Author: Brad Cartwright (page 1 of 2)

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.

Zambezified

Kipling’s writing immortalized the great grey-green greasy Limpopo – it would be fascinating to read his words had he experienced the majesty of the Zambezi River on his travels.

What a spellbinding waterway it is.

 

Fly Fishing on the mighty Zambezi River with River God Adventures

 

The longest East flowing river on the continent of Africa surely traverses some of its most precious and game rich terrain.

Rising in the North Western reaches of Zambia and offering  life giving waters to the inhabitants of six countries on its relentless 3500 km passage to the Indian Ocean, it is used for vital electric power creation on both the Kariba and Cahora Bassa dam projects.

The spectacular Victoria Falls are probably the rivers most impressive single feature, but for anyone who has spent time on its waters the Zambezi will inevitably leave an indelible mark.

 

Victoria Falls Photo Credit Mario Micklisch 2014

 

Now we fish a lot, and if there is one river that has drawn us back again and again, it’s this one. Of course the notorious hard mouthed Tiger Fish plays a significant role in this. But its much more than that.

The Zambezi is not a particularly deep river and thus is not navigable in large boats, but it spreads out over the plains of Southern Africa, creating beautiful islands and pristine white sandbars where nature in all her glory seems to spend more time than in other places. In the drier month’s animals of every type congregate along the banks and lagoons, where the certainty of water is secure.

Huge herds of Elephant and Buffalo inhabit the islands and frolic amongst the papyrus in the searing heat, while hippo and crocodiles happily co-exist in their watery world.

 

 

We were back on the section of river between the Kariba wall and Cahora Bassa, which boasts both the Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side and Mana Pools National Park opposite in Zimbabwe. Truly a Garden of Eden experience.

We stayed first at Royal Zambezi Lodge (RZL), which is one of the bigger operations in this area, offering all the luxuries and amenities expected these days in Africa, whilst at the same time doing so in an understated and friendly environment. Families with children are welcomed at RZL, which is unusual in an area rich in big wild cats and large herbivores. The fantastic well stocked bar perched on a wooden deck in the deep shade of a magnificent Sausage Tree was a favourite haunt and one could spend hours there cooling off in the sparkling pool with a cold Mosi in hand simply taking in the mighty Zambezi and its wild inhabitants.

 

A warm welcome from the Royal Zambezi Lodge

 

Unfortunately for us, an early rainstorm morphed into a full on deluge and more than 170mm of rain fell on our first night, turning the river a roiling chocolate brown. But even then we were able to entice 7 different species onto our hooks over the next couple of days as the water started to clear.

Our next stop was a wonderful new Zimbabwean operation called “River God Adventures” offering something completely new. A fully kitted out “house boat” that is able to navigate the river due to its shallow draught. Sleeping up to 8 guests comfortably, with a hot water shower and flush toilet on board, as well as a large galley churning out the kind of food that has made Zimbabwean chefs justly famous.

 

 

Although we did not have time to do the full trip, the normal itinerary is a 5-night voyage from Chirundu near the Kariba wall down the river to Masau Camp, near where the river enters Cahora Bassa. From a fishing perspective, this means that one gets to fish both the wide slow sections of the river as well as the deeper faster flowing gorge area.

The freedom to pull up onto an uninhabited stretch of beach for sundowners and dinner served al fresco under a gazebo on squeaky white sand, while taking in the sights sounds and smells of Africa is a special experience indeed and is certainly one of the reasons this operation is already running high occupancies and should be booked well in advance.

 

An evening spent on a secluded stretch of the Zambezi River

 

I am convinced the Zambezi is one of the most spectacular rivers on the planet, but I may be biased. I suggest you jump on an Airlink flight to check it out for yourself as soon as possible. I bet you get hooked too.

 

For more information please email:

Royal Zambezi Lodge reservations1@royalzambezilodge.com

River God Adventures info@rivergodadventures.com

 

I went fishing with the King of Lesotho in his breathtaking country.

When I say breathtaking, I mean both in the sense of awe inspiring natural splendour, and thin air that squeezes the unused lungs of those not born to a high altitude existence. You have to be tough to live there.

This tiny mountain Kingdom, surrounded entirely by South Africa, lays claim to having the highest lowest point of any country in the world, at an altitude of 1400 meters. The actual high point, a mountain called Thabana Ntlenyana, soars 3482 meters into the African sky.

