There is no short way of getting to the village of Rhodes, also known as Centre of the Universe, in the Eastern Cape Highlands. But each year 45 to 50 flyfishers from around the country make the pilgrimage to attend the WTA Trout Festival, currently sponsored by the Dirt Road Traders, now in its twenty ninth consecutive year. Many, mostly local flyfishers, return each year for this five-day gathering of like-minded folk. They come to hunt the wild trout in the diverse waterways of this region, from tiny high altitude freestone streams to large no nonsense rivers in the lower reaches, a tapestry of blue lines in a magnificent landscape. This year even attracted a couple of anglers from outside our borders - an Italian currently living in Harare and an ex South African now English gentleman from Ascot in Berkshire. The festival's good reputation appears to have extended far and wide. Apart from the fishing it is a great social affair with a ‘gees’ or spirit that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.


This year, after good rains in January, the weather in the area changed dramatically. Daytime maximum temperatures rose significantly, South Easterly winds brought lower nighttime temperatures and the rain dried up. This did not bode well for the festival participants who were faced with extremely low water levels, minimum flow and crystal clear waters.  

 Undaunted, the intrepid flyfishers scratched amongst the bones of the streams in search of the occasional pool or run crammed with skittish fish. They learnt new skills, crept and stalked, threw longer than usual casts on long, fine leaders with tiny dry flies and nymphs in the deeper pools. There were fish to be had. It just took a little extra work. Despite the conditions and based on 47 rods over 4 days of fishing and some 73% of daily returns submitted, 1367 rainbow trout, considerably less than previous years, were caught and released. Extrapolated, had all submitted their daily returns, it is estimated that some 2120 fish would have been caught. A bonus was that 176 small mouth yellowfish were brought to the net.  Because of the warmer weather, there were more than the usual number of yellowfish still in the rivers that were slow to make their annual migration back to the Orange River system.

 All in all, It was another successful festival, largely due to the efforts of the inimitable Dave Walker, Chairman of the WTA, his team of helpers and sponsors of the event, The Dirt Road Traders. The traditional auction evening of donated items by businesses and individuals from fishing gear, books, art works, handmade knives and much more raised a record-breaking amount of R85 000 for various worthwhile charities and animal veterinary welfare. 

 If word on the stream is anything to go by, most will be back again in 2025.

 Here is a snapshot of the 2024 festival, the pictures can do the talking.”


On the road before the sparrows are up - 9 to 10 hours to go.


… The group from KZN celebrate their arrival in the Eastern Cape Highlands at the top of Naude's Neck at 2500 ASL.


… Flyfishers kitting up for a day on the on the Riflespruit at Bemerside.


… A pretty Riflespruit rainbow.


… The now traditional ‘Road Block’ under the willow adjacent to the Bokspruit. Started by the ‘A Team’ from Gauteng and where flyfishers returning to Rhodes at the end of the day are stopped for a whiskey tasting of some fine single malts.


… A long still run on the Bokspruit that was teeming with skittish trout that could not be tempted in the crystal-clear conditions.


… A forested pool on the Bokspruit with deeply undercut banks.


Stalking a pod of yellows in the Riflespruit.


… Early risers at breakfast keen to get onto their allocated beats for the day.


Dave Walker keeping all entertained at dinner and in the foreground two members of the A Team responsible for the fabled “Road Block.”


… Searching for the big one in the upper Bell River spotted from the lodge at Tenahead.


… A promising run on the Upper Bell River.


… A view looking down Naude's Pass that follows the Bell River to the village of Rhodes and beyond eventually joining the Kraai River at Moshesh’s Ford.


… Searching for fishable water on the Kraai River at Moshesh’s Ford.


… A number of solid yellowfish and rainbows were taken on this stretch of the Kraai River



… The well-known Mushroom Rock on the Kraai River


… A group of happy anglers at dinner at Walkerbouts after a long, hard days fishing.


… A rainbow trout from the Bokspruit.


… A solid wild rainbow from the upper Bell River at Tenahead Lodge and Spa.


… Fishing the highest reaches of the Bell River below the Tenahead Lodge.


… Walkerbouts Inn - the epicentre of the festival


… Dave Walker - Chairman of the Wild Trout Association


… A typical late afternoon Eastern Cape landscape.


… A good smallmouth Yellowfish, a first for Clem Booth all the way from England on his Boshoff Centre Axis bamboo rod.


… Shooting the breeze after a hearty dinner and listening to an impromptu guitar session by one of the participants.

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