By Stephen Smith
“This is why I’ve been coming to EG for the last ten years!” Andy James screamed out of the darkness. “For this fish!”
It was just after sunset and the two of us had been throwing ‘last casts’ for the past 40 minutes, all in the hope of hooking one of the trophy trout for which this area, and this farm in particular, is legendary.
When I wanted to take the new Nissan Navara on a trip to see what all the fuss was about (it was awarded the International Pickup Award in 2016) I phoned a mate whom I knew had been trying to coax one of East Griqualand’s leviathan trout into his landing net for years, and who had built up an exceptional knowledge of where to go, and when, and how to fish.
East Griqualand is a remote and wild area of mountainous farmland and wilderness. When I grew up in Pietermaritzburg, ‘E.G.’ (as we all knew it) was a mysterious place, bordering on the mythical. Even though it was just down the drag, its actual borders were a bit vague. Where did the Midlands end and EG start? Where did the name ‘East Griqualand’ come from? And where was Swartberg in all of this geographical soup?
I had cousins who farmed down there, but we never visited them – instead, we waited for them to emerge from the mountains every few years for family functions. These are rangy guys with big hands chapped from the weather and man-handling sheep, who party like they are well aware that they’re headed back into the wilderness for whoknows- how-long.
EG was, and is, frontier country, where the folk can be as wild as the country itself. I’ve always found it slightly ironic that EG is intrinsically linked with passionate fly fishermen, a sport itself usually associated with the refined English gentleman. (If you want a reference for the esteem in which fly fishing is held, the English refer to fishing other than with a fly as ‘coarse fishing’!) But EG’s other great love is polo, so it seems that the wild-mountain-folk character could be more of a facade than anything else.
But, back to that moment: the countless last casts in the gathering dusk, the culmination of a decade’s fishing. Fish were nudging the water’s surface around us, but they were small, more splash than bite. Andy had caught one earlier and it couldn’t have weighed more than an ounce. Standing a few metres apart, we carried on casting our nymph patterns out there, ever hopeful. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Andy saw a swirl − a proper swirl, which suggested that it was backed by weight and substance. His fly was already in the vicinity, so he gave it one or two strips to get closer to the action, and all hell broke loose.
The fish burst out of the water, a long and meaty bruiser powering its way into the heavens more by sheer brawn than athleticism, and there was no doubt that Andy’s decade-long quest for a double digit trout had finally ended – if he managed to land it!
Most fishing stories include the mesmerising cricket-trill of the reel’s drag, but this fight played out to the agonising, irregular groan of an elderly Orvis reel that had been serviced less often than the average South African taxi. At every dash of the fish, the tortured soundtrack had us convinced that the reel was about to seize, and followed a millisecond later by a parted leader, a rod thrown into a dam, the air filled with expletives, and finally a grown man weeping into his tired hands.
But it held up, like those Hi-Aces invariably do − and 15 minutes or so later, Andy got his trembling hands on that spectacular fish’s flanks. We took guesses at its weight as he netted it and removed the fly, then carefully popped it into a bag to weigh it without causing harm. I guessed at a shade over ten pounds. Andy optimistically went for 11, but when the needle on the scale stopped shimmering, it pointed to 6.25kg. We subtracted 100g for the bag and then did the mental calculations (6.15 x 2.2 = 12.3, carry the 1.3…). “13.6 pounds?” ventured Andy tentatively. I’d come to the same figure. “It’s the fish of a lifetime!” crowed Andy. “The Muddlers are never going to believe me! Take a picture of the scale.” I did, and it turns out he was right – the Muddlers, his band of fishing mates, did indeed ask for photographic evidence, and even then queried the veracity of the scale!
Fighting that fish into the darkness put an end to our day’s fishing, so with knuckles aching from the cold but with grins of Cheshire cats, we trooped animatedly back to the warm relief of the Navara and its heated seats.
Where to Stay:
There are lots of places to stay in East Griqualand, and some of them are on incredible fishing waters. We stayed on Balmoral Farm, belonging to William and Meg Rohrich, and the home of four prime fishing waters. The cottage itself is rustic, and not the romantic sort of rustic that your better half is pining for. If you have the chance, chat to William before you start fishing – you’ll never meet a more enthusiastic fisherman or farmer. It’s no coincidence that his dams produce such big fish so consistently
Mount Arthur: Meg Rohrich | 039 747 4620 | meghanwalk[at]gmail.com
Other options are:
Lake St. Bernard
083 268 9357 | cottages[at]lakestbernard.co.za | www.lakestbernard.co.za
039 7474 623 | margie[at]banchory.co.za | www.banchory.co.za
Mountain Lake, Matatiele
Booking is through the Matatiele Municipality. (Nomathemba at 039 737 9671). You need to arrive in town an hour or more before the close of business to confirm your booking and pay for it and rod fees, which happen in separate offices a short drive apart. Camping is possible and the cottage adequate, but not at all five-star.
039 737 4067 | info[at]resthaven.co.za | www.resthaven.co.za
Places of Interest:
Pott’s Dam is the holy grail of trophy fishing waters in East Griqualand, as well as in South Africa and even Africa. It was here in 2005 that the current All Africa record trout was caught: an 18.5-pound monster.
