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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Louise Steenekamp set the early benchmark of a beautiful
60cm Rainbow, which was matched by Clive Murphy on day one.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
As did Andrew Stuart, who caught 16 fish at an average of
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.
‘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!
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.
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
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.
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…..it 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
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.
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.
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.
But if one had to judge by the yardstick of celebrations on
Saturday night, then there wasn’t a loser in sight.