Tag: Tarpon

My Silver King

I simply love fishing, not sure why, but there it is.

I’m happy to sit on a rock and watch the water. Whip a popper till my arms are sore, or try my hardest to land a delicate little fly on the spot.

For me it’s a primal instinct, not a race.

Every time I go out I learn something about the fish, the world, even myself.

I’m happy to watch the boffins casually discuss tactics and techniques whilst fighting massive fish, without a hair out of place, then nonchalantly toss in the Latin name and distinguishing characteristics, but I just fish for the fun of it.

The last time I went to the Kwanza River in Angola, we fished for Tarpon on fly. Man it was a blast. I didn’t land a thing. Without proper teeth these fish suck their prey in rather than biting and I kept pulling the bloody fly out of their mouths before it had a chance to stick.

Anyway, I recently decided to go back and give it another go. I’ve been having recurring nightmares about those Silver Kings outfoxing me, along with the odd dream of actually landing one and swimming with it, before sending it back into the big blue.

I heard Craig Thomassen had been invited back up there and decided to crash his party, because if there’s fish around he’ll find them….he might even give me a chance to redeem myself.

The Kwanza River is just short of 1000km long….navigable for about 240km from the mouth…it holds over 50 species of fish and is remarkably beautiful and pristine, given that it’s only 70km from the bustling city of Luanda and its 7 million inhabitants.

The “Poons”, as Tarpon are fondly referred to the world over, were not nearly as active in the river as on our previous trip and although we did throw lures and soft plastics there, it was without much success, other than a good Cubera Snapper of around 7kgs that Tommo managed to entice to the hook.

Basically, our best chance was to fish the color line where the river flows into the sea using small live baits with large circle hooks “gently” inserted through their eyes and swum literally within meters of the boat. Tommo was kind enough to offer me the strike, having already landed his fair share of these prehistoric beauties.

I will never forget the rush I got when a giant slab of silver, estimated at 80kgs, burst out of the water meters into the air within what seemed like touching distance. It’s hard to imagine a more magnificent sight. Around 20 sweaty minutes later the fish was at the side of the boat, leadered. As I was about to realize my dream of swimming with this magnificent beast she gave one last head shake and a crimp on the terminal tackle gave, sending her on her way…Gutted is the word that comes to mind, but it was more than that. Would I ever get another chance?

Tommo, seeing my desperation, magnanimously offered me another shot on our last day of the trip. I GOT IT. With only moments to spare a fish of around 60kgs cleared the water, landing with a mighty splash and ripping line off the reel in a dash for freedom. For another heart-stopping 20 minutes we tussled, until finally the fish was alongside the boat.

The 5 minutes or so I spent in the water with this behemoth of the deep, it’s huge eye seeming to be looking deep into my soul before it slipped back into the depths, will be etched in my memory for the rest of my days.

In the end, that’s why I really love fishing.

Where to stay: Kwanza River Lodge.
When to fish: Tarpon in summer, but good general fishing year round.
Method: Bait and lure….fly fishing possible when smaller Tarpon are around

Tarpon Fever

My long held dream of catching a Tarpon on fly remains just that.

No excuses.

On a recent trip to the Kwanza River Lodge in Angola I had my chances and came up short.

Kwanza Lodge and River mouth

Actually I could come up with any number of excuses of course, but sometimes simply wanting something too badly adds fuel to the adrenaline coursing through your veins when the goal is in sight and things go all to hell.

Now when I say in sight, I mean literally swimming in front of you.

These magnificent fish grow to around 140 kg’s in this neck of the woods (or jungle) and the larger specimens move between the ocean and the river depending on tides and seasons.

Once Tommo had landed at 75 kg monster on live bait at sea and shown us pic’s of the behemoth, we realized we were well out of our depth with our puny 12 weight fly rigs and scuttled back to the relative safety of the river.

Tommo up close and personal with his giant Tarpon

Not to say there are not very large Tarpon roaming there as well, but the “juveniles” of up to 40 kg seemed a much more realistic option to target. Until Gareth caught his first one of about 10 kg’s and took around half an hour to land it.

When it comes to fly fishing, actually seeing the fish you are casting to is the holy grail of the sport. Tarpon are probably the largest fish on the planet that will happily gobble a seemingly insignificant small fly when hungry and will do so both under the water or on the surface.

 When on the move, the smaller Tarpon will swim in schools, often within meters of the beach and remain close to the surface, regularly “porpoising” and at these times will generally compete for any fly coming near them.

When attacking, these ancient predators will open their cavernous mouths and gulp a large amount of water, prey and all, in and over their gill plates, filtering any solid matter which remains as food.

This is where things got tricky for me. The accepted mantra of slow strip for Tarpon, which makes perfect sense considering how they eat, was easier said than done. General practice when seeing a fish coming for your fly is to speed up the strip, thus inducing a strike. Of course when the fish is busy inhaling your fly with a wide open mouth it doesn’t help one iota if you pull the bloody thing out.

The Silver King, as it is reverentially referred to the world over, has not survived since prehistoric times by being easy prey itself. For 6 full days we wielded heavy 12 weight outfits from a ski boat in a deadly dance with wind, waves, fatigue and sharp hooks- looking for our chances.

They came. But few and far between. Much of our time was spent casting blind into murky water, more in hope than with any specific plan. At times a huge silver splash nearby would reignite the belief and keep tired arms moving. At others, the mirror calm water helped not at all.

The times of madness came with low light, early morning and evening.

As the tide changed a scum and papyrus line would form in the river attracting marauding groups of juvenile “Poons”. Seemingly unperturbed by the motors, we were able to get close enough to put flies amongst them. The first fish Gareth hooked somersaulted 6 feet out of the water and spat his fly disdainfully back at him.

We continued to pay school fees.

Gareth got the hang of it and landed two nice fish, over the week. I, on the other hand suffered terribly from what in hunting terms is known as “bokkoors” an adrenaline induced malfunction of the brain, causing an inability to do what your mind is telling you to do.

Gareth with a manageable Tarpon on fly near the river mouth.

I’m seeing a shrink now and he thinks he’s getting on top of it. Yeah right, easy to say from your leather armchair, wait until that Silver King is coming at you….

I’m hooked!!


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