An Indian Summer

An Indian Summer

Waiting for the turn of the season is what you do as fly fishermen, knowing that with each one, a particular species will appear on our radar. And whilst we couldn’t claim to be men of all seasons, come Winter it’s the TOPS Corporate Challenge that every angler is clamoring to enter.

And judging from this year’s grand final you can understand why.

A glass of not so serious was truly embraced, with the Bains whisky tasting setting the tone for the celebrations to follow, each finalist reveling in the fact that every team was walking away with a holiday prize, just for making it this far.

The fishing was simply off the scale, with a large contributing factor being the proverbial Indian Summer experienced this last weekend. The fruit trees were in premature bloom and the Mayfly hatch had the Trout enjoying the floating buffet.

Session One witnessed more fish landed than in the entire 1st leg, revealing just how many fish inhabit these WildFly waters.

The lure of a Yamaha boat, as well as a brand new Nissan Navara, was incentive enough to keep everyone on the water and the balmy weather ensured that the trout played ball.  There were even a few elusive Brown Trout who deigned to make an appearance.

Water temperatures were fortunately still frigid, keeping the fish in feisty condition and spawning many stories of being stripped into the backing, ploughed into the weed or broken up!

Naturally these tales were the cornerstone of conversation at the legendary Notties, with hushed mutterings of the imitative versus attractor fly patterns that were delivering the results.

300 fish in a day from the 60 qualifying entrants, is a tally that could have sparked yet another festive evening, but a long day on the water took its toll as some weary contestants fell into their beds, calling it an early night.

The final day of a TOPS Corporate Challenge is one of conflicting emotions, with the desire to slow it all down and enjoy every last moment battling against the urge to cover as much water as possible in your quest for the trophy Trout.

Stories of a water’s pedigree adding fuel to this fire.

But all good things eventually come to and end, which at the TCC final resulted in an 18th birthday bash deserving of it’s reputation.

That evening over five hundred thousand Rands worth of prizes were handed out for the 514 fish recorded, as well as the 112 fish lost, bring the productive total to 1290 Trout over the entire event.

1st Prize

Craig Cowell, walked away with a brand new Quintrex boat and Yamaha motor for a single fish of 62cm with Daniel Greene earning the accolade as top fly fisher for his 24 fish at an average of 44cm.

With yellow fish adventures from Kalahari Outventures, Fly Fish Van Der Kloof and Easy Holidays, Trout adventures in Semonkong, Highland Lodge, InverMooi and luxury escapes to Fordoun and Cathederal Peak Hotel, to the incredible international Tiger Fishing holidays up for grabs, it was smiles all round.

The Zimmers took 4th, with a wonderful trip to Inchingo in Namibia for their efforts and Team Craighoppers earned a trip to Bains lodge on the lower Zambezi for third. Runners up, WBHO get to relax at Royal Zambezi lodge and the 2019 champions, Bophelong Construction will experience the trophy tiger waters of the Barotse at Matoya lodge.

The TOPS Corporate Challenge certainly exceeded expectations, on it’s 18th birthday,
justifying it’s reputation as South Africa’s premier fishing event.

Tops Corporate Challenge Leg 3

Tops Corporate Challenge Leg 3

What’s the collective Noun for a gathering of anglers?

An Enthusiasm……..A Festivity………An Anecdote…..pick any one, because each would be appropriate to describe the atmosphere at the 3rd Leg of the TOPS Corporate Challenge.

Captains of industry and businessmen from all walks of life refresh old friendships.

Watching captains of industry and businessmen from all walks of life refresh old friendships and make new ones is reminiscent of the start of a new year at college.

And for some, the lessons of last year just had to be repeated on the water.
The conditions were sublime, taking that well-worn weather excuse out of the equation and for most of the fly fishers, the Trout obliged, with 123 fish being recorded in the first frosty morning.

And Mark Keating from the ‘Fingerlings’ came charging out the blocks, catching 12 great specimens at an average of 50cm in his very first session, catapulting his team into 1st place.

Mark Keating

Celebrations ensued, which might have played a minor role in a reversal of fortune… just when you think you’ve got this sport waxed, the fish have an annoying habit of treating your subsequent casts with absolute disdain.

Louise Steenekamp set the early benchmark of a beautiful 60cm Rainbow, which was matched by Clive Murphy on day one.

Louise Steenekamp

The big fish had clearly been stirred into action.

