Year: 2017 (page 2 of 2)

Getting to Mount Kenya by vehicle from Nairobi is interesting to say the least.

It’s 160 km and takes around 5 hours on what are ostensibly tar roads which would have Mr. MacAdam spinning in his grave. The gay abandon with which Kenyans drive is akin to putting a bunch of drunk teenagers into dodgem cars and advising them not to crash into each other.

Road signs and markings, if there are any, are really more for adding a splash of colour to the terrain rather than having any actual bearing on the way the traffic behaves. Overtaking is a bit like playing chicken with a chicken and often leaves passengers clucking accordingly.

The drivers themselves though, seem to consider this mayhem completely normal, hardly batting an eyelid as their unsuspecting passengers hurtle towards the windscreen each time they slam on brakes to avoid a certain head on collision.

One needs to be particularly careful when sucking on a cold bottle of Tusker beer snatched from the cold box in the rare moments when both hands are not required to maintain contact with your seat and you are not squealing like a debutante seeing her first party dress. The neck of the bottle is likely to knock out your front teeth, and possibly much worse, if not in full control when snatching a mouthful between violent overtaking maneuvers.

The first glimpse of the monolith that is Mount Kenya is impressive. Rising 5200 meters into the sky, with smatterings of snow near the summit, it’s difficult to believe you’re virtually on the equator in Africa.

Once off the main road a sense of post adrenaline calm pervades and the Tuskers are far easier to imbibe.

The magnificent lush green Montain forest envelops the surrounds in a kind of fairyland splendor and strange sounds emanate from unseen fauna hiding in the canopies.

Of course Gareth, myself and Jerry were here to fish, whilst also filming a TV show on what Kenya offers sport fishers.

I’ve often wondered at the passion for fly fishing that saw the early colonials going to such unbelievable lengths to introduce Trout into remote and extreme areas like New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and Kenya. I mean didn’t they have anything better to do? There they were, busy taming wilderness areas full of dangerous animals, unfriendly locals and tropical diseases, yet they had time to consider sending tiny eggs on rickety boats from Europe to hatch out and then introduce these temperamental salmanoids into rivers and streams all over the world! You’ve just got to appreciate that if you’re a fisherman.

With its altitude and gin clear water, Mount Kenya has the perfect habitat for Trout to breed and thrive. One strain of Rainbows has proliferated in these cold source waters, in particular the Ragati River. Called the Ragati Red, at first glance it looks like a spawning male in full colour, but in fact even the females carry the telltale red markings year round. I wanted one of those in my net!

We spent our first night in the National Park at the famous Serena Mountain Lodge. Built in the 70’s entirely out of wood with sweeping views of the mountain overlooking a waterhole frequented by Buffalo and Elephant, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no TV’s, but the walls between rooms are flimsy enough to be intimately involved in your neighbor’s proclivities, which can be more interesting anyway and there are no irritating adverts.

At first light we fired up the trusty Land Cruiser and headed into the Ragati Conservancy forest. Stopping only to chop trees that had fallen across the muddy tracks we soon arrived at a charming log cabin tucked away and reached by crossing a small wooden walk bridge over a crystal fast flowing stream that we knew held Trout. This was home for the next few days.

 

 

Of course Gareth, as is his wont, rigged his rod with lightning speed and blundered immediately into the nearest water, frightening not only the fish, but the local ghillies as well, who are there to spot for dangerous animals as well as fish.

Allowing Gareth only enough time to snag his fly in the nearest tree, Jerry calmly wandered down to the same pool right in front of the cabin and poached a beautiful Rainbow from right under his nose.

Things were going along as normal

 

 

The dense forest and narrow streams mean that fishing here is technical, with short accurate roll casts being used often. Most back casts will result in unpleasant expletives and lost flies. Even walking in the stream itself the overhanging canopy remains a challenge.

But very soon we realized even the thinnest lie or smallest pool could produce plump specimens happy to hold in the frigid water and eager for a meal to arrive.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the brilliantly coloured Turaco’s and Parrots fluttering around overhead amongst various species of monkey, but the steaming piles of elephant dung on the narrow paths are a reminder to keep your wits about you. There is good reason why its mandatory to have a local guide with you at all times, although to be honest they are armed only with a machete, which I wasn’t certain would suffice in the case of a startled buffalo in tight confines.

 

 

The night sky is breathtaking in its scope and clarity, but the eerie screams of the nocturnal Tree Hyraxes found here are a little unnerving at first.

The beautifully appointed 4-bedroom log cabin with a large open fireplace is available for hire on either a self -catering or fully catered basis. We were spoiled by the owners with fantastic fare and hospitality. I particularly appreciated the fine linen on the massive beds which made it rather more difficult than necessary to consider throwing a line for the early morning rise.

I’m not sure who coined the phrase “size doesn’t count”, but I do know they didn’t fish.

