Tag: Tiger Fish

The Baines of my Life

Once a year we drag our wives, kicking and screaming from the comfort of their kitchens, on a film shoot to an exotic and luxurious destination like Seychelles or the islands of Mozambique.

You will appreciate that we are forced to film ourselves fishing for a living, so when we make these magnanimous concessions to our better halves, the warm glow of generosity seeping through our souls is a tangible thing.

The rest of the year we travel as an all- male crew, and more often than not, feel the warm glow of single malt seeping gently through our livers.

It seems we agree on one thing though, and it’s that we all love the lower Zambezi.

It’s been a number of years since we featured Baines River Camp in our TV shows, and being one of the most luxurious properties available on the entire the length of the Zambezi, when they invited us back we knew we couldn’t leave the girls out of this one without risking the coldest of shoulders.

Accordingly, we jumped on an early morning Airlink flight up to Lusaka and after a comfortable road transfer, were happily cruising down the river, cold beverage in hand, before lunch time.

At over 2500km long, the Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa and is in fact the longest East flowing waterway on the continent.

Over the years we have been fortunate enough to traverse almost its entire length and I for one have never tired of it. However, the section between the Kariba Dam wall and the headwaters of Cahorra Bassa Dam, the border between Zim and Zambia, known generally as the lower Zambezi, is one of my favourite places on earth.

With the Mana Pools Reserve on the Zimbabwe side and the Lower Zambezi National Park on the opposite bank, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were in the Garden of Eden, minus the old Apple tree. There are definitely serpents around though. The last time we visited Baines an African Rock Python, which was the biggest snake any of us has ever seen, slithered nonchalantly through the camp on his way to the river.

The Elephants here are somewhat used to being around humans, and without the threat of being hunted, will casually wander into camp for a drink of water from the swimming pool, or to munch a few juicy pods off the trees within spitting distance of your deck chair.

Large herds of Buffalo inhabit the islands in the river and the ever present Hippo pods frolic and grunt contentedly in their watery playground. Crocodiles bask on the sand banks, lulled by the cries of the Fish Eagles from their lofty lairs.

This area has the largest concentration of Leopard on the planet and on an evening game drive one almost inevitably comes across one or two of these magnificent cats.

Two big male Lions made an appearance while we were having lunch on the bank of the river, but were clearly not hungry themselves, and preferred a siesta in the heat of the day to chasing us off our shady spot.

This year, although the water level is low due to a severe drought, the lower Zambezi has had a bumper fishing season, with a number of Tiger Fish over 20 pounds being recorded. I was fishing with Scott Brown who helped build Baines camp 12 years ago and is still involved in the management of the operation. He also loves fishing.

We decided to catch and release as many fish as we could, using as many different methods as possible. What a blast! Seldom does a plan like this come together so well, and we managed to release 6 Tigers over 10 pounds (the largest being 14 pounds). These and others landed on spinners, strip baits (on circle hooks allowing a clean release), bucktail jigs, poppers and stick baits. We also spent many happy hours chasing the Tilapia (Bream) species in the smaller pools on the edge of the river on light tackle, using flies, spinners and worms. I even had a small croc try to steal a fine Red Breast Bream off my fly, too close to my feet for comfort. Luckily it’s mother wasn’t around.

Sundowners on the sand banks are a tradition in this neck of the woods and it’s hard to think of a more pleasant way to bring the day to a close than sipping a cold G&T to the sound of the gurgling river and the plethora of game and birdlife preparing for their evening activities.

The food at Baines River Camp is a special treat, offered by chefs who clearly take much pride in their work. A nightcap round a hardwood fire and good night’s sleep in an air- conditioned chalet, on a bed made up with percale linen, and sweet dreams of monster fish, rounds out another idyllic day at this very special place.

Now that we’ve spoilt our wives beyond all recognition, I’m just wondering what what on earth we’re going to come up with next year….

A Worried Man

Guy Lobjoit is a worried man

One of the owners of Guma Lagoon Camp in the Okavango Delta Panhandle, Guy has spent most of his adult life introducing tourists and friends, to the many natural splendors of this watery wonderland.

The Okavango is not a place for the faint of heart. Dangerous animals large and small are constant companions. Medical help is uncertain and provisions difficult to obtain, transport and store in this hot remote African frontier.

But Guy and his wife Bev have built a life and family here, justifiably proud of the service they offer at Guma, passionate about what they do and their part in the conservation and awareness of this incredible World Heritage Site.

Guy is also a renowned and avid angler.

Over the past decade, with the assistance of Airlinks direct flights to Maun, we have visited the Okavango Delta many times to fish and enjoy the phenomenon of the annual Barbel Runs.

Like any natural event timing may vary, and some years are better than others, but we have experienced some of the most amazing catch and release angling anywhere in the world right here in this jewel of Africa.

The runs normally occur around October when the annual flood waters cascading from the highlands in Angola and wending their way through Namibia and into the otherwise arid north western reaches of Botswana start to recede off the flood plains, bringing with it an abundance of small baitfish on which the larger species feed.

But over the past 2 years things have changed dramatically. The schooling Barbel themselves are very much smaller than ever before and species like the beautiful Nembwe have completely disappeared from the system. Other Bream species and the Tiger fish we love to catch and release have seen a radical decline in numbers and a change in behavioral patterns.

What has caused this sudden change?

Well the answer is no-one knows.

Theories and rumors are plentiful, but really no more than speculation. Netting is often blamed, but this practice has been going on for decades and could certainly not have wiped out an entire species in this short period of time.

