New angle on fishing

2009-06-25 00:00

GARETH George is that rare species of individual who has succeeded in turning a hobby into a full-time job.

A self-confessed “fanatical” fly- ­fisherman, George used to drive up from his home in Durban to fish in the midlands every spare minute he had.

Today, he has a home in the trout-rich area of Kamberg, and spends 10 days out of each month travelling the world in search of interesting fly-fishing destinations, assessing them for their tourism potential, and capturing them on film for television viewers on five continents.

Holding it all together is Wildfly Holdings, a company founded ­by George and his partner, Paulo ­Pollono, and now based in the heart of the village of ­Nottingham Road.

Fronted by the Wildfly shop, the holding company includes a registered tour operator, WildFly Travel, headed by Brad Cartwright, which operates out of offices behind the shop, and G&T Productions which produces television programmes and DVDs from a studio built alongside.

From these premises, George also manages an active and well-organised fishing club (see box) — still ­described by him as the company’s “core business” — which laid the groundwork eight years ago for the birth of Wildfly Holdings.

“As a club based at Nottingham Road Hotel, we used to do our bit, hosting fly-fishing festivals such as the Hyundai Corporate Trophy Challenge,” said George. “Four years ago, we decided to film that competition, which is the largest of its kind in Africa.”

George and his people were film-making novices at the time, but George wrote and voiced a simple script, assembled a couple of people with technical expertise and cut the programmes on to beta tape.

Alive to the increasing popularity of the sport — recreational angling has bigger economic spin-offs than rugby and cricket, said George citing research from Stellenbosch University — and obviously satisfied with the standard of George’s product, Supersport took the bait, offering a contract for the first of 13 television programmes. In August last year, G&T Productions launched a second programme for ­SuperSport called Inside Angling.

“Today, we’ve produced over 100 programmes for SuperSport, which reaches 2,8 million decoders in Africa,” said George.

In November last year, ESPN International came on board and through the American World Fishing Network (WFN), the Wildfly Fishing Series now reaches 37,2 million decoders in 104 countries over five continents. “Every week, one of our programmes is aired somewhere in the world,” said George.

But the network was initially a tricky customer to hook, asking for programmes in both Spanish and English. “They are pedantic about quality and asked at the outset for a sample to show their Spanish viewers,” recalled George.

What George needed desperately were some competent Spanish linguists. He found UKZN honours student Henry Perez to do the script translation and then looked around for a voice-over. “We needed someone who could deliver the Spanish version of the Queen’s English,” said George. After holding voice-tests, Wildfly found ­Oscar Feraldo who works for the ­Argentinian Embassy in Pretoria.

“We didn’t really know what we were getting into,” said George. “In order to match Oscar’s voice to the video, we had to do a lot of re-editing and re-cutting. Then we put together a panel of Spanish speakers to view the product and to give it the thumbs up. It was a time-consuming process, but we met our deadline of December 22 with one day to spare.”

Since the first programme aired in early January, George said Wildfly’s websites have enjoyed a 279% increase in traffic.

The programmes are a perfect platform from which to promote fishing destinations and WildFly’s tour operation promises to deliver the world’s best fly-fishing waters to fishing pilgrims and adventurers.

“People would get bored if all our programmes did was show a guy catching a fish,” said George. “We target the aspirational angler who wants to get out and do new things, so we also get spectacular underwater scenery and provide information about the destination.”

George says WildFly is at pains to tell the “real story” about fishing opportunities. “In the angling business, there’s lots of misrepresentation. Photos of people with gargantuan fish raise ­expectations. We’ve never faked a thing. We’ve been there and done it, so we can tell you with confidence if it’s good to fish there, and the right time to go. We can tell you where to buy tackle and whether a hotel claiming to be a five-star hotel meets the mark.”

Wildfly: Putting back into the system even more than you take out

FRUSTRATED by “mixed results” during precious fishing weekend trips to the midlands, 38-year-old Gareth George, then sales director for Weighless in Durban and a member of the local midlands fishing club, decided that what was needed to guarantee good local fishing was a fish management system.

“Being in the business of marketing membership for Weighless, I understood the formula for membership structures, how to create and maintain loyalty,” said George.

His computerised fish management system was a spinoff of that model. Working mainly out of Notties pub, George approached landowners with the idea of leasing their dams to him so he could keep track of fish stocks and in so doing be in a position to guarantee club members better fishing.

