Month: March 2021 (page 1 of 2)

Manda Bay

The ultimate in barefoot luxury …

Unique is not a word that I generally just throw around, but it does have its place. A good example would be the blend of luxury and barefoot simplicity that exists at Manda Bay Lodge, a small boutique lodge on Manda Island in the Lamu Archipelago in northern Kenya.

This family owned and run resort is set apart from other east African beach destinations in a number of ways. The large, airy cottages, built from local materials, blend into the tropical island vegetation as though they were always meant to be there. Each has its own private veranda overlooking the white beaches and sparkling blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

Hanging from the rafters on thick hemp rope on each veranda are day beds, with colourful covers and cushions made from east African Kikoi fabric. These comfortable beds are the perfect place to lie up in the heat of the day, catching the ocean breeze and allowing one to lazily take in the scenery of the island.

The lodge is far away from any other settlements or resorts and a stay there is a truly private and exclusive experience. The island itself is well maintained and kept neat and tidy, emphasizing the feeling of being in a remote and unspoiled paradise. Nobody bothers you if you take a long, leisurely walk and you are free to wander anywhere you please. Staff are low key, but always helpful and pleasant.

The food at Manda Bay is nothing short of fantastic. Meals consist of fresh food, prepared with skill and love. A lot of seafood is offered on the menu, and these are incomparable with regards to freshness, abundance and some of the most delicious flavours that one can imagine. Guests that visit the lodge leave with a new appreciation for the delicacies of the east African coast.

There are many activities on offer at Manda Bay, including: Fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, laser sailing, waterskiing and inflatable tube rides. There are miles of private beaches to walk on and collect shells. The lodge also offers Dhow sailing excursions, which are peaceful and pleasant, taking one back to the days of traders sailing along that coastline. An evening trip to the thousand-year-old Manda ruins, built from coral stone and situated amongst some ancient baobab trees, is also a well worthwhile experience.

For me though, the fishing is the most important activity on offer, and it is spectacular. Every type of fishing from estuary, to inshore fishing can be done here as well as big game excursions offshore for giant marlin and tuna.  The variety of habitats for fish is incredible, with plenty of inshore reef, a massive mangrove lined estuary system and miles of tropical ocean with no other fishing boats in sight.

The range of species on offer at Manda bay is mind blowing. We caught Oxeye tarpon, river snapper, and a variety of trevally species in the mangrove channels, both on fly and light lures.  The inshore fishing produced more trevally, including some monster GT’s and king mackerel, barracuda etc. This was where we had a lot of fun with medium and heavier spinning tackle. The fly guys also had an absolute ball fishing the massive rock ledge drop offs at the estuary mouth. The offshore blue water fishing is simply incredible, with very few boats operating on that part of the coast, fish stocks are in excellent condition. The opportunity is there to catch black, blue and striped marlin as well as sailfish, broadbill swordfish and giant yellowfin tuna. I spent a night out targeting broadbill swordfish on the lodge’s sportfisher, and thought that I had hooked a world record broadbill, but it turned out to be a massive, foul hooked, manta ray!

Manda Bay Lodge is one of those resorts that easily doubles up as a romantic getaway and an amazing fishing and watersports destination. Each time that I have visited there it has been for fishing and I have rued the fact that my wife was not with me to share the beauty, comfort and luxury of this special lodge.

St Brandon’s Atoll

The Boneyard

If you’ve ever spent some time fly fishing on the Indian Ocean atolls, chances are you would have heard one of your guides use the word “Frommel”. Frommel is an Afrikaans word that directly translates to “crumple”. It’s an expression they use when a client folds or crumples under pressure and botches a chance at a fish.

“Frommeling” is part of the experience and everyone does it, even the guys who have seen it all before and spent countless hours on the flats will tell you a story of an epic Frommel they had. It happens when a sudden rush of adrenalin courses through your body and your usual calm collected self turns into an overzealous, stumbling buffoon, casting high-velocity projectiles at tailing fish. It happens with a split-second lapse in concentration when you cast the fly just too far at the last second or lift the rod on the hook set. Everyone Frommels.

Shallow saltwater flats are where fly anglers frommel more than in any other fishing situation. One of the hardest things to do is to maintain composure when a trophy fish, the kind that makes you Instagram famous, appears within casting range and your guide starts barking instructions. It’s what makes sight fishing on the flats so damn exciting, and you have to fluff a few shots to appreciate the fish when you finally land it. You also learn a lot with every fish you miss.

On a trip to St Brandon’s atoll with the FlyCastaway crew, I had my fair share of “frommels”. It’s not every day you get to stand 40 feet away from the holy grail of fly fishing in ankle-deep water with his golden sickle waving in the air. If I’m being honest the moment might have been a little too big for me and when I eventually found my grove, followed the advice of the skilled guides, and put the right casts in to get the fish to react, the fish would turn at the last second or just refuse to eat the fly… But that’s permit fishing I’m told. It was a frustrating session on the flats and will haunt me for a long time until I can settle the score.

