Tag: Zambia

Over Covid

I recently went fishing at Baines River Lodge in Zambia and if you ask anyone in that country about Covid 19, the answer in every instance will be, “there is no Covid here”.

This may simply be a case of complete denial, the old ostrich with its head in the sand trick, or, it could be a remarkable case of the power of positive thought.

None of this made any difference to the fact that in order to leave Zambia, one is still required to pay a substantial sum to have a very long ear-bud type contraption inserted through the nose to ascertain whether the dreaded virus has somehow made a nest in the lower region of your brain. The same test in South Africa involves a similar probe being shoved down your oesophagus and gently rotated just below the adams apple, until one is retching uncontrollably and tears are running down your face. And after all that, there is still doubt as to whether the bloody test even works at all!

Anyway, if that’s what it takes to get back onto the glorious Lower Zambezi after 8 months of lockdown induced withdrawal symptoms, they can shove their little probes wherever they like.

Being November, as expected, the weather was hot and steamy, the kind of conditions Tigers seem to love. Unfortunately, fairly high winds were also prevalent, which has the opposite effect on these toothy critters.

I was sharing the boat with my old fishing buddy, Scott Brown, who is a director of Baines Camp and knows this section of the river like the back of his hand. We left camp daily at around 5.30 am and made our way down to the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) for the day, returning only at dusk when the Park closes for the night. Fortunately, the Baines team pack a mean cold box filled to the brim with plenty of ice to last the day, along with enough food to feed a small village if required.

After an 8 month hiatus, the first day on the water was a bit like learning from scratch. Wayward casts found overhanging trees and visible stumps in the river with unerring accuracy, leading to much foul language, repetitive re-rigging of bent wire, snapped leaders and lost lures. But as the day progressed, we started to find our feet, along with our confidence and some hope. None of which helped us land any decent fish.

The next day, however, saw an immediate change. Stick baits landed near the river bank and underwater structure were smashed within seconds. As usual with topwater lures, hook up rates were limited, but within minutes we had 2 double-digit Tigers weighed and safely released, along with a few smaller fish. Game on.

Drifting down the broad expanse of water sandwiched between Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the LZNP is a special privilege. Herds of elephant splash through shallows, the largest concentration of hippos on the planet inhabit the drop-offs, huge crocodiles bask on the sandbanks, buffalo roam the islands, lions amble down to the water’s edge for a drink and laze in the shade. Birds of every shape and colour add a cacophony of sound. In short, a natural wonderland in which to fish.

In all we landed 6 fish over 10 pounds, along with a few more nearing that magical mark. Not a blinding outing, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Gorgeous sunsets, nursing large cold G&T’s on a sandy island, followed by fine dining and beds with crispy white sheets in air-conditioned comfort are what Baines is all about.

But don’t take my word for it, try and get up there yourself, it’s well worth it.

Prepare to be violated through a few orifices first though.

The Great Rift

Bureaucrats in possession of a little power are not to be challenged and I really should know better. But in todays digital age, travelling on a valid passport and to be blocked at immigration just because there’s not enough space to rubber stamp defies rationale. This was my first obstacle in getting to fish in Northern Zambia, which by re-routing via Jhb I managed to overcome.

The second was as unbelievable as it was hair raising.

After enjoying our evening meal at Nkamba Bay, perched on the hillside over looking the fishing grounds that lay in wait, I sauntered back to my room. The shrieking of what I thought were Baboon on the roof didn’t alarm me, but the shaking sundeck underfoot and sudden thundering noise confused my slightly dull senses and the sight of giant Warthog baring down on me had my flight mode on autopilot.

 

You don’t expect to find two Tons of charging Hippo, 50ft up on a sundeck overlooking a lake, so understandably I was running before I had processed the information. The screams from everyone at the dinner table fueled my panic stricken stride and I very nearly soiled the trail I was blazing. My salvation lay in a flimsy bush behind which was a light-post. Not wanting my final inglorious moments to be the surprise of carving incisors from behind, I pirouetted around the pole in what the audience later agreed could have me gracing the stage of any sleazy strip club on the continent.

10 meters away two bull Hippos were engaged in a bloody battle for mating rights…totally ignoring my Flashdance impersonation. Had I left the table 30 seconds earlier, my epitaph would been an amusing anecdote. Seeing up far too close and personal the damage that this beast can inflict and the breathtaking speed at which it all happened had my senses on full alert for the rest of our adventure.
Exploring a lake that is millions of years old, forged by tectonic upheaval is challenging, especially when this particular fissure drops to a depth of nearly a mile.You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tropical island as the sun presents the colour of the water. The clarity is staggering and the sheer depth of vision skews perception.

It happens to be the world’s longest lake and with just under 33 thousand square kilometers of water to fathom, how on earth do you find the fish? But at an average water temperature of 25 celcius, life thrives in kaleidoscope and Lake Tanganyika is home to an incredible 400 species of fish.

