Year: 2018 (page 2 of 2)

Gkhui Gkhui and the Magic of the Karoo

It was mid-November and I was heading south to one of my favorite locations… As the last bit of concrete and steel from South Africa’s judicial capital disappeared in my rearview mirror and the horizon lit up with dancing illusions on the salt pans of the Great Karoo my mind drifted back to the places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. I was lucky enough to see some amazing and breathtakingly beautiful places but none quite like the Karoo.

There’s something about this semi-desert region of Southern Africa with its long narrow roads and vast plains of emptiness that I find alluring. It’s difficult to describe, probably because there isn’t much to describe, but the Karoo just feels right to me and every time I go back I get a familiar, coming home, feeling. This time the Karoo was going to be home for at least a week, as we got invited by Chris van der Post and his family to film an episode of the WildFly fishing series at their lodge on the banks of the Orange River. Gkhui Gkhui River Lodge is a brand new fly fishing and hunting lodge that was built early in 2017. The luxury accommodation is situated 20 minutes outside Hopetown, around some of the best Yellowfish waters I have come across.

 

When we first walked down the pathway towards the main entrance of the lodge my expectations were already exceeded and like the first couple bars of a catchy song I could tell the rest was going to be good. We were greeted by Chris and his friendly staff who were waiting to serve us lunch and the start of what was to be an unforgettable dining experience. No kidding, the food was unbelievable as Chris’s wife and sister-in-law cooked up traditional “boerekos” with a modern day twist, think Bobby Flay born on a farm somewhere in the Free State.

With stomachs filled we set out for an afternoon session on the river. As luck would have it we timed it perfectly, timing plays a big role on this particular stretch of the Orange River. With Vanderkloof Dam 45 minutes upstream, the river rises a considerable amount when they let out water at the dam wall for the purpose of generating electricity. Around mid-morning, the water rises and then starts to drop again late afternoon. Chris explained to us how the fishing really comes on when the water levels start to drop.

My game plan for this particular trip was to do a lot of sight fishing to Smallmouth and Largemouth Yellows and where possible present big dry flies to see if I could peak the interest of any golden resident. Unfortunately, due to dam upstream being low, coming out of a major drought the water color wasn’t its usual emerald green and slightly murky but clearing as the levels dropped. I stuck to the plan though and rigged up a dry- dropper rig to fish the waters around the lodge and the plan paid off. I even convinced a juvenile largie to eat the dropper nymph in the very first session.

Part of our mission was also to target some Largemouth yellows and the next day we did a few drifts, looking for some big largies. I started off with a solid take on large streamer I was stripping through some flooded weed, the fish didn’t stay on for long however and then it went quiet. Now I’ve done enough largie fishing to know that it’s just par for the course but when the wind picked up later in the afternoon bringing with it some dubious looking clouds we made a collective decision to focus on the smallmouth yellows, targeting them on dries. I would have to go back another time, hopefully with some better conditions to bag the elusive one.

So the next 3 days we spent searching for yellows who would rise to the surface to eat our dry fly presentations. Chris who knows this stretch of the Orange River like the back of his hand would move between upstream and downstream spots to accommodate the high water levels and ensure we fish the most productive waters at the right time. What followed was the best dry fly fishing I have experienced in quite some time. We would walk in pairs and spot fish in pocket water, one angler would line up the cast as the other kept eyes on the fish, a short cast with a slight plop of the fly would do the trick as we stood and watched every fish slowly rise to investigate. We had some refusals, some missed takes and also dropped one or two good fish but we also managed to land some good smallmouth and capture a few of the best dry fly eats I’ve seen on film.

On our final day the foul weather finally set in, we woke up to a miserable drizzle and wind that would later pick up to 20 knots. Now, what’s a fly fishing trip without bad weather…? I wasn’t too bothered though, we had some amazing fishing the day before and finished off the show with some good footage that we can string together for what in my opinion will be a great episode and something completely different. It was decided that we would stick around and fish a small branched off stream in front of the lodge which so happens to be fairly sheltered from windy conditions if they do occur. My good friend Richard put the camera down for a couple of hours and got behind the rod. We noticed some fish rising so I tied on a large beetle. Rich made a cast towards the rising fish making sure to plop the fly at the end of the cast. Sure thing the fish came up to see what the ruckus was and in the same breath sipped down the beetle like it was a dry martini. With high fives and hero shots out of the way I pulled out my little point and shoot camera and we took turns at filming and fishing for these eager yellows and ended the short session with 6 smallies on dry and some crazy takes on camera which I will be editing into a little behind the scenes vlog episode, so stay tuned.

On the whole, it was another adventure for the books and it just reaffirmed my stance that the Orange River is a world-class fly fishing destination, and Gkhui Gkhui lodge is the complete package for anglers looking to experience the best that the Orange River has to offer. With experienced fishing guides, luxury accommodation and excellent catering it’s worth booking your next fishing adventure with Gkhui Ghkui River Lodge.

