Author: Wildfly Travel (Page 1 of 10)

Last one on the left

As we meandered our way down the Zambezi River through the beauty and splendour that is the Lower Zambezi National Park, I could not help but wonder what this round of adventure had in store for our motley crew of fishing rod and camera-wielding travellers. 

Earlier in the day we met up with Rob Kay, owner and operator of Amanzi Zambezi Lodge. With him he carried two sacks. One filled with buttery soft White river avocados, and the other, the perfect complement to a refreshing gin and tonic, a uniquely patterned citrus called “tiger lemon”.  These were the fruits of Rob’s daytime labour. Leave it to a farmer to cultivate produce that shares its name with his favourite pastime. When Rob isn’t farming “tiger lemons”,  he spends his days fishing for Tigerfish from the comfortably equipped boats at Amanzi.

Lower Zambezi is one of my favourite places on earth to visit, I use the word “visit” here because it’s not always my favourite place to fly fish. 
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more exhilarating than catching Tigerfish under a tequila sky, with elephants grazing in the background, but the truth is, tiger fishing is a tough business. You have to put in the work and build up to those moments, especially if your weapons of choice are feathers and fly line. 

What sets the Lower Zambezi apart from other fishing destinations is the fact that even in “down” periods when fishing is tough, you never feel bored or frustrated. There is always something to enjoy on the lower Zambezi. Whether it is sitting back with a cold Mozi, watching the elephants crossing the river with their young in tow, or the peaceful sounds of an African fish eagle suddenly interrupted by a pack of wild dogs yelping on the river’s edge. There is never a dull moment on this magical stretch of river.

Amanzi Lodge is quite literally the last lodge on the left as you travel downstream of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Tucked away on a narrow channel off the main river, the lodge is a far cry from the usual bustling park accommodations, and gave me a sense of what the area was like before development took place.  The luxury tented camp has everything you would ever need in this beautiful wilderness, and effortlessly blends into its surroundings. To me, this is the closest one can get to a truly authentic African bush experience. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening setting up our tackle and gear, relaxing around the fire and sharing stories of past Zambezi experiences, conquests, and failures alike. Our tales were scored by the sounds of crackling fires, roaring lions, and howling hyenas. Even when she sleeps, the Lower Zambezi still finds a way to entertain her guests.

We were up at first light the following morning, ready to take on the Zambezi and her fanged denizens of the deep, but as we were about to board our boats we were intercepted by Robert, head field guide and arguably the best wildlife spotter this side of the Zambezi. A pack of wild dog were spotted not far from camp, he said. It did not take much to put our fishing plans on hold to catch a glimpse of these amazing and rare wild canines. 

We arrived at the sighting, not a moment too soon as the pack showed interest in a herd of impala a few yards away from them. With some barks and yelps from the mature dogs, the chase was on. African wild dog are some of Africa’s most successful hunters, killing up to 80% of the quarry they pursue, so we knew we were in for a treat. 

The pack’s success comes from working in unison and with pure stamina and endurance, often chasing their prey to the point of exhaustion. A moment later, one of the older dogs returned to where the pups were anxiously waiting, he had some appetizers from a fresh impala kill.

The pups were worked into a frenzy and quickly devoured through the starters to follow Dad to the main course, with us in tow. It was one of the best wildlife sightings I have ever experienced anywhere in the world, and to see the unique social dynamics of these incredible animals was a rare privilege. Eventually, we had to leave the doggos and make our way to the river, we still had a fishing show to film.

The fishing on the Zambezi is unlike anything else I have experienced. The river is vast and the task of catching a Tiger is a daunting one, but exciting at the same time. When hunting Tigers with a fly rod, be prepared to make a lot of casts. And true to form we proceeded to make a lot of casts. It’s not like your casts go unrewarded, young Tigerfish are more than willing to gobble up a red and black clouser even at the worst of times. The true test of patience comes when you target the bigger fish around the drop-offs and channels. 

Now I can attempt to describe a thousand casts, fishing the same area repeatedly and getting the same result, or lack of results rather, but that would be describing the very definition of stupidity, and I’ll leave that for another article. What I can tell you, is that this type of fishing takes mental fortitude and some physical stamina. You must convince yourself that the fish are down there, no matter how many times you have cast in that zone without so much as a nibble. 