The wind was a contributing factor for the slow afternoon, but that didn’t stop the party from getting started. With everyone staying at the legendary Notties, it was a license to let your hair down and revel in the time that you get to spend with great mates.

A glass or two of not so serious was embraced!

The 3rd session is where the anglers get down to business, but to do so, you have to arrive at work, which for a few, was a bridge too far.

But those that braved the sub zero conditions had their just reward.

Pieter Strobus from team Craghoppers enjoyed 5 fish all around the half a meter mark in the tell tale third quarter.

And, as always it was down to the last session to determine who would be qualifying for the Grand Final. A total of 328 fish was the tally, showcasing how productive the WildFly waters were, with tales of snapped lines, straightened hooks and dropped fish echoing around the prize giving.

Boyz at Lunch.

The TOPS ‘glass of not so serious’ awards dominated proceedings with some phenomenal prizes for performances off the field in their tongue and cheek style.

Growler Wildguys.

The five teams that qualified for the illustrious final were, Craghoppers; The Shanebeaters; St Fergusson; NFC and the Growler WildGuys who took top the honors.


But for each entrant, the resounding sentiment was ‘there are moments in every fisherman’s life that you will never forget, just as long as you’re able to raise a glass and rekindle the memory with good cheer!’.

The Boyz
Big Trout surface – TOPS Corporate challenge leg 2

Big Trout surface – TOPS Corporate challenge leg 2

The dilemma that every fly fisher faces at a TOPS Corporate Challenge will never change. The object of the weekend is to rekindle long-standing friendships that are all too often marginalized through digital communications. But, one is also expected to make an effort at the waters edge and contribute to your team’s scorecard, if for no other reasons than to justify your future invite.

It’s a balancing act that is generally toppled at Notties on opening night, with the animated conversation reliving the exploits of the last TCC gathering.

TCC leg 2

Knowing that the waters hadn’t really sparked in the 1st wave a few weeks back, after the opening celebrations of it’s 18th anniversary, the talk soon circled back to the feeding habits and holes of the Trout in WildFly waters.

The dam draw is held in some reverence as all of these lakes have memories and reputations that grow with every fresh glass. I’ve yet to enjoy a trip down memory lane in which a big fish on a particular water didn’t get the better of some angler!

And unfortunately, all eyes turn to the one bestowed with the responsibility of stocking these waters, as if an intimate knowledge of these fish is a prerequisite to giving them a home.

But, having managed most of the dams for the last couple of decades, I have learned a few valuable lessons about Trout, not least of which is expecting them to repeat what happened yesterday let alone last year. It is with this in mind that I pass on the chatter about their current behavior.

This is decent intel, considering that 264 Trout were recorded this last weekend, with more fish over 50cm measured than in any other leg in the event’s history.

Where to be fishing is the first question in a dam interrogation.

Trout invariably favor shallow water in the early am or late pm, feeling quite secure in low light from any potential predators, so the spillway of a dam is a sound starting point, as are the banks with a gentle slope.  These fish are surprisingly close to the bank, so don’t start slapping the water and stay out of your float tube, sight your Trout and lead moving fish with your cast.

This is something that Craig Cowell knows only to well, teaching the big Trout a proper lesson, recording the two largest fish of 59cm and 61cm.

Craig Cowell

As did Andrew Stuart, who caught 16 fish at an average of 49cm.

Not to mention Ian Cribbins

who in a single session

landed 6 fish all over 50cm!

Despite Winter, and the spawning behavior that can make the fishing a little frustrating, one also has to remember that they still must feed, so the other common GPS in the fly fisher’s Google map is weed-beds. It offers them cover and weed is the suburbs of a lot of insects/fish food. So don’t spend your time ripping and stripping the deep water in Winter… work the weed!

Wayne Stegen and Andrew Beech from the ‘Zimmers’ know this only to well, both landing a 56cm fish in the last session to earn their team a 5th place finish,

with the Non-descripts Taking 4th.

The top 3 teams were all on a count-out, such was the quality of fish with Gavin Cowell’s 4 fish all over 50cm in the final session rocketing his team, the ‘Nymphomaniacs’ into 3rd.

Gavin Cowell

‘WBHO’ were close runners up, but Bophelong Construction were crowned champions of the 2nd Leg of the TOPS Corporate Challenge.