Water levels is another possibility, but these have fluctuated for eons without the apparent damage we are seeing now.

What needs to happen is an urgent scientific study on salinity, PH levels and testing of the water for contaminants poisonous to fish. Guy has been trying, with the voluntary help of other concerned parties, to institute this, but a project of this magnitude requires government intervention and assistance. Given that this area is a World Heritage Site one would assume international assistance would also be a possibility.

In the short time we were there our crews covered over 200 km of the panhandle searching for Barbel runs. Those we did find seemed to be juvenile fish acting on instinct rather than the normal feeding frenzy and in most instances the other species that normally accompany the runs were absent, barring one or two small Tigers in the general area.

The one exception occurred on our last morning when Guy and I found runs closer to Guma which had attracted a fair number of the vicious Tigers. Over a period of about 2 hours our poppers and stick baits were attacked again and again, with the normal low hook up rate on surface lures, but still a fairly impressive number of fish were landed and returned. On previous trips the average size of Tigerfish patrolling the runs and getting to the lures first would have been between 3 and 4 KG’s……..this time the largest fish landed was 2.7 KG with the average below 1 KG.

The Bream species were also very skittish compared to earlier experiences, but we didn’t put in as many hours hunting for them as we did the Tigers. Guy, however, is adamant their numbers have dwindled alarmingly as well.

Unlike the spectacular bird and animal life in the Okavango, which are a visual and constant reminder of the heritage and beauty of Africa, the fish that swim below the surface of the water are largely taken for granted or simply not considered at all. Yet without a viable underwater habitat the whole food chain might break down endangering one of the most exceptional tourism destinations on the planet, as well as the rare and endangered species that thrive there.

Guy is right to be worried, as should we all.

Zambezified

Kipling’s writing immortalized the great grey-green greasy Limpopo – it would be fascinating to read his words had he experienced the majesty of the Zambezi River on his travels.

What a spellbinding waterway it is.

 

Fly Fishing on the mighty Zambezi River with River God Adventures

 

The longest East flowing river on the continent of Africa surely traverses some of its most precious and game rich terrain.

Rising in the North Western reaches of Zambia and offering  life giving waters to the inhabitants of six countries on its relentless 3500 km passage to the Indian Ocean, it is used for vital electric power creation on both the Kariba and Cahora Bassa dam projects.

The spectacular Victoria Falls are probably the rivers most impressive single feature, but for anyone who has spent time on its waters the Zambezi will inevitably leave an indelible mark.

 

Victoria Falls Photo Credit Mario Micklisch 2014

 

Now we fish a lot, and if there is one river that has drawn us back again and again, it’s this one. Of course the notorious hard mouthed Tiger Fish plays a significant role in this. But its much more than that.

The Zambezi is not a particularly deep river and thus is not navigable in large boats, but it spreads out over the plains of Southern Africa, creating beautiful islands and pristine white sandbars where nature in all her glory seems to spend more time than in other places. In the drier month’s animals of every type congregate along the banks and lagoons, where the certainty of water is secure.

Huge herds of Elephant and Buffalo inhabit the islands and frolic amongst the papyrus in the searing heat, while hippo and crocodiles happily co-exist in their watery world.

 

 

We were back on the section of river between the Kariba wall and Cahora Bassa, which boasts both the Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side and Mana Pools National Park opposite in Zimbabwe. Truly a Garden of Eden experience.

We stayed first at Royal Zambezi Lodge (RZL), which is one of the bigger operations in this area, offering all the luxuries and amenities expected these days in Africa, whilst at the same time doing so in an understated and friendly environment. Families with children are welcomed at RZL, which is unusual in an area rich in big wild cats and large herbivores. The fantastic well stocked bar perched on a wooden deck in the deep shade of a magnificent Sausage Tree was a favourite haunt and one could spend hours there cooling off in the sparkling pool with a cold Mosi in hand simply taking in the mighty Zambezi and its wild inhabitants.

 

A warm welcome from the Royal Zambezi Lodge

 

Unfortunately for us, an early rainstorm morphed into a full on deluge and more than 170mm of rain fell on our first night, turning the river a roiling chocolate brown. But even then we were able to entice 7 different species onto our hooks over the next couple of days as the water started to clear.

Our next stop was a wonderful new Zimbabwean operation called “River God Adventures” offering something completely new. A fully kitted out “house boat” that is able to navigate the river due to its shallow draught. Sleeping up to 8 guests comfortably, with a hot water shower and flush toilet on board, as well as a large galley churning out the kind of food that has made Zimbabwean chefs justly famous.

 

 

Although we did not have time to do the full trip, the normal itinerary is a 5-night voyage from Chirundu near the Kariba wall down the river to Masau Camp, near where the river enters Cahora Bassa. From a fishing perspective, this means that one gets to fish both the wide slow sections of the river as well as the deeper faster flowing gorge area.

The freedom to pull up onto an uninhabited stretch of beach for sundowners and dinner served al fresco under a gazebo on squeaky white sand, while taking in the sights sounds and smells of Africa is a special experience indeed and is certainly one of the reasons this operation is already running high occupancies and should be booked well in advance.

 

An evening spent on a secluded stretch of the Zambezi River

 

I am convinced the Zambezi is one of the most spectacular rivers on the planet, but I may be biased. I suggest you jump on an Airlink flight to check it out for yourself as soon as possible. I bet you get hooked too.

 

For more information please email:

Royal Zambezi Lodge reservations1@royalzambezilodge.com

River God Adventures info@rivergodadventures.com

 


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