Ken Quick with the “Nymph Award”

Peter Brigg fly tying demonstration on the JVice presented to the WTA by Ed Herbst

A wee jewel in the firmament of The Center of The Universe

A typical fish that fell to the Dirt Road Hopper

The Release – see you next year!

More news available from the Dirt Road Traders March newsletter by clicking here..


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