As a result, temperatures vary from around 30 degrees Celsius in summer to below – 30 C in winter. Given that the terrain has virtually no flat areas, building roads that last is no easy task. Horses and donkeys then are the main mode of transport, with shanks pony the only option for many.

With very few outlying villages connected to electricity and limited firewood growing at this altitude, you may get an idea of why these rugged highland people are so remarkable.

Fortunately, the mighty mountains form a catchment of crystal water that has been harnessed to give the country both electricity and an income from selling the precious commodity to its more affluent neighbor.

The crystal clear streams originating in the highland catchments blend to form the Senqu River, which ultimately becomes the great Orange River, wending its way through SA and Namibia on its dogged way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, where there are clear running streams at altitude anywhere in the world, if there weren’t already Trout in them, some foolhardy and addicted fly fisherman has gone to extreme lengths to make sure they were introduced.

Lesotho is no exception.

So when we were asked to arrange to take King Letsie 3rd out onto his own royal waters, which he had not fly fished at that point, we readily agreed.

The obvious place to go was Semonkong Lodge.

Perched on the Maletsunyane River the owners, Jonathan and his first wife Armelle, have built a special place. One can recline on the verandah, beside the main road into town, cold Maluti in hand, and take part in the greetings and common amazement of how differently people live. The rooms are varied – from en suite chalets with stocked wood fireplaces (a rarity in these parts) to dormitory style digs with shared ablutions and fully kitted kitchens. The pub and restaurant serve excellent fare and can be hard to leave (you’ve been warned)

So anyway, that’s where you take a King looking to fish.

We intended to arrive early to make sure everything was organized. A word of advice, never, but never, take a short cut in Lesotho. Don’t believe the maps, don’t believe the locals, don’t believe your eyes when you arrive at a river that couldn’t be forded with a barge, but is shown as an acceptable alternative route on Google. So basically stick to the main routes and take your time.

Getting back to the point, we didn’t get there early, but shouldn’t have bothered, the staff and villagers around Semonkong had got wind of the Monarchs arrival and all stops and ceremonial blankets were being pulled out, properly.

Now, if you have a large military helicopter at your disposal mountain roads are less of a problem. In due course the King and his entourage arrived in style amongst much fanfare and ululations.

After a short casting clinic His Royal Highness was ready for action.

It was time to stalk those wily Browns.

At first I sent one of my my disciples (sorry, I might be getting into this royal thing) who is one of the better fly fishers I know…to guide the King and explain the intricacies of the subtle art of fly angling.

To be fair, the four bodyguards toting automatic weapons and one or two personal secretaries in close attendance did make stealthy stalking of the nervous quarry a challenge. However, even then he managed to hook the King an unsuspecting Brown only to lose it through sheer negligence and extreme over confidence.

Leaving only yours truly to sally forth unto the breach.

Suffice to say, as mentioned to all and sundry, experience cannot be bought, and years of patient practice played no small part in me assisting in bagging King Letsie his first wild Lesotho Trout.

Ghillie by royal appointment is all I’ll say about that.

Lesotho, right on our doorstep, what a place to visit!

We caught a fish there, the King and I.

The vast open spaces of the Northern Cape in South Africa are breathtaking. Not in the way a Renaissance Cathedral in Rome, or your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon would do it, but rather a slow realization that here you need to calm down and breathe, or somehow be out of place.

The vegetation is sparse and desert like, with scraggly bushes eeking out a life virtually devoid of water. Koppies of granite and great boulders steam on the landscape in perpetuity and serene, seemingly endless vistas, devoid of man, draw the eye.

But simply add water and this outwardly inhospitable land sustains crops of all kinds. Huge vineyards stretch to the horizon and fruit of every variety thrive. The small towns are quaint splashes of green against the backdrop of the desert and the local people friendly and relaxed.

Then through all this runs South Africa’s largest river, the mighty Orange.

The mighty Orange River

A mate of mine, Eddie, who likes fishing, called to ask where I thought he should take a group of 14 male friends (myself included) to celebrate his 60th birthday and enjoy a bit of fishing along the way. After considered thought, I suggested he do the 4 -night canoe trip down the Orange River below Augrabies Falls. I had been down this stretch some years ago with my whole family, ranging in age from 6 to 60, and then been back twice since to fish and film there.