There’s a phrase used on the Zambezi by anglers, and you would often hear them speak about “tiger time”. It refers to the hunting and feeding habits of apex predators. When Tigers get to a certain size, they become wiser and more conservative. They cannot afford to waste energy looking for food and chasing down prey all day. They will rather pick the perfect time when conditions are right to hunt and ambush unsuspecting baitfish.

My trophy catch decided to “sleep in” till the very last minute. It was in the final hours of our last day on the river. I had made well over a thousand cast by that time. With aching shoulders and blistered hands, I summoned the last bit of energy I had left to make the final casts count. I pitched my fly into an area I had fished several times during our trip, a steep drop-off on a sand bank occupied by a pod of Hippos. An abrupt jerk on the end of my line woke me from my focused trance.

At first, I thought I had accidentally hooked a one-and-a-half-ton herbivore, but I soon realized that whatever was on the end of my line was moving too fast to be in that weight category. The Tigerfish leapt out of the water, giving myself and my cameraman a glimpse, if it’s not ten pounds it’s very close, I mumbled a bit. 

Eventually, the beast was subdued, and the scale confirmed that it was a  ten-pounder, with not a gram to spare. Our decision to push to the last minute paid off in more ways than one. We were left with what photography types call “golden hour”, the last bit of daylight, perfect for camera lenses. We captured the moment in the best conditions we could ask for, and sent the perfect specimen of a Tigerfish on her way to live and fight another day. 

With another exciting episode wrapped up, our crew celebrated the moment with a beautiful Zambezi sunset. As for my Zambezi experience at Amanzi River Lodge, I would rank it top two all the time, and I’m sure my colleagues and travel partners would share the sentiment. If Tiger fishing the Zambezi is on your bucket list, you won’t regret making the trip to Amanzi River Lodge, the last one on the left.

Flats Fever

The outer islands of the Seychelles have spawned more fishing tales than the incredible fish populations that it protects. Described by Jacques Cousteau as one of the last sanctuaries on our planet, when you visit the Alphonse group of islands, it takes no imagination to see why.

This salt-water wilderness is far more than one of the finest fisheries in the Indian Ocean, it is a marine reserve that safeguards a diverse array of fauna that will mesmerize you.

We had cracked the envious nod, to join the custodians of this incredible island looking to experience the thrill of sight casting to tailing fish on the flats.

You only have to step off the skiff to introduce yourself to the ghosts that roam these sand flats. And with so many within casting distance, it’s hard to focus on anything else. Regardless of one’s angler prowess, you’re guaranteed multiple casts at the large schools and there’s nothing like the white fox to spin the cobwebs out of your reel.

But the problem with these flats, is that you are distracted by fish in every direction, literally spoiled for choice. Triggerfish are what I was hoping to notch on my species post, but these fish are as skittish as they are prolific. By flapping away sand with their fins or blasting water from their mouth, they uncover mollusks and crustaceans on which to feed and in doing so reveal themselves to the trained eyes of your guides.

But your cast must be on point, with a gentle presentation, leading the foraging Trigger, letting the fish find your fly.

This fish is so deserving of it’s reputation, ploughing into the coral,

regardless of size, they make Tyson look like a clean fighter. So be prepared to make many a cast and enjoy the action.

My fishing cohort on this trip was Scotty Brown and he had his sights set on a particular fish that has eluded many an anglers’ advances. These shoaling plankton feeders deserve their distinction as the hardest fighting fish that frequent the flats and he wasted no time in hooking up. Sadly, his first attempt ended in tears, but undeterred he kept putting his fly in the path of the oncoming traffic until he subdued an absolute beast. As he will readily attest to, his best fight of any fish he’s had on fly.

But if you had to press any of the seasoned guides as to which singular specimen they rate as the game fish that has all the attributes, it would have to be the fish that has frustrated all who have stalked their sickled tails.

My shot was only by virtue of my guide’s eagle eye, coupled with his quick intervention when the line peeling off my reel wrapped around the handle. Nerve racking is an understatement and the relief you experience at seeing the Indo Pacific Permit in the net is only surpassed by your jubilation.

But most battle-hardened fly veterans’ journey to the outer Atolls for the brute that is known as the gangster of the flats. The Giant Kingfish has a reputation that is hard to match in respect to the length’s they will go to chase down your fly.

They’re the biggest bully on this playground and have the power and aggression to prove it. Although I wasn’t fortunate enough to stick a good GT, Scotty managed to land a beauty, giving him the accolade as top dog on this fishing adventure, ticking off every fish he had on his bucket list.

