Blue Ribbon Umgeni

#BRU Restoring the Umgeni as a trout stream

An invitation

On  the morning of Saturday 6th May 2017, a guided, 7 km  morning walk will be held along the banks of the upper Umgeni River.

All are welcome:  No charge


This is a casual stroll, suitable for kids, partners, fishermen and conservationists alike. It aims to showcase and celebrate what has been achieved to date, and highlight future plans for stream restoration, but above all it is intended as a pleasant morning hike in beautiful countryside.

The walk is to be guided by Andrew Fowler who says:



All you need to bring is a hat, reasonable walking shoes, and a water bottle. A camera and binoculars may prove useful.

You can leave your car at Il Postino, and jump in with someone else, or drive up in convoy to Brigadoon farm (+-16 kms from Il Postino). There we can leave cars parked at the dairy, and will be dropped off in a 4 X 4 at the lower boundary, to walk upriver, to be collected again at the end of the walk and brought back on the back of the 4 X 4 to our cars.

Each participant will receive a booklet about the upper Umgeni, with details about its history, fishing, birdlife etc. Along the walk, milestones, wattle clearing projects, good fishing spots and the like will be pointed out.


Head back to Il Postino afterwards for a pizza lunch and craft beer.

Il Postino is along the Dargle Road, just 4.8kms from Piggy Wiggly on the midlands meander.  Accurate directions : click this blue link HERE

Questions?  Phone Andrew on 082 57 44 262 or email

For planning purposes, please drop Andrew an sms/Whatsapp or e-mail to advise if you plan to join in, but even if you have not, you are still welcome on the day.

Quick details:

Where: Il Postino Pizzeria, Impendle Road, lower Dargle, and on to Brigadoon, 16kms further up the road

When:  gather at 8:00 am, leave for Brigadoon at 8:30 am on Saturday 6th May 2017

Bring: Walking shoes, hat, water bottle, Binos, camera

Suitable for: Fishermen, birders, hikers, families, kids (say over 6yrs of age)

Cost:  Nil



Lucky 13. That is the number of stiles now erected over about 7.5kms of the Umgeni, to allow fishermen to hike and fish all that water without having to climb through a barbed wire fence. What a pleasure! The last of the stiles were erected in the rain on Saturday 4th March by Anton Smith, Roy Ward, Nunu O’Connor and Andrew Fowler.




#BRU officially ended at the end of 2016.

That is because it was originally decided that people would have a stomach for all the hard work for a limited period of time, before it became ‘stale’, and they started to lose interest, at least to some degree.

It has been a fantastic experience, and we have transformed a piece of Trout stream. 98 of the 100 limited edition copies of the book “Stippled Beauties” are sold, and the last two will no doubt go soon. Either way the full proceeds together with all other donations have been spent. (About R120,000!)  There are a few wattles left here and there on steep sections, and from time to time a log jam may need some work, and some bramble will need to be sprayed.

Re-growth of wattles WILL be a big issue, and we will have to team up with the farmer for a day or two a year to go work on saplings before they get too big to manage by hand.


So we are done, right?

Well……we are speaking to some landowners upstream of where we have worked about access to their water, and they might be inclined to help us if we help them. And WWF have come good on their promise to do 2 years follow up on the tributary known as “The Furth”, and if we were to work alongside them, we could clear that to create a great small stream fishery.  And then two different fly fishing bodies have come forward with offers of SUBSTANTIAL fundraising to do more…….


Watch this space.

Why stiles?

We believe that part of keeping the upper Umgeni a pristine environment, is to make it a treasured place to many people. That way people will visit, and pull out the odd wattle for example. For it to be treasured, people should visit it often. And to visit it often, they need to enjoy being there.

Fly-fishermen enjoy their day more if the don’t have to deal with alien invasive bramble, and if they don’t have difficult fences to clamber through.

So bramble gets sprayed, and we put up these fence stiles for those hiking the river banks:


Lucky Mthalane and Zithulele Zuma putting up a fence stile. They were part of the team that cleared logs from the pool in the background earlier in the year.  

Stream restoration by flyfishers across the globe

It is always encouraging to see what others are doing to improve and restore rivers elsewhere, and to scout for potential advisors for the future.

Here is what the Wild Trout Trust are up to in the UK on the river Dever:

Wild Trout Trust

Here’s what is troubling fly-fishermen on the Smalblaar in the Western Cape, together with a very level headed response from the Cape Piscatorial Society:

Water Warriors

And a good summary of what is being achieved by TUDARE in Crawford County, in the Driftless area of Wisconsin:


It is good to see flyfishers actively restoring environments!

19 November 2016

This time around we have no hired contractors, and we are completely dependent on YOU, the volunteer!


Here is your chance to join the last volunteer day on the Umgeni for 2016 and be part of the #BRU initiative.