A Worried Man

Guy Lobjoit is a worried man

One of the owners of Guma Lagoon Camp in the Okavango Delta Panhandle, Guy has spent most of his adult life introducing tourists and friends, to the many natural splendors of this watery wonderland.

The Okavango is not a place for the faint of heart. Dangerous animals large and small are constant companions. Medical help is uncertain and provisions difficult to obtain, transport and store in this hot remote African frontier.

But Guy and his wife Bev have built a life and family here, justifiably proud of the service they offer at Guma, passionate about what they do and their part in the conservation and awareness of this incredible World Heritage Site.

Guy is also a renowned and avid angler.

Over the past decade, with the assistance of Airlinks direct flights to Maun, we have visited the Okavango Delta many times to fish and enjoy the phenomenon of the annual Barbel Runs.

Like any natural event timing may vary, and some years are better than others, but we have experienced some of the most amazing catch and release angling anywhere in the world right here in this jewel of Africa.

The runs normally occur around October when the annual flood waters cascading from the highlands in Angola and wending their way through Namibia and into the otherwise arid north western reaches of Botswana start to recede off the flood plains, bringing with it an abundance of small baitfish on which the larger species feed.

But over the past 2 years things have changed dramatically. The schooling Barbel themselves are very much smaller than ever before and species like the beautiful Nembwe have completely disappeared from the system. Other Bream species and the Tiger fish we love to catch and release have seen a radical decline in numbers and a change in behavioral patterns.

What has caused this sudden change?

Well the answer is no-one knows.

Theories and rumors are plentiful, but really no more than speculation. Netting is often blamed, but this practice has been going on for decades and could certainly not have wiped out an entire species in this short period of time.

Water levels is another possibility, but these have fluctuated for eons without the apparent damage we are seeing now.

What needs to happen is an urgent scientific study on salinity, PH levels and testing of the water for contaminants poisonous to fish. Guy has been trying, with the voluntary help of other concerned parties, to institute this, but a project of this magnitude requires government intervention and assistance. Given that this area is a World Heritage Site one would assume international assistance would also be a possibility.

In the short time we were there our crews covered over 200 km of the panhandle searching for Barbel runs. Those we did find seemed to be juvenile fish acting on instinct rather than the normal feeding frenzy and in most instances the other species that normally accompany the runs were absent, barring one or two small Tigers in the general area.

The one exception occurred on our last morning when Guy and I found runs closer to Guma which had attracted a fair number of the vicious Tigers. Over a period of about 2 hours our poppers and stick baits were attacked again and again, with the normal low hook up rate on surface lures, but still a fairly impressive number of fish were landed and returned. On previous trips the average size of Tigerfish patrolling the runs and getting to the lures first would have been between 3 and 4 KG’s……..this time the largest fish landed was 2.7 KG with the average below 1 KG.

The Bream species were also very skittish compared to earlier experiences, but we didn’t put in as many hours hunting for them as we did the Tigers. Guy, however, is adamant their numbers have dwindled alarmingly as well.

Unlike the spectacular bird and animal life in the Okavango, which are a visual and constant reminder of the heritage and beauty of Africa, the fish that swim below the surface of the water are largely taken for granted or simply not considered at all. Yet without a viable underwater habitat the whole food chain might break down endangering one of the most exceptional tourism destinations on the planet, as well as the rare and endangered species that thrive there.

Guy is right to be worried, as should we all.

Tarpon Fever

My long held dream of catching a Tarpon on fly remains just that.

No excuses.

On a recent trip to the Kwanza River Lodge in Angola I had my chances and came up short.

Kwanza Lodge and River mouth

Actually I could come up with any number of excuses of course, but sometimes simply wanting something too badly adds fuel to the adrenaline coursing through your veins when the goal is in sight and things go all to hell.

Now when I say in sight, I mean literally swimming in front of you.

These magnificent fish grow to around 140 kg’s in this neck of the woods (or jungle) and the larger specimens move between the ocean and the river depending on tides and seasons.

Once Tommo had landed at 75 kg monster on live bait at sea and shown us pic’s of the behemoth, we realized we were well out of our depth with our puny 12 weight fly rigs and scuttled back to the relative safety of the river.

Tommo up close and personal with his giant Tarpon

Not to say there are not very large Tarpon roaming there as well, but the “juveniles” of up to 40 kg seemed a much more realistic option to target. Until Gareth caught his first one of about 10 kg’s and took around half an hour to land it.

When it comes to fly fishing, actually seeing the fish you are casting to is the holy grail of the sport. Tarpon are probably the largest fish on the planet that will happily gobble a seemingly insignificant small fly when hungry and will do so both under the water or on the surface.

 When on the move, the smaller Tarpon will swim in schools, often within meters of the beach and remain close to the surface, regularly “porpoising” and at these times will generally compete for any fly coming near them.

When attacking, these ancient predators will open their cavernous mouths and gulp a large amount of water, prey and all, in and over their gill plates, filtering any solid matter which remains as food.

