Author: Brad Cartwright (page 2 of 4)

More Space Than Time

It’s taken me four trips to the lower Orange River to fully appreciate what this majestic piece of the earth’s surface truly offers us members of the species homo sapiens, and how puny we seem when faced with space of this magnitude.

A visit to this generally arid and remote part of the Northern Cape Province in South Africa, and the mighty river that runs through it, is in many ways, a life changing experience…

Wide open spaces and a river runs through it.

Firstly, once out on the river below the Augrabies Falls, there is absolutely no wi-fi or cell signal. There, you see, life changing, in a good way.

Then, you will come across no other people on this trip. Nada, zero, not one.

It’s you, your mates and an endless spectacular rocky desert landscape. This would be scary if you were not gently bobbing down a large, drinkable, crystal clean, fish filled river, on an inflatable boat. So basically, it’s umm, life changing.

Gently bobbing down the Orange in search of gold.

Kalahari Outventures (KO), our preferred operator in this area, have the important details down to a fine art after a decade of taking clients into the wilderness. To the point where one can expect to enjoy a bitterly cold beer or G&T with ice at the end of the day on a squeaky clean sandy beach, while the guides erect the tents and begin preparations for simple but delicious meals.

Home for the night.

The breathtaking night skies are reason enough on their own to make this excursion and with no dangerous animals to worry about, one is able to pull a mattress up near the fire and drift off to sleep under a magnificent canopy of endless twinkling stars.

I first did this drift 10 years ago with my whole family, the youngest member being 6 years old at the time. It was one of the happiest holidays we have ever had together, with the memories of that trip still discussed and laughed about to this day. You could say that for all of us it was…you guessed it…life changing!

Our subsequent visits have been fairly focused on fishing the river for the TV shows we produce in that genre, and even in this quest we have never been disappointed.

The water is literally teeming with fish and the experienced guides are available to advise and assist in getting flies in the right place to make sure you land a Smallmouth Yellowfish. This indigenous species is remarkably powerful once hooked and they will provide hours of fun to those who enjoy catch and release angling.

Brian with his first Smallmouth Yellowfish.

More recently, Craig Eksteen, the owner of KO, and his friends have “unlocked” the mystery of the Largemouth Yellowfish and it’s now possible to pursue this apex predator with a reasonable chance of success. Slow growing, to well over 20 pounds, these magnificent beasts cruise the deeper sections of water and can be targeted with fast sinking lines and flies. The area below Augrabies Falls has been declared a conservancy and now only catch and release fishing is practiced there.

A Happy Craig Eksteen with a beaut Largemouth.

Time was not on our side when we planned our last trip there, so we chose to fly to Upington on Airlink (daily flights), saving at least a couple of days of driving.

A comfortable two hour transfer to the town of Augrabies, with a well-stocked cold box, and an overnight at the splendid Tutwa Lodge saw us in fine fettle for our river foray.

Tutwa Lodge at sun up.

But you don’t have to fish to enjoy a sojourn to this beautiful area, or a rafting trip down the river.  A visit to the Augrabies Falls, wine and brandy tasting at the many wineries, great lodges and restaurants (try the succulent Karoo lamb) and friendly locals, all add up to a unique tourism experience. 

Should you choose the rafting option though, all I can say is… be ready for a truly life changing experience!

 

 

 

So, we went fishing at St Helena Island…

For some obscure reason buried deep in my distant English heritage and my abiding love of islands, this has been a lifelong dream.

Now you may well ask who would want to visit a fairly barren volcanic mountaintop perched precariously in the southern Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Southern Africa and Brazil.

Many people, is the correct answer, for those of you who guessed and have bothered to read this far.

It’s just not easy to get there. Or away for that matter.

Famously, Napoleon Bonaparte, after a short but impressive stint as King and self -proclaimed Emperor of a country in Europe somewhere, was exiled to this supposedly lonely outpost to die in disgrace.