What all the “Frommels” did do was prepare me for some of the best shallow water sight fishing I have ever experienced. Halfway through our trip, the weather changed dramatically, the usual strong winds that guides and anglers have come to expect from St Brandon’s disappeared, and 3 days of complete flat calm settled over the Atoll. We found ourselves wading in water barely covering our boots and spotting tails a hundred meters out. The bonefish were swimming single and tailing hard on yellow flat on the pushing tide, it’s what saltwater fly fishing dreams are made of.

Because of the calm conditions, the bonefish were on high alert and we couldn’t get too close, it called for some long shots and pinpoint accuracy, luckily, we had lots of casting practice the days prior. When the bonefish are tailing hard with their heads down you have to present the fly as close as possible for them to pick it up. Leading the fish and having them swim on to the fly simply won’t do the trick in this situation. Sight fishing nirvana is the word that comes to mind when I think back on those 3 days of flat calm conditions on the flats of St Brandon’s.

The Bonefish fishing is world-class on this particular Atoll not just because of the way you target them but also the quality of the size fish you catch. Four-to-six-pound fish is the average, but double figures are very common at St B’s and due to the cooler water temps, all of them fight like they are possessed, reminding you constantly what fly reel backing looks like and what saltwater fish are capable of.

The giant predators that swim around this Atoll account for a fair share of “Frommels” themselves, mainly because they don’t appear as often as they do on some other Atolls but when they do appear, they are usually big ones that tend to buckle the knees of even the most seasoned anglers. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear shot at one of the infamous St B’s GT’s but I did bump into a monster Bluefin cruising around a coral flat that could have easily been a GT, at a fork length of 87cm it was one of larger specimens I’ve encountered and gave my twelve weight rig a good run for its money.

As far as world-class saltwater fly fishing destinations go, St Brandon’s ticks all the boxes, it has just the right mix of remoteness, tropical allure, and trophy specimens that will leave even the well-traveled rod wielders satisfied. Yes, you will “Frommel” and yes you might get a little frustrated, maybe even cry a little but you will catch a trophy and be proud to send it to the “gram”.

Midlands Trout Season

The first frosts of the season is something worth celebrating from a Winter fishing perspective. It is a time in which the Trout embrace the colder water temperatures and feed a little more aggressively before they switch into spawning mode.   We have started to record minus degree Celius mornings here in the Midlands, with the crisp air ushering in the welcome change. It’s time to check the waders for untimely leaks, dust off those sinking lines and ensure that you’re prepared for the still water season.  

  Early mornings continue to be more productive at the end of Autumn, with that magical hour of first light baring witness to the surface action that we all crave. Innovative Frog patterns and popping for Trophy Rainbow Trout have seen some great specimens come from waters whose clarity usually demands flies in the 14 to 18 size range. Inducing that fish to charge at something on the top is the epitome of fly fishing and changing the way which one targets fish on fly teaches us all that the next great pattern or technique lies in the dreams and schemes of the generation willing to adapt.  

  When the weather has allowed for it, the early evening rise is still evident, with those elusive Brown Trout ignoring any vulgar bugger thrown in their direction, opting to sip a size 16 Elk Hair or Tent Wing Caddis drifting by.   We have been more fortunate in terms of rainfall than the rest of our drought stricken country and consequently the majority of the Trout dams are still holding at about 80% of capacity. The weed beds of many dams are now well exposed, creating a little turbidity at the waters edge, but not enough to cut off visibility for the fish still hunting along the fringes for any aquatic invertebrates. At this time of year, one is torn between fishing a very imitative pattern slowly around said structure or resorting to the guerrilla tactics of bright disco flies retrieved at drag racing finesse and speed.   It’s important to be prepared for both options, as we are already seeing the cruising fish, patrolling the rocky outcrops and dam walls, gravitating towards anything resembling a spawning bed. Whilst the purists will opt to look for feeding or cruising fish from the edge of the bank, there is no denying that float tubing will see more Trout landed when fishing any dam. The ability to cover more water is the simple mathematical advantage and couple this with being able to present a fly into a weed bed as opposed to over it and from the comfort of your V-Boat you definitely have the upper hand. Intermediate lines are preferable to fast sinking when wanting to fish the water column effectively, as quite frankly your fly spend more time in the water and patience will allow you to fish the full depth of 5 to 10 meters being the extent of most Midlands Trout waters. There is no doubt that the right line will mean less casting and more fishing!  

