This week’s Fishing Line report will be somewhat remote and suggested outings could be a bit of a commute.
This past week our African journeys took us northwest of Kruger Park to Zambia and a stop at Victoria Falls before heading to Botswana. Look for a detailed account of that stop along the Zambezi River in an Outdoors Page column this Sunday.
The river system, some 2,000 miles long, offers all kinds of fishing options, but timing is nearly everything. Ours wasn’t. Fishing season openings in African nations are similar to Newfoundland. Seasons are either opened or closed for all sport fishing, not specific species.
Our stay along the Chobe River was at Pangolin Photo Safaris (pangolinphoto.com) with Gerhard “Guts” Swanepoel, a close friend of our hosts Adolf and Estelle Kleinhans; the stay included fishing and was impressively scenic rather than catch-oriented. Swanepoel, in good physical form, obtained his nickname “Guts” from a school administrator who admired his backbone and inventive spirit, not his waistline.
Swanepoel’s photo services covered both land and river waters. His home/lodge on the banks of the Chobe River provides access to fishing, but the season is closed in Botswana waters until April 1.
Fortunately, this massive river, a feeder into the Zambezi River, flows between two countries, Botswana and Namibia, much like the United States and Canada shares the Niagara River. So early one morning Guts packed Adolf and me into his smaller river boat and ferried us up rapids similar to the Niagara River’s Devils Hole to a landing where guide Samuel took us across the river to fish Namibian waters. Fishing season in Namibia is open in March and anglers do not need a license to sport fish the Chobe River.
Chances were slim for Africa’s famed tiger fish, slightly better for barbile (a kind of flathead catfish), and rare hits from bream, a kind of tilapia.
Samuel took us up current past pods of hippopotamus and reedy marsh edges that would have Roland Martin ecstatic for bass casting. Instead, high waters made game fishing a challenge.
We started trolling with what Samuel called “Rapalas” that looked more like a deep-diving Hot ‘N Tot. Depths went from 60 to 70 feet and tigers could be feeding at any depth in the open current. None did.
Samuel then headed into the marshy lanes and tied off on reeds so we could cast chicken gizzards into the gentle currents. Adolf hooked into a nice barbile that fought for about five minutes before heading into the heavy weeds and breaking off. While he was fighting that fish, a small tiger fish swam up to the surface and gave us the first and last look at that fish species.
We then headed down current to make a few drifts above the rapids, a fishery akin to drifting the head of the river off Buffalo Harbor. By this time, a couple other boaters began showing and worked drifts with about the same results as our catch rate. Our next chance for fish catches will have to come next week when we fish out of South Africa’s Jeffrey’s Bay.
Perhaps the major excitement of this Chobe River fishing trip was not only the shoreline and aquatic scenery, but also the impressive lodges along the Botswana side of the river.
One average looking, huge but somewhat graying, resort has a stellar history. Guts told us that this was the site in the early 1970s for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s honeymoon; he did not say if it was the first or second. Back then, a stay at this resort would cost an angler/wildlife watcher just over $1,400 per night.
The next morning Guts had us out on an early river run aboard his specialized photo boat. This vessel is equipped with eight swivel seats and camera mounting gear that allows passengers to use Nikon cameras with telephoto lenses to shoot wildlife and aquatic activities on the river.
Fish photos were few, but herds of hippos, packs of elephants, and bird life abounded here. Even the fish eagles, birds which closely resemble a bald eagle, had a hard time catching anything. Best anglers we filmed were kingfishers.
Next week’s fishing column, on the first day of spring, could include actual catches from feeder streams, the lower river, and Western New York’s open waters. Fishing in Africa is nice, but I miss the trout treks, perch prospects and ‘gill getting right now.