Challenging the conditions

Mother Nature is the factor which ultimately holds sway on any fishing expedition, writes Gareth George. The annual TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge was no different.

A picture tells a thousand words, or so it’s said – and all these pictures demonstrate the fun of a weekend fishing. Some went home with silverware, others with product prizes, but everyone had a fine time casting flies with friends.

That this event has less to do with fishing and more about celebrating with friends was once again resoundingly apparent during the finals of the TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge. It’s amazing how the prospect or anticipation of a weekend of fishing kick-starts the party. Enthusiasm is at an all-time high and the great fishing stories of old are recounted, careful not to let the truth get in the way of a good yarn.

The first session of round three was understandably a slow start, but credit to those hardy souls who braved the frosty banks and managed to keep their fly in the water. The weather seemed very unsure of itself – a most convenient excuse for the anglers whose heads weren’t exactly in the game.

But a 61cm rainbow made an early appearance, caught by Amy Visser, along with a good few eclipsing the half-meter yardstick. There were, of course, tales of trout getting the better of the intrepid fly fishers too! Flagging spirits were revived by a fortifying pub lunch, and it was once more into the breach.

For the first time in the illustrious 22 histories of the TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge (TCC), an all-ladies team had entered and their performance on day one made all the lads pay attention. They were serious contenders for the title.

Considering the 2022 champions were competing once again, this was no mean feat! Another very heartening aspect of this year’s TOPS Corporate Challenge was how many new folks were being introduced to the sport. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone catching their first trout on fly. It’s a real cause for celebration and a story they’ll retell for many years to come.

That the conditions weren’t the greatest was reflected in the first day’s bag of only 91 trout. As usual, the Friday night saw some weary anglers trudge out to the waters, but most recharged their batteries for the last day with some ominous gusting winds predicted.

Remarkably the catch records improved in session three, a real anomaly when they should decrease based on rod pressure, with 56 fish making it to the net. But the fourth and final session brought the winds – and with gusts peaking at up to 40km/h, contestants sought solace in the comfort of Notties.

In the first leg of the TCC a solid 230 fish were caught and released, the second a very impressive 285, but in this third gathering, only 174 fish succumbed to the angler's advances – not that you could tell from the jovial attitude of everyone at the final prize giving.

Eleven of the 15 Wildfly waters have now produced a trout over 60cm which is a true testament to their fishery management and with a total of 689 fish recorded in the qualifying legs, there was no shortage of action as Justin Birnie could attest, earning the accolade as the top fly fisher.

The five teams which qualified for the final were: Team Waterscapes; Highland Hookers and Fish O’Holics, with Notties Fly Fishing being pipped by the new all-ladies team, Stranger Dangers, who won the third leg of the TOPS Corporate Challenge.

Fast forward to the grand finale: the all-ladies team charged out the blocks, winning the first session, catching 15 of the 101 trout landed. The news rapidly spread through the pub lunch at Notties, causing the lads to dig deeper into their fly boxes. (A man’s fragile ego is nothing if not a motivational force.)

Once again, weather intervened with temperatures plummeting and the wind blowing anglers off the water. Consequently just 61 fish were tallied in the second session but a 60cm brown trout provided inspiration.

On Saturday, the sun rose, putting a spring in everyone’s step.

Rod pressure will always make the trout a little fly shy, causing many to change tactics. The Fly By Night team, shot into the lead after winning session three, which saw a predictable further 60 trout netted. All that was needed for the final session was to land a single fish – and the title was theirs.

The tagged fish and chance to win a boat, compliments of ONE Insurance had everyone back on the water for the fourth and final session. Sacrificing the chance to watch the Boks was a great indication of how much the teams were enjoying themselves in WildFly country.

Every single team which qualified for the final had won a holiday for their entire team, to a great destination in Africa. That alone made Saturday night’s atmosphere a special one.

As ever, the tongue in cheek awards, poked fun at antics on and off the field. No-one is above a little ribbing, as was evident with Paul Mindry from the SPAR team getting the Donald Trump award for catching a fish after the final whistle, attempting to steal the show! Never let the truth get in the way of a good anecdote is the WildFly Choice Award motto.

An incredible 10 fish over 60cm were landed by the finalists, bring the impressive tally of 18 trout breaching this trophy yardstick for the 2023 Corporate Challenge. That nearly a quarter of the fish caught eclipsed the half meter mark is testament to these waters.

The largest fish in the finals went to Bryce Jooste, for his 61cm (tied by Amy Visser), but James Hill’s 65cm in leg one made him the title holder for largest trout in this year’s event. Top fly fisher of the final went to Grevin Price, for his 16 fish averaging 44cm.

There was a count out for second and third place, the Reel Wanderers earning themselves a trip to the luxurious Baines River Camp on the lower Zambezi, pipping the 'Stranger Dangers’, who get to enjoy a fantastic Orange River holiday with Kalahari Outventures.

And a single trout gave Team NFC top honours earning a coveted trip for trophy tigers to the renowned Matoya lodge in Barotseland.