‘You can never pay a good guide enough’, is a well-worn fishing adage that anyone whose been guided into their personal best, will gladly repeat.

Not taking anything away from the skill that it takes to land your fish once hooked, the fact is, irrespective of your fishing quest, such indelible memories can only be made in the right location and with the invaluable help of the men who put you on the spot.

The Land of Fire and Ice

In a country with hundreds of volcanoes of which 30 are in constant turmoil, you might think this an ancient land of upheaval, but it’s quite the contrary, this activity is constantly creating new ground, making Iceland one of the youngest countries in the world.

Characterized by a continual upsurge of water, there isn’t a mountain from which water doesn’t emanate, with springs quickly developing into streams, and the gradient creating powerful rich rivers that feed the surrounding ocean.

Being at the edge of the artic circle these ice-cold waters have created the perfect conditions in which gargantuan fish grow! Prehistoric Browns that have been resident since the ice age, Artic char and a population of migrating salmon that almost defies belief is what had drawn us to sample the majestic lakes and rivers in the Southern region of this remarkable country.

We arrived to picturesque conditions, with clear skies and not a breath of wind, leaving us wondering why we even packed our Winter woolies, but this meant it would be very difficult fishing for the primeval Brown Trout, being our first target species.

We had designed a baby Artic Char pattern, learning that the big fish in these lake systems feed on little else and this soon caught the attention of the cruising Trout.

My fishing mate Shane Fergusson opened his account with a personal best, which is one hell of a way to start a fishing expedition!

But the bright sunshine did not make the fishing easy.

Our guide Mattius was willing the faint hint of changing skyline to bring in the clouds, knowing overcast weather would draw the Browns closer to the shore.

You should always be careful of what you wish for!

Over the next few hours we encountered a weather pattern that was reminiscent of a approaching cyclone, but we had travelled 15000 kilometers to experience lake Thinkvatlavar, so stupidly we took on the elements. But eventually we had to admit defeat and wait it out, until we could actually cast beyond our feet. So, our first session only really kicked off at 4pm.

Dressed to impress Eskimos, as the wind abated we waded in and started casting to the moving Trout. My better half immediately hooked up and also joined Shane in notching up a PB, which was closely followed by Fred Poeggenpoel joining this club.

It was bitterly cold, drizzling rain and exactly what the fish were waiting for. We all know Browns love a miserable day, but in this lake they demand it!

Over the next 4 hours it would not be an exaggeration to say that we hammered the fish, landing 16 incredible Brown Trout, forgetting all about the freezing water in which we were fishing.

My very first cast yielded a 77cm 15lb beast of a Brown and my last cast a 72cm double digit beauty.

Our team didn’t land a fish under 60cm, so understandably you couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces, I can safely say that I have never seen a Trout fishing session like this in my entire life… was off the charts.

To exceed every expectation from your first cast is a feat I doubt I’ll ever repeat but it’s certainly one that I’ll never forget. Thankfully I had some great friends to experience it with, which we’ll be celebrating about for many years to come.

From here we were heading to the famous West Ranga Lodge to meet Harpa and Stefan the pioneers behind Iceland Outfitters, hoping to tick off an Artic Char on route before tackling the Atlantic Salmon…….our journey had just begun.

Fifty shades of Blue

The Maldives is in so many ways an unusual and unique country. It consists of 1192 islands scattered over an area of 90 000 square kilometres. Despite this wide-ranging area, the total land surface of the country covers just less than 300 square kilometres. It is the lowest-lying country on earth, with an average height above sea level of just 1.5m and the country’s highest point is a mere 2.5m above sea level. The population of Maldives is less than 400 000 people making it the least populated country in Asia. The nearest landmass to the Archipelago is Sri Lanka, about 750kms away.

We were lucky enough to be invited to stay at the spectacular Como Maalifushi resort, on Thaa atoll, one of the southern atolls of the Maldives. The final leg of our journey involved a scenic one hour flight by sea plane from the main Island of Male’, which took us over a deep blue sea, speckled with numerous beautiful and remote coral atolls. It was an amazing experience taking off and landing on the water.

Upon our arrival at the resort, it was immediately apparent that this place was something special. We were welcomed at the jetty by the resort management, bearing chopped open coconuts with straws in to refresh us with ice-cold coconut water. The water villas, those iconic Maldivian structures, which are built on stilts above the calm clear waters of the ocean, turned out to be just as spectacular as they look in promotional pictures. With air-conditioning, a well-stocked minibar, a private infinity pool and steps down to the water’s edge, each villa is its own private piece of paradise.