Given that the Seychelles trip I also mentioned would have cost him a couple of million Rand, Eddie grabbed at this far more reasonably priced option like a hungry Pitbull snatching a steak off the braai. At less than a fifth of the cost it’s not surprising really.

One call to Craig Eksteen, owner operator of Kalahari Outventures (KO), who has exclusivity on this section of the river, and it was all set up.

Eddie couldn’t pay the deposit fast enough, especially when I mentioned Seychelles again in passing.

As the August date drew closer there was a flurry of activity on the Whats- App chat group set up for the purpose. Warnings were posted regarding whistling in front of spouses while packing, and thoughts concerning how much a case of whisky weighed, given that space was at a premium on the boats, were bandied about. More consideration was given to the potential problem of disappearing ice than at the last global warming summit. There was even the odd mention of fishing tackle.

The diverse routes that Airlink provide make getting to Upington a breeze

A jaunty bunch of Joburgers in large SUV’s fetched me at Upington Airport. I had used the far more comfortable option of flying Airlink from Pietermaritzburg via Jhb, leaving in the morning and arriving before lunch. As all tents, chairs, cold boxes and food are provided, flying is definitely worth considering, especially if time is tight. A transfer of around an hour and a half is easily arranged with KO.

The vast vineyards of the Northern Cape

We meandered our way to Augrabies, past vineyards and farm stalls, stopping only to check on the ice in the cold boxes and for a delicious lunch at Vergelegen Country House in Kakamas, a town not much bigger than a large TOPS at Spar bottle store. How they managed to serve 15 (our numbers had grown slightly) hungry men who descended on them with no warning, and to do it with panache and humour remains a mystery. But if you’re after superb Karoo lamb and hospitality, in the local vernacular, “maak a draai”

We drove through the town of Augrabies- but I was opening a beer and missed it.

The Augrabie Falls are worth a pitstop

We weren’t stopping, but fortunately I’ve seen the spectacular 60-meter waterfall named after the town before. With immense water pressure ripping through a narrow 240 meter high gorge its busy creating – it’s well worth a turn.

Due to the dithering of 4 truckloads of semi-inebriated males of all ages, we were now racing against the sun beginning to set somewhere over Namibia. It behooves a gentleman to be seated with a wee dram to hand at the going down of the sun-I was sagely advised.

Accordingly, in a billowing cloud of dust we finally arrived, in good time, at the well-appointed self- catering farmhouse Craig uses as a base for his trips. The fire was set in the boma looking onto the golden orb dropping away in a blaze of orange and purple captured all around in the dust hanging over the immense barren vista.

Since I last did this trip, Craig has added to his fleet of old canoe’s and now also uses the more spacious and stable Ark type inflatables. Fortunately, we were issued these and early morning packing began.

This was an amusing scene as us city dwellers suddenly realized we had space only for the bare essentials and needed to make the heart wrenching decision on which of the 3 sweatshirts and 4 pairs of underpants we brought all this way should be left behind. It was essential to allow space for the whisky.

Finally, locked and loaded, we meandered by vehicle through vast vineyards and date plantations, arriving at the broad expanse of the river as if to an oasis in an Arabian desert. A quick safety briefing and the motley crew staggered onto their boats and wobbled away onto the water like newborn ducklings. Ugly ducklings, I might add.

3 days of fun, laughter, camaraderie and friendship ensued on that river. Stopping to fly fish in likely looking rapids and holes along the way, then pulling up on a sandy beach in time for sunset and making it home for a night where the galaxies sparkled overhead and the fire crackled with good cheer. With the help of the excellent and willing young river guides camp was set and good hearty food prepared. Other than the odd scorpion there are no dangerous animals to worry about, which is an unusual sensation on a remote river in Africa.

We did not see another human being for 3 days. There are few places left where that’s possible.

The water was colder than the Smallmouth Yellow fish we were after prefer when feeding, yet this fishery is so protected by distance and its custodians, that every single person (including some novices) on our trip caught fish on fly. The Orange River this far down is clean enough to drink and clear enough to see the vast numbers of fish moving below. Long may it last.

So Eddies birthday on the Orange was memorable in every way and I was reminded that this region of Southern Africa is a jewel, much like the rough diamonds that enticed men here in the first place.

Seriously, if you’re planning a family excursion, a bunch of friends on a break, or a proper fishing trip, consider this fun option….

It’s really hard to beat.

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