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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.

Shayamoya

When we think about a tiger fishing trip with wildlife, birds and a lodge experience thrown in, we usually think of the Zambezi river or a lake Kariba expedition.

Shayamoya – Where Eagles Gather

Last week I visited Shayamoya Lodge in northern Zululand and had a superb taste of all of the above.

Shayamoya is a game farm and lodge on a ridge overlooking the Jozini dam and catching the cool breeze that drifts up the slope.  Eagles often hover in that breeze, scanning the slopes below for potential prey.

Rooms are appointed in secluded spots along the ridge and consist of wood and thatch. There is a resident spotted eagle owl called Nandi, who was brought up on the property and chooses to stay, she has been there for the last twelve years and is renowned for bringing gifts of geckos and mice and proudly presenting them to guests who are sleeping with their room doors open to catch the cool breeze.

The drive in the early morning down to the launch site in the back of the lodge’s game viewer vehicle was a treat, with plenty of Nyala, Kudu, Impala and giraffe on hand to keep us entertained.

On the water at Jozini dam

Once we got onto the water our focus was firmly on hunting those elusive, toothy tigers. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of action that we had. The tigers were very active in the early mornings and we had a lot of fun drifting along weed lines and casting lures along them.

The lure that was most productive for us on this trip was a white 5 inch Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad, rigged weedless on a weighted 4/0 Owner Twistlock swimbait hook.  These could be cast into the weeds, grass or any other structure and be twitched out into the open water.  They were also perfect for working along the weed lines, and the tigers couldn’t leave them alone.

The soft plastics got worked over properly by the tigers and we went through a pack a day (there are ten in a packet). It was well worth it though, as it was thoroughly entertaining fishing. Sadly we didn’t land any big tigers, but we caught plenty of smaller ones, and my highlight was a fish of around 2kgs caught on the soft plastic.

Once the sun brightened and the day warmed up somewhat the bite would typically slow down on the lures. Our skipper and fishing guide, Maxwell, would then take us to a spot to drop anchor and we would spend a couple of hours fishing with live bait or sardine fillets. This proved to be a lively and productive method of fishing and we caught a number of tigers and catfish during the hotter hours of the mornings.

While we didn’t catch any trophy tigers, they swim in those waters. A friend of mine got a ten-pounder on fly during December on Jozini and his wife caught a twelve-pounder on fly some time ago. Judging by the numbers of small fish, there must be quite a few of the big ones around.

We were entertained by fish eagles and ospreys hunting fish in the dam, and some amazing views of herds of elephant coming down to the water’s edge to drink and bathe. We saw Rhinos every day as well, not something that I normally associate with tiger fishing.

I was very happy to spot a pallid harrier hunting over some swampy grass nearby, a great sighting and a lifer for me. It was brought to my attention by the alarm calls of a pair of wattled plovers, which must have had a nest nearby.

Coming back to the lodge for a delicious lunch and a relaxing beverage on the main deck, with the eagle’s view over the dam, was always a pleasure, as it got very hot during the midday hours.

A swim in the lodge pool, or a quick nap and then we would be back to the dam to enjoy an afternoon session of fishing and game viewing.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to have the opportunity to have this experience right here in South Africa. With the costs of flights and international travel these days it is great to be able to drive yourself to a lodge that offers the experience in our backyard. It is the ideal destination for a father and son trip or a family trip with some bush and fishing on the cards.

A herd of elephants on the water’s edge

The lodge and game farm was developed by Brian Blevin and his family and like many owner-run operations, it is plain to see the effort and love that has been put into the lodge and the grounds and gardens surrounding it. The farm was successfully claimed by the Ntshangase community, and the Blevins were paid out by the South African government. They now have an agreement with the community whereby the Blevins continues to run the Lodge, leasing it from the community. It is a win-win situation and it is really good to see a project of this nature working successfully.

What Global Warming

Anyone who thinks fishing for a living is easy is deluded.

Firstly, with the amount of plastic and other waste, we as a species are pouring into our oceans and rivers, along with the pressure commercial fishing is having on the remaining fish stocks, there are simply fewer fish in the water to be caught and released.

Then, according to Donald Trump, and some of his mates, global warming is a fallacy being perpetuated by scientists for their own nefarious reasons, although what those might be is anyone’s guess.

However, we fishermen tend to keep a sharp eye on all aspects of the weather before planning and executing a fishing trip. This sounds simple, but as we film and produce 52 TV shows on great fishing destinations annually, you will appreciate there is some pressure involved in the planning.

Excellent Tiger Fish Season at the lower Zambezi

Over the past few years, we have found the “prime season” has moved out by around a month, but even taking this into account, 2019 was without question our most difficult year yet. Unseasonably high winds, drought, rain, and temperature fluctuations have all played havoc with our attempts to obtain video content for our shows.

Having said all this, there have also been some notable exceptions.

Sunset at Guma Lagoon

The lower Zambezi, for example, has recorded an excellent Tiger Fish Season with a number of fish over 20 pounds being brought to the net. After a large natural fish kill a few years back, Guma Lagoon Camp in the Okavango Panhandle is seeing an upswing. We caught good Tarpon early in the year at Kwanza Lodge, Angola, and landed fairly large Yellowfin Tuna on a bamboo pole off St Helena Island in the Atlantic. The Orange River below Augrabies Falls was teeming with fish and (both Small and Largemouth Yellows) and is an excellent example of what the whole river could look like left to its own devices. We got good Blue Marlin and Sailfish at Hemingways Hotel in Kenya and cast large streamers to an endless school of GT’s on a bait ball at Farquhar Island in the Seychelles……

Hemingways, Kenya

So although it’s been a tough year on the fishing front, we have soldiered on bravely and we plan to do it all over again next year.

St. Helena Island

We look forward to seeing you out there…..just remember to bring a raincoat, windbreaker, fleece, and extra sun cream.

But maybe Trump is right and you won’t need any of it?

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