I am often quizzed about my choice of career, followed by the awkward silence after being asked for umpteenth time: ‘When are you going to get a real job?’, or my favourite: ‘You telling me that you travel and fish for a living? That must be amazing!’
Not many people know the responsibilities and the stresses of being a full-time professional fishing guide – the constant strain of having to deliver, worrying about weather, conditions, clients and a whole host of issues that are often completely out of one’s control.
So here I am, sitting on the beach at the mouth of the Ndogo Lagoon in Gabon, contemplating the direction of my life. This is the first of my Gabon diaries, after my first week on location in Gabon.
SETTE CAMA, GABON
There are a couple of options to fly to Libreville but the easiest, undoubtedly, is on SAA direct from Johannesburg. From Libreville to Gamba, you take a quick 1.5-hour domestic flight, followed by a very scenic boat cruise down the Ndogo Lagoon system to Sette Cama camp, home to Tourette Fishing’s Gabon operation.
After all the pre-trip planning, packing and advice from the other guides at Tourette Fishing, my time finally arrived and I was at last stepping off the boat from Gamba and arriving in Sette Cama, my home and office for four months
of the season. Elephants on the beach and swimming in the river, leopard tracks outside our cabin and an assortment of bird life that is hard to describe – it is an absolute paradise, and I had yet to sample the fishing.
Baptism by fire.
I’ve been fortunate to fish quite a number of destinations, but this place stands out head and shoulders above the rest. I doubt there are other destinations that can compare to the spinning and lure opportunities available at Sette Cama. All through my pre-trip preparation, Rob Scott, who runs Tourette Fishing’s Gabon operation, would stress the need to be properly prepared. Gabon doesn’t suffer fools, and when the fishing is on, you can’t afford to have tackle failure. If there is a weak spot in your armour, the fish (that really count) will find it.
Reading the tides, getting into the right position at the right time, is vital to getting the most out of your Gabon trip. Being in the right position, and having the faith that the fish will arrive on cue, is paramount to having the most amazing spinning sessions.
Some sessions would start off slow and then, out of nowhere, the fish would come on like you can’t believe. Cast for cast, you would go tight with whitefin jacks and jack crevalle, with the fishing slowing down once the shoal had moved through, only to turn on fire as soon as the next species or shoal arrived.
One thing I noticed was that every time a thunderstorm was brewing, and the right tide coincided, the fishing would go absolutely mental. Sessions where the jacks would beach themselves chasing mullet and herrings and literally bump into your legs while you were standing in the surf weren’t uncommon. I’ve seen some feeding frenzies before but some of these were out of this world.
The one morning springs to mind when Ewan Naude and I were fishing the surf; I was busy tackling up when he shouted for me to hurry up. I ran down the beach to where he was standing and 5m in front of us in knee-deep water, the jacks were tearing the mullet apart – at some stages there seemed to be more fish than water.
During other sessions, the jacks were so loose that we could see them surfing the waves like dolphins. All that was required was to cast bucktails or Sea Iron spoons into the wave and then just keep contact as the lure sank and, within a couple seconds, you would go tight – cast after cast.
Obviously, a species that dominates the attention of many anglers who travel to West Africa are the tarpon. One has to understand that they are not consistent. In your week you could get numerous shots every day, or the tarpon may not make an appearance at all. The one thing that is constant with these fish is that when your chances come, you have to convert these chances into fish. Unfortunately, with the size and power of the tarpon, things are stacked against you from the start. This last week we managed to connect with a few, but every fish was the same – it was either lost on the first couple of jumps, or it came close to spooling us, or in some cases there were some spectacular tackle failures.
Even these fish that came off were an experience of a lifetime: standing in knee-deep water connected to a 150lb fish is capable of producing large amounts of adrenaline, even if the fish is lost. Only one tarpon was landed during this week – a fish of about 100lb. This is a very special fish, considering it was taken in the surf, on spinning gear. Even at this size, this fish is still considered small. With so many more groups coming up for the 2012/2013 season, I am hoping to get a few of these leviathans to the beach. All we need to do is be ready, and convert our chances when they come.
