The Boston Fly Fishing Festival 2017

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Arrival and Registration

The 7th annual Boston Fly Fishing Festival was once again held on the weekend of the 16th June. And for the 5th year in a row this meant missing my wedding anniversary in favour of the event. Thankfully I have a forgiving wife, and had booked a week-long family holiday at Castleburn, and was therefore given the much needed pink slip.

Baha Fly Fishing entered the same 2 teams of four as the previous year. The South coast team was once again made up of Dave, Dan, Andrew and Richard, while the Durban team consisted of Neill, Bruce, Keegan and myself. Now while I named the team’s Baha North and Baha South, the South Coast boys had other plans. They arrived at the festival early and used their spare time (wisely) to rename their team to Baha 1 and our team to Baha 2 – a name that they did not let us forget for the rest of the event.

Keegan and Neill had spent the day fishing one of the Underberg waters, namely Trelevans 2. It had been a tough day with Neill producing just 3 small rainbows in a relatively strong wind. From Underberg they headed straight through to Boston to meet us at the registration and water draw.

Sunrise on Virginia Farm

Bruce and I were the late starters and met at my house after work, only getting going close to 6pm. Thankfully I don’t live too far from Boston and we made it to the club in time for registration, dinner and the water draw. Sadly we did miss the team photos, so we won’t be up on the wall next year.

The “freebies” were great, although there was no pack of flies this year, which I’ve been collecting since the start of the event. On the up side the charcoal grey fleece jacket we received was awesome and I’ll get far more use out of it than previous jackets which tend to sit in the back of my cupboard. We also got an Xplorer beanie with a small peak which I was incredibly excited by. Sadly however it was a little small for my head and creeps off my ears. So close!

The festival followed the same format as in 2016, which is meant to favour catching large fish over stockie bashing for numbers. To explain, your largest 4 fish counted from your first water, the largest 3 from your second, 2 from your third, and so on. So once you’d picked up your limit, it’s worth heading off in search of larger fish as less is more.

During a delicious dinner consisting of lasagna, garlic bread, and salad, they held the water draw. One by one the team captains would go up and draw an envelope. The festival’s waters had been divided into A, B, C and D class waters. Each team got at least 2 A class waters, while some were lucky enough to get 3. Baha 2, as we were now know, drew Geldart 2, Star Dam, McKenzie 2, and Mount Shannon (a NFFC water). Sadly there was no McKenzie 1 on our list but, as my daughter says, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

The pub was surprisingly quite and by 9pm we had left the club and were heading to Virginia Farm where we were all staying. Helen had hosted the original Baha team for 5 years, usually in a small cottage on the farm. This year however she was kind enough to vacate her home to accommodate all 8 members of the 2 Baha teams. Helen’s kindness sums up perfectly what the Boston Festival is all about – an event with a sense of family and camaraderie.

Back on Virginia Farm we fought over the 4 bedrooms – not being too eager to share double beds – and then discovered the table tennis table. I use the term “table tennis table” loosely since this particular version was literally made up of a table tennis net strung across an old, pitted dining room table, half the size of a normal table tennis table. Hours were lost to this table – whisky in left hand, bat in right.

Dave was meanwhile trying to sneak off his lounge mattress and onto one of our beds. We however were having none of this and spent the next 2 hours giving him a hard time using well placed Bluetooth speakers. But eventually even we called it a day and headed off to bed, ready to start the fishing.

The Fishing – Day 1

After years of being closed, the Boston Garage was once again open and have undergone some significant renovations. The most essential to us was the addition of a bean-to-cup coffee machine filled with Terbodore coffee. We stopped by briefly on route to our first water, Geldart 2, and therefore got to (carefully) enjoy a steamy capucinno as we navigated the bumpy road to the water.

The mandatory morning coffee stop of Baha 2

The temperature was 2 degrees as we pulled up to the small cottage overlooking the dam. It was a misty morning with no sign of the sun burning through anytime soon. There was also a stiff breeze which, combined with the single digit water temperature, meant we were in for a very chilly start to the day.

