AMERICAN IN AFRICA: Bushbuck Dam – New Trophy Lake


WORDS: George Robey III*

BUSHBUCK RIDGE, MPUMALANGA – Bass anglers cannot keep secrets, but bass scientists can. A Lowveld dam, buried in silence and hidden in plain sight for years has been discovered and will soon open to the public. Pull up a chair and pour a drink – this is a story you don’t want to miss!

Twelve years ago, a wealthy American investor named Maxwell Gray launched a well-funded world record bass programme near the town of Hazyview. The veiled programme exceeded all expectations and now produces many ‘mid-size’ bass between 3.5 and 6kg.

“Bass were the farthest thing from my mind when I came to South Africa. I was interested in propagating and exporting sugar,” Max explains from the front porch of his sprawling lowveld mansion.

The amiable, middle-aged Texan details a meticulous business plan that includes high yield sugar production from a hybrid strain of fast growing, super sweet cane on his 3,000-hectare farm. But, the discovery of a large sub-surface artesian spring he calls ‘The Bushbuck Aquifer’ changed his focus.

“We knew there was sufficient water for irrigation but had no idea how big the water source really was. When we opened the fountainhead, we found a vast water reserve with a constant temperature of 74 degrees F. We decided to build a lake,” said the wealthy entrepreneur.

Max built a lake of 812 surface hectares, equal in size to nearby Injaka dam and aptly named it, Bushbuck Dam. It brims with flooded trees, rocky points, artificial habitat enhancement structure and acres of flooded weedbeds, planted and maintained specifically for bass. The dam project began as a hobby but soon changed course.

Max hails from Tecomate, Texas and maintains a lifelong friendship with La Perla Ranch owner Dr. Gary Schwarz, a vanguard in the race to genetically engineer the next world record bass. Max called his old friend and told him about the newly built dam and aquifer. Dr. Schwarz dispatched fisheries biologist, Dr. John Kretzer who manages the genetics programme for a fast-growing species called Tiger Bass.

The Tiger is a mix of pure Florida and the first filial generation (F1) of a super Northern Bass genetically identified for aggression and fast growth. When the bass are grown in a tropical climate with ample food they grow quickly and reach tremendous weight. A Tiger Bass will undoubtedly become the next world record contender.  

Dr. Kretzer determined Bushbuck Dam the ideal site based on climate, water temps and feeding logistics. Max went all-in to produce the world’s best bass lake. High protein American Gizzard shad were imported and catchment ponds built for freshwater prawns. The Tiger Bass multiplied and grew quickly . . . too quickly.

Fast forward twelve years and the lake is filled with bass between 4-6kg, with a few individuals up to 8kg. Nuisance fish for Max and his team. The preponderance of these ‘mid-size’ bass stymies enhanced individual growth rates and Dr. Kretzer said culling is the only way to surpass the bottle neck.

“Our feeding programme is state of the art, but try as we might we cannot control the gap between recruitment (spawning productivity) and feeding frequency. We need fewer ‘mid-size’ bass to grow select giants, so we have decided to make this a joint effort with SA anglers to grow the biggest bass the world has ever seen,” Max said.

Dr. Kretzer determined that culling bass between 3.5 and 6kg for one year should get the programme back on track. Max and his team developed an angler assist programme that began in January this year.

Interested anglers will pay a onetime membership fee of R5000 and a daily rod fee of R500 to cover administrative costs and recoup money spent on the newly constructed concrete slipway. Twenty boats will be permitted on the lake every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

 Please go to last page for more information and a membership application to the Bushbuck Dam Rod and SA World Record Club.

*George Robey lll is a third generation of freelance outdoor photojournalists. He and Zambian-born wife Catherine, both accomplished multi-species anglers, relocated some 12 years ago from Ohio and today reside in a country home north of Pretoria. He is also the proprietor of the Venom Lures agency in Africa.  Email him on; follow him on Facebook/All Outdoors Africa.

Gothcha! Hook, line and sinker . . .

Happy April Fools to all our bass friends!

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