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Magical, mystical Kafue.

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Every year Clive Harris (of the Master Angler tackle shop in Harare) and fishing buddy, Derek Hinde, travel to Zambia to fish the Kafue--slaves to a never ending adventure in search of largemouth bream, and that one special part of the river which is as yet, unspoiled by settlement or hordes of other like-minded anglers. Says Clive "As time goes on, it has become more about finding pristine locales rather than keep-nets full of fish

As is often the case in Zambia, detailed information on locations and routes to various parts of the Kafue are scarce and sketchy at best. April is reputed to be the best time of year, as the higher water levels make negotiating the river easier, though it would seem that levels can have an adverse effect on actual fishing. River levels do depend on relative rainfall, and during the planning stages of their trip, Clive and Derek monitor satellite imagery and first-hand reports to determine a 'go' date. This year, their mid-April sortie hit the river during its peak flow, and this, coupled with a new and unexplored venue, heightened their excitement. Good rains in the Copperbelt had the river flowing well with clean water, though lots of debris and occasional reed islands were carried along, too.

The Kafue River rises close to the border with the Congo in northern Zambia. Flowing roughly south, it meanders until the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam (built in 1977) where it turns eastward before flowing into the Zambezi. The nearly 1 000km-long Kafue is wholly contained within Zambia, rising on its northern border and meeting the Zambezi at its southern border about 20km north of Chirundu. With a total basin area of 157 000[km.sup.2], it meanders along a relatively flat plateau with gently undulating topography supporting farms, the copper mining industry, and hydro-electric schemes. Its many swamps, dambos, flood plains and wetlands make for rich and diverse flora and fauna and abundant and varied bird life quite unique on the African continent.

Clive and Derek's research for a comfortable, affordable facility on the banks of the Kafue led them to a place called Mushingashi which is one of the vast Game Management Areas (GMAs) on the eastern boundary of the Kafue National Park.

With roughly 50km of river frontage and a total area of 38 000 hectares, the GMA offered excellent access to a vast section of the river, that was rich in game. But most importantly, it was the remote gem they had been looking for, and for the duration of their six-day stay, the only other boat they saw was manned by game scouts employed in the GMA to monitor poaching, etc. This is not unusual considering the GMA is marketed more toward wildlife and game viewing safaris, though easily accommodates self-sufficient fishermen (own boats, tackle etc.).

Kalonga Waloba Lodge is a rustic self-eater lodge. This one of three along this section of river run by Mushingashi and offers a combination of simple chalets (two roomed with linen and mosquito nets and bathroom-en-suite) and a barrack type dorm room with separate ablutions. Clive estimates the facility could easily accommodate up to 20 people. Hot (wood boiler) and cold running water is provided, and even drinkable. There is a large fully-equipped kitchen with several freezers and a gas stove and dining area central to the complex, featuring a spacious deck right on the edge of the river. This is where Clive and Derek spent most of their off-the-water time and Clive says "The deck would be ideal to sleep on, though we never found the time to organise beds and mosquito nets to be set up. Next time we will". Electricity (to run the freezers) is included in the rate and provided by a generator which runs for a couple of hours each night. It is wise to take some back-up lighting (solar) for when the genny is off, or alternatively additional petrol to run the generator for longer periods. For those who want to camp, there is a basic camp site close-by with ablutions, too. The complex is serviced by two on-site scouts and a cleaning lady to look after kitchen and rooms, do some cooking and any laundry required.

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As in years gone by, their primary species was the largemouth breams--Serranochromis--most notably the nembwe (Serranochromis robustus), yellow belly or robbie as it is also known, but included Thinface largemouth (Serranochromis augusticeps), Humpback largemouth (Serranochromis alius) and the African pike (Hepsetus odoe).

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The nembwe hide out around structure, like the tangled root systems along the banks, or in the faster rapids behind current breaks such as rocks, islands and lay-downs. With the water being higher than in previous trips, much of the river structure (rocks and reed islands) were submerged but still evident. The largemouth's natural diet consists of crustaceans such as snails and especially crabs, though as opportunistic feeders, they will bounce on any likely meal flashing by. Clive always packs an array of small Rapalas, spinners and some Effzet spoons (a local favorite among the Zambians). All three of the largemouths can be present in any given area, and although they caught Thinface largemouths, the nembwe were conspicuous by their absence. Says Clive, "The specimens we did catch seemed to be in poor condition, so perhaps it was a bit early for them or they were still spawning".

The Rapalas--mostly the new offering from Rapala, the 3 cm Ultralight Crank--did not produce as well as hoped, and Clive turned to his own miniature swing-head spinnerbaits dressed with earthworms. These seemed to be more productive and were also used to target the very aggressive pinkies along the margins of the weed mats flooded by the high water. In fact, the pinkies (Tilapia rendalli) became a bit of a focus, offering great sport in the river as they would chase the spinners. It was easy to locate them along the margins, as their feeding on the submerged grass had the stalks twitching and dancing in the gentle current. Targeting 6-10 feet of water, they were easily located through this tell-tale sign, and even at the downstream ends of islands or in other slack water out of the main current, they were holding in good numbers. This is also ideal pike habitat, and a few of them were picked up as well.