At 8:00 am on Saturday 19th November volunteers will gather at Il Postino restaurant in the Dargle, to travel up to the upper Umgeni in convoy and do battle with bramble.

Various parties have donated or lent items such as knapsack sprayers and chemicals. The plan is to start at the upper boundary, and for a team to line up either side of the river, and to work downstream, spraying bramble plants alongside the river. You will have a “support vehicle” mixing and re-supplying knapsacks with Garlon spray.

Any additional volunteers will cut and paint wattle saplings that have re-grown, or assist with the erection of fencing stiles.

You will need to bring:

  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Plenty to drink
  • a picnic lunch
  • and if you have: a bushknife, knapsack or rose sprayer, a small bowsaw.

There is no need to RSVP, and you can decide to join at the last minute.

If you DO plan to attend it would be useful for planning purposes to know you are coming, so please do drop an e-mail to : with your cellphone number and first name, and we will add you to the whatsapp group.

If it rains, we will delay to the following day (Sunday 20th), and if that days is also hampered by weather we plan to re-group on Saturday 26th November…same time, same place. Postponement or other important info will be advised on the Natal Fly Fisher’s Club (NFFC) Facebook page and on the above whatsapp group.

We hope to see you there!




Blue what?

A number of people have asked what the term “Blue Ribbon” is all about. Some have even misquoted it as “Blue River”….even in print.

The term “Blue Ribbon Fishery” is one used extensively by government and other organisations in the United States, and was coined as early as the 1970’s. By the early 1990’s publications were regularly referring to the term, and there are now many books bearing the term in their titles or subtitles.

Wikipedia defines Blue Ribbon water as follows:

Continue reading “Blue what?”

It is done

Well….largely done….








With thanks to :

  • Don’s Tree Fellers
  • Russell Watson
  • DUCT
  • Alfred Zuma & team
  • Roy Ward
  • Anton Smith
  • Howard Long
  • Murray Hibbs
  • Irritech

Polishing it off

This is the last piece of river on Furth/Rathmines farm that needs heavy pulling power to rid the river bank of heavy wattle infestation:

last bit

At top right of the picture you can see the brush piles from work undertaken in 2015.Above that the purple arrow denotes where there is a crossing. We can get tractors across there (this is the ONLY access), and get to the northern river banks, and work where the yellow lines run. We think we can also fell the trees on the very steep southern banks denoted in red, and drag them across onto the northern side.

By way of scale:  the red lines are 155 metres and  180 metres in length respectively. The yellow lines total about 650 metres. We estimate that this will take 3 days work, with a TLB and tractor, 8 chainsaws, and about 15 labourers. The TLB and tractors have been offered with fuel and drivers by the landowner. Much of the labour will be supplied by the owners of the north bank (Ross Poultry Breeders), and helpers have been offered by DUCT. The cost of the chainsaw gang for 3 days is R24,000.. We are checking with the donors…we might JUST have enough to do it.

After this the remaining trees will be within the capability of the odd volunteer day here and there, and can be incorporated into the yearly ongoing maintenance hereon out.

One nagging small patch just off the picture (top left) where we cant get a tractor either side of the river……but we can do this one tree at a time.

So there we go…this is all that is left to break the back of it!

The NFFC is not new to this.

Did you know, that the Natal Fly Fishers Club (NFFC) was busy working on the Umgeni as far back as 1974!

Inspiration from the USA

Several fly-fishing articles have appeared in recent months and years in the online media about flyfishing for Trout in the Driftless area of the USA, such as this one in a publication called “a Tight Loop”. [Lost in Wisconsin, Pg 112]

If you have a look at these and other pictures, you will see that the landcape looks remarkably like that of the Umgeni and other KZN meadow streams, like the middle Mooi River.

Josh Glovinsky Driftless article
Photo from “A Tight Loop”, from the article by Josh Glovinsky

Spurred by these similarities, our attention has been drawn to that area’s own stream restoration and conservation efforts, spearheaded by Trout Unlimited in the USA. In fact TU has a conglomeration of chapters and projects described more fully as TU DARE (Trout Unlimited Driftless Area Restoration Effort)

Read HERE about what they are doing. We hope this will inspire the reader to see the vision for the Umgeni, and some of the background, bigger picture and holistic outlook for #BRU.

Spring success

On the last 2 days of August, the Umgeni valley on Furth farm was again disturbed by a roar of chainsaws and tractors.

Together with Don’s Tree Felling, DUCT, Ross Poultry Breeders, Russell Watson, and NFFC members, numerous trees were felled and dragged away, and some massive log-jams were cleared. We were working downstream from where we ended up in April, and succeeded in closing the last kilometer or so, to where we had previously been working upstream.