Bruce and I set about inflating our tubes for the first time, while Neill and Keegan got off to a speedy start as they’d fished off them the previous day. It was Keegan who was first onto the water, and he quickly hooked into a stockie to kick off our festival. I joined him on the water and soon had picked up a fish of my own. Game on! 

As predicted, conditions in the mist we frosty and soon all 4 of us were huddled up against the eastern back, hiding from the wind. Thankfully this didn’t stop us from catching fish and, before we knew it, the sun started to break through the mist, providing some much needed relief to our frozen hands.

Keegan landing a trout at Geldart’s 2

Oddly, we chose this time to kick to shore where we brewed a fresh pot of coffee to further warm our hands and ready us for the next few hours on the water. My line had also been misbehaving so I spent some of this time stretching and cleaning lines.

Keegan, ever eager, fished the shallows where we could see multiple good fish cruising over the spawning beds. He hooked into a beauty of a fish but lost it when the braided loop pulled off his line. The humorous side of him losing this fish (well, for us anyway), was that he had borrowed the line from Neill. I guess Neill ows him a beer or two. Or does he owe Neill a leader? Who knows?

I chose to fish the rest of the session from the bank rather than getting back onto the tube. Unfortunately this didn’t prove to be successful and when we left the water an hour or two later I’d landed just the 4 stockies from the morning’s session. Keegan had landed 3 fish, while Neill hooked just a single stockie.

From Geldart’s 2 we drove past the Everglades hotel, passed Mavela, and around the back to Star Dam. Star has long been one of my favourite waters of the festival and we’ve been lucky enough to fish it most years. I love it for 2 reasons. Firstly I find it to be one of the more scenic dams, with a wide variety of water to chose from, and lovely dam-side vistas. And secondly, it’s always produced fish for me, with the larger specimens sitting at around the 50cm mark. Other anglers haven’t been quite as lucky and it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

Sunset at Star Dam

This year however things were slightly different. Construction on the housing estate had kicked off and 6 or 7 properties now spanned the once barren shoreline. Most of these units were midway though construction so there was rubble and dust where there had once been natural grass and bush. The dam had also been surrounded by an electric fence ruining some of the feeling. All in all the ambience had been (slightly) destroyed. Perhaps this will change once construction is complete and the vegetation has regrown. I also heart rumours that the builders may be poaching the water, and the fishing definitely appeared to be a lot tougher.

As is the norm we shared the water with another team and so there were 8 of us on the dam. I headed straight to the wall as it was midday and I felt the fish would be sitting in the deeper water while the sun was directly overhead. This proved to be a good strategy and I promptly hooked into a beautiful cock fish of around 47cms, fishing deep and slow with an egg sucking leach.

One of my better fish out of Star Dam

Sadly things slowed after that and for the next few hours I didn’t get so much as a bump. Neill, Keegan and Bruce were also struggling and only at around around 4pm did the fishing start to pick up slightly. Bruce landed his first fish of the festival near the wall, while Neill picked up a fish or two in the shallows.  Keegan sadly left the water with nothing to show for the hours of effort he’d put in.

Bruce and I braved the cooler conditions as the sun dipped below the horizon, driving everyone else off the water. The two of us fished the shallows under a pink sky, on a glassy dam. Whether or not we caught fish it was certainly worth being out on the water in such a perfect scene. Thankfully I was rewarded for the extra hour and picked up 2 fish in the shallows as the evening rise kicked off. Neither of them were as large as my morning fish however, but a fish is a fish.

We finally kicked off the water at the close of fishing (5:30pm) and packed up quickly as it was getting dark. From Star Dam we rushed through Tillietudlem, knowing that the gates were closed at 6pm and that we’d been locked in before. As it turned out we got lucky as we intercepted the man who’d locked the gates. Without this we would have been stuck for another 30 mintues, trying to track down someone with a key.