Mountain Lake, outside Matatiele, is also a spot worth visiting. At over 30 hectares, it is a huge piece of water with proportionally large fish. The reserve surrounding it is also home to a number of rare bird species, such as Rudd’s Lark and Bald Ibis
Fuel is available at Underberg village, about 50km from Mount Arthur. Fill up on your way through.
Where to buy provisions:
Underberg has an excellent Spar as well as a butchery. There’s no need to bring anything from home.
Fly-fishing equipment is the first thing you should pack: a fly rod and reel (6 weight seems to be the popular choice), floating and intermediate lines, polarised sunglasses, flies, strong leaders and tippet (1x or even 0x), landing net, and ruler. Waders are also a good idea, as is a kickboat or float tube – there are many big dams in EG that can only be fi shed seriously from the water.
Once you’ve ticked off all the items on your fishing-kit list, move on to warm clothing! Even in summer, it can get very cold in these mountains, so take plenty of warm clothing and gear for wet weather. My top tip: take more pairs of warm socks than you think you can possibly need! Also take good walking shoes in case you decide to do some hiking
EG is also very beautiful, so don’t forget to pack a camera. (You’ll also need it to record your trophy fish!) Binoculars are also a good idea, as there is plenty of wildlife in the area. As always, don’t forget the sunscreen.
Convoy or Solo:
We went solo, and there’s no need to be in a convoy. Check in with the farmer when you arrive, and let him know when you’ll be leaving.
Also get his cell number in case of emergency – there’s occasional cell reception.
Maps and directions:
If you book at Mount Arthur, you’ll be sent a map and directions. It’s not the kind of place where you get lost. The other destinations in the area will do the same, or you can find directions on the appropriate websites.
Farm roads vary from good, to hard to find! Enquire when you book about the current state of the roads. There had been some hard rain in the area not long before we arrived, so the roads were quite washed out, and very rocky.
To reach some of the prime fishing waters, including all of those that we visited, you defi nitely need a pukka 4×4 with low-range. Others are accessible in softroaders, and some even in sedans. Check what the local conditions are like when booking.
There’s nothing too risky about fly fishing in EG, but be sensible. Keep an eye on the weather as it can change in a heartbeat. Also check for ticks after fi shing
Nissan Navara 2.3D LE 4×4 Automatic Double Cab
Nissan markets the Navara with the slogan ‘rugged redefi ned’, and it’s one of the more accurate marketing tags out there − although it could just as easily be ‘rugged refined’.
Although I never doubted that it would be refi ned on tar and the open road, I was a little sceptical about how it would perform in true Land Cruiser (and Patrol) country, especially when Nissan went on about the comfort of the suspension. Comfortable normally means soft, which means mediocre performance offroad
Nissan decided to go with a five-link coil rear suspension system, which itself has won awards and which is here paired with a solid ladder- frame chassis. That’s the key to the comfortable ride quality of the Navara, which I noticed straight away. (Future workhorse Navara models will be fitted with a standard leaf-spring setup for better load-carrying abilities.)
Load-carrying capacity has also been upgraded signifi cantly – the new Navara can carry up to 1002kg, depending on specifi cation level, and can tow a braked trailer of up to 3 500kg.
All three of the models currently available in South Africa are both double-cab and 4×4, with the only differences being spec level, and manual (six-speed) or automatic (seven- speed) transmissions. The 4×4 system features a mechanical transfer case operated by a dial, and four-wheel drive (high) can be selected at up to 100km/h. In 4×4 mode, either low or high, the new Active Brake Limited Slip Differential system (ABLS) is activated. This electronic system actively manages power delivery and wheel braking between the front and rear axles and between the left and right of the vehicle, depending on traction and speed. This 4×4 system is paired with a ground clearance of 229mm.
Just the one engine option is available: a 2.3-litre twin-turbo diesel unit that delivers 140kW and 450Nm for impressive all-round performance. There will obviously be guys who would prefer a bigger engine capacity to avoid turbo lag, and for better towing ability, but I was impressed with the tractability and refi nement of the engine − especially when paired with the automatic gearbox. Fuel consumption is claimed to be 6.5litres/100km, and on the open road, we did actually achieve this fi gure. But overall, including a fair bit of slow mountain driving, we averaged just over 9litres/100km.
The SUV comfort of the Navara’s suspension is echoed by the comfort of the interior, with nice features like heated seats (optional), an electric sliding rear window (very handy for fi shing rods to poke through), a touch-screen navigation and infotainment system, cruise control, and a whole lot more. There are also seven airbags and Spinal Support front seats, which apparently reduce fatigue over long journeys.
I’ve now driven all the bakkie ranges currently on the market in South Africa, and my two favourites are the Navara and (perhaps surprisingly) the Mitsubishi Triton. However, the Navara takes my fi nal vote, thanks to the rear suspension, the cracking engine and little touches like the heated seats, numerous power points and electric rear window.
The Nissan Navara 2.3D LE comes standard with a 3-year/90 000km service plan and an excellent 6-year/150 000km warranty. There are currently three models in the Navara range: the manual SE model, manual LE model and automatic LE model. They are priced at R514 900, R565 900 and R597 900 respectively.