However, after a number of unpleasant scuffles over the past few centuries with various seafaring nations, regarding strategic outposts, the Brits are the current proud owners of this truly remarkable piece of the planet.

It’s fantastic. It could easily be a movie set. Every one of the 5000 odd loyally British inhabitants on the island, together form a microcosm of humankind at its best. In a “country” of about 40 square miles, surrounded by a vast ocean it’s a necessity, so people are family orientated, friendly, kind and respectful.

A cliché certainly, but visiting this island truly is like going

backwards in time.

Up until very recently the only way to access or leave St Helena was by boat, which arrived from Cape Town monthly. Sadly, the old ship, HMS ST Helena, has now been decommissioned. But fortunately, for the Saints (what people from St Helena are known as) SA Airlink now provides a weekly flight as an alternative….well, not really an alternative, unless you fancy private yachting.

 

Anyway, for now, this innovative airline company is a lifeline for the people of St Helena, both from an incoming tourism perspective, as well as connecting Saints, via South Africa, to the rest of the world.

We shacked up at the excellent new Mantis St Helena Hotel in the heart of Jamestown (the capital) for the week. It’s ideally located for both socializing and strolling down to the harbor to board your fishing or diving boat within minutes.

From the vantage point of the sea, looking back at the island, the incredible lengths that earlier generations went to in order to fortify the few access points onto terra firma are obvious and impressive.

 

We had plenty of time between fishing outings to appreciate the diversity of the island, from the lush green forests and pastures of the higher mountain areas, to the steep barren slopes dropping sheer into the ocean. We were even lucky enough to be there over the annual St Helena Day festivities, when seemingly the whole island population take time to strut their stuff and socialize together in the main street of the ancient capital village called Jamestown.

There are so many game fish in these waters that the locals have refined a method of “chumming” the water with a few handfuls of live bait to attract the Tuna species, and then bouncing one hooked bait fish, attached on a short line to a long bamboo pole on the surface near the boat. Within seconds this bait will be attacked and a very green Tuna unceremoniously landed on deck before it even knows it’s been caught.

We enjoyed amazing art-lure angling. Even though the few charter operators based there are generally using more traditional methods, they are true seamen and once they understood what we were trying to do, became very intrigued and got fully involved in putting us on the right spot for various species we might be targeting. We landed and released over 10 species of fish in 4 days. These included large Yellowfin Tuna, Skipjacks, big Wahoo, Blackjack Trevally and Grouper.

 

 

Incredibly, the island drops off so quickly into deep water, the large pelagic species could virtually be targeted from the shoreline (if it weren’t so steep) and we were seldom fishing more than a few kilometers away from the harbor at any time.

Due to the plethora of their favoured food, all the Billfish species can also be targeted, although there are currently a limited number of charters offering this option on a fully professional basis.

More than the fishing and the truly unique landscape though, it was the friendly people of the island that set this apart as one of the most memorable fishing trips we’ve ever been on.

 

 

I liked St Helena a lot, but I really loved the Saints.

So I went to Kenya

So I went to film some fishing in Kenya with my cameraman Chucky.

He’s from Zimbabwe

A lot of people think he’s my bodyguard. Not sure why. Sure, he’s a big black oke, but he’s a damn good cameraman and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Anyway, he’s not so good on the water. Which is a problem for a person who films fishing for a living.

Look the guy can swim. He went to a private school in Harare for goodness sake, but rocking boats have a detrimental effect on him.

Now, I have to work for a living, and if our aforementioned Chucky is busy doing the upchuck over the gunwales while we have fish to film, I’m wasting my bloody time, aren’t I?

Fortunately, he pulled himself towards himself and we managed to get a couple of nice Marlin right in the preferred fishing holiday spot of one Mr. Ernest Hemingway, who, as legend, his very own memoirs, and the sepia photos in the Hemingways Bar have it, did very much the same thing a short while back. Or so it seems. The recently upgraded Hemingways Hotel at Watamu remains the quintessential upmarket East African big game fishing destination. Only better.