Today, the club manages 26 dams in the midlands and has at its disposal a host of information about each dam, including its size, surrounding topography, pH levels, dissolved oxygen and nutrient levels, and, importantly, numbers of key indicator species. The club also manages a booking system for the dams, some of which have accommodation on site.

With information gleaned through individual angler’s catch records, WildFly is able to manage fishing in relation to the carrying capacity of the water and by working closely with hatcheries in the area, develop a better formula for stocking.

“As a result of this system, I started to get repeat satisfied customers,” said George.

Thus, Wildfly was born. As George puts it: “Fishing was my passion, and that somehow evolved into a TV series.”

Wildfly is also involved in competitive angling, with George handling the Sybase Protea South African fly-fishing team. The club hosts the national competition and the junior nationals and has put in a bid to host the 2011 World Champs in the midlands.

An articulate and passionate advocate of angling and fly-fishing in particular, George credits fly-fishing with having pioneered the concept of “catch and release”.

“The policy of clubbing mature adults for trophies — that’s ruining fishing,” he said. “As recreational anglers we have to recognise we have a finite resource. What we take out today [and don’t return], we destroy for tomorrow.”

Not everyone is a fan of the trout, which has spawned a ­multi million rand industry in the Nottingham Road area alone. The fish species is under increasing scrutiny from conservation authorities concerned about their possible impact on indigenous fish species in river ­systems. Others say their impact is overstated.

“Trout are a key indicator species, which means to say that they are telling you that river system is exceptionally healthy,” George told Carte Blanche earlier this year after it was reported that provincial conservation ­authority CapeNature was ­considering using a poison called Rotenone to eradicate “alien invasive” fish in four rivers in the Cape Floral Region.

“If any conservation authority is serious about eradicating ­alien species”, said George, “they should start with the ­wattle and other exotic plants that are choking the rivers and address the major threat facing all of our waters, being the pollutants and effluent that threatens every living organism in the ecosystem.”

Ironically, for George and millions others like him, taking to the water to do a spot of fishing is as close to communing with nature as one can get.

Frustrated by “mixed results” during precious fishing weekends to the midlands, 38-year-old Gareth George, then sales director for Weighless in Durban and member of the local midlands fishing club, decided that what was needed to guarantee good local fishing was a fish management system.

“Being in the business of marketing membership for Weighless, I understood the formula for membership structures, how to create and maintain loyalty,” said George.

His computerised fish management system was a spinoff of that model. Working mainly out of Notties pub, George approached landowners with the idea of leasing their dams to him so he could keep track of fish stocks and in so doing be in a position to guarantee club members better fishing.

Today, the club manages 26 dams in the Midlands and has at its disposal a host of information about each dam, including its size, surrounding topography, PH levels, dissolved oxygen and nutrient levels, and, importantly, numbers of key indicator species. The club also manages a booking system for the dams, some of which have accommodation on site.

With information gleaned through individual angler’s catch records, WildFly is able to manage fishing in relation the carrying capacity of the water and by working closely with hatcheries in the area, develop a better formula for stocking.

“As a result of this system, I started to get repeat satisfied customers,” said George.

Thus, Wildfly was born. As George puts it: “Fishing was my passion, and that somehow evolved into a TV series.”

Wildfly is also involved in competitive angling, with George handling the Sybase Protea South African fly fishing team. The club hosts the national competition and the junior nationals and has put in a bid to host the 2011 World Champs in the midlands.

An articulate and passionate advocate of angling and fly fishing in particular, George credits fly fishing with having pioneered the concept of “catch and release”.

“The policy of clubbing mature adults for trophies — that’s ruining fishing,” he said. “As recreational anglers we have to recognise we have a finite resource. What we take out today [and don’t return], we destroy for tomorrow.”

Not everyone is a fan of the trout, which has spawned a multi-million rand industry in the Nottingham Road area alone. The fish species is under increasing scrutiny from conservation authorities concerned about their possible impact on indigenous fish species in river systems. Others say their impact is overstated.

“Trout are a key indicator species, which means to say that they are telling you that river system is exceptionally healthy,” George told Carte Blanche earlier this year

after it was reported that provincial conservation authority CapeNature was considering using a poison called Rotenone to eradicate “alien invasive” fish in four rivers in the Cape Floral Region.

“If any conservation authority is serious about eradicating alien species”, said George, “they should start with the wattle and other exotic plants that are choking the rivers and address the major threat facing all of our waters, being the pollutants and effluent that threatens every living organism in the ecosystem.”

Ironically, for George and millions others like him, taking to the water to do a spot of fishing is as close to communing with nature as one can get.

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