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Gubu Dam - a gem in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Updated on October 31, 2020
Johan Smulders profile image

Nature enthusiast and amateur photographer.Travelled extensively in Southern Africa and the USA.

Almost every sunrise is a surprise
Almost every sunrise is a surprise | Source
Gubu showing a sunny, calm face
Gubu showing a sunny, calm face | Source
The clubhouse-a converted logging shed
The clubhouse-a converted logging shed | Source
Sunset in the West
Sunset in the West | Source
Knysna Turaco, often heard but seldom seen.
Knysna Turaco, often heard but seldom seen. | Source

As summer approaches it is a good time to update the bird list for SABAP2 ( the South African Bird Atlas Program) for this area. It is also a good time to relax in these beautiful surroundings and spend some time in quiet contemplation. So I packed the car and headed for the Amatola Mountains near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to spend a couple of nights at the beautiful Gubu Dam.

On arrival at the 124ha dam that is nestled between two mountains, Mount Gubu and Mount Thomas, I find it shrouded in mist giving it a mysterious feel. What secret delights is it hiding today under its cloak? Only time will tell.


I begin my bird list with a good sighting along the road of a Black-shouldered Kite, one of the smaller Raptors in this area. Nearby a Common Fiscal surveyed its territory from the telephone line on the watch for an unsuspecting grasshopper. A Spurwing Goose honks its way across the dam and in the nearby forest a Knysna Turaco calls its rasping call. A Pin-tailed Whydah bobs its way across the grass in front of the clubhouse and a couple of Cape Wagtails forage in the long summer grass, looking for grubs and worms. The ever present and very noisy Haheda Ibis can be heard in the background. Across the dam a Red-necked Spurfowl calls to its mate. A promising start to my list and I am certain that I would soon hear the resident African Fish Eagle. It becomes apparent that before supper my list should be well into double figures, if not into the twenties, after just a few hours.

Fly-fishing at Gubu.

After afternoon tea the clouds lift and the light drizzle stops. It turns into a beautiful evening. Earlier I had packed a fire in the sitting room fireplace because it was quite cold but now it has warmed up considerably and I may keep it for tomorrow.

The dam this evening is at its very best. A light wind riffles the clear water slightly and as I cast my floating fly line it comes gently to rest on the surface. The carefully chosen fly is in my mind a temptation to any Rainbow trout who may be looking for an evening snack. As I retrieve my line gently I wait for the tell-tale tightening of the line, indicating that a fish is taking the fly into its mouth. Often the expectation outweighs the result but after a couple of casts I feel the slight pressure. As I lift the rod the hook is set and the fish is on. It is only a small one and yet it puts up a good fight on my light rod. After I release it I hook two more, probably “stockies”. In other words young fish that were released in the dam last year and are about 25cm long. By the end of the year they will be grown and ready to present a really good fight and a wonderful meal.

As I make a last cast and reel in my line I am excited to hear a couple of African Fish Eagle calling in the distance. Then to my further delight a Grey-crowned Crane flies over on its way to roost on the far side of the dam. In January when I did my last bird count here I saw a pair of these beautiful birds with a young one. I wonder what further delights the dam has stored up for tomorrow. The bird count at this stage is 16, not bad considering the weather.

Another face of the dam.

This morning Gubu is totally changed. Yesterday mysterious and gentle, today bold and brash. A strong north easterly wind is moving the water. White caps dance on the surface and the summer grass in front of the clubhouse (an old logging shed now converted into comfortable communal accommodation) sways in the wind. In the background behind the water the green forest extends onto the slopes of Mount Gubu and Mount Thomas. The trees shine in the early morning light and the Mountains are capped with sparkling white clouds. It is a picture that needs to be captured on camera but I first capture it in my mind. Again the day promises much but both fishing and birding will not come easy. Such is a visit to one of my favorite places. Always interesting, always different and yet always delightful. A secret, special place to visit if you have the time.


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