It’s human nature to compete, Gareth George maintains, but even when prizes are on the line, it’s possible to find common ground in a shared pursuit.
Man has hunted one animal or another with limited success since learning to walk upright, and chasing down anything that swims as soon as the fear of water was mastered. All that’s really changed is us swapping a meal for the satisfaction of a good picture and letting the prey roam free to fight another day.
So I’m always amused when any angler tries to compete with another, as it can only be the fish which represents the challenge, not the fellow who joins you in celebrating our noble pursuit.
For 21 years the TOPS Corporate Challenge has spread this ethos and throughout the illustrious event, you will hear the words, “this festival has nothing to do with fishing!” The vast majority of fly fishers embrace this philosophy taking the weekend to rekindle old friendships and embellish their angling anecdotes. But with a million rand’s worth of prizes at stake in the grand final of the Corporate Challenge, in a few corners of the legendary Notties pub, cunning plans were hatched to take the title.
In the first qualifying leg, the benchmark of 320 trout was set, with fish gorging themselves on the smorgasbord of flies served up. But as the winter temperatures plummeted, so did their appetite. It has been one of the coldest winters I can recall, which, when coupled with the overflowing dams, made the next two legs a task for the determined. 319 further hard earned fish were recorded, but what had many an entrant beaming, was the average size of the specimens, with every dam in the WildFly stable yielding a fish in excess of 55cm.
The final of the Challenge can cause some to take it too seriously, but a Dalmore whisky tasting and the introduction of a new rule soon changed all that! The norm is for 10 trout per fly fisher to count, four in the first session, three in the second, two in the third and only a single one in the final afternoon. It was decided to invert this, to one, two, three and four, and with only one trout to count in the opening session, the party got into full swing!
A target of 62.5 cm (every inch counts) was set by Stuart McLoud from the Highland Hookers by the time everyone returned for their lunchtime Heineken recharge and at the end of day one, another 132 rainbows had been notched up.
Day two witnessed a fresh onslaught, with the fish a little fly shy and some doughy anglers a little battle weary.
It took the bagpiper and a hearty lunch to kick-start a very social crowd into action for the final session, knowing the trout were going to be very skittish after 15 hours of water flogging.
As everyone quit the dams, the rugby Boks’ annihilation of the All Blacks started the early celebrations, making for a memorable prize giving!
Kobus Potgieter took top honours for the biggest trout of 63 cm, fittingly caught on his birthday! And Karl Engelbrecht earned himself the top fly fisher accolade with 12 trout landed at an average of 44 cm.
Every team won a holiday away, just for making it to the final, compliments of WildFly Travel and their affiliated fishing destinations, but despite the phenomenal prizes on offer, you could see it was the ultimate bragging rights that captured the attention.
Out of a total of 875 fish caught during the event, 47 of these great catches measured in the
60 cm /8 pound range, marking new milestones for many happy anglers.
Trout fishing is a great leveller and one incredible statistic revealed was the three winning teams of the respective legs all blanked in one session of this grand final, proving conclusively that it is always the trout we compete against. They generally have the last say!
But there can only be one champion and narrowly pipping the Artav team in second and the Zimmers in third was the newly crowned Cathedral Peak Hookers.
The celebrations continued until the wee hours, with all paying tribute to each others’ performance on the water but also toasting the time spent with fellow fly fishers and making unforgettable memories.
Celebrate your catch and celebrate the moment with TOPS at SPAR.