The 5 Years of Middelpunt is an interesting insight into the first few years of the TFFC from its inception in 1973, as written by Malcom Meintjies, and republished here with his permission.
Long before the fiery chariot of Helios had begun its ascent across the sky, the morning of September 1, 1973, had dawned for the eager inhabitants of Middelpunt. In fact, from the moment the tall trees in front of the farmhouse could be vaguely distinguished from the surrounding night, these anxious fly-fishers had deemed it light enough to fish.
Opening day for the Trout Section of the RPA. began with a misty dawn, and during the first expectant hours, the presence of a nearby fisher was heralded only by the ghostly swish of an unseen rod. It was bitterly cold, and when the sun finally pushed its way through the white, clammy cloak it was only the harder masochists who had not deserted their posts in preference to the call of breakfast. Nothing had moved until then, but as Laurie Cortie sought to mend his “rice pudding” cast, he felt a distinctive thump and joined battle with a 5Ib. cock fish. Scarcely had the excitement of netting this handsome specimen died down, than I was taken right at the end of the retrieve. Twenty minutes later, 6 lb. and 10 oz. of well-conditioned hen fish lay on the bank, and the newly formed trout club was off the ground.
Five years have passed since that day, and there was never another to touch it. Bruce Ritson, Ralph Goodyer and Doug Nelson-Berg made the day more memorable with good fish, and the stock rainbows all proved to be in fine shape.
I should explain that, in those days, there were only three dams-These had been christened with some originality. One, Two and Three. Being of more romantic nature I had thought Taupo, Leven and Sasamua to be more fitting or, better still, name them after African trout fishing pioneers — Lake Copley, Lake Harrison, Lake Parker. I mentioned my thoughts to the Chairman;
‘Whatsa matter,” he said, ‘don’t you like my numbers?”
Another feature of the first season was the putting aside of Two for the juniors. The juniors, in turn, found their “stockies” too easy and soon contemptuously referred to the dam as ‘only for kids”. They preferred to turn their attention to the bigger waters. On the other hand, the seniors found the temptation of surreptitiously casting a fly into the pond almost too much to withstand.
A legacy of the 1973 season that was carried over was the appearance of the club ghost. Usually, it was about that time when the bottles were low and the hour late that the subject was raised; the plan being to make the newer members uneasy. It was a perfect setting, for the farmhouse at Middelpunt, which provided our accommodation was old and harboured many creaks and squeaks. With the wind rattling ill-fitting doors and branches brushing eerily across windows, the more knowing ones amongst us would have a good giggle about it. In fact, we often laughed so much about the kind of nonsense we could dream up on a dark night that not infrequently we were among the first to lean forward and turn the gas lamp up a bit.
In any event, it was not only the ghost that was carried over from the previous season, and we confidently expected some exciting angling with the bounty of two-pounders that would still be lurking beneath the weed. A set stocking policy had been formulated and it was decided to stock with fish no smaller than 12 in. Our experience had shown that anything smaller was a waste of time when big rainbows were around.
Towards the end of the season, the club obtained a lease on some dams near Lydenburg. Small though these waters were, they were set in exquisite surroundings and provided surprisingly good fly-fishing, particularly with the dry fly or nymph.
During the first season the fishing at Middelpunt was adequate and because of the sultry weather conditions often not easy at all. A total of 339 trout were recorded. Figures compiled by Peter Arderne (who supplied all the statistical detail for this article) showed a 6 per cent return on 2 000 small fish (6 in), while with 12 in. rainbows, returns have shown, with one notable exception, recovery rates of over 40 per cent at Middelpunt and 70 per cent at Oshoek.
However, in order to stock with bigger fish, one must have the facilities to rear fingerlings up to the desired size. A small rearing pond was erected and it took over the task with which the newly opened Four had been entrusted. This 1,7-acre dam had sheltered our fingerling stock (though not all that successfully), and once we had netted most of its inhabitants the residue were left to avoid the wiles of anglers.
The season’s catch increased to 545 with almost half of these fish coming out of One (8 acres). While both One and Four were yielding 45 lb/acre, the biggest dam Three (15 acres) lagged with 13 lb/acre. Only five fish of over 3 lb. were recorded and all of these came from One.