  Patterns that are performing come in many shapes and sizes, but by and large, streamers are what are being more commonly fished, in a Zonker or Minky style. with Olive and Black being the basic go to colours in naturals and vivid orange or red variations giving a spawning trigger to the rip and strip brigade. The Bully Bugger continues to irritate the Trout into striking, regardless of water or rod pressure. As usual the WildFly lads have been designing and fishing a multitude of weird and sometimes wonderful flies, never worried about tradition or convention, with results being driving force behind their adaptations. With the precious little time that we all have to enjoy Winter Trout fishing on dams, knowing how to fish the right pattern is the difference between a long cold day on the water and memories shared time and again around the warm hearth of Notties pub.  

Here’s to breaking the mould and sharing the wealth of knowledge amongst all catch and release fly fishers.  

Awesome new Dogtooth Tuna location

It is not often that anybody gets the opportunity to fish a pristine fishery these days. There are just too few of these untouched areas left on the planet. Last week myself and Brad Cartwright (of Wildfly Travel) had the amazing opportunity to explore one of the few of these areas that still remains virtually untouched. The idea was to check out the jigging and Popping potential of the area, with particular interest in seeing what the dogtooth tuna population is like.

Mike Mason, owner of Neptune Warrior, Invited Brad and I to come along and explore the fishing around Remire, where he has just secured a lease. Remire Island is part of the Amirantes group and has never been used for tourism before. It was previously a private getaway for the ex- president of the Seychelles.

We obviously jumped at the opportunity and headed accross there, with as much tackle as the airlines would allow us to carry, (actually a bit more). WE flew from JHB to Mahe, then from Mahe to Desroches and then did a boat transfer of around an hour and forty five minutes to Remire.

Below is our first view of Remire Island as we arrived. We knew that it was going to be a pleasant week with the little island to ourselves.

We were going to be fishing from Mike’s new Cabo Sportfisher, a really comfortable boat, which is a great fishing platform for jigging and popping. The plan was to explore the area and check out the potential. The Cabo has a fuel tank that takes a thousand litres of diesel, and that meant that our range was enormous.

Below is a picture of the Cabo parked in front of Remire:

We used an aluminium tender boat to get from the island to the boat each day. The tender boat is also great for getting into the shallows to access water around the various flats in the area.

Below is a pic of the tender boat:

The first morning found us exploring the shallow water around Remire reef on the Eastern Side. We worked water from 3m to 12m deep with poppers and stickbaits. Brad caught a 9kg GT with a light setup, casting a two ounce chisel plug. We also caught a number of bluefin trevally (kingfish), which were great fun on the light tackle. We had plenty of Bohar Snapper attacking our surface lures, and this was a great indicator that the area is in great condition. The big Bohar’s would be one of the first fish to dissappear if the area was being exploited. I caught the snapper below on a Darkstar Tuna 120 popper, which it smashed as if it was starving.

Despite the look on my face, I actually enjoyed landing this awesome specimen!

We then moved into some deeper water along the drop off in the same area. We noticed that the water was actually quite murky (by Seychelles standards), as the current was coming off the shallow reef and pushing over the drop off. We cast some poppers there anyway and had a number of attacks by sharks, as well as whoo, green jobfish and some large yellowfin tuna (in 18m of water!) Brad hooked a big yellowfin on light tackle and fought it for about half an hour before the leader knot finally had enough and parted. I landed one of around 35kg, using heavier popping gear. I tried holding the fish on the boat for the cameras, but had my teeth shaken loose as it thrashed around in my arms, so I dumped it overboard and felt sorry for myself, as I knew that my wrists and forearms were going to be properly bruised after that. I landed a doggie of around 15kg’s on the jig, and was stoked to see that they were indeed around.

We headed back to our Island in the late afternoon, to regroup and sort out our tackle and discuss what our plan was for the next day.

Below is a pic of the guesthouse that we stayed in on the Island:

The guesthouse is fairly simple, with everything one needs. Each room has twin beds, an en suite bathroom and aircon. There is a little self service pub, with unlimited ice and plenty of cold drinks. The food was truly excellent, cooked by Belinda, a Seychelloise chef, who has a way with seafood. While it is not a luxury resort, we wanted for nothing and really enjoyed the Island. I think it is ideal for groups of up to eight guys, who will have the place to themselves and be able to relax and unwind after a tough day’s fishing.

We decided to try the western drop off of Remire reef the following day, as the water would be cleaner on that side due to the current pushing onto it from the open sea. At the first spot we stopped along the ledge we could see dogtooth tuna below the boat, and our first casts with poppers had the doggies come charging to the surface to come and see what was going on. On about my third cast I had a doggie charging my Tuna 120 popper, just to turn away short. I decided to try and let the lure lie still in the water when it got near the boat and sure enough it was attacked with a vicious strike and I ws on with my fiorst doggie on surface lure for the trip. It wasn’t a huge fish, somewhere between 15 and 20kg’s, but was awesome to catch. Once we had figured out how they like the lures presented to them we started catching plenty of them on poppers and stickbaits.

