Year: 2020 (page 1 of 2)

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.

I Want to Break Free

I used to send my children to their room when they misbehaved just as teachers intern naughty brats with detention and every military institution will confine you to your quarters for inappropriate behaviour, so it is no wonder that we all had an adverse reaction to lockdown.

Why are we being punished is the psychological undercurrent, despite the rationale.

As a nation who live, by and large, outdoors, not being able to enjoy the safe wide open space seemed ludicrous and within the first month, we all felt the walls closing in. The large contingent of anglers in South Africa were gobsmacked that you couldn’t stand alone on a river, dam or shoreline getting some fresh air and needed exercise. Then the final straw was taking away our fundamental right to choose to have a responsible drink!

I get that you cannot congregate and celebrate your catch of the day or toast another fisherman’s trophy, but to prevent grown-ups from enjoying a drink in the sanctity of their own house, what’s next, an ankle monitor?

Fisherfolk are by nature positive people. When you think of the odds stacked against any angler every time they throw a line into the big blue, you have to be. And experience has taught us, be prepared to come home empty-handed, so we’re no strangers to disappointment. But, this is enough to drive a man to drink, ironic no?

Thankfully we are now allowed to enjoy some recreational angling, albeit only within your province, which is hopefully a precursor for allowing all responsible South Africans to travel within your family group and experience the beauty of our beloved country. So as long as it’s legal, here are a few suggestions of iconic fishing destinations to visit within our borders.

  1. The great Orange River – it’s a spectacular contrast of serene arid landscape and the largest river system in South Africa, from below Augrabies Falls, this desert wilderness can be explored by canoe and riverside camp. The fishing is simply off the scale and it’s an adventure that the whole family will enjoy.
  1. The majestic Drakensberg – this mountain range covers a multitude of breathtaking locations and many rivers, all teaming with Trout, from the foothills in the village of Nottingham road to the escarpment of the Southern Berg and through to the Eastern Cape, it’s an incredible road trip that every fly fisher should take.
  1. Cape Vidal – within the world renowned iSimangaliso Wetland Park, this protected marine reserve not only offers some of the best salt water angling in the country, but it’s unique habitat of alluvial plains and coastal forest is home to four of the big five and incredible wildlife, it’s the perfect combination of a beach and bush holiday.
  1. The Wild Coast – the unspoiled coastline of the Eastern Cape is what draws rock and surf anglers to the many seaside villages renowned for foot-print free beaches and lazy lagoons. It has some incredible hiking trails, with many famous landmarks and in the right season you are almost guaranteed to witness the migratory whales.
  1. Your local watering hole – alas this certainly doesn’t refer to the pub down the road, but the multitude of dams and fishing holes that are within an hour or two’s drive, all of which haven’t seen a rod in the last four months! The local tourism industry is what you should support, making sure that these establishments dedicated to local anglers are there for many years to come.

Remember when travelling, double-check the latest legislation for any further restrictions that Mrs. Zuma decides, in her infinite wisdom to shackle us with. Social distancing like hygiene is common sense, so there’s no tongue in cheek when I urge everyone to be wise and take all the necessary precautions to put the brakes on this terrible pandemic.

As a fisherman, it’s natural to want to find someone to blame, after all we have a bible of excuses of why we didn’t catch fish as it’s never our fault, but this Corona catastrophe is past pointing fingers. I would only appeal to our incumbent leaders to take a leaf out of our great Springboks playbook who have given the rock legend’s Queen’s anthem ‘We are the Champions’ real meaning to all South Africans.

You can not force a person’s support, give us the respect and right to choose. A relaxing beverage consumed responsibly at home is what you can do to prevent us from feeling like another of Freddy’s famous songs.

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.

Hunting for Kob

My family has been visiting Wavecrest hotel for more than forty years. It is where I went on my summer holidays when I was a kid, and I have many happy memories from the place. I did a trip there a couple of weeks ago, along with my Dad, Geoff, who will be turning eighty in May, and his brother Ron, who is turning eighty four, also in May. It was great to do a boys trip, as we have done in the past, and while it was only for four days, it was definitely special to get back there together.

The staff welcomed us like returning family, after a drive of almost eight hours through the Transkei, with the last 35km having been dirt.

While my Dad and my uncle were planning on fishing with natural baits for edible species, I had been preparing some paddle tails and a variety of other artificial lures to target kob over the next four days. The weather forecast was looking good and the surf size looked reasonable.

We had booked over spring tides, which allowed my Dad and uncle to get fresh bait from the rocks at low tide. The rocks in this area are full of life and it is easy to collect red bait, octopus and crabs from the rocks and pools.

I had brought my little river boat along as well. I was keen to try the river for kob and garrick as well as the surf, particularly if there was some north easterly wind and the sea water got very cold.

On the first day I concentrated mainly on the river, exploring and checking out the channels and the structure. I caught some small Garrick and kob on a 72mm suspending Sebile Stick Shadd, a lure that is proving to be deadly for our estuary species.

I also got some small kob and Garrick on a 3” soft plastic Berkley Powerbait jerk minnow, rigged on a 1/8 oz jighead. The fish were right on the bottom at that stage and the only way to get a bite was to bounce a lure off the mud slowly.

The following day I decided to try for some kob in the surf. We walked the rocks to the south of the hotel, looking for areas that looked good for kob. I found a spot with lovely milky water, with lots of sand and bubbles in it, with some deep channels near rocks.

I made some casts with a paddletail rigged weedless. The first hit came on about the third cast, but no hookup. It was good to have confirmed that the fish were there though and I kept trying. A short while later I had another bite and this time I set the hook and felt the fish on the other end. After a short fight I landed the kob, taking care not to scrape it on the rocks as I brought it ashore. It wasn’t a big fish, but it was the target species and I was pleased.

I fished a number of other spots before getting a second fish on the paddletail. It was around the same size as the first fish, but caught about a kilometer away, from some different rocks.

I found that the Berkley Salt water Grass Pig was working well. The narrow shape allowed me to cast it far, while the soft plastic gave it lots of movement, even at low speeds. The narrow profile also ensured a better hookup rate, as the hook point was exposed much easier than on a normal bodied paddle tail. I rigged these on the 5/0 Owner Twistlock Swimbait hooks. These were perfect for kob, and worked very well.

That night it rained quite heavily at the hotel and the following day the river was quite muddy.

I parked the boat near a drop off at a deepish hole in the river and started working the area with a ½ oz Berkley Fusion Bucktail jig in blue and white. I had been fishing the area for a couple of hours when my jig suddenly stopped and line started peeling from my spool. After a hard fight, with some solid head nodding, I landed a lovely river kob. The fish lay on the surface next to the boat, gills pumping and I was able to appreciate a solid fish in the 5kg range.

My Dad and my uncle had a great trip. They landed a number of bronze bream, kob, blacktail, musselcracker, etc from the rocks. It was good to see them having a successful rock and surf trip at their age, one never knows when the limbs are going to become too frail for rock hopping. I enjoyed the time on the river as well as on the rocks. Hunting kob is a great challenge and it is always very satisfying when a hunch pays off and fish are caught as a result.

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