We again worked on both sides of the stream, this time felling numerous trees on the north bank, that extended well up the hillsides.

Furth cleanup (1 of 7)

In other words, with the exception of 2 very steep sections of about 150 metres each, the southern banks of the Umgeni on this 6.5Km stretch are now free of wattles!

The Umgeni is now a delight to walk and to fish. #BRU Stalwart Roy Ward, together with Andrew Fowler, and visiting Trevor Sithole enjoyed a morning out on the river on opening day, the 1st September:


But the fat lady has not yet sung:  We have bramble spraying to do, and those 2 steep sections to tackle. There is also more to do on the northern banks. Then the dead bramble and piles of brush will need to be burnt, but these are the last steps, and there is a sense of conquest!


Future Plans

What do we hope to achieve before the end of 2016?

  • A day (funded by the NFFC) with contractors clearing the last 1 Km or so of the south bank on Upper Furth.
  • A volunteer day in October to spray bramble: all the bramble in the top say 3km…a big job, but achievable with about a dozen knapsack sprayers in one day.
  • Encouragement and support for Ross Poultry Breeders to press ahead with their undertaking to clear their +-5kms of the northern bank on Rathmines farm.
  • The last 20 or so copies of the limited edition book need to be sold to fund some more contractor work. Books will be on sale at the fly-fishing expo in the Western Cape on 30th July 2016.
  • If funds allow:  tackle the wattles growing on 3 very steep spots on the South bank.
  • Felling wattles on a stretch of 900m above Furth farm, that will be accessible to us from this month onwards
  • Follow up work on Chestnuts farm to remove saplings and evaluate what needs to be done there in future.
  • Start minor follow up on the lower sections of Brigadoon and Furth that were cleared over the last 3 years….pull out/spray wattle saplings and bramble.


And finally:  To hold a celebratory family day on the river near year’s end, to walk the river, fish it, perform Mini SASS tests, and enjoy what all the contributors to this wonderful initiative have achieved over the three years.

NFFC donates again

We are delighted that the Natal Fly Fishers Club (NFFC), voted unanimously at their June committee meeting, to donate another R10,000 to the #BRU initiative.

The funds will be used to hire in contractors to clear the last continuous kilometer or so of the south bank of the Umgeni on Furth farm, and if time and resources permit, to start to tackle the two steep spots, which until now have been bypassed.

Furth cleanup (1 of 7)

The above picture shows the last stretch of Umgeni still to be tackled on the south (right hand)  bank.

Schoolboys get stuck in

On Friday the 27th May 2016 schoolboys from Michaelhouse and St Johns College (JHB) joined forces and spent the morning doing follow up work on a stretch of the upper Umgeni River.

Chestnuts (1 of 1)-3

The area tackled (just above the Dargle falls) had previously been cleared , both by “working for water” several years ago, and by landowners William Griffin and Chris Howie. As will become the case with all the areas cleared to date, this was follow-up work, eradicating re-growth of wattle and bug weed. This work, although arguably less glamorous that the felling of big trees, is going to become critical if we want to prevent the area reverting back to its overgrown condition.


The boys, with guidance from their respective teachers, Riegardt Kotze  and Andrew Caldwell, as well as Roy Ward and Andrew Fowler, did a superb job, cutting and poisoning stems.  Amongst other things the boys learned that these rivers get cold in winter; how to hold onto a panga tight when cutting; and not to walk through bramble barefoot!

Chestnuts (1 of 1)

Thanks to the boys, their schools, and the committed teachers. Thanks also to the Natal Fly Fishers Club for providing pangas, saws and gloves and to TWK Howick for discounted pricing on these items. We are thankful to Doug Burdon of DUCT who arranged chemicals to stop re-growth.  And to Will Griffin and Craig Howie, who had staff working on the river on the same day.


Before and after


the corner 2013

and after:

the corner 2016

and a little downstream….

Before (note areas ringed in blue)

2013 google earth

and after (note same areas ringed in red):

2016 google earth






Autumn success

In the last week of April a team of contractors from Don’s tree fellers, The Branch Manager, DUCT, and employees of Russel Watson did battle with wattles. This time around, work started at the top boundary of Furth farm. The plan had been to try to work down to where we had got to in our upward work in March, some 1.4kms from the top boundary. We didn’t get there. This however, does not signal a failure:  We found a good river drift that allowed us to work both sides of the river with tractors. As a result we cleaned both sides completely, which is something we have not done before. It meant we only did about 650m of river, but the results are fantastic.

Furth cleanup (1 of 1)

We had a TLB plus two 4X4 tractors and a team of workers from Russel, who, together with Don and Duncan’s guys hauled every last wattle tree and old log out of the river and up the hill out of the floodplain.  Added to that we had extra chains courtesy of farmer Howard Long, so we were able to shuttle chains and keep the tractors moving, or alternatively haul logs from way up on firm ground.

