Over the long weekend in June 2011 the Baha Boys headed to the Boston\Dargle area to fish the first ever Boston Fly Fishing Festival.
Having never fished a competition before the drive up was with filled with both excitement and questions. We were unsure of the format of the competition and were left wondering how we would be monitored, what there would be prizes for, and whether the bar would have enough bottles of rum.
Upon arrival at 4pm on Thursday we entered the hall to be greeted by an Xplorer branded tent, the registration table and a very enthusiastic Pete who was in charge of the whole thing. We chatted to him about some of the waters we’d be fishing and he showed us a few photographs of some great looking fish caught in the area.
Having successfully wet our appetites Pete took us to the registration table where we signed in for the festival, received our list of waters for the two days’ fishing, and were given a fantastic wind proof jacket (which turned out to be the most highly used item of the trip). We were also handed a shot of something vile which I can only assume was to break the ice. Game on!
The next few hours were spent chatting to our fellow fisherman, the local farmers and the experts from both Xplorer and a local fly fishing shop about everything from flies to the area (while of course trying to gain a little inside information).
As darkness fell people slowly gathered in the bar around a roaring fire. Past fishing stories started flowing freely (as did some very dodgy Mozambican stories which can’t be mentioned here) and the size of the fish caught grew with each drink. Amazingly the pub did run out of rum but the brandy was already lined up so we barely missed a beat.
I’d been warned about the first night of these festivals and as it turns out this was for a good reason. The rum flowed and the party looked to continue well into the night. Fishermen are a tough bunch – getting up at 5am is not easy, especially when the temperature is well below zero. Adding a hangover to this can only be described as ballsy.
Nick and I were tasked with finding the farm and hence we followed the farmer back to his house at around 10pm. It was pitch black and we felt somewhat like rally drivers heading through forests and down dirt roads. How we ever found our way back to pick up Dave was a mystery, but amazingly we did.
Dinner was provided for us each night and was cooked by some of the locals. I can promise you that receiving a hot meal after a hard day’s fishing certainly was a blessing (as was the packed breakfast and lunch provided each evening). The only downside to the packed lunches was that they were often consumed on the way home (after one too many beers in the pub). On the up side however we were lucky enough to each receive a Panado in the pack which turned out to be the second most used item of the festival.
When the time came to leave the pub at around midnight we ran into a minor glitch. Dave had somehow lost his keys. Nick and I sat in the car waiting as he headed back into the pub to look for them. Ten minutes later he returned muttering about being fined with a couple shots of Jager for his clumsiness. It turned out that his keys were on his bumper and we continued on to the farm slowly.
The drive home was rather interesting as Nick and I dug into our packed lunches. We’d somehow arrived late for dinner and had had very little to eat. Nick passed me a roll which I took a giant bite of and then wondered why I couldn’t taste it. Over his laughter I soon realised that he hadn’t removed the cling wrap for me. FAIL! What a mate!
When we finally got back to the farm we battled with the door for some time before finally getting it open. As part of this battle I placed my bag on the floor as we fiddled with the bent key trying several techniques to get it straight. This too turned into a fail as I heard more raucous laughter only to turn and find the resident boerboel peeing proudly on my bag.
Our first water was thankfully located on the same farm we were staying on. We got off to a slower start than we had hoped for but were still out of bed at around 6am. The farmer’s wife was kind enough to provide us with a cup of coffee and a few rusks before we climbed into the bakie and headed for the dam.
I was lucky enough to get into a small Rainbow on my third cast while our other teammate also got into fish quickly. Nick however was left bobbing up and down in his float tube with a rather concerned look on his face. But as they say, “He who laughs last, laughs longest,” and by the end of the morning’s session Nick had landed five fish while Dave and I had only managed four a piece.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Boston Festival worked somewhat differently to some of the other festivals I’ve read about. Rather than working on a weight basis each angler was given a measuring stick and pen. The angler then marked off each fish caught on their stick, which was handed in after the two days’ fishing.
Although the longest fish is not always the heaviest, this method meant that all fish in the festival were released and no fish were harmed (which is often the case when weighing them). The system was also an honesty system which was a breath of fresh air as it felt far more relaxed and really added to the mood of this particular festival.