Below is a pic of Mike Mason with a Doggie he took on a Darkstar Ulua 120 which hit him with a spectacular smash and created a patch of white foam just metres from the boat:

Doggies in this sort of size range were plentiful, and we landed a few of them on that morning, before moving on to a pinacle that Mike wanted to explore with Jigs. On the way ther we saw some huge Yellowfin in the 50-60kg range jumping nearby. They seemed to be everywhere, but we weren’t after them and decided to leave them alone.

Mike put out some lures behind the boat at one stage as we moved along the underwater ledge (which is about 13 miles long). We quickly pulled them in and stowed the trolling tackle though, as we could never move more than 100m without hooking up to something, and we were never going to get anywhere. The sheer numbers and variety of gamefish was nothing short of astonishing. From small stuff like Kawa Kawa and rainbow runners, to Marlin, sailfish, wahoo, doggies, yellowfin etc. It was insane!

We arrived at the jigging spot and sent our jigs down and immediately went tight with some doggies and GT’s. We couldn’t land any small fish at that spot, because anything smaller than 7kg’s was eaten on the way up, and we are not talking getting taxed by sharks here. We had doggies taxing us, even eating smaller doggies and I had a fish taken by a very determined marlin, which ate the fish on my line 3 times before ripping it off the hook and heading off with its meal.

Below are two GT’s which I landed on consecutive downs with the Jig: First this one

Then this one

Enough to make anyone sweat, when jigging in 60m of water in 40+ degrees of heat and more than 90% humidity. Not for the faint hearted! We had a pretty good idea what was going on below at most times, as the water is very clear and we could see a long way down. We also had an underwater cameraman in the water most of the time and he just kept saying things like; “Oh Man!There is a big wahoo 20m that way and three huge doggies right beneath the boat”. This running commentary kept us going, even when the arms felt like giving up. Luckily for us most times a jig was sent down it was eaten, so there weren’t fruitless hours of jigging inviolved…

Below is a Black Jack head after a run in with a big Dogtooth on the way to the surface:

We trolled teasers for a bit, to try and get a sailie on fly, and raised a few sails and a black marlin of around 80kg, which would have been perfect on the fly, but sadly it didn’t eat the fly at the transom of the boat. The number of sailfish was pretty spectacular, and we had them coming in on poppers and stickbaits on pretty much every session. Below is a pic of Mike with one that he caught on a Darkstar Ulua 120 stickbait, while spinning from the boat:

Tropical species such as Black Trevally were fairly common on the jigs, and we also got a couple of longfin amberjack.

Below is a Black Jack that had a really long dorsal fin:

Another species that almost becvame a nuisance when fishing surface lures was the green jobfish, which were very aggressive and kept hitting both poppers and stickbaits.

We had some outstanding sessions where we hooked some really nice doggies on both topwater and jig. In fact we finished all our jigs before the end of the trip due to getting creamed by some massive doggies that were just unstoppable. I wasn’t too sorry to see the end of the jigs though, as that meant more time on the surface lures, which is my personal favourite way of fishing.

I hooked a monster doggie right below my feet one afternoon on popper, and couldn’t help myself screaming out when I saw the size of the beast that launched itself out of the water in front of me with my popper clenched in its big teeth. We followed it with the boat, staying right above it, to stop it from cutting me off oin the ledge as it headed for deep water. I had hooked it in 20m of water! only 100m away the water was 90m deep. Anyhow we safely negotiated the passage back to deep water with the fish below us, and as I was starting to relax and thinking of the fish as mine the hook inexplicably pulled…

Brad got a couple of nice doggies on stickbait too. The fish below was taken on a Sebile Stick Shad, also right on the surface and no more than 10m from the boat.

I finally got a good doggie on the surface as well, which was probably somewhere in the region of 50kg and gave me one hell of a pull. This one took a Ulua 120 stickbait and also headed for the dropoff, but we followed and the hooks held, so all worked out well:

All in all this was one of the best fisheries I have ever had the good fortune to experience, with mind numbing numbers of big doggies and other aggressive predators. The doggies had no problem coming to the surface to hit topwater lures, which makes it doubly amazing. The pic below is of a Ulua 120 stcickbait  3 hours after being taken brand new from the packaging and tied on, just to show you what I am talking about!

With stunning locations like this within our reach, it is great to know that we can enjoy this sort of bluewater action without having to travel halfway around the world to places like the coral sea. I firmly believe that this is one of the finest bluewater, big game fishing left on the planet. The rates are pretty reasonable by Seychelles standards, and the variety of fishing available is mind numbing. For example, we took a day off from the blue water fishing and waded the flats catching bonefish on fly, just to give our aching muscles a break. Where else in the world can you do that?

