Category: Travel Blog (page 2 of 11)

Simwenge Lodge

The original home of tiger fishing is Zimbabwe. Back in the colonial days of Rhodesia, people would go to the Zambezi river or lake Kariba for their holidays. One of the most popular sections of the Zambezi for fishing was the area around Deka. This is the middle Zambezi, below Victoria falls and the Batoka gorge and above the giant, manmade Kariba dam.

That section of river, where the current is fast, the gradient quite steep and the water highly oxygenated by the many rapids, is home to some of the finest tiger fishing in Africa.

It is in this area that Simwenge Lodge is situated. A small and intimate, family owned lodge, Simwenge reminds one of the fishing camps of old. Accommodation is in tents, which are equipped with air conditioners. The lodge has a spacious, open bar and dining area, situated to catch a bit of breeze on hot days. In front of that is an infinity pool with a view over the river.

Fishing is done from bass tyle fishing boats and the lodge also has a larger pontoon boat for bigger groups or for sundowner cruises on the river. There are plenty of fishing options, with excellent and productive water both upstream and downstream of the lodge.

One of the favoured methods used in the area by regulars is spinning with a large inline spinner. A piece of fish fillet is attached to the hook, and it trails behind the lure offering a natural scent to any following tiger fish. This technioque is very effective in the area and accounts for many trophy fish.

Apart from the tiger fishing, the area also offers species such as bream, chessa and nkupe. Tigerfish though, are the main target of sport fishermen visiting the area and they are challenging to catch. The boat drivers at the lodge are very experienced and have an uncanny ability to find fish in all conditions.

I had the privilege of watching a local guy catch a large tiger on some of the most rudimentary fishing tackle imaginable. He was fishing with a tiny hook and earthworms for chessa. His reel was an old tin can and his rod was made from two broken pieces of rod, spliced together. In the process of catching a chessa, his catch was eaten by a tiger, which tested his skill properly. We loaned him our net to land the fish, and we were very impressed that he managed it.

One evening the chef cooked us the most delicious pizzas imaginable and we ate these, seated around the fire. We were entertained by the lodge staff, wearing frightening-looking masks and traditional African attire, dancing around the fire.

Days were very hot, as only the Zambezi valley can be. The wind invariably picked up during the mid-morning, which gave us some respite from the intense heat.

Simwenge is a destination that gives guests the real experience of old, traditional Zimbabwean tiger fishing. From the accommodation to the fishing techniques, it is all authentic and real.

White Pearl

The coastline in Southern Mozambique is quite different to what it looks like further north. Large sweeping bays, edged by massive, forested dunes make up this part of the coast. Where the sea is flat and devoid of swell further north, there are waves in Southern Mozambique, giving the ocean an altogether different appearance.

One of the more spectacular bays in Southern Mozambique is Ponta Mamoli. This picturesque point and bay is also home to the impressive White Pearl Resort. The resort is a five-star establishment, built amongst the dune vegetation and has a magnificent view overlooking the warm Indian Ocean.

I was privileged to visit White Pearl with my wife, Pam, and we got to sample some of the luxury and decadence of the amazing resort. I was there to get some fishing done offshore from the jet ski. That area has some magnificent offshore fishing on offer, with a huge variety of gamefish which frequent the area and some exceptional reef structure to concentrate the fish around.

There is a launch site at the resort, with dive boats operating out of there, and a tractor to push and pull boats as needed. The lodge is connected by hundreds of metres of wooden boardwalks and each chalet is isolated enough from the next one to offer guests total privacy.

Meals are served in one of the dining rooms, or alfresco, depending on conditions. The food was excellent, prepared from the freshest of ingredients and stylishly presented. Staff are very attentive, with each chalet having a dedicated, private butler.

The sea conditions were a little challenging, as there were quite strong winds during our stay, but that didn’t put us off. We headed out every morning at first light on our jet skis, taking on the swell and the spray in search of some trophy gamefish.