It’s as a confusing fishery as you’re likely to find on our planet with it’s inhabitants largely unknown except to ichthyologists…..so we stopped guessing at the identity of the juveniles and stripped deeper water, to tempt the bigger predators.

Jeremy hadn’t even got into rhythm, when the grandaddy of the Lates family decided to test his resolve.

You’re sight fishing at a depth of 6 meters, and wind permitting, seeing every nook and cranny of the underwater shelves…it is guaranteed to ignite idle fly fishing minds. I readily took up the gauntlet and put my ridiculed patterns to the test, which didn’t have to wait too long for some attention from one of the most prolific species in these ancient waters.

The Nkupi is the King of all Chiclids, growing larger than it’s cousin the Peacock Bass and it displays all of the worthy fighting characteristics that it’s renowned for.
Targeting any fish on the surface is trumps, which is usually reserved for low light conditions and Jer’s popping action soon had patrolling fish hopping.The Nkupi or Emporer Chiclid is not a shy specimen and similar to kingfish will go out of it’s way to chase down the action

This lake is the proverbial lucky packet, you’re  never really sure what you’ve got tugging on your line until it comes into view. Not knowing what you’ve got rivals the expectation on a blind date…but it can also mirror the disappointment, as the chiclids will snack on flies half their body size

Fishing without trace wire, in system that houses the Goliath Tiger fish is a little like practicing unsafe sex……no matter how slim the chances are, it’s can all end in tears. As Jeremy found out, courtesy of the African Tiger fish that also inhabits this water

Once bitten………so, we strapped up and started to strip like our next meal depended on it. You expect to lose tigers due to their hard palette, not that it was any easier to swallow when the next 3 sorted us out. Being such an elusive fish in the depths of this fresh sea of water, I felt very lucky to eventually have one stick.

Over the next couple of days, we were torn between enjoying the frequent smaller Nkupi action in the shallow water versus trying to dredge for a big Perch. Storm clouds continually brewed and it blew in from every direction, making for difficult drifts. Despite the tumultuous weather, everyday enjoyed some sun and we managed to notch up a few fish, but we certainly worked for them.
The Last day of any fishing trip is as predictable as it is surprising. The shock of the last few fishing hours left is overcome by fierce resolution, bolstering your conviction that the big one awaits.

Jeremy was by this stage in the zone, slowly drawing his line up over the sandy substrate when the words I had been waiting to hear were tersely uttered….’Good Fish!’

There’s something about seeing a good fish landed that puts a little spark in your application and injects some venom into your cast.

Reigning in my impatience I was to follow suit, albeit in a smaller weight category.

Having such diverse fishing in a single lake is remarkable and in this fresh water sanctuary of Nkamba Bay and the Nsumbu National Park, you rarely see another single soul when exploring this beautiful wilderness area. It’s not for the feint hearted on fly but it’s an absolute jewel and a fishing resource that needs to be protected by all recreational anglers.

Fresh Water Ocean

The longest freshwater body of water in the world is Lake Tanganyika. It is also the second deepest (1.5km) and remarkably contains approximately 16% of the earths fresh water supply.

Holding over 350 different species of fish, it stands to reason that given the chance, any fisherman worth his salt would leap at the opportunity to explore this marine wonderland.

We did just that.

 

The vast expanse of the fresh water ocean, Lake Tanganyika

 

Luckily, and against considerable logistical odds, a lady called Sandra Valenza, an avid angler from Zambia, has over the past few years, obtained and revamped an iconic lodge in the Nsumbu National Park called Nkamba Bay.

 

Although the lake as a whole, bordered by the DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia, has seen severe fishing pressure negatively affect fish stocks, Nkamba Bay itself lies in this area protected by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).

 

Flying on Proflight from Durban to Lusaka was a bonus for us, being based in KZN, and an overnight in Lusaka at the friendly PalmWood Lodge got us into the right frame of mind for a fishing trip. Tommo introduced me there to Nshima, Zambia’s staple maize porridge, and chicken curry-delicious.

 

 

Another 2 hour flight on Proflight to Kasama and a private charter to the lake saw us duly ensconced at the pub on the elevated deck of Nkamba Bay Lodge with a cold beer and a spectacular view over the crystal clear water where a pod of hippos frolicked happily.

 

 

Tommo and I were fishing conventional spinning tackle while Jerry and Gareth worked flies off the large comfortable ocean going ski-boats.

 

 

Given that there are 4 different species of Perch, Tiger Fish and a seemingly endless number of Cyclid species happy to chase a lure or fly, the opportunities are plentiful. The guys on fly were battling a bit with the wind drift making it difficult to get the flies down to anything more than around 10 meters. But even then, they were picking up plenty of the voracious smaller Cyclids and the odd juvenile Perch around the rocky shore line.

