So I went to film some fishing in Kenya with my cameraman Chucky.
He’s from Zimbabwe
A lot of people think he’s my bodyguard. Not sure why. Sure, he’s built like a brick house, but he’s a damn good cameraman and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
Anyway, he’s not so good on the water. Which is a problem for a person who films fishing for a living.
Look the guy can swim. He went to a private school in Harare for goodness sake, but rocking boats have a detrimental effect on him.
Now, I have to work for a living, and if our aforementioned Chucky is busy doing the upchuck over the gunwales while we have fish to film, I’m wasting my bloody time, aren’t I?
Fortunately, he pulled himself towards himself and we managed to get a couple of nice Marlin right in the preferred fishing holiday spot of one Mr. Ernest Hemingway, who, as legend, his very own memoirs, and the sepia photos in the Hemingways Bar have it, did very much the same thing a short while back. Or so it seems. The recently upgraded Hemingways Hotel at Watamu remains the quintessential upmarket East African big game fishing destination. Only better.
The somewhat fuddy duddy, but endearing, English atmosphere has been replaced with a more modern, cool and cosmopolitan feel, whilst not losing the personalized touch that see’s guests return year after year. Modern airy rooms are complimented by the never ending palm trees, white sand, turquoise pools and warm ocean. But as in days gone by, the barmen and waiters always remember your favorite tipple and serve it with a happy smile.
The thing about fishing in Kenya is that it feels so “genteel” somehow. Being on the equator, the weather is strangely stable, with flat seas and endless blue skies. The boats are more than comfortable, the skippers and crews are truly amongst the best, and, more importantly, they seem to get as much of a kick out of tagging a good fish as I do.
Then, add the fact that you’re fishing for Billfish just 20 minutes from the beach and you’re getting the picture.
This is one of the few places on the planet that you could realistically target a Fantasy Slam. Simple really. That’s a Sailfish, Blue, Striped and Black Marlin and then a Broadbill Swordfish.
Did I mention that’s all in 24 hours? It’s been done here!!
Meanwhile, Chucky, after four days, had found his sea legs and was busy swinging one of them over the gunwale of the tender boat when it snagged one of my carefully tied Sailfish flies, instantly tethering my finger at high speed to the leader, which I happened to be holding quietly at the time.
It was not a pretty sight. Chucky was doing a strange version of the one legged Can-Can on the beach, with the pretty fly embedded and fluttering around his ankle somewhere, when I first noticed that the 80 pound flouro leader had actually cut the tip of my finger to the bone and was still tied there. Fortunately, the line had snapped, so I did my best Usain Bolt impersonation up the beach to find an implement capable of cutting the embedded line. Luckily, a kind Frenchman had a Leatherman to hand and we were able to cut the finger free of the line.
A short Tuk -Tuk ride to the local hospital, where the good Doctor Erulu inserted a number of stitches which calmed things down somewhat. Chucky shuffled in shortly after me to have the hook removed from his foot and receive a few stitches of his own.
Not the best way to end a great fishing trip.
Anyway, now I’m looking for a new bodyguard for my next trip to Hemingways.
Getting to Mount Kenya by vehicle from Nairobi is interesting to say the least.
It’s 160 km and takes around 5 hours on what are ostensibly tar roads which would have Mr. MacAdam spinning in his grave. The gay abandon with which Kenyans drive is akin to putting a bunch of drunk teenagers into dodgem cars and advising them not to crash into each other.
Road signs and markings, if there are any, are really more for adding a splash of colour to the terrain rather than having any actual bearing on the way the traffic behaves. Overtaking is a bit like playing chicken with a chicken and often leaves passengers clucking accordingly.
The drivers themselves though, seem to consider this mayhem completely normal, hardly batting an eyelid as their unsuspecting passengers hurtle towards the windscreen each time they slam on brakes to avoid a certain head on collision.
One needs to be particularly careful when sucking on a cold bottle of Tusker beer snatched from the cold box in the rare moments when both hands are not required to maintain contact with your seat and you are not squealing like a debutante seeing her first party dress. The neck of the bottle is likely to knock out your front teeth, and possibly much worse, if not in full control when snatching a mouthful between violent overtaking maneuvers.
The first glimpse of the monolith that is Mount Kenya is impressive. Rising 5200 meters into the sky, with smatterings of snow near the summit, it’s difficult to believe you’re virtually on the equator in Africa.
