TCFF Sterkfontein Experience: Report-back on Our 2017 Event
The BWO lands with all the delicacy that a fly constructed solely of CDC should, and settles daintily on the water, 18 inches behind the golden shape of a smallmouth quickly rising to the surface. With a hard flick of its tail, its tilted pectorals lift the fish to the surface and in a second it’s all over – the fly is gone and the smallmouth sinks into the crystal-clear, aquamarine water. A millisecond later, the fly line goes tight as Simon tightens up on the fish, and the smallmouth makes good on its reputation for having a lightning-fast pull-away, and heads for the horizon. Taking control of the situation, Simon glances down to see where his fly line is and gets the fish on the reel. A couple of minutes later, he lands a fish in the pink of condition, fat as butter, its golden skin glowing in the late-afternoon sun. The smile on his face says it all.
Guiding one of the world’s great casters can hardly be described as difficult, and watching Simon make perfect presentations time and again certainly made my day easier, and a lot of fun. He did take a while – as most newcomers to Sterkfontein do – to get used to the quick take of a smallmouth, as opposed to trout and other species that eat off the top, but being a master caster sure makes it a lot easier on guide and client alike. As RIO Products brand manager, Simon Gawesworth’s job is to demonstrate RIO lines and products around the world, so he has to be good at casting, and it was a pleasure watching him almost effortlessly putting fly after fly over very fussy fish. But hold on, this part of the tale does not end here. Over the last two decades and more, I have seen strange things happen at Sterkfontein. On the water, I always get the feeling that the dam is watching you, telling you to be aware of the fact that it may decide to chase you off at any moment, so I make the best of whatever window of opportunity presents itself. I never become complacent, for its crystal-clear waters may look inviting but, apart from a short period in high summer, temperatures remain low enough to quickly induce hypothermia should you be unfortunate enough to end up in the drink. Its grass- and boulder-lined banks have little in the way of cover, and its thunderstorms are both awesome and fearinspiring. Towering over the southern and western sides of the dam, the Drakensberg adds to the mystique as baboon and fish eagle calls reverberate off the high kranses, and the swirling wind plays tricks on your mind, the water and its inhabitants. Sterkfontein can be as quiet and tame as a lamb, but it can turn into a raging grizzly in the space of a couple of minutes, and then all you can do is run for cover, hope for the best and try to sit it out.
That said, our day was calm and windless, and such days, although rare, are not uncommon. So why the pause in the story? Well, when I looked at the photographs I had taken of Simon, I noticed what appeared to be a white cloud surrounding my boat. At first I thought it was the lens, but on closer inspection saw that it hugged the contours of the boat, and in subsequent pictures seemed to increase in intensity and then lessen again. The photographs of Simon many hours later in a different part of the dam again showed the mysterious mist surrounding both him and the boat, and as he lifted a fish from the water for a quick photograph it slowly dissipated. A reasonable explanation escapes me, and the best I can do is write it off as another Sterkies mystery. If you have the answer, I’ll be glad to hear it.
Sterkfontein Dam is unique. There is no other way to describe it. It plays host to species that only occur in our country and are (mostly) mustard-keen to eat off the top, is breathtakingly beautiful and best described as simply wild and wonderful. It offers small windows of opportunities, as conflicting weather systems from the north, west, east and south all vie for top spot. But when those opportunities do occur, and its golden yellowfish rise to the surface and start to feed in earnest, the sight-fishing can be spectacular and definitely world class.
Over the last 18 years, TCFF has hosted annually what is known as the TCFF Sterkfontein Experience: an event that celebrates not only this wonderful venue and its yellowfish, but also the spirit of fly fishing, and sight-fishing in particular. The TCFF guiding team consists of some of the best yellowfish guides in the country, and thanks to Yamaha Distributors South Africa we are able to ferry the participants to all corners of the dam in seaworthy boats where they are guided and taught how to fish for small- and largemouth yellowfish. The skippers are qualified salt water skippers, and they have to be – those who think differently have clearly not been to Sterkfontein.
We fish hard, have fun in the evenings as like-minded individuals tend to do, listen to interesting talks and hand out prizes to each and every participant, earned on a lucky-draw basis. Many of these prizes exceed the entrance fee by far, and our special-category prizes for angler and runner-up angler of the event will make any fly fisher turn green with envy. The food is great, the accommodation superb and the launching facilities quick and safe. Everyone – anglers and guides alike – has a great time, and we return every year with the same high expectations.