The jacks kept us busy the majority of the time but in between these we got some nice cuberra snapper, barracuda and African threadfin in the surf. Although the fish we got were all in the 5kg to 18kg range, we connected with much bigger specimens. As lady luck had it, we didn’t manage to land these larger specimens. With all three of these species capable of tilting the scales at around 40kg to 50kg, there is sure to be some spectacular fish landed in the upcoming trips.
The Senegal kob is a fish that eluded me during this trip, but in the right condition it can arrive in great numbers. Having grown up in the Eastern Cape, kob are pretty much in my blood and ticking this one off my species list is going to be great.
In between all this madness on offer in the surf, we had some great sessions fishing the mangroves. We caught countless juvenile jacks and cuberra snapper with the odd larger specimens making an appearance and giving us a quick hiding.
For many years, Gabon has been a piscatorial hope for me, always in the back of my mind, with thoughts of forest elephants and buffalo on the beach, hippos surfing the shorebreak against a backdrop of tropical equa-torial forest, all the while with great possibilities to cast spoons, jigs, and fly at all the amazing species West Africa has to offer.
Now I am here and those initial dreams have become my reality; Gabon has already far exceeded my initial expectations. This little corner of the West African coast is the real deal and, although the fishing has been out of this world, I know we have only scratched the surface. So stay tuned: over the next three months,
I am sure there are going to be plenty of fascinating stories to come out of this little corner of angling paradise.
So here I am, sitting on a deserted West African beach, reflecting on where I am in life. This is my conclusion: there is just something about being outside in the fresh air, waves rolling in, watching the sun rise over the ocean while the birds work the backline, your heart pounding out of control, pushing you to hurry up and get a line the water, all while you hastily tackle up.
I guess there is so much about our sport that makes us passionate about it and, for me, everything I feel for fishing is far more than a fleeting fad. It has driven me to change the course of my life and become a full-time professional fishing guide.
So, here I am sitting on a beach in Gabon, living my dream in what is undoubtedly the best estuary and rock and surf destination that I have ever experienced. To call this place my office for four months of the year, I couldn’t be happier.
Light spinning tackle
Shimano Aerocast 9ft rods combined with Diawa Exceller 4000s and Daiwa Saltiga 4500 – these reels hold good line capacity with smooth but strong drag.
We filled the reels with Daiwa Tournament Grade 30lb line and 0.16mm braid. It is essential to keep the reels filled to capacity, combined with using a high quality, thin braid to get the right casting distance. This isn’t always an issue, but when you need that extra few metres
to reach the fish, it can really count.
The leader material we used was just straight .70mm monofilament joined to the mainline with a Bimini twist and then with a perfection loop to the bucktail jig or plain figure-of-eight knot to a swivel.
The lures we used were all in the 1,5oz to 2oz size – chartreuse and white bucktails, Sea Iron spoons, McArthy plastics, clone lures.
For this we used quite a heavy set-up: heavy 9ft Shimano Exage rods fitted with Daiwa Saltiga 6000GT reel loaded with Daiwa Tournament, 0.26mm 50lb braid. The leader was heavy 1mm to 1.2mm monofilament. This heavy set-up is crucial when tackling the infamous tarpon and dirty fighting cuberra snapper.
Both these fish have a reputation for busting up angler and tackle and, from my experience, should definitely not be taken lightly. Lure selections for these rods were made up of Roosta poppers, big Rapala Shad Raps, heavy Sea Iron spoons and stickbaits.
Seeing that we were fishing quite tight to the structure, we used rods that were light and easy to handle but that also had the necessary pulling power if needed. So we used 6ft Daiwa Saltiga jigging rods with matching Daiwa Exceller 4000 reels loaded with 30lb braid again. You could probably go a tad lighter, but some of the snapper we caught were such dirty fighters that at times you had to really pull the fish hard.
The lures that worked really well were 6-inch Strike Pros, small bucktail jigs, McArthy plastics, Rapala Subwalks, Zara Spooks and clone lures and
For more information on Tourette Fishing,
contact Mark Murray on 033 343 2182 or
For some videos on the action in Gabon, check out
Tourette Fishing’s You Tube Channel –