And of course to top it off, the Seychelles is just one of the most scenically spectacular destinations there is, with its beautiful clean water, turtles nesting on the beach (we had one laying eggs right in front of our guesthouse in broad daylight), sooty terns, frigate birds roosting on the island and a peace and serenity that is only shattered by the smashes of marauding gamefish and screaming of tortured drags…

Details of this trip are available from Brad Cartwright at Wildfly Travel, give him a shout and get a quote, it may just be worth doing something like this once in your life, before it goes the way of all the other fisheries out there. I am going to host two trips there next year, which can be booked through Brad, so give him a shout and find out more about it.p>

Majestic Matoya

Inside Angling and Wildfly recently did a trip to Matoya Lodge in Zambia. Matoya is in the Barotse floodplains area, in Western Zambia, and is one of my favourite parts of the Zambezi  River. I have put together a daily report on the trip:

We met at King Shaka International and flew from Durban to Lusaka on Pro Flight. Our flight departed Durban at 1pm and landed in Lusaka at 3.30pm.
We were collected at Lusaka (Kenneth Kaunda International) by Davis, the driver for Palmwood Lodge, where we would be spending the night.

I had a delicious chicken curry with nshima (Mielie meal) for dinner, It felt good to eat some traditional Zambian food, with a couple of ice cold Mosi beers as well, to wash it down. We were all tired and went straight to bed after dinner, in bed by 8.30pm.

Up at 4.20am, packed and had our luggage at the Reception ready to load the Prado at 4.50am. Davis was driving us to Lukulu. We left at about 5.15am and drove through the dark streets of Lusaka, stopping briefly at red traffic lights, before passing through. The streets were pretty empty, and we got well out of town before the roads became busy. We drove for about two hours or so, before entering the Kafue National Park. We then drove through miles of broadleaf woodland, on a straight road that went on and on. We saw some Impala, puku, waterbuck, Roan antelope, hartebeest, and yellow baboons. The yellow baboons are skinnier than our chacma baboons, and appear to have longer limbs, they are also obviously quite yellow in colour.

We played music along the road, through my ipod and speaker, everything from rock to reggae, country etc. We had asked them to pack plenty beers for us, so we chatted about fishing and had a pleasant journey as we passed through rural Zambia.
The Chinese were doing roadworks on the bridge that they had built over the Kafue, so we crossed a temporary bridge next to it. It is a big river, looking a lot like the vaal near Vereeneging.

We stopped at the petrol station at Kaoma to fill up. Every vehicle in the garage was a Toyota, including an old red land cruiser with no suspension on one side. Shaun needed more penlight batteries for the microphones, so Davis took us to a Pep Store in the village, where they would accept his credit card, and he bought some weird no name brand batteries.

Not too long after Kaoma we turned off the ever deteriorating tar road onto a dirt road, and spent the next 4 hours or so driving on the undulating sand road to Lukulu. The trip took us close to ten hours in total. We were collected at the little river harbor by Marvin Sissing, one of the owners of Matoya, along with Paul and Junior, with some of the lodge’s boats. We went to the lodge, got our gear sorted and had a quick snack and beer while rigging up, then headed out for a short late afternoon session.

The guides had told us that the fishing had been tough the last couple of days, there had been quite a bit of wind and the water was quite cool. The good news was that there had been plenty of fish in the days before that, with some solid double figure fish up to 17.5lbs being landed. I figured this was good news, as the bite would surely pick up again soon.

We worked the waterberry area, below the lodge, I mainly used Rapala Skitter V’s, floating stickbaits, as there were a lot of stumps in the area and I didn’t feel like losing any lures before the fishing really got going. It felt good to be on the river at last, with the familiar sights, smells and sounds of the Zambezi all around us.  

I had a few swirls from smallish fish, with one hitting the lure and pulling it below, but no solid hookups. I threw the 30g double clapper tiger express now and then, just speculatively into the main river, and brought it back slowly, bumping along the bottom, looking for a pull. Marvin fished with me, throwing a copper spoon of about 16g, but he had no hits either. We came back to the lodge as it was getting dark, had a few beers and dinner, then an early night.

We got up at 5am, still pitch dark. Had coffee (coke for me, as I don’t do hot drinks) and headed out at 6.15 as soon as it got light enough to drive. The river was quiet, it had been through a down time, and everything was slow. Conditions were perfect. No wind at all, oily glassy water, sun rising pink, steam coming off the water like mist. We went down to an area called Barotse stumps and did a drift as the sun came up. The water is very clear, with some of that green snot that grows on the rocks just above the Lungwebungu confluence. It seems that when the water level hits a certain height then the stuff blooms and pieces break off and drift downriver.