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Clive warns though, that although they took worms with them, they soon ran out. "The staff at the lodge were very helpful though, and in short time had dug some really nice 'Selukwe' worms from a nearby dambo (vlei)" he said.

An interesting species taken on this trip was the Largescale yellowfish caught on the mini spinnerbait. Not previously caught on earlier trips, Clive says he is sure they would fall to a fly. Daily they saw surfacing fish out in the more open water which he was sure were the yellows feeding, a sight which left him longing for his fly tackle left back in Harare. They also caught three different species of squeaker while doba-doba fishing for the pinkies and reported prolific Redclaw crayfish in the river--a sad development as these pests invade more of Africa's waters.

They ranged up and downstream every day, covering some 20+ kilometers of water. The upper sections they fished were mostly flat flood plain areas where casting and pitching to the floating reed mats proved productive. The sections downstream of the lodge were characterized by narrower, faster water spilling over to flood the Waterberry trees along the bank. Though these mangrove-type areas looked really appealing, they were shallow and devoid of any fish. As mentioned, many rocks, ridges and islands lay below the surface--roughly a meter down below the flood waters. These did produce the occasional fish, though was not their main focus.

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While the fishing was not back to back action, the river and particularly this unspoiled section of the Kafue are worth the trip. Mushingashi provided a very comfortable and affordable facility (only US$30/person/night--which includes park and fishing fees) and it is Clive's intention to return and possibly visit one of the other camps run within the GMA.

For more information, visit Clive Harris at the Master Angler in Harare or telephone him on (+263-4) 885660 or his cell (+263-772) 314441. Alternatively, the GMA's managing director can be reached via email at darrellwatt7@gmail.com, or the office (managers--Dennis Whittemore and Matilda Nkonde) on matimushi@gmail.com.

Game Viewing

The Mushingashi GMA stretches 50km along the river, and some 40km back in land. Although once decimated, a private concern began re-building the game and its habitat in 2000, moving squatters out and getting the poaching under control while building the lodges. Today, the area has abundant elephant, lion, sable and waterbuck, and Clive says the puku population is quite unbelievable. Though the elephant were generally nervous, they were not aggressive and the lion wondered through the camp during the night. Today, Mushingashi acts as a buffer to the National Park and forms a safe haven for animals which wander out of the park. Community involvement ensures that the park remains the success story it has become.

At this time of year, the bush was thick and game viewing very difficult in the long grass. Added to this, Clive says the tsetse flies were prolific and any attempt at a game drive in an open safari vehicle, or even with the windows of the cab open, was a nightmare. Later in the year, viewing game and the tsetse fly problem improve.

The bird life was spectacular and both Clive and Derek are avid birders. The raptors, in particular, are prolific and good sightings of Marshal and Batteluer eagles were made, along with vultures, gymnogenes (African Harrier hawk) and several owls of which the Pels was paramount. The waterfowl along the river, as expected, is also good and regular sightings were made of the secretive fin-foot.

Tackle

Light to medium action 6'6" spinning rods and Stella reels spooled with 10-141b fluorocarbon or braid line, served all their main techniques--throwing spinnerbaits fitted with Triple Ripple trailers (red or chartreuse) or earthworms, or casting Effzetts, and various Rapalas. Some of the pinkie fishing was on static lines dropped down the edge of weed banks, so an assortment of sinkers are important. Local anglers fish a lot with Effzet spoons and crank baits and either troll or cast out to middle river rocks. This is primarily to locate the fish, and once a hot-spot is identified, they go back and fish it more thoroughly. Neither trace nor leader (on braid) are really necessary as aside from the pike, there are no real toothy critters as tigerfish are absent from the Kafue system.

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Getting There

This time, the trip took them cross border at Chirundu and onto Lusaka where they overnighted. From there they headed 150km to Mumbwa on the West Highway (N9), then north +/- 50km on a sometimes not so good dirt road (heading to Barotseland). There, they turned right into a boom signposted Mushingashi Limited, which is the entrance to the GMA. Admitted by game scouts, they continued for 12km to the Mushingashi turn-off, a bush track of around 41km to the camp. Says Clive, "Our directions were not very clear, but we could see the river on the GPS so kept following the sometimes difficult to see track. One just has to have the courage to keep driving". The trip is about 12 hours in total and if one knows the way, can be done in one hit from Harare, though heavy traffic, bad roads and road works can delay one, hence their overnight stop in Lusaka. There is a shorter (32km) dry season road which goes directly to the camp from the gate, and this is open from about June to the rainy season.

COMPILED BY ANT WILLIAMS, IN ASSOCIATION WITH CLIVE HARRIS
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Title Annotation:Special Feature
Author:Williams, Ant; Harris, Clive
Publication:African Fisherman
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:2007
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