The somewhat fuddy duddy, but endearing, English atmosphere has been replaced with a more modern, cool and cosmopolitan feel, whilst not losing the personalized touch that see’s guests return year after year. Modern airy rooms are complimented by the never ending palm trees, white sand, turquoise pools and warm ocean. But as in days gone by, the barmen and waiters always remember your favorite tipple and serve it with a happy smile.

The thing about fishing in Kenya is that it feels so “genteel” somehow. Being on the equator, the weather is strangely stable, with flat seas and endless blue skies. The boats are more than comfortable, the skippers and crews are truly amongst the best, and, more importantly, they seem to get as much of a kick out of tagging a good fish as I do.

Then, add the fact that you’re fishing for Billfish just 20 minutes from the beach and you’re getting the picture.

This is one of the few places on the planet that you could realistically target a Fantasy Slam. Simple really. That’s a Sailfish, Blue, Striped and Black Marlin and then a Broadbill Swordfish.
Did I mention that’s all in 24 hours? It’s been done here!!

Meanwhile, Chucky, after four days, had found his sea legs and was busy swinging one of them over the gunwale of the tender boat when it snagged one of my carefully tied Sailfish flies, instantly tethering my finger at high speed to the leader, which I happened to be holding quietly at the time.

It was not a pretty sight. Chucky was doing a strange version of the one legged Can-Can on the beach, with the pretty fly embedded and fluttering around his ankle somewhere, when I first noticed that the 80 pound flouro leader had actually cut the tip of my finger to the bone and was still tied there. Fortunately, the line had snapped, so I did my best Usain Bolt impersonation up the beach to find an implement capable of cutting the embedded line. Luckily, a kind Frenchman had a Leatherman to hand and we were able to cut the finger free of the line.


A short Tuk -Tuk ride to the local hospital, where the good Doctor Erulu inserted a number of stitches which calmed things down somewhat. Chucky shuffled in shortly after me to have the hook removed from his foot and receive a few stitches of his own.

Not the best way to end a great fishing trip.

Anyway, now I’m looking for a new bodyguard for my next trip to Hemingways.

My Silver King

I simply love fishing, not sure why, but there it is.

I’m happy to sit on a rock and watch the water. Whip a popper till my arms are sore, or try my hardest to land a delicate little fly on the spot.

For me it’s a primal instinct, not a race.

Every time I go out I learn something about the fish, the world, even myself.

I’m happy to watch the boffins casually discuss tactics and techniques whilst fighting massive fish, without a hair out of place, then nonchalantly toss in the Latin name and distinguishing characteristics, but I just fish for the fun of it.

The last time I went to the Kwanza River in Angola, we fished for Tarpon on fly. Man it was a blast. I didn’t land a thing. Without proper teeth these fish suck their prey in rather than biting and I kept pulling the bloody fly out of their mouths before it had a chance to stick.

Anyway, I recently decided to go back and give it another go. I’ve been having recurring nightmares about those Silver Kings outfoxing me, along with the odd dream of actually landing one and swimming with it, before sending it back into the big blue.

I heard Craig Thomassen had been invited back up there and decided to crash his party, because if there’s fish around he’ll find them….he might even give me a chance to redeem myself.

The Kwanza River is just short of 1000km long….navigable for about 240km from the mouth…it holds over 50 species of fish and is remarkably beautiful and pristine, given that it’s only 70km from the bustling city of Luanda and its 7 million inhabitants.

The “Poons”, as Tarpon are fondly referred to the world over, were not nearly as active in the river as on our previous trip and although we did throw lures and soft plastics there, it was without much success, other than a good Cubera Snapper of around 7kgs that Tommo managed to entice to the hook.