We went past Mulembwe village, our old drop off has been sanded up, and is no good this season.
I fished surface lures from first light , till after nine, with the odd flick of a Storm Tiger Express copper spoon, or a bucktail jig. Marvin had two solid connections, not big fish, but around 4lbs and 8lbs both spat his 13cm skitter walk on the jump.

I had a 4 pounder landed after lunch, and dropped one solid fish, otherwise nothing to show from 13 hours of active service. The wind stayed away pretty much, and conditions were good. It got pretty warm during the day. I saw a bataleur eagle standing in the water, cooling off and having a drink, magnificent bird! (I still can’t bring myself to call them by their new name: short tailed eagle, Bataleur somehow sounds more fitting).

Day 2:
The fish weren’t biting and everything was quiet. The fish eagles didn’t even bother to hunt, they just flew high in the sky, wheeling and calling, almost like they were trying to fly to the sun. There were some big bush fires around, we could hear the crackling and popping and the smoke billowed up, dark and grey. The open billed storks started flying in, from all over. They have been feeding in the drying up pools and vleis in the floodplains, taking advantage of a bounty of mussels being exposed. They started congregating in the smoke, and used the thermal of the fire, to form a super flock, wheeling and gaining altitude with minimal effort. Obviously happy to get the chance for a free ride to a higher place, where they can check out their options from and the glide there so easily.

There are lots of new clean white sandbanks being exposed with the dropping water, and the skimmers are so happy, colonizing each new bank as it appears. The white fronted bee eaters, are nesting in the banks, kicking sand out of their burrows in a spray, that catches the early light. Monitor lizards lounge on the banks, rushing through the grass and into the water when we drift close. Plenty to look at while casting at all the likely looking spots and waiting for that arm jarring hit.

We headed home for lunch at around 1pm, and then headed out again at 3pm. We went upstream, to a spot they call banana rock, a long drift, past lots of reeds and some interesting bottom contours, just downstream of Lukulu village.

I landed a 4lb fish on a black and purple bucktail jig. Had another decent fish on for a few seconds then gone. All in all, very quiet by Matoya standards.

Day 3:

Tough day today. It started off well, with some nice surface smashes upstream at Banana rock at first light. I landed a 6 pounder and we had about 20 minutes of intermittent smashes, with some of them definitely being big fish, but no other hookups, then it went very quiet. 9 hours till our next bite, that is a long time between drinks, when you are casting your arm off all day.

We went upstream past Lukulu, to the confluence of the Lungwemova river, and fished the rapids in the Zambezi just above the confluence. I had one knock from a small fish. I used a weighted VMC swimbait hook, with a Storm jerk plastic, rigged weedless. It worked pretty well in the shallow water over rocks, it still got stuck a few times, but we could get it out.

I rigged a Storm Superu paddletail afterwards, gold, with blue glitter and some bluish on the back, it looked deadly in the water.I couldn’t get any bites though, and even Marvin’s bottlenose livebait wasn’t getting enquiries. In the late afternoon we had a few swirls around sunset, on the surface at waterberries, not big fish and none connected.

Day 4:

Wow, super tough day today. We did a full day downriver, leaving the lodge at 6.15am as it got light enough to go. Our first stop was an area with some big stumps in the river, just past Mulembwe village. The air and the water were warmer than they have been, and we did a drift throwing surface lures, I used the Storm Arashi Top Walker 13cm and Rapala Skitter-V, Marvin used his 12cm Rapala Skitter Walk, with a sort of ripping and pause action.

I had a few half hearted swirls and splashes, then a monster smashed Marvin’s lure on the other side of the boat, close in. The fish took off, ripping line from his drag, making that Stella sing in the quiet of the early morning. Sadly it came unstuck, as tigers often do, leaving us all excited. We cast surface lures with super focus and energy for the next 2 hours, our hearts beating, expecting carnage on every cast, waiting for it.

The fish however, continued with their fast, into the fifth morning now, since the bite died off, as there was 2 days of tiger Ramadan before we even arrived.

Later in the morning I got a 4 pounder, very feisty, that smashed my swimbait paddletail, as it came out of hole in the reeds, where I had flicked it in search of a lurking bream. It was well hooked on the swimbait hook and I was happy to see that it hadn’t ripped the paddletail up too much.

A bit later The livebait got hit and Marvin grabbed the rod and hit, but the fish managed to shake the hook. As his fish came off, my 5” Suberu paddletail got eaten and I had a strong fish on that ran quite fast, but fought deep, and of course it was a Maramba, grrr. An 11 pound sharptooth catfish in fine fighting form, but not what I am after. It was admittedly nice to have a hard hit and a bit of a pull though.