The ‘Glass of Not so Serious Awards’ continued to give every team just reward for their antics off the field and the festivities had the last say, which is probably the most sage advice you could give to anyone when it comes to fishing!

TOPS Corporate Challenge Leg 1

TOPS Corporate Challenge Leg 1

It would be an understatement to say the festivities outweighed the fishing this last weekend, with the legendary Notties living up to it’s reputation as the  pub with a exit that is impossible to find. The entrants certainly had more than one glass of not so serious at the start of this years TOPS Corporate Challenge, celebrating the 18th anniversary of SA’s premier fishing event.

Whether the anglers were here to fish is a point of some debate as the focus of day one seemed to be about catching up with good mates as opposed to catching any fish. 

TCC Leg 1

For those that braved the early morning chill and ventured out onto the waters, the results were surprising.

Tales of snapped lines, straightened hooks and dropped fish echoed around the hotel after each session, as anglers got to grips with local conditions, yet the consensus was that confusion reigned amongst the Trout. The Winter had only just arrived and as such the desire to feed was slowly being replaced by the urge to fornicate, from the fish’s perspective.

The first day yielded less than a hundred fish, but the average size of Trout impressed, as Mark Cohen bore testament to, landing his personal best of 60cm on his very first catch.

And a few fly fishers had really figured out how to turn the fish on, with Kobus Potgeiter, Scott Macintyre, Lyndall Blaikie and Neil Westerhoff all managing to fill their quota and bequeath a few fish to their team mates in the process.

John Mcnamara, winner of the Best photo uploaded to Fishbook App

We have a fishing Bible of excuses as to why the fish can elude us and for a few entrants, Revelations was the chapter they ended up on. It’s never easy handing in a blank scorecard at the end of a day and in true festive fashion, the TCC embraced this, introducing the DOGS and BLOBS category. Teams had to recognise their top angler with the TOPS dog accolade and also poke fun at their team mate that had been outwitted by the Trout, having to wear the BLOB jacket… soon became the focal point of lunch time festivities.

The Brown Trout as ever remained elusive, with Andre Coetzee recording the only specimen out of the 184 Rainbows caught and released over the weekend.

Fly patterns were as varied as the opinions that were dispensed nearly as freely as the Bains scotch, with everything from damsels, dragons and flash back nymphs to the killer WildFly minnow imitations.

Although the Yamaha ski boat and 4×4 was only going to be up for grabs in the final, there was a hoard of prizes dished out and as usual, the bounty was for the antics off the field. From the Eishkom accolade for the team that failed to hit the lights out of it to the Tiger Woods award for nearly the greatest comeback of the decade, everyone walked away with something for their efforts.

Paying tribute to the late Andy Standton, a memorial floating trophy was dedicated and awarded to Clint Nicholson in it’s inaugural year for his gentlemanly conduct in the face of some abusive Trout.

Clint Nicholson – Andy Standton Award

But in every contest there has to be winners and although the catch records told the story of the fussy Trout winning the battle of wills, the 5 teams that qualified for the TOPS Corporate Trophy Final were -:

In 5th Place, the ‘Steinweg Flyers’, followed by the all ladies team ‘Women in Waders’, then Novus Print Cape took 3rd, with their KZN compatriots placing as runners up, who steamed into the final thanks to the performance of Neil Westerhoff who caught a total of 18 fish himself at an incredible average of 47cm, making him the best fly fisher for the weekend.

Steinweg flyers – 5th place

And the Winners of the 1st Leg of the TCC were the Fly Fishing Consultants, who landed a total of 40 fish over the entire event.

Winners of TCC 2019 leg one, Fly Fishing Consultants

But if one had to judge by the yardstick of celebrations on Saturday night, then there wasn’t a loser in sight.

Record Breaking Results

Record Breaking Results

Mist and drizzle greeted the finalists of the TOPS Corporate Challenge Final this last weekend, which not surprisingly didn’t put even a slight damper on the atmosphere of the opening evening at the legendary Notties. But, with over half a Million Rands worth of holidays up for grabs and every person guaranteed to win one of them, you can understand why.

Tiger fishing Trips to Matoya, Ichingo, Royal Zambezi, Redcliffs and Shayamoya coupled with yellow fish expeditions led by Kalahari Outventures as well as Trout adventures to Semonkong and Highland Lodge had all our anglers champing at the bit to get onto the water.