This is where things got tricky for me. The accepted mantra of slow strip for Tarpon, which makes perfect sense considering how they eat, was easier said than done. General practice when seeing a fish coming for your fly is to speed up the strip, thus inducing a strike. Of course when the fish is busy inhaling your fly with a wide open mouth it doesn’t help one iota if you pull the bloody thing out.

The Silver King, as it is reverentially referred to the world over, has not survived since prehistoric times by being easy prey itself. For 6 full days we wielded heavy 12 weight outfits from a ski boat in a deadly dance with wind, waves, fatigue and sharp hooks- looking for our chances.

They came. But few and far between. Much of our time was spent casting blind into murky water, more in hope than with any specific plan. At times a huge silver splash nearby would reignite the belief and keep tired arms moving. At others, the mirror calm water helped not at all.

The times of madness came with low light, early morning and evening.

As the tide changed a scum and papyrus line would form in the river attracting marauding groups of juvenile “Poons”. Seemingly unperturbed by the motors, we were able to get close enough to put flies amongst them. The first fish Gareth hooked somersaulted 6 feet out of the water and spat his fly disdainfully back at him.

We continued to pay school fees.

Gareth got the hang of it and landed two nice fish, over the week. I, on the other hand suffered terribly from what in hunting terms is known as “bokkoors” an adrenaline induced malfunction of the brain, causing an inability to do what your mind is telling you to do.

Gareth with a manageable Tarpon on fly near the river mouth.

I’m seeing a shrink now and he thinks he’s getting on top of it. Yeah right, easy to say from your leather armchair, wait until that Silver King is coming at you….

I’m hooked!!

Fresh Water Ocean

The longest freshwater body of water in the world is Lake Tanganyika. It is also the second deepest (1.5km) and remarkably contains approximately 16% of the earths fresh water supply.

Holding over 350 different species of fish, it stands to reason that given the chance, any fisherman worth his salt would leap at the opportunity to explore this marine wonderland.

We did just that.

 

The vast expanse of the fresh water ocean, Lake Tanganyika

 

Luckily, and against considerable logistical odds, a lady called Sandra Valenza, an avid angler from Zambia, has over the past few years, obtained and revamped an iconic lodge in the Nsumbu National Park called Nkamba Bay.

 

Although the lake as a whole, bordered by the DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia, has seen severe fishing pressure negatively affect fish stocks, Nkamba Bay itself lies in this area protected by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).

 

Flying on Proflight from Durban to Lusaka was a bonus for us, being based in KZN, and an overnight in Lusaka at the friendly PalmWood Lodge got us into the right frame of mind for a fishing trip. Tommo introduced me there to Nshima, Zambia’s staple maize porridge, and chicken curry-delicious.

 

 

Another 2 hour flight on Proflight to Kasama and a private charter to the lake saw us duly ensconced at the pub on the elevated deck of Nkamba Bay Lodge with a cold beer and a spectacular view over the crystal clear water where a pod of hippos frolicked happily.

 

 

Tommo and I were fishing conventional spinning tackle while Jerry and Gareth worked flies off the large comfortable ocean going ski-boats.

 

 

Given that there are 4 different species of Perch, Tiger Fish and a seemingly endless number of Cyclid species happy to chase a lure or fly, the opportunities are plentiful. The guys on fly were battling a bit with the wind drift making it difficult to get the flies down to anything more than around 10 meters. But even then, they were picking up plenty of the voracious smaller Cyclids and the odd juvenile Perch around the rocky shore line.

 

 

On spinners and lures, with light braid, we were more competitive and had racked up so many species on the first day we had lost count. Fish of every shape, size and colour attacked anything in their path. Interestingly, the largest Cyclid species on earth, called Nkupe, live in large numbers in Lake Tanganyika and when schooling near the surface will happily take a popper or stick bait. The sought after Peacock Bass found in the Amazon basin is also a member of the Cyclid clan, but comes second in size to the Nkupe.

 

We found the larger Perch holding in deeper water over 30 meters, but unfortunately all attempts to bring them to the surface without severe Barotrauma (expansion of the swim bladder) and thus probably killing the fish, were futile. So we stopped fishing at anything deeper than 25 meters.

 

The fly guys managed to snag a couple of small Tigers, but other than one decent smash on a copper spoon we had no joy on the toothy critters. We all managed a number of Perch, but nothing over around 8 kg’s. I found a large bright paddle tail soft plastic fished like a bucktail jig worked well for both the Cyclids and Perch.

 

When fishing Lake Tanganyika its often hard to remember you’re in fresh water, the sheer magnitude of the lake, its extreme depth and seemingly endless number of species is far more reminiscent of blue water ocean fishing. For light tackle spinning and popping enthusiasts it’s paradise, and as mentioned if you’d like to tick off the world’s biggest Cyclid, this is where it’s at.

 

 

Nkamba Bay Lodge is the only place to stay, due to being inside the National Park, good food and service, as well as comfortable air conditioned rooms. They also have a number of boats to choose from.

 

For something completely different try getting to this fresh water ocean and ticking off some unusual bucket list species.

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