A bit later Marvin picked up a catfish on his live bottlenose and had a good tussle, but was sorely disappointed that it wasn’t a tiger.

We were drifting down a clay bank, with a flat grassy floodplain above it, the water level around a metre below the lip. I was casting a bucktail jig, with an orange top that I called Ed Sheeran, looking for a nembwe in the deep water immediately below the bank. I was letting it sink deep, then giving it a few enticing twitches, before giving it a few seconds to sink down again, then repeating. I noticed a blacksmith plover standing on a pile of mud, just above the bank, and another that was fluttering and looking like it was trying to draw attention away from eggs or young, but it couldn’t be us she was worried about, we were drifting past, a good 30 metres away.

Just then my jig got hit so hard that my arms felt the smack, right into my shoulders, and the fish took off with that blistering speed that those double digit fish can do, tearing line from the drag, as the braid sliced through the water, first towards the bank, then across heading straight for Marvin’s line. Just then the line went slack. He had spat the jig.

I looked up and noticed a dugout, pulled up on the bank, and two guys walking aimlessly around on the bank above. It dawned on me that they could be the threat to the plover’s nest.

We drifted on down golden banks, hoping for a nembwe or another good tiger hit, but no luck.  
We went back up to the bottom of a stretch called Rottweiler’s, to have lunch. Matoya had set up a gazebo, with a braai and the chef cooked us boerewors, and made chips on a frying pan over the fire. It was a lovely big sandbank.

On the way to lunch, I asked Fred to stop at the bank where I had hooked the fish, and I jumped off. I walked up to the blacksmith plover, which looked really buggered, when I got close it took off and flew, with one leg hanging down, it looked genuinely broken.

After lunch we did long drifts down golden banks, but had no luck at all. We came back up to Rottweilers and fished the deeper channel near the village. Marvin got  a 4lb fish on a copper spoon.

There were two ladies and some kids bathing at the water’s edge. They saw us drifting towards them, along with two mokoros, with young men in them drifting near us. They got the kids to hand them kangas to cover up and had some called conversation with the mokoro paddlers as they passed. When the mokoros were out of sight, the ladies uncovered again and carried on soaping up, totally ignoring us drifting by.

We went upstream and did a drift at tiger rock, where Marvin got another 4 pounder on his spoon, then went up to the stumps at Mulembwe to end the day where we had started, using surface lures. Unfortunately it was very dead, and we had no action at all.

Everyone was really tired at dinner, it had been a long, tough day. We had an early night, by Matoya standards, with all in bed by 10pm.

The people along the river in this part of the world are so pleasant and cheerful. There are the ever present high pitched yells of “how are you?” from the banks, often from kids that can’t be seen, hidden somewhere in the reeds. Most people seem to speak English pretty well. They all seem very friendly, respectful and relaxed. Big smiles and lots of laughter are the norm.

The whole family is involved in the day to day task of survival, with little kids helping carry firewood or water. The young daughters take care of the little ones, when the moms are involved in working, so it is common to see a girl of ten or eleven, carrying around a baby or toddler.

We see mokoro’s drifting fairly often, with nobody on board. These are craft that weren’t well tied up. They never get interfered with, fishing gear, clothes, whatever is on board remains untouched. I asked Marvin about the honesty of the people and he reckons that they will never steal these things, as they are afraid that a curse will be put on them by the owner. The people of the river are very superstitious.

Day 5:

We started the morning by running to Mulembwe stumps and casting surface lures again. Marvin stayed behind, as he had some work to do at the lodge. It was dead quiet, not even the little tiglets that normally come out swirling and spitting around the topwater lures showed their faces. I danced my skitter V in its most enticing manner past the stumps, trying to tempt out the monster from yesterday. Nada.

We carried on with the drift for ages. Eventually there was a little swirl of interest from a fish not much bigger than the lure, then another. We had a few pretty decent enquiries along the way. I flicked the lure into the back of a gap in the reeds and brought it out swanking. Just after it got out of the gap it got hit. Screamed off, jumped, threw the lure, #%$@.

I picked up a 4 pounder on a weedless paddletail cast behind a stump in the main river, I had foul hooked him in the chest. He gave a lot of resistance and felt like a big one at first, as they do when foul hooked, but sadly he was not. Unusual to foul hook a fish with a weedless soft plastic.

One or two knocks and long, long drifts with not a bite, for maybe four or five hours. This allowed plenty of time for thoughts, some of them along the lines of how challenging tiger fishing is. Regardless of how experienced you may be, how good your tackle is, or how great the area is that you are fishing in. If tigers don’t want to bite, they can’t be forced.

This lead me to start thinking about bream.