This year we hosted the Experience at Qwantani Resort, and the support we received from management, both at resort and head office level, was simply wonderful. All future events will be hosted here. Speaking of which, we are further hosting an extra event in March as well, details of which appear at the end of this article and on our website. The support of our generous sponsors goes a long way towards making this event the success that it is, and we extend a big thank you to all of you.
Back to the story: this year there were some noticeable catches, with large fish and even a few carp landed on fly, both subsurface and on dry fly. Contrary to perfectly calm conditions which endured when the TCFF staff and some guides did a recce two weeks before the event, high winds prevailed on Friday, but nothing could dampen the spirit of the guides or the anglers, and good catches were made. At the Friday evening talk, many happy (and tired) participants listened attentively to Simon Gawesworth as he explained how fly lines are made and how tapers work. Saturday rolled up with only a breath of wind, calm conditions prevailing for the day. Some anglers made the best of this, returning to base with huge smiles and photographs to prove their prowess. Some were more lucky than others, but all had great fun. The day was capped by the prize-giving where we gave away a whopping R250,000 worth of prizes, followed by a sumptuous buffet meal prepared by the Qwantani staff and a chef Teddy who came up from Durban specially for the event. Regional Food and Beverage Manager Miguel Ribeiro was on hand to ensure that everything went off without a hitch. A cash bar in the boma offered refreshments, and Present A Fly’s onsite tackle store again saw some credit cards taking a beating, but then, as they say, life is too short to drink bad coffee.
On Friday afternoon, participants could take part in various casting competitions set up by Simon and Xplorer Fly Fishing, his hosts for his South African trip. This was repeated on Saturday afternoon, together with a fly line sampler and the opportunity to try out the latest RIO tapers. That evening, before the big prize-giving, Simon named the winners and handed out a bunch of RIO prizes.
Sunday dawned clear with little wind, and the participants were quickly des-patched to their respective fishing spots until 2pm, closing time for the event. Later that afternoon when the boats collected the anglers and headed back to base, the dam itself shut off the fishing with a few thunderstorms, reminding us that Sterkies weather is always unpredictable, irrespective of time of year. We bade farewell to happy faces, with many promises of reuniting at our next event. See you at Sterkies next year!
Our 2017 sponsors:
Yamaha SA; Present A Fly; ARK Inflatables; Shilton Engineering; Xplorer Fly Fishing; Frontier Fly Fishing; Flyz Inc; Selke Leathercraft (Rogue hats); All Terrain Gear; Ufudu Flyfishing; Brentoni Distributors (Ballistic Polarised Eyewear); Scientific Flies; Mavungana Flyfishing; Cobb; Cadac; Flyworx; Sports Clearance; Stealth; Netbooks; CROCS; Quad Rocky; BondiBlu; Classic Blue (McLean’s CAR nets); Dropsoc; Mias Angling; Bradley Smoker; Megaphase Trading; Boerboel Wear; Oom Kallie Khaki Clothing; Tabard; Evaport Outdoor (EvaKool cool boxes); FOSAF; Wedgewood (Racefood); Mystic Boer Brandy; Techniblock sunblock; King Car Iced Tea; Musgrave Agencies (Jeep apparel); Fluid Kayaks; Palm Grove Lodge; Goxhill Trout Lodge; Rondeberg Resort; Holingsberg; Skurweberg Trout Hideaway; Verlorenkloof Estate; Kalahari River & Safari Company; Premier Resort Sani Pass; Mount Komati River Lodge; Komati Gorge Lodge; Ventnor Cottage; Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway; Harnham Guest Lodge; Walkerbouts Inn; Ingwe Lodge; Rocky Ridge; Troutwoods Lodge; Kheis Riverside Lodge; Highlander Trout Lodge; Leliekloof; The Outspan Inn; Glen Avon Farm; Vrederus; Angler & Antelope; Elandskloof Trout Farm; Sundowner Adventures; Balele Mountain Farms; Crystal Waters; Waterloo Farm; BassFeather Lodge; Emanzini Country Resort; Fairbairn; Limerick Lodge; Bergsig Trout Farm; Waterfront Guest House; Eagles’ Rock; Eirene Cottages; Kloofzicht Lodge; Transvaal Fly Fishing Club; Kaia Manzi Resort.
Our next event: 23 – 25 March 2018.
For details, contact Lizelle Jacobs on Tel: (012) 371-3914/6