The Ragati River flows into a large dam on the lower slopes with plenty of space for casting, and more importantly, flat areas for positioning the cold box. It was to this area I gravitated while the youngsters explored the many pristine forest streams.

Only steps away from my cooler I was able to put in long raking exquisitely timed casts while simultaneously enjoying the solitude and a cold Tusker. After hours of patient practice, I can even do this sitting down.

It wasn’t long before a large Mrs. Simpson I had judiciously appropriated from Jeremy’s box worked her magic and my line went tight. I knew immediately it was a decent fish, but it was only when I had it a little closer to the bank that I could see the dark red flanks of a magnificent Ragati Red cock fish. Around 5 pounds of pure muscle, this was to be the trophy of our time at Mount Kenya and certainly a fish I shall remember always.

 

Fortunately, I had a cameraman with me, so had photographic proof to present to my mates around the fire that evening. Not that they wouldn’t have taken my word for it of course.

So if you’re ever at a loose end in Kenya, I strongly recommend you try to get up to the Mountain and the Ragati Conservancy (bookings@ragati.com).

Even if you don’t fish it’s a magical experience.

My only advice would be to hire a helicopter to get there if possible.

Tigers have always been my preferred fresh water species to catch on fly and my meagre pen just isn’t capable of adequately describing that adrenalin inducing experience. But on a whim late last year I decided to do something completely different.

So I told my wife I loved her.

The immediate look of suspicion had me wondering if I’d gone too far. And then the moment passed.

When I say passed, I mean in terms of the age old male practice of accruing fishing credits, the actual payment moment had passed. Of course it would have been remiss of me to not to use such a valuable and well- earned credit…..so, what to do?

After much soul searching with my old friend Glen Livet, it dawned on me. I needed a new species!

Why a new species? Firstly, that’s what we do. We go out with a sliver of graphite and a roll of string, to which we attach a bunch of feathers and a hook and see how many different species we can fool into eating it. Simple. But in this case it was more about being able to inveigle the missus into thinking I had a really important mission to accomplish.

Accordingly, at what seemed opportune moments, I began to punctuate long sighs with dreamy whispers of all the things I still had left to do in the fast fading years of my life.

A card that can only be played once. With all my guile and cunning, I implored and begged like a blind sunglass salesman knocking on your car window, until finally one day with a magnanimous huff, the old girl gave in.

I had the legendary Vundu in mind!

More people have climbed Everest than have hooked and landed a Vundu on fly. Was this not a worthy quest indeed?

Incredulously from my life long fishing buddies, the suggestion was met with a kind off sniggering disbelief, if not downright rudeness. So, when in doubt, go to plan T…….For Tiger. It wasn’t difficult to get the boys excited about an end of year excursion back to their favourite Tiger hunting ground on the lower Zambezi.

Deception was the preferred strategy for this adventure.

Our motley crew landed at Old Mondoro. Greeted by intense heat. We couldn’t get the ice into our g&t’s fast enough.

Early mornings and late afternoons were the only times a human could withstand the fierce sun. So these were the hours we fished. But, like any long con, I did not immediately sally forth in search of the main prize, rather tested my tackle on token Tigers, biding my time.

Spending long hours on siesta and at the dining table, always staying close to the cold box, I slowly built up my inner reserves and hydrated my parched body in readiness for the arduous task ahead. Enduring the taunting jibes of my buddies as their tally’s rose and weights increased, until it was time

I checked my trusty 9 weight and stole a big black brush fly from Jerry’s box. Made sure my knots were secure and the hook sharp. Cleaned my sunnies, checked the cold box again and sauntered nonchalantly down to the boat.

On the second drift of the day I saw the spot………serendipity.

Overhanging branches and submerged trees meant taking a chance. So I did. The false cast was tight and precise. The large fly gracefully whistled through the air and threaded through the structure like a well- aimed missile, landing just inches from the bank.

On the first confident retrieve the water exploded where the fly had been so judiciously presented. With pounding heart I set the hook and watched in awe as the massive fish moved away from the shallows peeling line as it swam for deeper water. Tension. On the line and washing over me.

This monster was too big to muscle and the 9 weight didn’t have the backbone to lift it easily to the surface. Wait and hope. Two mind numbing km downstream the great fish finally tired and we managed to bring it on board. 50 pounds of quivering Vundu.

Mission complete, my Prize Vundu

I had climbed my Everest. Alone and unsupported.

Not one to gloat, I sheathed my wand, opened a beer and let others tell the story. When they got some details wrong I magnanimously assisted in jogging memories.

My mates continued to pound the water in a desperate effort to save some face, but in truth the fight had gone out of them. Even then they knew the biggest fresh water fish of the season on fly was now beyond their frantic efforts.