I asked our skipper Fred about the nembwe, and whether there were still any places along the river where there was water spilling in from the floodplains. He said there were some places, quite far downstream. It didn’t take long to discuss and we found ourselves heading in that direction at full speed. We went to an area called Mahewu, further downriver than I had ever been in this area. We found some spill offs, and the river was dimpled with swirls and rises from catfish.

There were plenty of cormorants and egrets along the banks, and the water was boiling with heaps of baitfish!
I started casting my Ed Sheeran bucktail, and bouncing it slowly off the bottom, looking for one of those beautiful, green, bream. Sure enough, after a few casts my jig was picked up, and after a hard and deep fight, I landed a 6lb nembwe. Something to celebrate at last!

After that we went back upstream to Banana Rock. I  did a drift casting the jig and caught a 10 pounder on Ed Sheeran, cast just behind a bit of reeds, on the edge of a little clay inlet.

I changed to surface lure and had one big smash. Then the fish came back and ate it. Been thinking about that. Those tiger come in and maim, then circle round and eat. Leave the lure in place after a hit, and twitch it on the spot. The tiger comes back and hits it again, eating it properly this time. Nice, things are starting to look up!

Day 6:

Out at first light again, straight up to banana rock to do some drifts with surface lures. My Arashi 13cm got smoked near the side by a good fish, which did three jumps and pulled hard. I landed it, 12.5lbs. At last, a really solid fish.  

I had another good smash, but didn’t stay connected. I then spent a bit of time teaching Marvin how to walk the dog, which he got going, getting his lure looking really good in the water.

We came back to the lodge for half an hour at 9am, to shootsome overhead  drone footage, then headed downriver.
We went all the way down to Mahewu, and fished for nembwe again. I got two, one of 6 and one of 7lbs. The 7 pounder was a lovely olive green male, the other one was a female, paler I colour, like the one yesterday.

We ran back up and started a drift at Croc Alley, across from waterberry, just before sunset. Second cast my lure just passed the tip of the reed island that seperates the alley from the main river, when there was an explosive smash and the tiger came right out of the water on the eat. Ran hard, then jumped again, a good fish of around 12lbs, did another run and the hook pulled!

What a last day. The fish are definitely coming back on the bite, and we will no doubt be seeing posts from Matoya in the next few days of big tigers. It is a pity that we hit it during a slow period, but then again, it forces one to keep thinking and keep trying new things. I lost a few good fish this week, so I did have my chances too.

Day 7:

We stopped on our way to Lukulu for Rhuan and Marvin to have a last early morning shot at a double figure fish. We were ahead on the drift and Marvin had some success in raising some fish with his new, walk the dog skills. He had a few enquiries from small fish, and a couple of decent smashes, with all of the fish missing the lure.

We drove back from Lukulu to Lusaka, left at 8am and arrived at Palmwood at around 4.30pm. Marvin took us out to the Marlin Restaurant at the Lusaka Club, where we had delicious large Zambezi Beef steaks covered in a rich pepper sauce. The restaurant is awesome, with a very basic old school décor, Marv says it hasn’t changed in 26 years. The food came quickly, portions were very generous, it was hot and tasty. There was a good looking self service salad/veg bar where customers could dish up a side plate or starter of salads or nice veg, at no extra charge. The beef in Zambia is amazing.

A few thoughts from the trip:

Lures that worked on this trip: Copper spoons, Storm Zambezi Express ones are great because of the reflectivefinish  and strong red fluttering tail. The split rings and hooks straight out of packaging are also good enough to stand up to big tigers. Storm Arashi topwater, Rapala Skitter Walk, bucktail jigs are an excellent tiger option. Rapala DT 6 or Fat Raps are ideal for nembwe, as well as some smaller weedless swimbaits and jigs with weedguards, in red and black.

The trick is to get lures into the zone where tigers will see them, and then have them entice a strike by having good action.

Topwater strikes sometimes happen in the low light, even when fish have lockjaw, making me think that some of these are reaction strikes. The splash of the landing of the lure seems to play a large part, with most strikes coming closer to the edges of the river, targeting fish holding in structure, or hunting along the edges. Smashes vary from soft boils, to vicious strikes, to fish even clearing the water on the bite. The bigger the fish, the more vicious the hit and the hookups seem better with bigger fish. There are lots of misses from smaller fish.

Those days of tough fishing, sometimes our only bites came at around sunrise and sunset, with us fishing the full day, with virtually no action at all. Those very short windows of activity, are usually maybe half an hour where the fish will hit surface lures. It is important to plan ahead and never waste any of that time driving, be on the spots for the feeding window. Maximise the opportunity.

Fishing the edges means losing more tackle, as there are lots of underwater snags. Also lots of smaller fish along the edges of the river. Dropoffs and structure in the middle of the river often hold bigger fish, particularly during the daylight hours.

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