Continue reading “Autumn success”

A generous donation

How do you thank a man, who asks not to be named, and donates R10,000 to your cause?

He said we can just mention that he is a long standing member of the Natal Fly Fishers Club, who cares.  He has already paid over the money, and we are busy getting quotes from contractors to spend it.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Early 2016 efforts

Get inspired!




Anton & Alison

Anton and Alison Smith have undertaken to match the contribution from the sale of the book “Stippled Beauties” on a ‘Rand for Rand’ basis. In other words, for every Rand raised from the proceeds of the limited 1st edition book, they will contribute a further Rand !

All the money will go directly into the hiring of tree felling contractors to clear the upper Umgeni 0n Furth farm.

Anton & Alison

What a fantastic commitment!

Furth stream valley

These pictures show the work done by WWF in the hidden valley of the Furth stream. A lot of stems killed, lots of follow up work still to be done! It won’t look pretty for a while , but one should not underestimate how much work it took to get to this point.

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Furth farm

The work done by the NFFC has been on the farms Brigadoon and Furth.

Brigadoon was largely tackled in 2014. The more difficult “Furth” is being cleared in 2015/6. The goal for 2016 is to tackle the approx 1.9 kms marked in blue below.

last push outline

Steep/difficult areas on the south bank marked with circles are being skipped for now, and work is concentrated on the south bank, and only easier trees not requiring tractors, are picked out on the north bank.



There is not much on the internet about the WWF and what they are doing on the Umgeni. Here are the basics:

Continue reading “WWF”

Which organisation are we with?

The work on the upper Umgeni is being undertaken on farms that may or may not be signed up with the WWF stewardship program, and where the farmer may or may not be a member of the Dargle conservancy.  The spirit of the #BRU tag, is to recognise and promote all the good work done regardless  of membership or allegiance.

Continue reading “Which organisation are we with?”

Roll of honour

The hardcover limited edition of the book “Stippled Beauties” …a fundraiser for the #BRU initiative.

People who have bought the 1st edition book so far:

Continue reading “Roll of honour”

An interesting Study


We recently learned that the University of Stellenbosch is conducting research on the effect of wattle on the quality of river water.  Click here to read about that interesting project.



The Dargle conservancy is working on the Dargle Stream (a tributary of the Umgeni).  Please support them.  To donate R20, just sms “DONATE DARGLE” to the number 40580.

donate Dargle

Go on…its just twenty bucks!  Do it now!

Trout in the Umgeni

A photo essay.

What is the problem with Wattle?

Wattle infestation causes erosion, and depletion of insect and fish populations.

In this article, the negative affects of Black Wattle are explained in more detail.

Wattle trees (9 of 10)

#BRU gains momentum

In 2015, the work that had already started on the Umgeni, needed an identity. The #BRU concept was floated, in which all parties working to a common goal have an opportunity to be identified under a common banner, and in which the collective work gains momentum due to the weight of all who are pulling in the same direction.  Reda about that introduction here. 

brownie (1 of 1)

NFFC work parties

Having had four successful work parties The NFFC held two more in early 2016

Details of these can be found here.

cleanup Furth


#BRU stands for “Blue Ribbon Umgeni”

Among those active in clearing the Umgeni river are a small group of flyfishermen who enjoy the pursuit of trout in the waters of this river. These are amongst the most passionate conservationists tackling projects on the upper Umgeni.


Finishing strong in 2016


  • The WWF completes their fantastic work on the upper Umgeni in April 2016
  • The fundraising 1st edition copies of the book “Stippled beauties” should all be sold in 2016
  • The trees poisoned on the river, require cutting in 2016 before they go hard

These are the reasons why we plan to finish this project on a high note, finish “strong” in 2016




River of hope

The story of the Umgeni, its wattle infestation, and the hope and dreams of seeing it clean again.  An article in the local fly fishing magazine.

river of hope

2015 work party recce

2015 work party recce:

NFFC work parties:



3 years

On the 11th November 2013 the Natal Fly Fishers Club held a social event in Pietermartizburg. At that event, a lovely young lady was “working the room selling raffle tickets”.   A box of flies and a few other goodies were raffled. They raised about R1,700 that night to put towards clearing Alien plants on the Umgeni.

nffc (1 of 2)

I suppose that was the start of the #BRU initiative.  The NFFC side of the project is planned to culminate in 2016. It will have been a 3 year project.  We believe it needs an end date. A finish line. 2016 is the last year, as it is for WWF.  This has us “galvanised” to finish strongly. To finish well.

Do you want to be part of this in 2016?  Are you wondering what part you could play?

Drop a “one liner” to Andrew on truttablog “at” gmail “dot” com .



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