Author: Brad Cartwright (page 1 of 4)

Over Covid

I recently went fishing at Baines River Lodge in Zambia and if you ask anyone in that country about Covid 19, the answer in every instance will be, “there is no Covid here”.

This may simply be a case of complete denial, the old ostrich with its head in the sand trick, or, it could be a remarkable case of the power of positive thought.

None of this made any difference to the fact that in order to leave Zambia, one is still required to pay a substantial sum to have a very long ear-bud type contraption inserted through the nose to ascertain whether the dreaded virus has somehow made a nest in the lower region of your brain. The same test in South Africa involves a similar probe being shoved down your oesophagus and gently rotated just below the adams apple, until one is retching uncontrollably and tears are running down your face. And after all that, there is still doubt as to whether the bloody test even works at all!

Anyway, if that’s what it takes to get back onto the glorious Lower Zambezi after 8 months of lockdown induced withdrawal symptoms, they can shove their little probes wherever they like.

Being November, as expected, the weather was hot and steamy, the kind of conditions Tigers seem to love. Unfortunately, fairly high winds were also prevalent, which has the opposite effect on these toothy critters.

I was sharing the boat with my old fishing buddy, Scott Brown, who is a director of Baines Camp and knows this section of the river like the back of his hand. We left camp daily at around 5.30 am and made our way down to the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) for the day, returning only at dusk when the Park closes for the night. Fortunately, the Baines team pack a mean cold box filled to the brim with plenty of ice to last the day, along with enough food to feed a small village if required.

After an 8 month hiatus, the first day on the water was a bit like learning from scratch. Wayward casts found overhanging trees and visible stumps in the river with unerring accuracy, leading to much foul language, repetitive re-rigging of bent wire, snapped leaders and lost lures. But as the day progressed, we started to find our feet, along with our confidence and some hope. None of which helped us land any decent fish.

The next day, however, saw an immediate change. Stick baits landed near the river bank and underwater structure were smashed within seconds. As usual with topwater lures, hook up rates were limited, but within minutes we had 2 double-digit Tigers weighed and safely released, along with a few smaller fish. Game on.

Drifting down the broad expanse of water sandwiched between Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the LZNP is a special privilege. Herds of elephant splash through shallows, the largest concentration of hippos on the planet inhabit the drop-offs, huge crocodiles bask on the sandbanks, buffalo roam the islands, lions amble down to the water’s edge for a drink and laze in the shade. Birds of every shape and colour add a cacophony of sound. In short, a natural wonderland in which to fish.

In all we landed 6 fish over 10 pounds, along with a few more nearing that magical mark. Not a blinding outing, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Gorgeous sunsets, nursing large cold G&T’s on a sandy island, followed by fine dining and beds with crispy white sheets in air-conditioned comfort are what Baines is all about.

But don’t take my word for it, try and get up there yourself, it’s well worth it.

Prepare to be violated through a few orifices first though.

Sundowners Count

So why does a cold beer or iced G&T taste infinitely better after a long day out on the river or ocean?

This is a question I’ve been trying my best to answer for over 40 years. 

One doesn’t need to fish to enjoy a frosty ale. But it certainly seems to help.

Seldom do you find a couple of fishing buddies sitting around a cold box sipping sparkling water. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I’ve never seen it personally.

Perhaps it’s just easier for normally honest people to exaggerate after a couple of “dops”. In my experience that would make sense, given the number of patently obvious fibs to be found expounded around the camp fire, and the incredible ability a released fish has to grow in size and fighting prowess as the evening progresses.

Good fishing destination managers are well aware of the pre-requisite of having well stocked pubs and coolers, along with an endless supply of ice. All of which is often easier said than done in hot remote areas around Africa, but without which, even a good days fishing might be irrevocably ruined.

Under normal circumstances, we will be on location half of any given year filming our angling TV shows, so we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of the most splendid sundowner locations on the planet. If you’ve ever spent an evening on a sandbank in the Zambezi River, or a houseboat at Lake Kariba, watching the setting sun slip slowly below the horizon in a blaze of orange, you’ll know what I mean.

Then, there’s the majesty of a live-aboard yacht on the open ocean, or a sandy white beach on a private Island, the Kalahari, or the Okavango Delta. These are all spectacular experiences in their own right, but somehow they just wouldn’t be quite the same without an evening tipple.

Even a jaunt to our local Midlands Trout waters often requires some lubrication for maximum success. A happy ending around here probably means dropping into Notties Hotel for a cold one on the way home.

Talking about this landmark watering hole, the Tops Corporate Challenge fishing event, held here annually, is certainly an indication of how the lines between actual fishing and sitting around the pub discussing it, may blur somewhat. These two pastimes then are certainly not mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imagination.

