Venue: Upper-Kafue River (Kafue National Park)
21 October to 23 December 2011
5 years ago, I had the privilege of fishing the Kafue River for an entire month…yes, you read right – 30 solid days of fishing! This was the best fishing adventure I have experienced to date and though it might be “old news” I feel my blog would not be complete without me sharing this trip of a lifetime with you.
You must be wondering how I managed to organise this trip?
During my first year of studying BCom Tourism Management at the University of Pretoria (TUKS OF NIKS!) I needed to complete my practical hours which is a requirement to earn my degree. In short, I needed to gain some experience working at a relevant company in the Tourism Industry. Obviously it was only logical for me to look for a job in fishing and seeing that I would work during my December-Break, I was on the look-out for a job next to a special piece of water which I would not get to visit again easily – exotic, pristine piece of water with a sh*t load of fish!
I have visited the Kafue River before during outreaches with my church. Each one of these visits was special, but I always had limited time to fish the river as fishing was not the reason for our visit. Though, these short sessions on the river has produced some quality fish and lots of them. So, with a little bit of organising and good will, I got the opportunity to look after an abandoned hunting lodge which was closed during the rainy season. I asked my best friend, Frederik Dreyer, to join me on this trip and the two of us were extremely excited as the days got closer for our flight to take-off towards Lusaka. I had a few duties at the lodge, but most of my time would be focused on fishing that stretch of river that runs by the lodge. Additionally, I needed to keep track of our catches and report on our success afterwards to the lodge-owners to see of the lodge can start fishing safaris.
Skipping all of the travelling and stories that goes with it on our mission to get to the lodge; we arrived in one piece at the lodge with two six packs of Mozi beers (way too few!), a few packs of vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots), rice, pasta, maize to bake our own bread, a few packets of sauces, jam and a few snacks.
Don’t forget the bottle of Amarula and Old Brown Sherry which served as a great way to end every day – one shot for each of us every night. We took no meat with which was a good thing as we only had a freezer for the first few days before it ran out of gas. So, if we wanted meat for dinner, we needed to catch and keep a few fish (30 days of eating fish really wasn’t as bad as it sounds).
The lodge where we stayed had nice tented camps as well as a lapa, a kitchen and a store room. We had a limited supply of fuel for the generator, so we needed to calculate how much fuel we would use when needed. If I remember correctly we used the generator for 1.5 hours twice a week. In this time we would charge our camera and phone’s batteries and watched half a movie on Frikkie’s laptop before the generator went off (usually done while waiting for the rain to subdue). Twice a week we would walk 3 kilometres through the bush to reach one massive rock; next to the rock was a big man-made ladder which we would climb to get on top of this rock. The view from the rock was amazing as one overlooked the whole forest. On this rock was the only place in the area where our phones could pick up reception. Usually we would send a SMS home to tell everyone we are fine and give them so piece of mind. At the end of the day, this was wild country with lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, hyenas, plenty of snakes, hippos and crocs in the area – one needed to be cautious at all times as we were fishing amongst dangerous game. To give you an accurate picture of how isolated this lodge is; we ordered two Coke’s from one of the locals as we were suffering withdrawal symptoms at one stage and these two Coke’s only arrived a few days later per bicycle – hot as ever, yet we still enjoyed it. One good thing about being so far away from civilization is that the river is pristine with crystal clean waters (so clean we eventually drank it every day) and very good populations of undisturbed fish. Most of these fish has never even seen a lure in their life, so, we knew we were in for a treat! With zero pollution, few small nets and ill-equipped anglers targeting these fish, this area boasts with a very healthy population of fish.
We were to fish every day, try and catch as many as possible species and get a few keepers to eat and some awesome pics before the rain came down. Zambia is very tropical in the summer with lush green forests (not really the same as the “bush” we are used to); the rain seem to came down every afternoon, usually starting between 12:00 and 13:00 and then subduing a 3-4 hours later leaving a short late afternoon fishing session. Usually we would go out on the river and fish from the three-man kayak in the mornings before the rain came down, then we would wait out the rain during lunch time and hit the river again before dusk. For the post-lunch sessions we had limited time and therefore mostly fished from the shore for these sessions. We either targeted bream and pike at one of the close-by campsites or went further upstream to fish above a rapid for small species (these sessions produced numerous new and interesting small species). At these rapids we found some secure water holes which was safe enough to cool off in; these holes were a true life saver in the hot humid afternoons.
It didn’t take long before we ran out of fluids while out on the water. The strange thing was that our guides just drank the water from the river when they were thirsty. We were super sceptic to try the river water, but soon enough we were often drinking water from the river. The trick was to find fast flowing water, to our surprise this water wasn’t just pleasantly cold but also quite good tasting. This occurrence reminded us again that we were far away from the polluted waters that we know too well – here we were in the heart of the pristine Kafue River!
On most of the kayak fishing sessions we were three people on the ‘yak. Frederik, our guide (mostly Stanley) and I would take on the wild river in search of some unique African species. Now, I must admit, fishing such a wild river from a kayak is something to get used to. It is a scary experience as we had numerous run in’s with hippos (some loners, some colonies and some angry cows with calves). At any time during these adventures on the water, the calm river could change to chaos.
We experienced a few life threatening scenarios during this month of fishing which includes capsizing our kayak in the middle of the river (where I needed to hold the kayak while standing waist deep in the croc-infested river as Frikkie swam out to run and to get some help – did a lot of praying here), greeting a black mamba in the shower, hearing that we fished an area with a man-eater croc which almost killed a few netters the day after we fished in its territory, being trapped on the land between a dead end and a croc-infested river with an angry hippo mock-charging us several times, having an angry hippo pop up a few meters in front of us while paddling on the kayak, Frikkie standing next to a croc while fishing from the shore etc. I think you get the idea, at least all of this makes for great stories next to the camp fire.
Read Part 2 for the 410 on how the fishing went down on this adventure.