A major problem was beginning to rear its head in the form of a carpet of weed which threatened almost two-thirds of the big dam (Three), and eventually, at the end of the season, it engulfed the whole of Four as well. On the whole, the effect of the weed on fly-fishing (no boats are allowed) was so dramatic that in April only 31 fish were caught. Weed control has since then enjoyed priority, and happily, the situation has never deteriorated to such levels again.
In 1975/6 the 4,45 acres of Five were available for fishing. A long narrow dam, nestling in the hillside below the farmhouse, our early expectations as to its potential were guarded. It soon became apparent, however, that this was to become a most popular dam. That season and the next two it yielded a return three times greater than any other single dam, and at no stage did the average CF. of its fish fall below the other dams. One may be led to believe that its superiority was due to anglers fishing there almost exclusively, but it should be explained that the club’s individual bag limit was set at two fish per dam per day, with a maximum of six. This strategy ensured that once an angler had taken his two trout from the dam, he was obliged to move.
Another feature of interest which began to take shape was the puzzle concerning Three. While we were no nearer to finding an acceptable solution, at least some sort of pattern was emerging.
From the word go the big dam acquired for itself a poor reputation. During the five seasons concerned, it received 2200 trout, of which only 535 were ever seen again. It did not have ups and downs, it was consistently poor. In 1974/5 its yield was 13 Ib/acre, in 1975/6 it was 7,7 lb/acre and in 1976/7 only 6,8 lb/acre.
We considered the possibility of the rainbow’s dislike for peat-stained water. We blamed heavy predation, cursed infertility and castigated the weed. Three, in the meantime, dozed quietly on.
Although I readily accepted that the poor returns could result from an interaction of these causes, the dam has always held great fascination for me. During the first season Three was definitely under-fished. The anglers, from that first day, concentrated on One, where the fishing was easier and the big ones’ were being hooked. It was only later in the season, when One seemed a little reluctant to provide sport, that some of us took to the big dam — and we caught fish. When the second season began, some of the reluctance to fish there had disappeared, but after an initial splurge resulting from a pre-season stocking, the weed began to take over and the catches dwindled away. Soon it completely covered the areas we had found productive, and as the season lingered on all one could do was to cast a long, deep line from a small stretch of the dam wall.
It was agreed that the high concentration of stocking which it had hitherto enjoyed should be suspended. Three became known as a “Big fish” dam, and while It did receive a diminished quota, many anglers were not prepared to put in the amount of effort that was demanded to catch a fish.
My own opinion of Three — and I can say I have spent enough time there in order to form one — is that outside of those times when the “stockies” take the fry, shortly after being released, the dam is more approachable, as far as specimen fish are concerned, during the latter part of Summer through Autumn. I have, however, never left it far from mind that a 90 per cent inaccessibility to bank anglers may have had much to do with the poor returns.
Even so, there is no doubt that Three’s big rainbows often came to the net in the autumn, in spite of the weed being worse than ever.
The figures to some extent bear out the autumnal capabilities of Three. During the third season, 13 fish of over 3 lb. were recorded, of which 10 came from Three, eight of them from January onwards. In 1976/7 eight rainbows over 3 lb. were caught, of which four came from the big dam, three in the period indicated. Of the five big fish that came out of Three during 1977/8, four were landed from March onwards.
From the angling point of view the last two seasons under review provided good sport and limit bags were not uncommon-To this end, Fisheries 01-fleer Peter Arderne — the man anglers love to hate — has done a sterling job in rearing the fish up to acceptable size and stocking in such a manner that the pitfalls which often go hand-in-hand with a put-and-take fishery were, for the most part, avoided- Firstly, condition factors have always been maintained between 42 to 46. Secondly, in order to minimise predation, especially by cormorants, our stocking policy has been geared towards small batches being released regularly during the season. This has the effect that the new” fish which tend to shoal for a while, thus attracting the birds, disperse quickly, cutting down on anticipated losses. Thirdly, in releasing small numbers at a time there is no chance that the wilder fish will be able to use them as cover. It has been my experience that when a large concentration of fish are put in at one go the older residents appear to disappear” and the angler has his work cut out sorting the keepers from the fly-hungry youngsters.
The fourth season saw the relinquishing of the Oshoek waters. When petrol restrictions were introduced their relative inaccessibility became a major factor to consider. The club had held on for as long as was felt possible and so they had to go. Since I had the fortune to take some good fish out of these ponds, including one of over 4 lb., the parting came with a heavy heart.