Being so late there was no time to stop at Virginia Farm for a shower as catch returns needed to be in by 6:30pm. We therefore headed straight to the club where Bruce huddled around the fire as he only had a pair of shorts on, having anticipated us stopping for a shower and to change.

Dinner was fantastic as per usual – chicken al a king if I remember correctly – thanks once again to the hard working farmer’s wives. This was followed by a beer or two in the pub where we caught up on the day’s fishing stories. As is the norm there were mixed bags, with the biggest fish of day 1 coming in at 54cms.

The pub was again quiet and so we headed back to the cottage for a few more games of table tennis, a relaxed whisky, and an early night.

The Fishing – Day 2

Day 2 once again began with a cup of coffee at the Boston Garage. How we survived without this in previous years I don’t know? From there we headed to our third water, McKenzie 2.

Sunrise at McKenzie 2

McKenzie 1 is perhaps the most loved dam of the festival, with everyone crossing fingers to draw it. It’s not uncommon to pick up 10 fish each on this water, all in the 35 – 40cm range. McKenzie 2 however is a completely different beast. It’s nestled behind McKenzie 1 and I’m guessing is stocked (and fished) far less.

Fishing is generally tough and most anglers are happy to come away with just a single fish. That said, when you do hook into a fish on this dam it tends to be a beast, worthy of the many tough hours spent on the water.  I’d lost one such fish on this dam during the 2016 Boston Fly Fishing Festival.

Baha 1 had fished McKenzie 2 on day 1 and all four of the boys had blanked. The team fishing afternoon session on day 1 had suffered the same fate. This however did little to ruin my enthusiasm and I attacked the water with vigour when we arrived, hoping to find the bus I’d dropped the previous year.

Sadly this was not be and despite fishing the full session, all 4 members of Baha 2 blanked on this water. Not wanting to put this dam down, it’s worth mentioning that the winning fish – 65cm if I remember correctly – was picked up in this water during the 4th session. So we all missed our opportunity.

We then headed for our fourth and final dam – Mount Shannon. 

Mount Shannon is an NFFC water owned by Mondi. Despite having been a member of the club for around 10 years this was the first time I’d fished the water. It looked good upon arrival but we were aware that it wasn’t marked as one of the festival’s A grade dams.

Fishing was tough although Neill, Bruce and I all picked up stockies over the afternoon. Generally the recipe for success was to cast to rising fish in the shallows, and then to strip slowly until the fish took. The fish were definitely being selective and even this strategy working only 1 time out of 10.

A small rainbow trout

The evening rise looked promising as the water began to boil with fish rising absolutely everywhere. It was clear that the majority of these were small fish, but beggars can’t be choosers and so we targeted them eagerly. Neill was the only one who seemed to crack the code using a small white death. Despite the rest of us trying similar tactics we were all left more frustrated than satisfied with the rise.

As the sun set we all clambered back onto the shore and packed up for the last time. Again we headed straight to the club where we enjoyed the traditional final meal of roast beef and potatoes followed by ice cream. Prize giving was held during the meal although it was a relatively minor affair. Again, the festival is more about the entertainment and camaraderie than the prizes, and so I feel they play prize giving down intentionally.

The bar was far more festive that night and the tequilla and rum were certainly flowing. Having been well behaved the previous two nights we treated ourselves to a night of mischief and finally crawled out of the put at close to midnight. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but most of the night was spent trying to slip R5 coins into Dan’s various pockets without him noticing. Don’t judge us.

Heading Home

As is the norm we were up early on the Sunday, and were packed and ready to leave by 7am. We thanked Helen for her hospitality and then climbed into our cars and headed home. Baha 1 headed straight for the south coast, while we headed for our customary breakfast at the Howick Wimpy. What would these festivals be without these traditions?

The festival was once again a stellar success. A big thank you to the farmer’s who share both their waters and their homes with us, as well as to their wives who look after us impeccably. No other community could host a festival the way Boston does!

If you ever run into Dan, slip a R5 coin into his back pocket

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