Basically, our best chance was to fish the color line where the river flows into the sea using small live baits with large circle hooks “gently” inserted through their eyes and swum literally within meters of the boat. Tommo was kind enough to offer me the strike, having already landed his fair share of these prehistoric beauties.

I will never forget the rush I got when a giant slab of silver, estimated at 80kgs, burst out of the water meters into the air within what seemed like touching distance. It’s hard to imagine a more magnificent sight. Around 20 sweaty minutes later the fish was at the side of the boat, leadered. As I was about to realize my dream of swimming with this magnificent beast she gave one last head shake and a crimp on the terminal tackle gave, sending her on her way…Gutted is the word that comes to mind, but it was more than that. Would I ever get another chance?

Tommo, seeing my desperation, magnanimously offered me another shot on our last day of the trip. I GOT IT. With only moments to spare a fish of around 60kgs cleared the water, landing with a mighty splash and ripping line off the reel in a dash for freedom. For another heart-stopping 20 minutes we tussled, until finally the fish was alongside the boat.

The 5 minutes or so I spent in the water with this behemoth of the deep, it’s huge eye seeming to be looking deep into my soul before it slipped back into the depths, will be etched in my memory for the rest of my days.

In the end, that’s why I really love fishing.

Where to stay: Kwanza River Lodge.
When to fish: Tarpon in summer, but good general fishing year round.
Method: Bait and lure….fly fishing possible when smaller Tarpon are around

Rivendell Trout Estate-Mpumalanga

When it comes to fresh water fly fishing in South Africa, towns like Belfast, Dullstroom, Machadadorp and Lydenburg, all in Mpumalanga province, are the busiest locations in the country. This is of course largely due to their proximity to Gauteng and the growing population there looking to get out of the hustle and bustle of the “big smoke” and enjoy some leisure time in the country.

Trout were introduced to this area early in the 20th century and have played a vital role in tourism and attendant job creation ever since. A drive along the Mpumalanga Highlands Meander and the myriad accommodation options bear testament to this.

As trout are unable breed in still water, stocking of fish into dams (and rivers) from nearby hatcheries is common practice and thus an important economic contributor in its own right.

There are however streams and rivers in the higher catchment areas where Trout can breed and proliferate, although even they are generally stocked as well. One of these is the Spekboom River with its source in the Mount Anderson Water Catchment Reserve near Lydenburg, an important initiative given that this source water ultimately feeds the Kruger National Park. Within the reserve are a number of upmarket properties, all of which offer fly fishing to their guests. Included among these is Rivendell Trout Estate, where acclaimed angler Jeremy Rochester and I recently spent a few happy days exploring what they have to offer.

After buying the property in a fairly run -down state 3 years ago, the owners Angus and Jenny Brown, have clearly been working tirelessly to re-establish Rivendell as a premiere holiday and trout fishing destination. The serviced self -catering accommodation there is superb, consisting of 2 four bedroom villas all en-suite with large kitchens and living areas, log fires and elevated decks overlooking the river and onto the adjacent mountains.

The Spekboom River at this time of year (July) is gin clear and cold, a perfect habitat for Trout, but this does mean that the fish are able to see you coming and can therefore be skittish, so stealth is required to get results. Jerry managed to catch fish on nymphs, streamers and dry fly all in one day, while I found my dries going unhindered and only really had success on larger streamer patterns, a white beaded zonker being the most successful. As always, sight fishing to your quarry remains the most exciting form of fly fishing and conditions meant this was the case in almost all instances. The fish were not big, up to around 1 kg, but once hooked were remarkably frisky and loath to come to the net. Between us we caught and released around 18 fish in 2 days.

As a family holiday destination Rivendell would take some beating. Besides the fantastic accommodation, there are lovely walks or mountain bike trails, with a number of antelope and other species in attendance, as well as great birding.

Add this to the solitude, clear mountain air and sight fishing for plump Trout which can be spotted off your viewing deck, and you really need look no further….

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