Prizes on the line

There’s an exodus to the KwaZulu-Natal midlands in the spring. The reason? The finals of the TOPS at SPAR corporate challenge. Gareth George reports.

Getting to the final in any event can be nerve-racking, especially when qualifying for the first time. Fishing is not generally regarded as a competitive sport, appearing to lend itself more to recreation and relaxation as an activity, but try telling that to the intrepid bunch of fly fishers who have dreamed of catching a trophy trout during lockdown. “Have a glass of not so serious” is the sage advice dispensed at the TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge – and for good reason too.

It's one thing to be competing with another person but quite another to be pitting your wits against the finicky feeding habits of fish.

And that’s why, if you make the mistake of taking this pastime too seriously and start fixating on The Trout, you spend too much time casting, changing flies and chasing fish, forgetting why you’re on the water in the first place. Which consequently translates into catching less fish.

A few fell into that pressure trap during a spring weekend on the WildFly waters, but those who slowed it all down and let the fish find their fly scarcely had time to focus on anything else but the bend in their rod!

An astonishing 197 trout were landed in the first morning of the annual TOPS at SPAR Corporate Challenge. This single session exceeded the total number of fish caught in the entire third leg of the qualifying rounds! Even a Bok rugby defeat couldn’t’t have wiped the smile off every angler’s face on Friday lunch. The 100mm of rain in the week running up to the challenge had certainly helped, cooling the dams and injecting some fresh nutrients, but take nothing away from the efforts of the entrants who were filling scorecards.

The Yamaha boat, sponsored by Natal Marine and Caravans might have been the motivator for the quick exodus from the legendary Notties pub as anglers went in search of the elusive tagged fish, but I think the sheer amount of action spurred everyone back onto the water. A further 97 trout were recorded in that afternoon session. Consequently there were some very weary anglers who returned, many having spent 12 hours searching for the ever elusive double digit specimen.

Proudly displaying an impressive 59cm rainbow is Niel Westerhof and Louise Steenekamp, right.

Day one of the TOPS at SPAR corporate challenge final set a new record for amount of fish caught in a single day and after a hearty meal, new plans of attack echoed around the event arena.

Of course, no one bothered to consult the fish about these best laid plans or make an offering to the weather gods.

Session fishing is always a diminishing scale of returns, with rod and a little peer pressure taking its toll. Hence why the rule of 4, 3, 2, 1 fish to count in respective fishing sessions is a great handicap - for the trout in particular. And the fishing session total slid down to 92 trout in the third and plummeted to only 39 fish in the telling final session. You would think that with 425 fish landed in two days that many anglers would have caught their full quota, but only two anglers managed this feat.

Neil Westerhoff came a close second, but it was John Larter with his 27 trout who walked away with a new Sage X compliments of Frontier Fly Fishing, taking top honours as the best fly fisher of the TOPS Corporate Challenge.

Chasing the current 2020 record of 66cm, caught by Gavin Cowell which weighed 9lbs saw Hendrik Fourie land a beautiful rainbow hen of 61cm from InverMooi Estate which earned him biggest fish in the final. His prize was a fantastic hamper of fly tackle, compliments of Greys.

With every team which made the final guaranteed a fishing holiday, compliments of Wildfly Travel and Easy Holidays, anticipation was keen as the results were tallied. With trips to the incredible Baines River Camp and renowned Matoya Tiger Lodge, as well as adventures down the mighty Orange with Kalahari Outventures and trout getaways at Semonkong, Fordoun, Loxley House, Highland Lodge and Giants Cup, every team was winning.

The crystal clear, still waters of the KZN midlands provided superb sport for the TOPS at SPAR contestants.

In third place was the solid performance of the Nymphmaniacs, but it was the contest for the illustrious title that was only defined by just three placing points, with The Outdoor Warehouse team taking Silver.

Entering for the very first time and proving their fly fishing prowess were the talented Artav 4X4 team, the new 2020 TOPS at SPAR corporate challenge champions.

With 1 167 Trout landed in this year's event, the Wildfly waters delivered yet again.

To the victors, the spoils – the 2020 TOPS at SPAR corporate challenge champions Team Artav 4x4.

Silver medallists, the Outdoor Warehouse team.

Third place and a bronze medal went to the Nymphmaniac team.