The Boston Fly Fishing Festival 2016

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“I can safely say that the Boston Fly Fishing Festival is by far my favourite festival.” Yes, it’s a line that I often start my annual Boston post with, but it remains true. And this year was no exception, despite what were very tough fishing conditions.

We got off to a great start by entering two teams instead of our usual one. The more the merrier proved to be true, although sadly we were unable to find a farmer who was able to accommodate all eight of us at a single venue. Neill, Bruce, Keegan and I therefore stayed with Helen, who had put up Team Baha for several years, while Andrew, Richard, Dan and Dave stayed in what became known as cat cottage. Now I’m not 100% sure what that meant, other than to say they shared the house with several cats, and that Dave got an unexpected surprise when one pounced at him from under the bath at an inopportune moment.

The first night of the festival was as festive as always, perhaps due to being kicked off by a bagpiper. Baha 2, or Baha South as they preferred to be called, had arrived early to hunt down their accommodation. This meant that they were several beers in by the time we strolled into the pub at 6pm for registration. Thankfully it didn’t take us long to collect our jackets, sticks, mugs, and other odds and ends, so soon we were playing catch-up. This didn’t prove too difficult as free shots (milk tarts) were handed out, and the Jagers were flowing.

Neill kicking off the Boston Fly Fishing Festival 2016
Neill kicking off the Boston Fly Fishing Festival 2016

During dinner on the first night it was announced that the format was changing. Rather than running the traditional longest bag type scoring, it was moved to a more complex, nobody really got it, type system. To try and explain it, the system was meant to favour quality (read big) fish over stocky bashing. As such only your longest fish would count, and not all fish. To accommodate that fishing generally got tougher over the weekend it worked on 4 fish from your first water, 3 from your second, 2 from your third, and 1 from your last. These sessions were further weighted, although we weren’t told by what percentage, so that some sessions counted more than others. It definitely seemed to work in that we gave quickly up on pockets on stockies, and instead headed out in search of bigger fish once we’d got to our limit for the session.

Another change in the system was that waters were drawn rather than being assigned. This added a little more fun and laughter to the first night’s dinner, and we were glad to get a relatively good draw in Good Hope, McKenzies 1, Tillietudlem 2, and Rivendell.

Back in the pub, Baha 2 were definitely the smarter team as they snuck off home at around 10pm. I say snuck, but in truth I believe that for one or two of the team members they were probably dragged, kicking and screaming. Baha 1, or Baha North (I guess), partied it up in true Baha style until the early hours of the morning, and then kept the party going by attempting some minor cow tipping at 2am. Thankfully the cows were quicker than expected, potentially saving our lives, meaning we eventually crawled into bed well after 2am.

Bruce fishing McKenzies
Bruce fishing McKenzies

These late night shenanigans led to an early morning text clearly stating, “Baha 1 is down. I repeat, Baha 1 is down!” Now while Dave may have found this amusing, most of Baha 1 was feeling well under the weather as we parked alongside our first water – Good Hope Dam. Sadly we’d lost around half an hour tracking down the water as we took a wrong turn off the main road. We then lost a further 10 minutes to unplanned roadside stops to steady our legs and catch our breath (okay, so this one may have been our fault).

As in years gone past fishing at Good Hope was tough. I was the first into the water and had a small bump on just my thirst cast. This gave me some hope which in the end it turned out to be unfounded as it was the only bump of the morning. Between the four of us we blanked the first morning session and had to head for our second water with our heads hung low. It was going to be tough to claw our way back from that.

Thankfully our second water was perhaps the best of the festival, which meant we were hoping to quickly raise those lowered heads.The downside was that the wind had picked up heavily which meant that kicking out onto McKenzies was tough work. Bruce was first into the water and quickly got into a fish while the rest of us were still kitting up on the bank. This set the mood and we were soon all rushing for the water, eagerly anticipating that first fish. Sadly this had a negative effect for me as I snapped my rod in the reeds as I kicked out too hastily.

I quickly rigged a second rod and was soon back on the water, making my way for the top end of the dam. Bruce and Neill were meanwhile targeting the wall which had produced some great fish in years gone by. I battled at first as I seemed to be kicking a lot to just stay still, let alone to move slowly. This meant casting was not my focus as I powered my legs, chucking the odd line between heavy breaths. But eventually I got to the top of the dam, slowed the kicking, and focused on the fishing. This led to me landing two rainbow trout over some shallow weed beds around structure.

Keegan with his first ever fish off a float tube
Keegan with his first ever fish off a float tube

Satisfied I’d covered the spot I kicked for deeper water in search of bigger fish. A few fly changes later, finally ending up on a 2 fly rig with an attractor pattern up front and a damsel in tow, and I started landing fish. They were smaller than in previous years (probably in the 1kg range) but still had great legs on them. And in amongst the smaller fish I did manage one nice fish of 51cms. Bruce, Neill and Keegan were all also in the deeper water and had similar success, all on damsel patterns.