I offered sage advice of course, who wouldn’t in my position, understanding that the wisdom so hard earned could assist others on their long road to fishing enlightenment? Grudging acknowledgment of my achievement was all they would give in return. And that was only after studying the photos for a long time.

No matter, I am home now and can rest content that my mates will never again snigger at any outlandish suggestion I make

So in some small way my quest has made a difference, all my sacrifices seem worthwhile….

I’m of to tell that to the missus…….and to mention that I love her.

Alphonse, A Place of Beauty and Mayhem

I was very fortunate to visit Alphonse Island in the Seychelles last week. Alphonse has to be one of the top five fishing destinations on earth, with the fantastic variety and numbers of fish on and around the atoll.

The thing that always strikes me when I visit this amazing area is that it is so much more than a fishing trip. Every day spent on the flats is like doing a wilderness walking trail in a shallow water, marine environment.

You get blown away by the sheer beauty of your surroundings. The islands consist of the whitest of coral sand beaches, with lush green coconut palms fringing them. Then you step out onto the shallow flats, where you soon become accustomed to seeing a variety of marine life around you at all times. There are rays, turtles and sharks, all cruising in water less than knee deep. If you look up to the sky at any time, you are likely to see fairy terns, tropicbirds, frigate birds, boobies and a variety of other tropical sea birds flying around. On the reef edges herons and egrets stalk small fish in the pools.

Walking the flats in search of feeding fish, such as bonefish, permit, triggerfish, milkfish and GT’s, is an amazing experience. A guide, who is attuned to the environment, and who seems to spot and identify fish that are little more than a vague shadow drifting across the sand or turtle grass, accompanies you. He points out fish that you can cast to, when they appear, or just entertains you as he feeds you information on the creatures and fish that you are seeing.

We had some dodgy weather while we were there. A cyclone moving around the northern part of Madagascar was creating havoc with the weather systems in the Indian Ocean, making our job a bit more challenging. The squalls seemed to be constantly around. If you stopped at any time and looked around you, you would see anywhere between four and six patches of rain and cloud in the area. When these came over us, the visibility of fish in the water became very limited, due to the reflected glare off the surface. At these times we relied more upon seeing tails breaking the surface, or bow waves as fish moved in the shallow water.

When the clouds moved on, it was like somebody switched on the lights, with fish suddenly being easy to spot, all around us.

We had some really good fun catching bonefish on small flies in the shallows. These fish move onto the flats as they flood with the incoming tide, taking advantage of abundant food in the form of crabs shrimp and mollusks, which inhabit the flats. They are fairly skittish fish, which need to be carefully stalked to within casting distance. The cast needs to be accurate and well presented, in order to not spook the fish. Dropping the fly ahead of a moving fish, and allowing the fish to get near the fly before moving it generally did the trick.

Once hooked, the bones showed us why they have been held in such high regard by flyfishers the world over for so long. They sped off with unbelievable acceleration, trying to get away to the safety of deeper water. Causing the line to rip through the water, kicking up a rooster tail of spray as it went.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching a number of bones, relishing the speed and power of these elusive fish, known as the ghosts of the flats, due to their ability to be almost invisible, even in the shallowest of water.

I also spent some time doing some blue water fishing from one of Alphonse Fishing Company’s fine boats. We trolled teasers in the beautiful blue water, sometimes no more than a hundred metres from the reef edge. I stole a glance at the echo sounder, and saw that we were in 70m of water, unbelievable! We raised sailfish every time we tried for them, and I managed to land two of these magnificent fighting fish on fly.

A real highlight for me was landing three wahoo on fly as well. These fish take off with unbelievable speed, tearing through the water, making the line peel off the reel at a rate that is nothing short of exhilarating. Those are moments that I will never forget!

I also caught some wahoo on small stickbaits, cast with light tackle. The thin braided line had very little resistance in the water and the speed with which the wahoo tore off was absolutely breathtaking. These amazing fish are so underrated in my opinion, Probably because most of them are caught on very heavy billfish trolling tackle.

I also had some fun catching yellowfin tuna on conventional tackle, casting stickbaits to them and marveling at the smash, where the fish would come rocketing out of the water with the lure clenched between its teeth.

The time went by too quickly and before I knew it, we were on the plane, heading home. I sat and reflected on how incredible the fishery was, despite the fact that the lodge at Alphonse is basically booked up every fishing season. Credit has to go to the excellent management of the fishery by Alphonse Fishing Company. They limit the number of rods that fish on St Francois atoll each day to twelve, ensuring that there is never too much pressure on the delicate system. They take the utmost care of each and every fish, ensuring that it is none the worse for the experience of having been caught. It is a very slick and professional operation, with some of the world’s finest guides plying their trade there.

It is somehow comforting to know that the whole experience will most likely be just as good for anglers coming there in years to come, thanks to the careful conservation and respect that the guides have for the environment and the fish.

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