 

 

On spinners and lures, with light braid, we were more competitive and had racked up so many species on the first day we had lost count. Fish of every shape, size and colour attacked anything in their path. Interestingly, the largest Cyclid species on earth, called Nkupe, live in large numbers in Lake Tanganyika and when schooling near the surface will happily take a popper or stick bait. The sought after Peacock Bass found in the Amazon basin is also a member of the Cyclid clan, but comes second in size to the Nkupe.

 

We found the larger Perch holding in deeper water over 30 meters, but unfortunately all attempts to bring them to the surface without severe Barotrauma (expansion of the swim bladder) and thus probably killing the fish, were futile. So we stopped fishing at anything deeper than 25 meters.

 

The fly guys managed to snag a couple of small Tigers, but other than one decent smash on a copper spoon we had no joy on the toothy critters. We all managed a number of Perch, but nothing over around 8 kg’s. I found a large bright paddle tail soft plastic fished like a bucktail jig worked well for both the Cyclids and Perch.

 

When fishing Lake Tanganyika its often hard to remember you’re in fresh water, the sheer magnitude of the lake, its extreme depth and seemingly endless number of species is far more reminiscent of blue water ocean fishing. For light tackle spinning and popping enthusiasts it’s paradise, and as mentioned if you’d like to tick off the world’s biggest Cyclid, this is where it’s at.

 

 

Nkamba Bay Lodge is the only place to stay, due to being inside the National Park, good food and service, as well as comfortable air conditioned rooms. They also have a number of boats to choose from.

 

For something completely different try getting to this fresh water ocean and ticking off some unusual bucket list species.

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

 

There is arguably only one place in the world where the boundaries of four countries meet. 

This “quadripoint” includes Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and occurs at the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.

This would then potentially make it possible, for example, to catch a Tiger fish in four countries in one afternoon without getting off the boat.

Anyone keen to give that a go?

Of course wherever boundaries occur in rivers there is the potential for conflict. 

On the Botswana side of the river lies the Chobe National Park teeming with game of every description. There is no fencing to stop these animals moving freely through the rivers and onto the islands between countries. Although the game is not hampered or exploited within view of the various tourism establishments in this area, should they cross into Zambia their visit may well be short lived. But it seems they have worked this out themselves if the barren cattle lined banks of that country are any indication.

Impalila Island, just a stone’s throw from Kasane (Botswana) “belongs” to Namibia and is the ideal base from which to fish this area. It’s less built up and touristy than Kasane itself, with only three luxury lodges perched far apart on this large piece of land.

 

Ichingo Chobe River Lodge is nestled there among huge shady trees overlooking fast flowing rapids which are not easy to navigate or set nets in and thus tend to produce larger specimens of Tiger fish year round, as well quiet solitude. 

The Lodge was the brainchild and home of the late Ralph Oxenham who was legendary in these parts, as much for his tenacity and acerbic wit, as for his love of fishing. The guides too are passionate about the area as a whole, but have an inherited affinity with those in search of fish. Be that as it may, this is a destination where a non- fishing family could happily spend a few days of idyllic holiday. Picnics on the island sand, game walks, drives and cruises, day visits to Victoria Falls, or simply lolling by the sparkling pool are all options, handled by the management and staff professionally and with a smile. The accommodation is in large comfortable en suite safari tents with mosquito nets, air-conditioning and overhead fans. 

The western boundary of the island is called the Kasai Channel, a large body of water which joins the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and is home to an annual mini Barbel Run, normally in late June or July. At this time of year large schools of these remarkable catfish move into the channel and feed on smaller baitfish, often chasing them from the shallows into slightly deeper water where the voracious Tigers are waiting to snap them up. Flocks of noisy water birds move with the feeding fish, settling briefly on the overhanging papyrus and pouncing on any left -over morsels, and are therefore a good indication of where to cast a line for the hungry Tigers.

But fishing is only one aspect of interest here. As mentioned, the Chobe National Park is a pleasant afternoon sundowner cruise from Impalila and there is something particularly splendid about drifting within meters of drinking herds of Elephant and Buffalo, or a family of frolicking Baboons on an outing. The animals seem less threatened by waterborne humans than those in smoky Land Cruisers. Pods of Hippo grunt and giggle while the stealthy Crocodiles eye one hungrily from their watery world. 

Chobe itself could not be described as a remote African experience, there are simply too many tourists in this area for that. Given that the glorious Victoria Falls are only an hour’s drive downriver, this is not surprising. However, its easy accessibility both by road and air mean that it is a reasonably priced option for visiting and fishing the Zambezi conveniently and in comfort.

In fact, using Airlinks daily direct flight from Jhb to Kasane can have you from the morning traffic in Sandton to your first cast after lunch.

So what are you waiting for?


© 2022 Wildfly Travel

Powered By Wildfly TravelUp ↑