I was very excited to land a nice wahoo one morning. One of the fastest fish in the sea, this speedster stripped a lot of line off my reel’s drag before I could get control and bring it in. It was a challenge landing it and getting the hook out, without using a gaff – as I was releasing my fish.

We also managed to catch a variety of trevally species and some yellowfin tuna. The area is definitely a healthy fishery, with plenty of predators to target. There are also quite a lot of sharks around, so fish had to be pulled in fairly quickly in some areas, to avoid losing them to the ever-hungry men in grey suits.

It was a very successful trip, not just from the fishing point of view, but because the wives were very happy to bask in luxury while we were out fishing. They could lie on the beach reading a book and raise a flag with our room number on it, to get the butler to come down with his tray and take drinks orders or bring some snacks. White Pearl guests definitely get a taste of the high life!

Ibo Island

Ancient and Beautiful

I was lucky enough to do a trip recently with my wife Pam, to Mozambique’s spectacular Ibo Island. It is in the Quirimba archipelago, just north of Pemba. We stayed at the lovely Ibo Island lodge, a short walk from the island’s small harbour. The lodge, with its thick walls, built from fossilized coral and painted brilliant white, is cool and comfortable. It is decorated with a blend of antique style, slave coast art pieces and artfully placed cushions and throws of sea blue fabrics – giving it the mood of ancient East Africa. 

That evening we relaxed on the rooftop dining area and had sundowners followed by a dinner of fresh seafood, a gigantic platter of crayfish, prawns, crabs, fish all harvested from local waters and beautifully prepared by the lodge kitchen. The moonlit view over the calm sea from up there was beautiful.

The following day we had the opportunity to explore the island and take in some of the rich history and culture of Ibo. In days gone by Ibo was a slave and ivory trading centre, and there are still the remains of three forts on the island, some with old cannons still in place. The island is an absolute paradise for photographers, we spent most of the day exploring and taking pictures. The people were remarkably friendly and welcoming, we found them to be patient in understanding our questions and answering with a smile. We were shown to the home of the oldest man on the island, Joao Baptiste, who gave us tea and entertained us with stories of days gone by.

We were also taken on a Dhow to a nearby sand island, where a Bedouin style tent had been set up, with a lavish picnic and ice-cold drinks. After a superb snorkeling session over shallow coral reefs, we tucked into the prawns, crab cakes and other delicacies.

After another good night’s rest in our spacious room, we packed our bags and fishing gear and boarded the forty-foot Maxim Cat; Never Say Never to begin our journey to St Lazarus banks, an oceanic atoll which comes to within 10m of the surface. The trip was about 50 nautical miles from the island and would take us around eight hours. We were going to stay out there for a few days on the yacht in order to do some fishing.

Conditions were unbelievably calm. The sea, unruffled by any breeze was flat and smooth and the current was moving at a sluggish 2.5 knots. With the gin clear water those conditions would have been exceptional for diving. Unfortunately for fishing it wasn’t ideal. The water temperature was around 30 degrees and the air temperature and humidity had us gasping for breath, with no cool wind for relief.

Despite the conditions we still managed to catch some fish. In fact, we caught most species that one would expect to catch there, just not the numbers that are usually caught at that exceptional spot. We mostly stuck to throwing poppers and stickbaits and vertical jigging, but when the heat got unbearable we also upped lines and did some trolling.

Over the top of the atoll, we caught reef species such as grouper and structure loving game fish such as GT’s and a variety of other trevallies. On the drop offs we caught some dogtooth tuna and wahoo, and in the blue we got stuck in to some decent tuna and dorado.

I always get very amped when I fish an area like that, as I am very aware that almost anything can happen. It is the kind of place where your next cast could hook you a sailfish, a giant dogtooth tuna, a monster GT or just about any other predator of the Indian Ocean. That kept me going through the sweat and the burning muscles.

Pam and I had a great time and caught some decent fish. On our way back we chatted about the trip and how amazing it had been. Sadly we only had one more night on Ibo, before flying out. We both agreed that next time we come we are definitely going to spend more time on the island and also try some of the fishing potential in the waters nearby.

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”.

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