The pick of the bunch

When I first went to Zambia to fish for tigers, more than 10 years ago, you could pretty much fish anywhere on the Zambezi River and have a good chance of a catch – but not anymore.
Issue date: 15 February 2008

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When I first went to Zambia to fish for tigers, more than 10 years ago, you could pretty much fish anywhere on the Zambezi River and have a good chance of a catch – but not anymore. Now the places are fewer and if you want to go this year, start planning now. You could also drive for days without seeing a single foreign vehicle – only overloaded, local old rumble-tumbles. That has also changed.

Zambia has inadvertently capitalised on Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe’s tourist industry. Nowadays, you continuously come across convoys of luxury 4×4’s heading ever northwards and the tracks to many of my secret fishing spots have been trampled to dust. Many of the vehicles carry a minimum of luggage but lots of fishing rods and are obviously heading to one of the umpteen fishing lodges that have shot up like mushrooms all along the Zambezi.

Although I prefer to camp, as I often went for three months at a time, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of the lodges, often on invitation. What I found was that only a few long-standing luxury lodges had good fishing, as the lodge-operators were more concerned about the lodge and its facilities than about conserving the excellent tiger and bream fishing that was the attraction in the first place. The result is that local prospects have deteriorated to such an extent that clients now have to be taken many kilometres up or downstream to find any fish at all. 

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Recent research has revealed that the fish in the Zambezi are extremely home-based and move very little. By removing fish conservatively one could maintain a locally abundant population while an adjacent area could be fished out and take a long time to recover. Fortunately everything isn’t doom and gloom as there are always exceptions to the rule. There are indeed some outstanding and beautiful up-market lodges where maintenance of the fish stocks is paramount and where good fishing is still to be had. One of the most outstanding in my opinion is Mutemwa Lodge about 50km north of Katima Mulilo, owned and run by ex-world-cup Springbok fullback Gavin Johnson. I’m sure he and his lovely wife, Penny, would treat you with the same pampering care that he handled the Cup with the Springboks way back in 1995.

The lodge is situated under and completely covered by a rich variety of huge trees – to such an extent that it’s totally invisible from the air. It can accommodate 12 guests in luxury en suite safari tents on decks elevated over the riverbank vegetation. The ample facilities, including a pool, are aimed at relaxation and enjoyment for the whole family, with an emphasis on comfort. The modern, fast aluminium boats are stable and ideal for trolling with Rapalas. Fly fishing in the deep sections of the river calls for sinking lines. At the rapids and along the bank vegetation, where large three-spot bream and nembwe lurk, an intermediate line or spinning rod can be useful. An extension of Mutemwa’s facilities is the more remote and rustic Maziba Bay fishing camp, situated 70km to the north. It is just 5km below the Ngonye Falls with its awesome rapids and gorge, which is the ultimate tiger field sports challenge for any spin or fly fisherman.

A while ago a 19-pounder was caught at Maziba Bay, which has its own boats and is more of an adventure-orientated camp. It consists of four chalets, built around a small beach of pearly white sand, and can accommodate twelve men or four couples. Between July to August, Gavin offers the ultimate tiger and nembwe safari adventure when he shifts operations more than 400km to the extreme north-west of Zambia, beyond the Liuwa Plains National Park on the Lungwebungu River. This area is so remote that when Gavin discovered the place four-and-a-half years ago, the locals had only seen one white man (a missionary). At the right time of year the fishing is apparently fantastic. I went there at the end of September in 2006, which was far too late. The water was very low and the current, which churned up the sandy bottom, made the water murky which drove the tigers back to the Zambezi where, at one of my secret spots, we eventually caught about 25 tigers over 6kg in just over three days. That saved the trip.

Remember, however, it took me 10 years, thousands upon thousands of kilometres and the best part of a R100 000 to get to know the river. Your best bet is to go with an experienced operator who can put you onto the fish right away. Although you can reach Mutemwa with a high clearance car, beyond that you’ll need a tough 4×4. Most of Gavin’s guests fly into Livingstone and are chartered or road-transferred from there to Mutemwa or Maziba and chartered to Lukulu, where you would be met and taken straight to the fish. You’d have to book in time though as most guys who have been there can hardly wait to get back for more. – Abré J Steyn Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or e-mail [email protected]. For reservations contact Brian or Jane on 011 2341747 or 082 9902405 or e-mail [email protected]