Having had a successful first morning we packed our tubes back into the vehicle and made our way to our afternoon venue. We’d heard a lot about this water in the pub and when we arrived it certainly looked the part. It was a small dam but offered a lot in terms of structure and was crystal clear.
We re-inflated the tubes and kicked out onto the water just as the wind started to blow. Soon we were battling to keep ourselves relatively stationary but we continued to fish in spite of this. Sadly all the hard work didn’t pay off and we were left fishless for the afternoon.
At one stage we did wonder down to two very small dams below the main dam hoping they were protected from the wind. This was not the case and neither of them produced any fish either.
Eventually we realised we were fighting a losing battle and headed back to our farm for a hot shower. This is another thing which makes this particular festival special and stand out from the rest. Rather than staying in the local accommodation the farmers graciously opened their homes to us and we had the joys of spending a few days on the farms getting to know the farmers and listening to the interesting stories which only come with growing up on a plaas.
We also got to learn that farmers are possibly the most hospitable people on earth. After the first day’s fishing the farmer asked us if we’d like to join them for dinner. Although this was a highly tempting offer we knew we’d been catered for at the club and were also hoping to chat to the other fisherman about their day on the water. As such we sadly declined the generous offer.
Our hostess however was having none of this since they’d slaughtered a sheep earlier that day. She insisted on making us a “small” snack before we headed out just in case dinner was late. This “small” snack turned out to be a plate full of braaied chops and toasties for each of us. Clearly farmers have a different definition of snack to the rest of us.
Clean and warm we headed back to the Boston Country Club for our (second) dinner and to catch up with the rest of the anglers. Turns out there were mixed reports with some teams getting as many as 20 fish while others blanked. It certainly seemed like some waters were fishing better than others. A big hand to the organisers who removed the worst waters from the list and quickly replaced them with some (hopefully) better dams.
Once again anglers chatted merrily in the pub in front of the roaring fire, although admittedly it was somewhat quieter than the previous night. I’m pretty sure that, despite their brave faces, a few people where still feeling the effects of the previous night’s good efforts.
Saturday’s fishing got off to a much earlier start for us. We’d decided as a team that the morning session was definitely more productive and hence we needed to take full advantage of it. The primary reason for this was mainly due to the wind which seemed to pick up in the afternoons making fishing conditions rather challenging.
As such we got up at 5am, thankfully to a cup of hot coffee delivered to us in our beds by our kind hostess. By 5:30am we were in the car driving slowly towards our first water of the day which was located at Tillietudlem. The ground was covered in frost and ice proving that it was the colder of the two mornings by quite some way. In fact we later heard that the temperature was in the region of -5 degrees at 7am.
We hit a minor glitch when we got to Tillietudlem and found the gate unlocked. We waited for the other team who were joining us and when they arrived we proceeded in. About a kilometer later we reached a second gate which was sadly locked. Here we waited for 15-20 minutes for the farmer who was meant to let us in.
Dave and I eventually decided that we needed to go look for the farmer. Nick in the interim had done what many fisherman of the past have done and had mistimed his toiletry habits. As such he’d ducked into the nearby forest for a quick boskak. Sadly for him this was exactly when we opted to turn the vehicle around making use of a clearing in the forest. Nick was caught unaware, pants around his ankles, with car lights shining straight onto him. There certainly was a full moon that night.
Thankfully when he came out of the forest to find us gone, the other team took him under their wing and by the time we returned he was nursing a cup of coffee complete with whiskey (come on Bells, this is the stuff sponsorship is made of).
Anyway, back to the story – it turns out that the farmer had been waiting at his gate for us the entire time. So much for getting up early…
We arrived at our first water in VERY cold conditions. Nick braved the float tube while Dave and I opted to fish the banks. Being a relatively small water it seemed like the better option, especially since I could basically cast the width of the dam. The water was also the cleanest I’ve seen in my life, easily comparable to Sterkfontein, and I was able to see the bottom for the full length of my cast.