Middelpunt yielded 730 trout during the third season. This increased to 945 during the fourth season. The accelerated catch was due to the productivity of Five, which seldom disappointed anglers. This dam became even more popular in the fifth season when, contrary to expectations, a number of fish in the 4 lb. to 6 lb. category came to the net.
Another dam, Six (3,4 acres), became available and, like its sister dams, provides for good nymph fishing in the shallows before the ever-present weed becomes too much.
A pleasing aspect was the way in which the batch” system of stocking ensured equal sport throughout the season and there was no dropping away of catches during the Autumn. A total of 1 270 rainbows, weighing 1 540 lb., was recorded at an average of 1 ¼ lb.
Away from the fishing front, the club had taken leave of the RPA. and was re-christened the Transvaal Fly Fishers Club.
The early years of any aspirant fly-fishing club are often fraught with difficulties. The RPA/TFFC was no exception. Situated in a syndicate area, where fishing rights are let out at exaggerated amounts, it has not been easy for a group of ordinary beings to withstand the pressure caused by inflated overheads. Yet in five years, the dams at Middelpunt have been doubled- Fingerlings are supplied free of charge from the Provincial Authorities and we have the facilities to hold them until they are ready to be stocked at a size and in such numbers as to afford them protection. The farmhouse, which was once a bare shell, has been pleasantly furnished, and accommodation has been increased by the erection of further dwellings.
For those of us who have been with Middelpunt from the beginning and many faces have come and gone — many changes have been made.
The angling is better, the accommodation comfortable, but personally one thing has remained static. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, when most of the others have already left for home, there is that hour to be spent alone on the gently sloping wall of Three. Nothing better than to recline lazily on its Kikuyu grass bank gazing across the blue expanse, past the gently waving golden veld, and to reflect that our pastime is, after all, no less an escape than a pursuit.
In a letter to the Journal of the Cape Piscatorial Society, in the Summer 1973/74 edition of Piscator (#89) by Peter Arderne.
SIR—Since I left the Cape ten years ago, I have been an active member of the trout angling fraternity of the Transvaal. Two years ago I had the pleasure of taking you to one of the winter trout stockings of the Swartkops, a short distance from Johannesburg.
Although this winter fishing has proved an asset to anglers on the Rand, my main interest has always been in the Eastern Transvaal, particularly the districts of Belfast and Dullstroom, which provide some of the finest trout angling in the country.
Recently I joined the Trout Section of the Rand Piscatorial Association. The Trout Section only got underway about a year ago, and despite the initial problems of a shortage of finance and members a series of dams and comfortable accommodation was acquired for a reasonable rental on Middelpunt farm in the Dullstroom district.
As a result of the hard work and generosity of a handful of founder members, the fishing opened on September 1, 1973. The first day of angling produced some very good fish, the largest weighing 3 kg, and since then the RPA. Trout Section has moved from strength to strength. The RPA. is now extending its waters by building further dams at Middelpunt and hiring water on nearby farms.
At present, the Middelpunt dams are well stocked with trout in the 1+ 2+ and 4+ year categories. Moreover, the Provincial Administration has provided a large number of fingerlings plus the necessary feed free of charge. The fingerlings are being reared in one of the small dams and they will be used for stocking when they reach takeable size during the second half of this year.
The Middelpunt waters comprise a series of five dams totalling about 26 acres in extent. As mentioned previously one of the small darns is used as a rearing pond, while the remaining dams provide more than enough water for the current membership.
Unlike Steenbras, Wemmershoek and some of the Paarl reservoirs, spinning is not permitted on any of the Transvaal trout waters. Moreover, to encourage the genuine fly fisherman, the RPA. has forbidden the use of boats or spinning reels on their dams.
As regards accommodation, there is a farmhouse on the property which provides ample accommodation for members and their families. The house is looked after by a servant who is also responsible for feeding the fingerlings. Additional toilets and a shower have been erected outside the house for members who prefer to bring their caravans or to camp.
As the annual subscription is only R36,00, and this covers excellent trout fishing and comfortable accommodation, I can recommend the RPA. Trout Section to all fellow ex-Capetonians and any other Cape Piscatorial members who now live in the Transvaal. Anyone interested should telephone the Chairman, Bill Ritson, at Johannesburg 26-3742 during the evening.
Lombardy East, January 21, 1974 Peter Arderne