The Xplorer UHTFC Festival 2017

The Xplorer UHTFC Festival 2017

Having hosted a very successful (inaugural) fly fishing festival in 2016, we (the UHTFC committee) decided to build on the event by hosting our second festival in 2017. We updated the format, extending the festival by a day to 2 days, and then threw in a formal dinner and  braai.

Although Neill and I were fishing in the festival, we were also partially responsible for putting the event together, and therefore had to do our due diligence. As such we drove up early on Friday morning and spent the day checking the condition of the festival waters, unlocking the various gates and boat houses, packing goodie bags, and setting up the evening venue. One of the waters was slightly off-colour, and we therefore removed it from the festival, otherwise all was looking good.

With the hard work out the way we gathered at the Underberg Country Club to welcome the fisherman, give out the goodie bags, hold the water draw, and have a few beers.

The goodie bags were fantastic, courtesy of Xplorer Fly Fishing, and contained various items including a small flask with cups, a beanie, a zinger, a tippet clipper, and more. As for the format of the festival; as a committee we made the decision to make it more social and fun. All prizes were therefore 100% lucky draw, meaning that no fish needed to be measured or photographed. As a result the fish were hopefully released in a better condition, and there was also no need to cheat.

Neill and I drew Turner’s 4 and 5, Goxhill Lake, Curragh Lake, and Roccos. I’d only previously fished 2 of the 4 waters, and was excited to draw 2 of the larger waters in the festival. While some people find larger waters intimidating, as it can be tough to find the fish, I love them and fish them excitedly, knowing they more than likely hold a beast of a fish – quality over quantity.

A gloomy afternoon at Goxhill Lake

Having enjoyed a few cold ones with the fisherman, a few of us headed back to Alan’s place for a quick braai and a few whiskeys. It was a chilled evening and we were all in bed at a reasonable hour, ready to hit the waters hard the next day.

Rob and Mike were up first, and were already on route to their water while Neill and I were still sipping on our first cup of steaming coffee. It was a cold, misty morning and I had high hopes that we’d have a good day. Despite the common belief that fish go off the bite when the pressure drops, I still believe that cold, miserable days produce some of the best trout fishing.

Neill and I arrived at our first water in the rain and decided to fish from the bank, rather than setting up tubes in the wet. Turner’s 5 is a smaller water with an ideal wall for fly fishing. I set about replacing an old line with a spanking new one, while Neill was quickly onto the wall. My laziness of not having done this maintenance at home cost me, and Neill was soon into 2 fish while I was still tying the backing to the fly line.

When I finally got my line into the water the fishing seemed to have gone cold, so I headed back to the car to inflate my tube, hoping to have more luck on the water. Sadly this was not to be and a few hours later I kicked back to the shore having not even had a touch. Neill had picked up one more fish on the water, so he was off to a good start with 3 in the bag.

Being good organisers we decided to take a break from the fishing and paid a visit to the fisherman on Trelevans 2, which was just 5 minutes away. We found them hunkered down against the wall, in their float tubes, hiding from the wind and rain. Despite the miserable conditions they were in high spirits having landed a beauty of a rainbow trout, measuring in at 63cms. They’d also lost a monster, and had landed a few stockies.

Neill fishing Curragh Lake

Having to drive back through town to reach Goxhill Lake, we stopped off at Alan’s house for a quick cup of coffee to rejuvenate. This was followed by a quick stop at Goxhill Dam, one of the club waters, where Richard, Andrew, Rob and Mike were fishing. They’d all had good mornings and their afternoon water was looking promising – good structure, a ripple on the surface, and not a lot of rod pressure. Later discussions with Rob proved this to be true as he’d picked up a good few fish in the 50cm (plus) region.

Goxhill Lake was larger than I’d thought, with ample space for a little summer water skiing. The wind was up and there were some sizeable waves on the surface. Neill opted to relax in the car, hoping the wind would drop. I was however less fortunate and forced my way onto the water, eager to get into my first fish of the weekend.

This proved to be a good move as I dropped a decent fish on just my third cast, straight in front of the car. At first I stayed close to  the car, not wanting to be blown kilometers down the dam. Thankfully I eventually braved the kick across the dam to a promising looking bay on the far bank. I picked up a few fish on the way across, all in the 30 – 40cm region. But the majority of my luck came on the far bank where I picked up multiple fish on an olive green woolly bugger (yes, I know it’s cliche). Being a big water, another 2 teams joined us, and soon all of us were landing fish all around the dam.

After a great first day we all headed back to the Underberg Coutry Club to catch up on the day’s fishing. The club served up a fantastic meal of roast beef, roast potatoes, veg, rice and gravy. I’m not generally a huge fan of roasts, mostly because the meat is usually very dry, but the club however cooked it to perfection (and made possibly the best roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten). Pudding was also spectacular, being my favourite dessert, consisting of malva pudding with ice cream.

But the best part of the evening wasn’t the dinner, but rather the great fishing stories we heard in the pub. It certainly sounded like the fishing had been good. Everyone had picked up fish, including some lovely 5 – 8 pound rainbows. There wasn’t a single sad face at the bar.

One of many rainbow trout picked up during the festival

The following morning Neill and I headed to Curragh Lake. It was our second big water and was new to both of us. The weather had changed significantly and, after the morning mist burned off, we were treated to massive blue skies with not a breath of wind.

Curragh Lake (also known as Valley Lakes) is situated 25kms outside of Underberg, on the Swartburg Road. It’s one of the larger lakes in the district and has produced some beautiful brown and rainbow trout in the past. Although stocking can be a problem in larger waters (due to the massive costs involved), it’s not an issue here as the trout spawn naturally in the Ndawana River.

Fishing was tough and we took an hour or so to find the fish on the vast water. But once we did, we landed around 4 fish each in a very short space of time. For me it was once again the olive green wooly bugger that did the trick, this time in the shallows around the fringes of the dam.

From Curragh Lake we headed to our final water of the festival – Roccos. Last sessions in festivals are generally tough, as the waters have seen significant rod pressure from consecutive days of competitive fishing. Roccos was no exception, and neither Neill nor I managed to land any trout in this session. I did pick up one small bass in the shallows, but this did little to remove the sting of blanking in the final session.

Power lines in the water at Goxhill Lake kept things exciting

Sadly we were forced to leave the water early to go and assist with setting up prize giving, logging catch returns, and doing our general duties as committee members and organisers.

I’m very happy to say that the catch returns were spectacular. Well over 300 fish were caught over the 2 days, which is an average of almost 7 fish per anger. This works out to roughly 2 fish per angler per session – a very good result indeed. Ever better were the size of the fish. Although a lot of stockies were caught, at least two 8 pounders landed, and a large percentage of the fish were well over 5 pounds. 

Prize giving was a great affair with every angler receiving a prize. Prizes included a float tube, a rod, multiple reels, wading boots, weekends away, jackets, bags, and so on. We also handed out some of the club’s trophies for the year, including the biggest river fish, still water fish, and junior fish.

With the festival all but over, everyone was given a braai pack and we gathered around the fires to tan our meat. The beers and rum flowed, and so the stories followed.

The festival continues to grow from strength to strength, and I’d definitely recommend anyone who can book their spot for next year. It’s a “not to be missed” on my calendar.

Our junior winner of the largest fish