Once off the main road a sense of post adrenaline calm pervades and the Tuskers are far easier to imbibe.
The magnificent lush green Montain forest envelops the surrounds in a kind of fairyland splendor and strange sounds emanate from unseen fauna hiding in the canopies.
Of course Gareth, myself and Jerry were here to fish, whilst also filming a TV show on what Kenya offers sport fishers.
I’ve often wondered at the passion for fly fishing that saw the early colonials going to such unbelievable lengths to introduce Trout into remote and extreme areas like New Zealand, Chile, South Africa and Kenya. I mean didn’t they have anything better to do? There they were, busy taming wilderness areas full of dangerous animals, unfriendly locals and tropical diseases, yet they had time to consider sending tiny eggs on rickety boats from Europe to hatch out and then introduce these temperamental salmanoids into rivers and streams all over the world! You’ve just got to appreciate that if you’re a fisherman.
With its altitude and gin clear water, Mount Kenya has the perfect habitat for Trout to breed and thrive. One strain of Rainbows has proliferated in these cold source waters, in particular the Ragati River. Called the Ragati Red, at first glance it looks like a spawning male in full colour, but in fact even the females carry the telltale red markings year round. I wanted one of those in my net!
We spent our first night in the National Park at the famous Serena Mountain Lodge. Built in the 70’s entirely out of wood with sweeping views of the mountain overlooking a waterhole frequented by Buffalo and Elephant, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no TV’s, but the walls between rooms are flimsy enough to be intimately involved in your neighbor’s proclivities, which can be more interesting anyway and there are no irritating adverts.
At first light we fired up the trusty Land Cruiser and headed into the Ragati Conservancy forest. Stopping only to chop trees that had fallen across the muddy tracks we soon arrived at a charming log cabin tucked away and reached by crossing a small wooden walk bridge over a crystal fast flowing stream that we knew held Trout. This was home for the next few days.
Of course Gareth, as is his wont, rigged his rod with lightning speed and blundered immediately into the nearest water, frightening not only the fish, but the local ghillies as well, who are there to spot for dangerous animals as well as fish.
Allowing Gareth only enough time to snag his fly in the nearest tree, Jerry calmly wandered down to the same pool right in front of the cabin and poached a beautiful Rainbow from right under his nose.
Things were going along as normal
The dense forest and narrow streams mean that fishing here is technical, with short accurate roll casts being used often. Most back casts will result in unpleasant expletives and lost flies. Even walking in the stream itself the overhanging canopy remains a challenge.
But very soon we realized even the thinnest lie or smallest pool could produce plump specimens happy to hold in the frigid water and eager for a meal to arrive.
It’s easy to be mesmerized by the brilliantly coloured Turaco’s and Parrots fluttering around overhead amongst various species of monkey, but the steaming piles of elephant dung on the narrow paths are a reminder to keep your wits about you. There is good reason why its mandatory to have a local guide with you at all times, although to be honest they are armed only with a machete, which I wasn’t certain would suffice in the case of a startled buffalo in tight confines.
The night sky is breathtaking in its scope and clarity, but the eerie screams of the nocturnal Tree Hyraxes found here are a little unnerving at first.
The beautifully appointed 4-bedroom log cabin with a large open fireplace is available for hire on either a self -catering or fully catered basis. We were spoiled by the owners with fantastic fare and hospitality. I particularly appreciated the fine linen on the massive beds which made it rather more difficult than necessary to consider throwing a line for the early morning rise.
I’m not sure who coined the phrase “size doesn’t count”, but I do know they didn’t fish.
The Ragati River flows into a large dam on the lower slopes with plenty of space for casting, and more importantly, flat areas for positioning the cold box. It was to this area I gravitated while the youngsters explored the many pristine forest streams.
Only steps away from my cooler I was able to put in long raking exquisitely timed casts while simultaneously enjoying the solitude and a cold Tusker. After hours of patient practice, I can even do this sitting down.
It wasn’t long before a large Mrs. Simpson I had judiciously appropriated from Jeremy’s box worked her magic and my line went tight. I knew immediately it was a decent fish, but it was only when I had it a little closer to the bank that I could see the dark red flanks of a magnificent Ragati Red cock fish. Around 5 pounds of pure muscle, this was to be the trophy of our time at Mount Kenya and certainly a fish I shall remember always.
Fortunately, I had a cameraman with me, so had photographic proof to present to my mates around the fire that evening. Not that they wouldn’t have taken my word for it of course.