The edge of the dam was iced up when we started fishing and almost instantly so was I. Not only did my rod eyes ice up making it difficult to strip, but my reel also froze and I was unable to reel in. Even my net (hanging down my back) froze, much to Nick’s delight, as I held it sideways and there it stayed. But despite the cold we fished hard thinking little of our frozen fingers and tingling faces.
After a dismal first session we made some coffee next to the dam and then Dave joined Nick in the tube while I continued to fish from the bank. I had to laugh when Dave pulled on his bright yellow fins in the crystal clear water. I was convinced no fish would be found anywhere near them.
Sadly our morning dam yielded just one fish to Nick at around 11am. Amazingly Nick caught this fish from on the bank, landing his fly right next to Dave’s bright yellow fins. So much for the fish being scared of them?!
In truth I think the water was perhaps just a little too clean and that the fish saw us coming from a mile away. I did my best to hide but there was little cover and the best I could do was to crouch a few meters back from the water’s edge while fishing.
It seems the theme of this trip was justice, so after having laughed at Nick being caught in the act of boskaking I suddenly found myself needing to do the same. I grabbed the toilet paper and headed for the nearest set of bushes. Quickly I realised a nearby lodge was looking straight onto me. Not seeing another hiding place for quite some distance I snuggled into a bush and hoped for the best. Sadly, during my performance, the toilet paper dislodged itself and started rolling down the hill. Now there was a chase worth watching. Hoohah!
Eventually lunch time arrived and we headed for our second water of the day, also located on Tillietudlem. We’d heard good reports of this water and it had produced 22 fish the previous morning. Sadly by the time we got to it it was more conducive to surfing that fishing. The morning’s team was lazing on the grass sipping beers while the howling wind shook the surrounding trees and grass, and churned up giant waves on the water.
Deciding the conditions were unfishable we joined them on the grass for a beer before they headed down to the bottom dam. We waited around for another hour or so hoping things would improve but it wasn’t looking promising.
Chatting it over we decided to head to a local pub in the hope that the wind would drop at around 4pm as it had the previous day. We enjoyed a Zulu Burger and draught at the Nip Inn just outside Bulwer and then made our way back to the water.
The wind was by no means gone but it was thankfully fishable. It was however getting dark and there was less than an hour’s fishing time left, so the three of us all opted to fish the bank.
The top water at Tillietudlem is huge, complete with islands and dying trees. It looked capable of some good fish but sadly in the half an hour we explored it from the bank it produced nothing. With the Sharks, Bulls game looming we packed our kit into the car, said goodbye to Tillietudlem, and made our way back to the club.
Chatting with the fisherman while watching the Sharks game it certainly seemed to have been another mixed day. A couple of teams had done well while others had struggled. Sadly we were one of the strugglers that day.
After watching the Sharks win a hard fought battle we seated ourselves in the hall for the final dinner and prize giving. We were also lucky enough to be given a talk by one of the Natal Fly Fishing Club members on fishing stream tactics on still waters. It’s certainly something worth considering in the future.
Sadly we claimed no real prizes, but Nick did manage to win one of the lucky draw prizes – a rather nice fishing bag which I’m sure he’ll put to good use.
The event wound down in the pub as we all said our goodbyes and chatted to new friends. Again it was a relatively quiet night and a lot of people had already left.
We spent our final night at the farm and enjoyed not having to drag ourselves out of bed at 5am the next day. This combined with the incredible farm style breakfast that followed made it a very memorable last morning. Sadly however it was time to head back to the city to continue the urban life most of us live.
I had to laugh while we were moving our fishing kit from Dave’s bakie back to our car. During the process we dumped a lot of the stuff on the ground and, sure enough, the Boerboel managed to get even for me. Just as Nick turned around he proudly lifted his leg and let go on Nick’s new bag. Justice!
Goodbyes were exchanged with the incredible farmers who’d put us up for three nights, and we drove slowly off the farm hoping we’d be back in a year’s time.
A big hand to the oranisers of the event, the farmers who put us up and were so hospitable, and the locals. It was a great event and we’ll most certainly be back next year…if of course they’ll have us.