It’s that time of year when the temperatures are falling in the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands and light frosts are blanketing the ground in the mornings. This means only one thing, FESTIVAL time.

Team Xplorer consisting of Richard Gorlei, Graeme Pitt and myself made our way to the annual Hastings Exclusive Fly Fishing Festival that was held on the 13th to the 15th May. The Festival, as it’s name suggest, was based at the Hastings Syndicate Farm in the Dargle-KZN.  We met at the Hastings Farm, got the all-important Covid 19 protocols out of the way. As the responsible team captain, I proceeded to register the team, whilst the rest of the guys were enjoying a cold one from THAT Brewery on tap.

This years festival consisted of  21 teams of three anglers, different to most event with teams four. After registration and the compulsory dam draw we enjoyed a hearty dinner. We drew dam group 6 for the event. A set of four dams, to be fished 2 dams per day for the next 2 days. We were not familiar with these dams as it was our time fishing this festival. After a few more refreshments and banter with the other anglers, we headed back to our accommodation for and early-ish evening to set up rods, talk tactics and to continue hydrating a little.

We checked into the stunning Stoneford Lodge on Star Dam, lit the fire, set up rigs and eventually made the call to get some shut eye in anticipation of our first session in the morning.

The following day we were up bright and early, threw down a quick breakfast, and headed off to tackle the day. The first dam (Dry Fly Dam) turned out to be a little slow.  My teammates had to pick up my slack, logging a fish each on the scoreboard whilst I was left pondering a change in sport. Midday couldn’t have come soon enough for me.  We raced off to our next dam stopping quickly at the Hastings farm for a quick lunch before moving onto our next dam. The afternoon session was the infamous Chestnut Dam. All frustrations were soon forgotten about as we arrived at the put-in area. We found fish in the deeper water around the structure. Graeme managed a few solid fish in quick succession.

I soon found a few fish just off a prominent rocky point. Halfway through the afternoon, I stuck a solid fish that gave me the run-around in the deep water. After a few heart-stopping moments, I finally managed to slide a beautiful 58cm Rainbow into the net. A few more fish for our team and the was day one over. After my slow start in the morning, I was feeling blessed to have had spent the afternoon on a stunning dam with some great mates.

That evening we headed back to Hasting HQ to hand in our Catch returns and tuck into the evening meal, a fully loaded potjie. We enjoyed a few cold ones and shared some fishy tales with the other angler that will last a lifetime, before heading back to our lodge to rest up and do it all over again the next day. Day 2- Dawn broke and we were heading to our third Dam for the festival – Innerfson Top. After a quick assessment of the dam, we launched our Xplorer Journey V Boats and set about targeting the rising fish in shallows just off of the bank and weed beds where we saw several fish moving. We had our work cut out for us as these rising culprits were small fish in the 20- 28 cm range, not what you want when only your biggest four fish count. We caught fish throughout the morning which was fun and I ended up smuggling some fish in the mid 40cm range to end the session.

The Final dam wasn’t what we were expecting at all. It was a small dam that didn’t show much promise. We certainly gave it a good go, scouring the water for a few hours on various nymphs and streamers with the reward of only one fish of 42cm. Plans changed as we then decided to “fish” dries into the evening. Let’s be honest when nothing much is  happening its  great to just sit on the water’s edge, enjoying a few wetties with your pals and taking In the surroundings

The final evening is always good fun. We enjoyed a hearty spit braai, few more Blondes from THAT brewery, and what I think all the teams wait for, prizegiving and the traditional punishment beverages (thankfully our team dodged that bullet). Team Xplorer ended up 5th place overall, which we were happy with considering the variety of our Dam selection for the weekend. My 58cm Rainbow was holding top spot up until the last session as I was pipped by a 59cm fish. I did manage to take the prize for the most fish, a three nights’ accommodation at Beverly Country Cottages, I can’t wait. All in all, it was a pleasant event with some awesome folk who attended, some of whom traveled from far and wide. Big thanks to all landowners for making your waters available for the weekend. Well done to the organizers and fellow anglers alike.

Still water festivals like this Hasting Exclusive event when I’m primarily float tubing, my main setup is the Xplorer T50 6 weight which I have paired with the Xplorer Evo 003 reel. The two main lines that performed for me were the Rio Lake Aqualux intermediate sink 6wt and the Rio Fathom WF6S3. I also used the new RIO Flouroflex Strong tippet in 4x and 4.5x. I am so impressed with the overall performance of this tippet material and the knot strength is incredible. It’s definitely in my arsenal for the rest of the still water season. Fly patterns varied as always but olive and black Minkies in size 14 were the most consistent.