Meals at Como Maalifushi are exceptional, with specialist chefs preparing amazing dishes of various cuisines. Some of the highlights were sushi, prepared by a Japanese chef at the Japanese restaurant on stilts above the water, with sharks and fish swimming around below us, which we could admire through a big square cut out in the floor. The seafood evening, with grilled lobster and langoustines, was also amazing, but my favourite was the Thai evening, where I got to eat arguably the tastiest food of my life.

The resort offers a variety of activities, from scuba diving and snorkelling to fishing, paddling kayaks and sailing Hobie cats. The water is as clear as water can get, making any snorkelling or diving an absolutely breathtaking experience, especially as there is such an abundance of tropical ocean life such as turtles, rays, fish and corals to be enjoyed, even by beginners in the shallows. One of the underwater highlights was spending 40 minutes snorkelling up close and personal with two whale sharks at night in the lights of a fishing boat. It was like watching the most incredible underwater ballet, performed by these giant fish.

Fishing involved being poled across the flats by a guide on a skiff, targeting flats specialist species such as trevallies and triggerfish. We also cast lures from the deep towards the reef edges for GT’s, barracuda and snappers. I was very fortunate to get a day fishing on the resort’s 68ft Hatteras Sport Fisher, a luxury motorised yacht with every mod con that you can imagine. This produced a stunning sailfish, which I was able to hold in the water for a few minutes, before letting it slip away to continue with its life in the blue.

All too soon we found ourselves embarking on the sea plane again for our return trip, with cameras full of amazing pictures and minds filled with incredible memories. Como Maalifushi is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. With friendly, attentive staff, spectacular scenery and a luxury resort, where nothing is left to chance, it is definitely up there in my top three places to visit.

Mixing It Up

When it comes to catching big tigerfish, one of the most important considerations is to fish in remote areas that don’t get a huge amount of fishing pressure.

The Barotse floodplains area on the upper Zambezi is just such a place.

I was fortunate enough to visit Matoya lodge in this area in September. Getting to this isolated area involved a flight from Johannesburg to Lusaka on SA Airlink, then a charter flight from Lusaka to Lukulu with Staravia.

The first thing I noticed when I saw the river, was how clean the water was. I have fished the upper Zambezi many times during winter, but this was the latest I had ever visited the area.

The water was about as low as it would go for the season, and very clean indeed by Zambezi standards.

The clean water was pretty to look at, but it looked like it could make lure fishing difficult. Tigers are fish that are seldom leader shy, but in clean water conditions, they can see the trace setup much more clearly and are more likely to be put off the bite.

This thought was confirmed over the next few days fishing, as I tried all my lures and tricks in order to get a decent tiger fish on the line. There were certainly big fish around. I lost two fish in the 15 to 20lb class in the first two days. One took my line around a submerged tree and managed to shake the hook during the resulting chaos.

The other took to the air, well tried to, but was just too heavy to lift its whole body clear of the water. It did enough to get its front half out of the water, then shook its big, armoured head and spat the lure back at me.

I decided to start drifting with a live bait out while I cast lures. Livebait were still a decent bet to get bites from those big, suspicious fish, while lures were going mostly untouched, with thousands of casts resulting in only a handful of hits.

We took some decent sized bottlenoses from the lodge livebait cage and took them with his on our next outing. These were rigged with a single 4/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook, on a wire trace, through the nose and allowed to drift weightless in the current as we floated down the river and cast lures at good looking structure.

It was interesting to see how many more bites the live bait generated. I guess there is nothing artificial that can completely mimic the scent and movement of a live fish. The tigers hit the baits at speed and ran hard with them. After giving the fish a few seconds to eat, I would turn the handle of the Penn Baitrunner reel and click it into gear. The resulting tension was enough to set the sharp hooks, with no need to strike.

Fishing this way I managed to land some very decent trophy tigers, with the best two being 17.5lbs and 18.5lbs.

These are spectacular fish and I was glad that I had varied up my techniques, in order to experience the privilege of handling giants like that at the boat. Had I just stuck to spinning on this trip I would have had a lot less trophy fish action.

Sometimes it pays to mix it up a bit, especially when conditions are challenging.

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