Without the traditional glass of Brandy and Coke making an appearance on the banks of our many fine dams and rivers, Carp fishing would probably slip into obscurity entirely.

Bass angling is a serious business for those who practice it. The boats used have large engines and move at high speed from one place to another, so cold box lids need to be secured at all times in order to avoid nasty accidents or loss of bottles.

Many ski-boat clubs along the length of our coastline have great settings overlooking the ocean and vibrant pubs where members congregate over an ale of an evening.

Recreational fishing then seems to be inextricably linked to enjoying a few drinks responsibly with like-minded friends and family.

None of which helps me understand exactly why that beer tastes so good after a day’s fishing.

But what the hell, I’m just going to keep at it until I find the answer.

Corona Moments

So, at the moment it’s ok to go to church with 50 people, but not to go to your favourite fishing spot by yourself!

I understand Nkosazana-Zuma doesn’t fish, or smoke for that matter, but seriously that’s about all I understand.

Our business is built around recreational angling, Which obviously has not been an ideal scenario since the lockdown, besides the fact that there are no known instances of fish being infected by Covid 19. Perhaps that’s just because the test kits are faulty though.

But what is interesting, is how a tiny virus, which seems to me to have been badly overestimated, has shone a light on how much we all take fishing for granted – and how much we miss it when it’s not an option.

Even before the dreaded Corona raised its ugly spiky little head, I had pondered at length on whether it’s the actual catching of fish that we miss, or whether it’s simply the joy of being outdoors, often with mates, often with a well-stocked cold box, but always with the “potential” of catching a fish.

I mean we very seldom kill and eat the fish we catch anyway. So it’s not about the macho image of arriving home to the missus and proudly slapping a large Halibut onto the kitchen table saying “there you go darling, your trusty provider does it again, clean and cook this and call me when its ready”. In all likelihood this would earn you a cold shoulder rather than hot meal anyway.

If we were fishing commercially and selling our catch to keep paying the school fees, and possibly medical fees, if we tried the old Halibut slapping trick too often, that would be a different thing.

But that’s not what we do. We spend many happy hours, cold bevy in hand, discussing and planning with our mates the next big fishing trip. I estimate this aspect of a proposed trip actually occupies as much time, and possibly even provides as much enjoyment, as the actual excursion itself.

There’s something wonderful about all this planning and the anticipation building up to an official outing. When it’s time to check and pack your gear… pick up those last flies or lures you don’t really need, but do really want. Battle stoically not to whistle while you pack within earshot of the family, and finally actually head off to your destination.

Sure, the fishing trip itself is always fun, but expectations very often outweigh the results in this most fickle of pastimes, and the liver inevitably takes a pounding. There will be moments of great hilarity, anguish and camaraderie, stories to be saved and savoured around the pub for many years to come. But does it really matter who catches the fish, or even if the fishing is slow?

Ego invariably plays a part and we’d all like to be the one to catch the biggest fish, or the most fish, or the most species. But in this sport, much more than most, luck plays a substantial part. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the best anglers around and whilst they will often catch more fish, it’s not a given that they will catch a bigger one. That alone is enough to keep us hopeful amateurs coming back.

I will happily wander alone, or with my dog, along one of our local river banks of an evening, searching for an elusive rise, and even treasure those moments of solitude. But I’ve finally come to the conclusion that for me, a really good fishing trip definitely involves the aforementioned mates (with egos), cold boxes and the potential of catching fish. Not much more than that.

So you go Mrs. Zuma, do your worst. Neither you nor a spiky little virus will keep us off the water much longer.

What Global Warming

Anyone who thinks fishing for a living is easy is deluded.

Firstly, with the amount of plastic and other waste, we as a species are pouring into our oceans and rivers, along with the pressure commercial fishing is having on the remaining fish stocks, there are simply fewer fish in the water to be caught and released.

Then, according to Donald Trump, and some of his mates, global warming is a fallacy being perpetuated by scientists for their own nefarious reasons, although what those might be is anyone’s guess.

However, we fishermen tend to keep a sharp eye on all aspects of the weather before planning and executing a fishing trip. This sounds simple, but as we film and produce 52 TV shows on great fishing destinations annually, you will appreciate there is some pressure involved in the planning.

Excellent Tiger Fish Season at the lower Zambezi

Over the past few years, we have found the “prime season” has moved out by around a month, but even taking this into account, 2019 was without question our most difficult year yet. Unseasonably high winds, drought, rain, and temperature fluctuations have all played havoc with our attempts to obtain video content for our shows.

Having said all this, there have also been some notable exceptions.

