Introduction to the Highlands of the Eastern Cape

The waters of the Wild Trout Association are to be found in the Eastern Cape Highlands located on the southern border of Lesotho. This area straddles the magisterial districts of Barkly East, Dordrecht, Lady Grey, Maclear and Ugie, and includes the village of Rhodes.

Rhodes was declared a conservation area in July 1997 and is the headquarters of the Association. Fly fishing can be enjoyed both above and below the escarpment in this, the southernmost portion of the Drakensberg mountain range which extends northwards from here through Lesotho to the North Eastern Free State and Kwazulu-Natal.


It is rugged terrain and has numerous streams at over 2500m above sea-level which drain into sizeable rivers. These either flow into the large Umzimvubu River which enters the Indian Ocean at Port St. Johns on the east coast or into the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast. The mighty Kraai River flows from the junction of the Sterkspruit and the Bell River at Mosheshís Ford which is 1724m above sea-level to eventually enter the Atlantic more than 1000km downstream at Oranjemund. 

Above the escarpment, narrow streams in the headwaters meander across remote plateaus which can only be reached in 4x4 vehicles.  These streams eventually tumble down waterfalls and rapids which can only be reached on foot or on horseback. They then gradually descend into more readily accessible valleys lined in places with indigenous trees and exotic willows which can be reached with ease in saloon cars.  Below the escarpment, the streams grow in size as the tributaries join and gather in deep sandstone gorges spilling out onto meandering flatlands before continuing their journey to the sea. This great variety of water caters for practically every taste and capability.  Through the Association you will have access to fishing which will keep most enthusiasts occupied for a lifetime! The waters of the Eastern Cape Highlands were first stocked with rainbow trout from the Jonkershoek and Pirie Hatcheries in the mid-1920. These fish then bred prolifically in the wild as they still do today and within a decade, Sydney Hey fished for them and subsequently waxed lyrical about his experiences in his classic book ìRapture of the Riverî.  Stocking in a limited manner, particularly of still waters, continued from the Pirie Hatchery until the 70ís. By the 80 ís fish were obtained from as far afield as Grahamstown where the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science of Rhodes University had established a hatchery.

It was also during these years that Ron Mooreís hatchery at Millburn in the Maclear district came on stream followed shortly thereafter by Margie Frostís hatchery at Balloch in the Wartrail area of the Barkly East district. These hatcheries supply all of the relatively limited stocking needs of still and selected running waters in the Highlands and indeed, the entire region, as far afield as the Queenstown district.  Stocking strategies are carefully planned and managed under the supervision of the Associationís fishery consultant, Martin Davies of the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science at Rhodes University.  The montane environment encourages rapid weather changes and all four seasons can be experienced within a day. Historically, snow falls have occurred in every month of the year in the higher lying areas hence warm clothing and rain gear is essential.  Although the Eastern Cape Highlands are bisected by a tar road which runs from Lady Grey through to Maclear, the rest of the roads are gravel, narrow and winding. They must be traversed with patience and driven with care. This area provided shelter, a hunting ground and a home to many groups of San (Bushmen) who visited during the warmer summer months for centuries.

Traces of their presence are still evident in the numerous caves in which shamans (medicine men) recorded their mystic experiences.  Their rock art abounds and visits to these sites can provide a fascinating alternative to fishing!

The area was first populated by white farmers in the late 19th century who have been here ever since and is known for quality wool and meat production.

Nothing is easy in these parts.

The Highlands of the Eastern Cape are remote and not within easy reach of the main centres of South Africa that is certainly the key to being able to fish undisturbed on kilometers of water and indeed, a blessing in disguise. It could also be said that it is the true domain of the wild trout of Southern Africa.