Tag: Zambezi

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.

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….

Tigers have always been my preferred fresh water species to catch on fly and my meagre pen just isn’t capable of adequately describing that adrenalin inducing experience. But on a whim late last year I decided to do something completely different.

So I told my wife I loved her.

The immediate look of suspicion had me wondering if I’d gone too far. And then the moment passed.

When I say passed, I mean in terms of the age old male practice of accruing fishing credits, the actual payment moment had passed. Of course it would have been remiss of me to not to use such a valuable and well- earned credit…..so, what to do?

After much soul searching with my old friend Glen Livet, it dawned on me. I needed a new species!

Why a new species? Firstly, that’s what we do. We go out with a sliver of graphite and a roll of string, to which we attach a bunch of feathers and a hook and see how many different species we can fool into eating it. Simple. But in this case it was more about being able to inveigle the missus into thinking I had a really important mission to accomplish.

Accordingly, at what seemed opportune moments, I began to punctuate long sighs with dreamy whispers of all the things I still had left to do in the fast fading years of my life.

A card that can only be played once. With all my guile and cunning, I implored and begged like a blind sunglass salesman knocking on your car window, until finally one day with a magnanimous huff, the old girl gave in.

I had the legendary Vundu in mind!

More people have climbed Everest than have hooked and landed a Vundu on fly. Was this not a worthy quest indeed?

Incredulously from my life long fishing buddies, the suggestion was met with a kind off sniggering disbelief, if not downright rudeness. So, when in doubt, go to plan T…….For Tiger. It wasn’t difficult to get the boys excited about an end of year excursion back to their favourite Tiger hunting ground on the lower Zambezi.

Deception was the preferred strategy for this adventure.

Our motley crew landed at Old Mondoro. Greeted by intense heat. We couldn’t get the ice into our g&t’s fast enough.

Early mornings and late afternoons were the only times a human could withstand the fierce sun. So these were the hours we fished. But, like any long con, I did not immediately sally forth in search of the main prize, rather tested my tackle on token Tigers, biding my time.

Spending long hours on siesta and at the dining table, always staying close to the cold box, I slowly built up my inner reserves and hydrated my parched body in readiness for the arduous task ahead. Enduring the taunting jibes of my buddies as their tally’s rose and weights increased, until it was time

I checked my trusty 9 weight and stole a big black brush fly from Jerry’s box. Made sure my knots were secure and the hook sharp. Cleaned my sunnies, checked the cold box again and sauntered nonchalantly down to the boat.

On the second drift of the day I saw the spot………serendipity.

Overhanging branches and submerged trees meant taking a chance. So I did. The false cast was tight and precise. The large fly gracefully whistled through the air and threaded through the structure like a well- aimed missile, landing just inches from the bank.

On the first confident retrieve the water exploded where the fly had been so judiciously presented. With pounding heart I set the hook and watched in awe as the massive fish moved away from the shallows peeling line as it swam for deeper water. Tension. On the line and washing over me.

This monster was too big to muscle and the 9 weight didn’t have the backbone to lift it easily to the surface. Wait and hope. Two mind numbing km downstream the great fish finally tired and we managed to bring it on board. 50 pounds of quivering Vundu.

Mission complete, my Prize Vundu

I had climbed my Everest. Alone and unsupported.

Not one to gloat, I sheathed my wand, opened a beer and let others tell the story. When they got some details wrong I magnanimously assisted in jogging memories.

My mates continued to pound the water in a desperate effort to save some face, but in truth the fight had gone out of them. Even then they knew the biggest fresh water fish of the season on fly was now beyond their frantic efforts.

I offered sage advice of course, who wouldn’t in my position, understanding that the wisdom so hard earned could assist others on their long road to fishing enlightenment? Grudging acknowledgment of my achievement was all they would give in return. And that was only after studying the photos for a long time.

No matter, I am home now and can rest content that my mates will never again snigger at any outlandish suggestion I make

So in some small way my quest has made a difference, all my sacrifices seem worthwhile….

I’m of to tell that to the missus…….and to mention that I love her.


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