I then moved off to the wall for some (okay, no) shelter from the wind. I managed one or two more fish but the wall was generally slower than the deeper water. That said another team were bank fishing from the wall and got into a fish or two each.

Perhaps due to the wind, or perhaps due to the hangovers, we finished up our final session 30 minutes prior to dark – very unlike team Baha. We slowly made our way back to our farm where hot showers were the order of the day before heading back to the club for dinner and to submit our returns.

The good news (if you can call it that) is that everyone had battled on the water. Perhaps it was due to the warmer conditions, perhaps it was due to the drought, or maybe it was just the dropping pressure. Either way it was interesting to note that over the course of the weekend I never saw a temperature below zero (where in the past I’d seen temperatures as low as -8). There had also clearly been no frost (or very little) as most of the grass was green and alive, rather than brown and dead.

Float tubes ready for another session
Float tubes ready for another session

That night the pub was quiet with most teams sneaking out before even sniffing the bar. Baha 1 was home by 9pm, while Baha 2 gave it a bit of a go with Dave once again leading the pack.

The following morning we were all feeling distinctly stronger. This meant we got going a lot earlier and were soon at our first water, the main dam at  Tillietudlem. Based on previous years catch returns I was expecting good things of the water, and conditions were looking good. There were wildebeest grazing on the hill, the sun was out, and the water was cold and still. Okay, so maybe these weren’t the best conditions for trout, but they certainly were for us. On the water multiple hatches were visible on the surface, but there was no sign of fish.

Team Wooly Buggers soon joined us on the water and we all kicked out in search of fish. Travis was the first into a small rainbow which got the juices flowing. Sadly the rest of us struggled for our first fish on what was, as I mentioned, a beautiful morning. In fact I’d done one full circumnavigation of the dam before missing a fish while eating my breakfast yogurt. This pricked up my ears and I thankfully landed a fish a short while later in the same spot (albeit foul hooked – but hey, who’s counting).

Most people landed fish over the course of the morning session, although they were few and far between, and were relatively small. Travis again showed us how it was done by picking up a nice 50cm fish in the corner just as we were packing up.

From Tillietudlem we headed to Rivendell which was thankfully just over the hill. Rivendell is one of my favourite waters of the tournament, so it was sad to hear that it had been syndicated and wouldn’t be in the festival from 2017. That news further motivated me to enjoy what was probably my last session on this water and to fish it harder than ever.

Eland at Tillietudlem
Eland at Tillietudlem

The wind had picked up but was far from the howling gale of the day before. I altered my approached of generally heading for the inlet first, and instead made my way to the dam wall in search of bigger fish. As I said earlier, only 1 fish counted from the last session, so it needed to be an impressive fish.

The wall proved to be unproductive and eventually I decided to head slowly for the inlet, up against the far bank. This proved to be a good choice as I found a school of stockies and landed 3 fish in just 3 casts. Sadly none were big enough to put us in contention, so I left the spot and carried on in search of bigger fish. Up at the inlet I ran into Neill and Bruce who had been struggling and were en-route to the wall. I too battled at the inlet and eventually made my way to the shore for a quick snack.

Bruce had beat me there and whipped up a much needed espresso complete with cream, using an old portable hiking stove. We’d meanwhile been joined by the Cheese and Wine team who kindly added to the snack by pouring us each a shot of Jager. Refreshed and reinvigorated I got back to it.

Back in the water the fishing seemed to improve. Bruce landed his first fish of the day, and probably the fish of the session, in the form of a very fat cock fish. Keegan also cracked the code using a faster retrieve with large black flies, and had soon landed several fish in a very short space of time.

Warren landing a fish at the Boston Fly Fishing Festival
Warren landing a fish at the Boston Fly Fishing Festival

As the fishing drew to a close we all headed back to the bank one by one and began packing up our kit for the final time. We cracked a cold beer and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t get locked in as we had on our previous two visits to this water. That said, this time I was prepared and had packed a hacksaw for such an eventuality (which I was secretly hoping to use). Sadly this was not to be and we drove out easily to the sound of the Springboks being thumped by Ireland (again).

After a quick shower we headed to the pub where we were surprised to hear that the Springboks had clawed victory from defeat and had beaten Ireland. We submitted our catches and then caught up with the other anglers on their days. Again it seemed that most people had struggled. Wayne, who was logging the catches, confirmed that fishing had sadly been a LOT slower than in previous years.

Prize giving was held over a fantastic dinner of roast beef and veg. But as is the norm with this festival, it was a relative non event. This festival is not about the prizes, but is rather about meeting like minded people and spending a weekend living your passion – they achieve this every time. The bar was relatively quiet, but we still managed to have a few drinks and listen to the local bagpiper play “Flower of Scotland” to end the festival.

I must once again extend a huge thank you to the organisers of the festival as well as the local farmers and their wives. They work tirelessly throughout the event to create an amazing experience and atmosphere. The dinners were exceptional as were the breakfast and lunch packs. Staying with the local farmers was a treat and the waters were in great condition. So a big  thank you to all involved. It was once again great, and we will definitely be back.

All good things come to an end
All good things come to an end

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