I was lucky enough to win a 5 day stay at Castleburn in last years Xplorer UHTFC Festival. After (accidentally) letting it expire I managed to get it extended by a month and took the family up for a much needed break.
Having spent the weekend fishing the Boston Fly Fishing Festival this was intended to be a family trip. I did however manage to pack the fly rod and to sneak away for the odd hour here and there. And I’m certainly glad I did – the fishing was great.
For the full (family) trip report please head over to my personal website. This blog post is going to be more focused on Castleburn’s fly fishing, as well as any activities related to fishing.
Castleburn is a Gold Crown RCI resort located just outside of Underberg, in the the foothills of the southern Drakensberg. Accommodation consists of thatched cottages scatted amongst the various small dams, or along the banks of Lake Madingofani, beautifully nestled beneath the rocky summits of Garden Castle. The chalets are self catering consisting of a multiple heated bedrooms – some with on suite bathrooms – a kitchenette, a lounge come dining room with a much needed stone fireplace, and a patio with braai facilities. The units also offer DSTV for those not wishing to miss out on their favourite sporting event or series.
For the family Castleburn offers horse rides, tennis, a swimming pool, putt-putt, a kiddies playground, paddling, a mashie course, archery, and so much more. There is also a bar and restaurant, and I can confirm that the food is incredible – I’d definitely recommend the beef curry if you ever get to eat there.
Castleburn also borders the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage which offers multiple hiking opportunities. And for the nature lovers there are also eland, reedbuck, otters and over 100 bird species.
Every Tuesday night from 5 – 7pm a good friend of mine, Rob Pretorius, does a fly fishing talk at Castleburn. Rob manages the hatchery at Giant’s Cup and is most definitely a trout bum (no disrespect Rob, I’m just jealous).
Rob’s talk is relatively fluid and feeds off the audience- the more you ask the more you learn. The talk covers flies, trout vision, fly fishing strategies, entomology, fly tying, and so much more.
Other than Rob’s immense knowledge, there is also some beautiful photography in the presentation thanks to Wolf Avni who is the owner of Giant’s Cup.
So if you’re ever staying at Castleburn I’d certainly recommend skipping the Tuesday evening rise to attend Rob’s talk, and to enjoy a Castle Milk Stout with him afterwards while wracking his brain. It’s a worthwhile investment and is sure to improve your catch rate.
After arriving at the venue I spent some time talking to the staff, the manager, as well as various guests as to how the fishing had been over the past few weeks. The news wasn’t good; fishing had been tough and a lot of the guests had been complaining to management.
Knowing not to take fishing reports at face value I also chatted to Rob Pretorius. He had a very different story and said that the dam was full of fish, and that he’d been catching some lovely 45cm rainbow trout over the past few weeks.
With 2 very conflicting stories I decided it was up to me to make up my own mind.
Castleburn has a variety of fishing options, ranging from 7 small dams (I’d call them ponds as you can literally cast across them) to the large, beautiful Lake Madingofani.
The 7 ponds are stocked monthly and are intended (primarily) for fishing for the pot. If I recall correctly you are allowed to take as many as 5 fish per angler per day from these waters. I didn’t eat any myself, but I’d imagine they taste great as they’ve come directly from clean hatchery water and (probably) haven’t been in the dams for too long. These ponds are also a great learning location for children and beginners as the grounds are well maintained, and conditions are very forgiving. That said, fishing can be tough as the ponds are shallow and it’s relatively easy to spook the fish.
I didn’t fish the ponds myself, but I did spend quite some time watching a flock of fishermen flog the water with no fish coming to hand. Chatting to Rob after his talk he did mention that small and obscure flies seemed to work best in these ponds. More than that I can’t tell you.
Lake Madingofani was my focus, and is a spectacular looking water. It covers an area of around 16 hectares and is surrounded by reeds and trees. The water is crystal clear and the dam is up to 5 meters deep in places (judging from the wall). There are weed beds galore and an abundance of food meaning the fish should be well fed and large. The dam is stocked with both rainbows as well as ever elusive brown trout. In my opinion, any (good) water of this size is sure to hold some trophy fish – it’s just a matter of finding them.
Being a family weekend I only fished a total of 3 times over the course of the week. And of these 3 sessions, only 2 were of any value as the third was a quick 30 minute, midday flick as we had activities planned that afternoon.
My first session began at 3:30pm with my 4 year old at my side. This meant that the first hour was spent primarily forging Emma a “fly rod” out of a stick and some spare tippet material. We had great fun but I didn’t get much fishing done. I also didn’t get so much as a bump, or see a fish during this hour. Eventually Emma decided she wanted to head back to the chalet. After dropping her off I headed back down to the water and was amazed by what I saw.
By now it was 5pm and the sun had dropped behind the mountains. Some form of hatch appeared to have begun and the once still surface of Lake Madingofani had come to life. There were fish absolutely EVERYWHERE. At first the fish eluded me, but then I downsized to 6x tippet with a small white death and suddenly I was on. With my new setup I was hooking into fish on every third or fourth cast, and soon my daughter joined me to witness the fun. All of the fish were rainbows and ranged in size from 30cm – 45cm.
My second (valuable) session was off one of Castleburn’s boats. I got onto the water at around 4pm and fished the fringes of the lake for an hour without seeing a fish and then, as with session 1, the water suddenly came alive at 5pm. Again I fished with a white death on light tippet material and picked up multiple fish. Strangely the fish were all smaller and most fish were in the 20cm – 30cm range.
I certainly never cracked the daytime code, and I didn’t get to fish the mornings, but between 5 and 5:30pm I was able to pick up a multitude of fish on light tackle. Rob was right. The fish are there! So don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise and give it another try yourself.