Sunset at Guma Lagoon

The lower Zambezi, for example, has recorded an excellent Tiger Fish Season with a number of fish over 20 pounds being brought to the net. After a large natural fish kill a few years back, Guma Lagoon Camp in the Okavango Panhandle is seeing an upswing. We caught good Tarpon early in the year at Kwanza Lodge, Angola, and landed fairly large Yellowfin Tuna on a bamboo pole off St Helena Island in the Atlantic. The Orange River below Augrabies Falls was teeming with fish and (both Small and Largemouth Yellows) and is an excellent example of what the whole river could look like left to its own devices. We got good Blue Marlin and Sailfish at Hemingways Hotel in Kenya and cast large streamers to an endless school of GT’s on a bait ball at Farquhar Island in the Seychelles……

Hemingways, Kenya

So although it’s been a tough year on the fishing front, we have soldiered on bravely and we plan to do it all over again next year.

St. Helena Island

We look forward to seeing you out there…..just remember to bring a raincoat, windbreaker, fleece, and extra sun cream.

But maybe Trump is right and you won’t need any of it?

The Baines of my Life

Once a year we drag our wives, kicking and screaming from the comfort of their kitchens, on a film shoot to an exotic and luxurious destination like Seychelles or the islands of Mozambique.

You will appreciate that we are forced to film ourselves fishing for a living, so when we make these magnanimous concessions to our better halves, the warm glow of generosity seeping through our souls is a tangible thing.

The rest of the year we travel as an all- male crew, and more often than not, feel the warm glow of single malt seeping gently through our livers.

It seems we agree on one thing though, and it’s that we all love the lower Zambezi.

It’s been a number of years since we featured Baines River Camp in our TV shows, and being one of the most luxurious properties available on the entire the length of the Zambezi, when they invited us back we knew we couldn’t leave the girls out of this one without risking the coldest of shoulders.

Accordingly, we jumped on an early morning Airlink flight up to Lusaka and after a comfortable road transfer, were happily cruising down the river, cold beverage in hand, before lunch time.

At over 2500km long, the Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa and is in fact the longest East flowing waterway on the continent.

Over the years we have been fortunate enough to traverse almost its entire length and I for one have never tired of it. However, the section between the Kariba Dam wall and the headwaters of Cahorra Bassa Dam, the border between Zim and Zambia, known generally as the lower Zambezi, is one of my favourite places on earth.

With the Mana Pools Reserve on the Zimbabwe side and the Lower Zambezi National Park on the opposite bank, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were in the Garden of Eden, minus the old Apple tree. There are definitely serpents around though. The last time we visited Baines an African Rock Python, which was the biggest snake any of us has ever seen, slithered nonchalantly through the camp on his way to the river.

The Elephants here are somewhat used to being around humans, and without the threat of being hunted, will casually wander into camp for a drink of water from the swimming pool, or to munch a few juicy pods off the trees within spitting distance of your deck chair.

Large herds of Buffalo inhabit the islands in the river and the ever present Hippo pods frolic and grunt contentedly in their watery playground. Crocodiles bask on the sand banks, lulled by the cries of the Fish Eagles from their lofty lairs.

This area has the largest concentration of Leopard on the planet and on an evening game drive one almost inevitably comes across one or two of these magnificent cats.

Two big male Lions made an appearance while we were having lunch on the bank of the river, but were clearly not hungry themselves, and preferred a siesta in the heat of the day to chasing us off our shady spot.

This year, although the water level is low due to a severe drought, the lower Zambezi has had a bumper fishing season, with a number of Tiger Fish over 20 pounds being recorded. I was fishing with Scott Brown who helped build Baines camp 12 years ago and is still involved in the management of the operation. He also loves fishing.

We decided to catch and release as many fish as we could, using as many different methods as possible. What a blast! Seldom does a plan like this come together so well, and we managed to release 6 Tigers over 10 pounds (the largest being 14 pounds). These and others landed on spinners, strip baits (on circle hooks allowing a clean release), bucktail jigs, poppers and stick baits. We also spent many happy hours chasing the Tilapia (Bream) species in the smaller pools on the edge of the river on light tackle, using flies, spinners and worms. I even had a small croc try to steal a fine Red Breast Bream off my fly, too close to my feet for comfort. Luckily it’s mother wasn’t around.

Sundowners on the sand banks are a tradition in this neck of the woods and it’s hard to think of a more pleasant way to bring the day to a close than sipping a cold G&T to the sound of the gurgling river and the plethora of game and birdlife preparing for their evening activities.

The food at Baines River Camp is a special treat, offered by chefs who clearly take much pride in their work. A nightcap round a hardwood fire and good night’s sleep in an air- conditioned chalet, on a bed made up with percale linen, and sweet dreams of monster fish, rounds out another idyllic day at this very special place.

Now that we’ve spoilt our wives beyond all recognition, I’m just wondering what what on earth we’re going to come up with next year….

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