The Xplorer UHTFC Festival 2016

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This year the UHTFC decided to host it’s inaugural UHTFC Xplorer Fly Fishing Festival. Apparently the club has hosted festivals in the past, but these were well before my time and have long since been forgotten by club members and the committee alike.

Bruce Taylor put his hand up and did the majority of the planning and leg work, while I organised the advertising and online registration (and presence) for the event. In the end we opened it to 25 teams of 2, as well as 2 Xplorer teams, meaning we had 54 anglers. Alan did a great job organising the waters and we were privileged to include venues like Sani Valley Lodge (Lifton Lake), Giant’s Cup, Lake Naverone, and Castleburn in amongst the lineup of club dams.

The committee made the decision to run the festival as a single day event rather than the usual 2 day festivals like Boston, Swartburg, and Dullstroom. This was to try and avoid people having to take leave in order to fish the event which would hopefully result in a good turnout. The strategy appeared to work as the festival was fully booked well before entries closed.

The festival was also paired up with the Underberg Farmer’s Association Agricultural Show, sitting alongside the other events like the Sani Dragon mountain bike race and the Gee Jays.

Neill and I headed up on Friday morning in the hope of having a quick fish, and then to assist with setting up the tent for registration in the evening. Sadly we didn’t find the time to fish, and instead relaxed at Alan’s house catching up with a few old friends.

At 5pm we headed over to the agricultural grounds and went about laying out the goodie bags (which were incredibly well stocked thanks to Xplorer Fly Fishing), putting up the various banners, and setting up the registration table. Before we knew it the anglers were flooding in and we were catching up over a few cold beers.

The club's tent for the UHTFC Xplorer Fly Fishing Festival
The club’s tent for the UHTFC Xplorer Fly Fishing Festival

The water draw was well received and Neill and I got a decent draw in Lunds and Lifton Lake. Possibly because of the cold most of the anglers had headed home by 8pm, ready for a long Saturday on the water. Or perhaps it was a more strategic move to get onto the waters early, and off to a good start.

Neill and I arrived at Lunds at around 7:30am. The Gorleis (who had the same draw as us) were already on the water and we had the privilege of watching them land a fish or two while we were still kitting up on the bank. This obviously motivated us to speed up and I was soon kicking out onto the water.

As is often the case I landed a fish within minutes of getting onto the water, getting my hopes up. My next fish took a while longer to land, while Neill battled a little for his one fish.

Lunds is one of my favourite dams despite a lot of people worrying about its bass population. It’s the perfect size and is one of the club’s more scenic dams with beautiful tree lines and the backdrop of the Drakensberg. It’s also got all the good holding spots – weed beds, structure, deep water, and rock shallows.

I did catch one bass later in the day which I proceeded to kill to preserve the trout population. After giving it a good knock on the head I threw the fish towards the bank and set about checking my tippet and fly. Suddenly I heard a huge splash and looked up to see a yellow billed kite had snatched the bass off the surface and was flying to the nearest tree. An interesting and unexpected event.

The view at Lifton Lake
The view at Lifton Lake

By the time we got off the water I’d landed 6 fish, all of which were in the 30 – 35cm range. Despite good numbers the festival rules were that only 3 fish counted to your bag, meaning it was about size and not numbers. My fingers were crossed for our next water.

From Lunds we headed to Sani Valley Lodge to fish Lifton Lake. I’d never seen the water although I had heard it was massive. Massive was probably an understatement as the water was far bigger than I’d imagined. In fact at one stage someone even launched a speedboat onto the lake, which was somewhat annoying while we were bobbing around in our float tubes.

Being in tubes we were only able to fish a very small section of the dam, limited to the area we parked in. And seeing as the road was only close to the water in one place we didn’t really get to chose our area, it was more forced upon us.

By the time we got onto the water the wind had picked up substantially meaning Neill and I hugged the bank in an attempt to shield ourselves from the gale. For an hour we battled away with not so much as a knock. We’d heard rumours that the dam held big fish, but had also heard rumours that it was understocked due to the sheer size, and therefore cost of stocking such a beast of a water. I was starting to believe the later.

Then, without warning, I connected with a lovely 45cm fish. It fought fiercely and was in incredible condition. Two cast later and I was into another fish that was even fatter, and stronger, and just shy of 60cms. And then all went quiet again.

The winning fish
The winning fish

We got off the water before the close of fishing in order to get back to the show grounds to help with the weigh in and prize giving. It had been a good day on the water for me with a handful of stockies and 2 good fish. Neill had struggled which is unlike him, but I guess we all have those days.

Back at the show grounds the anglers meandered in one by one. People had had mixed results with some having good returns, while others struggled. I was lucky enough to walk away with the prize for biggest fish (awkward, since I helped organise), and Neill and I came second in the team event. This meant I left with a lovely Xplorer bag as well as a week at Castleburn.

The evening was more lively than the previous night, despite a massive hail storm during prize giving. People gathered in the pub to watch the Boks take on Australia, which amazingly we won, further improving the night.

All in all the festival was a great success, and I’m sure we’ll be organising another one next year.

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