Growing up along the Transkei coast in South Africa, and having a father and grandfather who were keen fishermen, and a great grandfather who owned a fishing shop, definitely laid the foundation for one of my great passions in life: spending time at the ocean, river estuaries and fishing.
At the age of four, a rod was placed into my hands, and the patient art of sitting still for hours in a small boat and gently feeling a nylon line for any sign of irregular activity, was described to me in great detail. My grandfather, Cedric, would explain that a river bream would aggressively attack the bait in short sharp bursts. You only had two chances to hook him before your bait was consumed. My father, Winston, on the other hand, explained to me that the spotted grunter is a fish that sucks prawns out of their holes, so when he does encounter a mud prawn on a hook, he will gently suck it in and start moving away. The art is to give him line and time to swallow the prawn, before striking and setting the hook. Now explaining to a four year old that when he feels a gentle tug he must release line from his reel, is something that my two fishing idols managed to get right, as in the coming years, the spotted grunter was a fish that I landed frequently in the estuaries of the South African coastline.
After moving to Namibia in 1993, my passion for fishing was introduced to a new environment of long deserted beaches and deep long casts behind the wave break, with a rod that was up to three times longer than I was used to. I have been privileged to be able to explore and fish most of Namibia’s coastline, but there is one particular area, that brings back fond memories, that I would like to share with you. It begins with the howl of the jackal outside my tent…
It is right where I am, about 220 km south of Walvis Bay, in a catch and release concession area called Meob Bay. A location I had dreamed about fishing for years and now it had finally been realised. Heading out to find the camp kitchen and a fresh cup of coffee, I nearly walked into a desert oryx that stood in the middle of the camp. Our eyes met, and after a mutual nod, he meandered off to find alternative grazing. What a wild, yet at times tame, country we live in. After raiding the camp kitchen, I returned with a flask full of coffee and found my fishing partner who had arisen from his slumber. We decided to head the 200 m down to the beach for a quick cast before breakfast.
Now my normal routine entails baiting up, casting, placing my rod in a holder with the reel clutch set to loose and followed by a cup of strong morning coffee. Well, the first three steps went as planned, but as I turned my back, the reel let out a screech that could have come from any good homicide mystery. My mind was still contemplating what could be causing this horrendous sound, when I heard my partner shouting, “Your rod, your rod, grab it.” By this time, my rod was almost level with the sand and about to be launched like a javelin in the direction of the waves. I grabbed it and gave it a firm strike to set the hook. Well, that just seemed to upset the fish even more, and the next 20 minutes was spent in a tidal tug of war of line retrieval and loss, between this fish and myself. Eventually it tired, and my partner helped me land the biggest kabeljou (cob) that I had ever seen. We were careful to only place it on wet sand, and after a quick length measurement for records (in excess of 1 meter), I carried it back to the shallows and watched it swim westward. It is difficult to explain the warm feeling that filled my soul as I experienced for the first time releasing a fish of that size and watching it swim away to live and breed another day.
Breakfast was quickly abandoned and replaced with a promise of brunch, as word spread like wildfire around the camp, that the fish were on the bite. Other vehicles quickly parked either side of us, and the action began. Long casts with 6 ounce sinkers on 14 ft. rods ensued, and it was not long before all the Namibians in our group had landed kabeljou, with each fish weighing between 10 and 18 kg. Now our Zambian guests, who were mocked for rocking up with 8-10 ft. river rods, realised that their handicapping had to be overcome, so they waded out to waist deep water and casted as far as they could, but still did not come close to where us Namibians were hooking the kabeljou.
Little did we know that our guests had just placed their bait on a sloping shelf, where the white steenbras were feeding. The first hit was like an express freight train through a ghost town, with the poor fisherman holding on for dear life in fear of been dragged to Brazil. Soon they all hooked up, and what ensued was a fighting frenzy of ecstatic Zambians and large burly steenbras, some as big as 10 kg. I will never forget the first Namibian shouting, “Where is my spinning rod? That looks like way more fun than a 14 ft. surf rod.” Within a few minutes we were all waist deep in water, having the times of our lives landing huge steenbras with the odd kabeljou in between.
Over the next 2 days, things continued as they started, and we landed over 900 fish in total, of which most were safely released back into our Namibian breeding stock. The whole experience taught me the merits of catch and release and I hope, that for the sake of our children and country, we can all learn to find the balance between conservation, recreation and commercial fishing in Namibia.
Author: Brendan Dickerson