With every fly fisher kitted out in their new complimentary fishing gear, the onslaught on the poor Trout was relentless. By 6am lines were sailing and flies were being stripped with intent. The resting of the waters for a full month in between qualifying legs played a role in the fish being so obliging, with an impressive 263 being caught and released in the first day alone.
There was no room for stockie bashing, the size of each catch being key and with only a total of 7 fish per angler to count in the first two sessions, the focus was on fooling fish of stature. The bonus of every amateur team able to bequeath fish to their more unfortunate team mates also had a major impact on the leader board as the sun set on Friday. Fortunately for the anglers and guests, Glenmorangie had set up a first class whisky tasting to refresh them, showcasing their range of exquisite Highland Scotch.
Friday nights at Notties have a reputation for subduing a man’s enthusiasm to brave the Midlands Winter morning, but most were up to chasing the proverbial worm, but the teams were soon battling against 35km driving winds, making any float tubing one way traffic.
Despite the challenging winds, lunch time saw another 100 Trout that had made it to the net with an impressive 61cm from Chris Wentzel and a lovely 62cm Rainbow from Simon Giles. Three other Brown Trout made an appearance and just too many fish over 50cm to mention… Despite the abominable weather, the fisherfolk were just not taking no for an answer.
We had four ladies who had made the final in 3 separate teams this year and they were showing a lot of the lads how it was done. In particular Louise Steenekamp who in the last sessions led her team’s charge with four fish and a great winning 4th session 51cm Rainbow to finish it all off.
As one would expect after all the rod pressure only 77 fish were recorded on Saturday Afternoon, but totalling 442 Trout in a final broke previous year’s records and brought the tally to an incredible 1343 fish for the 2018 TOPS Corporate Challenge.
Grant Giles from team TDI, travelling all the way from Zimbabwe took top honours, catching in every session, with 15 Trout at an average of 47cm.
The Biggest fish was a count out, forcing me to adjudicate on actual size and in the end definitively it was Rob Rein, with his 62cm Rainbow cock fish from Dwaleni that topped Simon’s Hen from SpringGrove, making him the first person in the event’s history to catch the biggest fish twice in a row. He walked away with another Quintrex boat, compliments of Yamaha.
Every angler walked away with a fishing holiday for the entire team that evening, with the Trout destinations of Cathedral Peak, InverMooi, Fordoun, Nooitgedacht, Verloonkloof, Rivendell and Sandstone making up this wonderful ensemble of fly fishing trips. This complemented the hoard of prizes that every angler won compliments of Greys, Hodgeman, Xplorer and Craghoppers.
Like any great Open Championship, It all came down to the final session and the below table will give you an indication of how closely contested it was, with 9 teams in contention to win the title-:

Placing After 1st Session After 2nd session After 3rd session After Final Session
1st Growler Wildguys Growler Wildguys Growler Wildguys Growler Wildguys
2nd Afriguide Logistics Guns ‘n Roses Fly Fishing Consultants Notties Football Club
3rd Notties Football Club Fly Fishing Consultants ST Ferguson Fly Fishing Consultants
4th Joint Venture Afriguide Logistics Joint Venture Joint Venture
5th Guns ‘n Roses The Finance Team Guns ‘n Roses Guns ‘n Roses
6th ST Ferguson ST Ferguson Notties Football Club The Finance Team
7th TDI Notties Football Club Afriguide Logistics ST Ferguson
8th Fly Fishing Consultants TDI The Finance Team TDI
9th Wildlife Assignemnts Wildlife Assignemnts TDI Afriguide Logistics
10th Sasfin Securities Joint Venture The Split Cane Brand Co The Split Cane Brand Co
11th The Finance Team The Split Cane Brand Co Novus Print KZN Wildlife Assignemnts
12th IDM Build It Sasfin Securities Wildlife Assignemnts Sasfin Securities
13th The Split Cane Brand Co Novus Print KZN Sasfin Securities Novus Print KZN
14th The Fingerlings IDM Build It IDM Build It The Fingerlings
15th Novus Print KZN The Fingerlings The Fingerlings IDM Build It
But it’s a hearty congratulations to the Growler WildGuys with Andrew Strachan, Edwin Bean, Martin and Louise Steenekamp who pipped their competition to take home the prestigious title as the 2018 TOPS Corporate Challenge winners!
It’s testament to the quality of this event that plans are already being made about next year, marking the 18th anniversary of the TCC.