“We are worried that the number of fish in the Zambezi River is diminishing all the time, that commercial fishermen are casting their nets in increasing numbers and that the ecological balance of the mighty river is in danger”. This concern was voiced by many participants in this year’s Zambezi Classic angling competition in the northeast of the country. From 28 to 31 August a total of 39 teams – twelve of them two-man, the rest three-man – tried their luck downstream from Katima Mulilo on a stretch of more than 100 kilometres along the Zambezi River. Enthusiastic freshwater anglers from all over Namibia, as well as from Botswana, Zambia and Australia took part in the competition. Everyone tried to catch the longest and heaviest fish of a given species, and each of them made sure to release the catch alive back into the waters of the mighty river.
The start and finish was near the premises of the Nwanyi Angling Club and Zambezi Mubala Camp, where the Sikunga Conservancy has declared an eight km tributary of the Zambezi a fish conservation area. Before the competition kicked off, the organisers of the 2018 international Zambezi Classic handed over a cheque for N$15,600 to the conservancy’s fish keepers, who are watching day and night to ensure that no locals and especially no Zambians catch fish in the conservation area. “This sanctuary and the work of the fish keepers are very important for our sport, for the lodges in this area and ultimately for the local population who lives from fishing”, said the chairman of the Nwanyi Angling Club, Johan van Vuuren. For several years now, companies from Katima Mulilo, private individuals, lodges and angling clubs have made contributions so that at least the fish keepers’ salaries are covered.
In order to educate the local population, especially those living in the Sikunga Conservancy, about the problems of uncontrolled fishing and the importance of the fish conservation area, seven teams from seven settlements were invited to participate in the angling competition with their mukoros. These anglers were allowed to take their catch home.
The other participants were obliged to release the caught fish immediately again and as unscathed as possible. The various tilapia species and squeakers (a species of upside-down catfish) had to be kept in tanks on the boat, which were constantly supplied with oxygen by means of a pump. These fish had to be weighed alive at the end of each day and were then set free. Points were deducted for dead fish. For large species such as tigerfish and African sharptooth catfish the anglers had to submit a video that showed without interruption how the fish was landed, measured, weighed and released. The length and weight had to be recognizable on the video.
The Nwanyi Angling Club also set a minimum size for the different species. Points were deducted for any fish smaller than that. The teams were only allowed to present three fish of a certain species, or five respectively, for weighing per day. This rule reduced the stress for the fish as it prevented an unnecessary number of fish being brought for measuring every day by each boat. Scores of helpers made sure that the strict rules were adhered to. At the end of the competition the main prize – a motorboat worth N$250,000 – was not awarded to the angler who caught the largest and heaviest fish, but to the angler who caught and released a particularly large specimen of a given species. The winner is determined according to an elaborate scoring system. Henrico de Villiers won the grand prize for catching a Humpback largemouth (Serranochromis altus), a tilapia species, weighing 3.95 kilograms.
The largest tilapia of the large species was caught by C.P. Bothma. The nembwe (Serranochromis robustus) weighed in at 3.65 kg and Bothma received prize money to the tune of N$10,000 from Midas Zambezi.
The heaviest African sharptooth catfish weighed in at 11 kg and earned Hazel Boffelli a prize of another N$5000 from the Nwanyi Angling Club.
Jan Roodt was one of the few who hooked a tigerfish during the four-day competition. His fish measured 69 cm and weighed 6.15 kg, for which he raked in prize money amounting to N$20,000 donated by Kamunu Wholesaler.
Kobus Erasmus won in the spotted squeaker category and was awarded N$3000 by the Nwanyi Angling Club for his 0.360 kg specimen of this species of upside-down catfish.
In the team contest the Sevensys (Mathew Jackman, Björn Baufeldt and Basil Jackman) took first place with 89.83 points, followed by the Walkabout (Izak Grobbelaar and Ben van Wyk) with 68.64 points and the Aliboats (Maura Rosa, Kevin Sharp and Rod Bateman) in third place with 58.36 points.
Author: Dirk Heinrich