The thin blue line: Kwanza Tarpon Lodge, Angola adventure Safaris, December 2012.
Kwanza Tarpon Lodge, as the name suggests, is at the mouth of the Kwanza River, a rich marine environment that flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It's a little bit different to what most Southern African saltwater anglers are used to with Mozambique, South Africa and the Indian Ocean more popular angling destinations. For those who don't know, Africa's west coast is ecologically the most isolated tropical coast in the world and thus home to a unique reflection of the IndoPacific species we know and love. The name suggests also that the lodge is known for the massive tarpon that frequent the shallows in and outside the estuary.
At different times of the year other species show their abundance throughout the rivers' mouth, surrounding beaches and mangrove edged banks. Amongst these are the Giant African threadfin salmon, Cubera snapper, Jack Crevalle, Senegal Jack and barracuda as well as the more familiar Kabeljou, all of which are known for the gargantuan proportions they reach in this region. Testament to this is the lodge's four or five IGFA line class records for specimens of these species, most notable because all of these were caught by the wife of lodge owner!
Supplementing those already mentioned species, and opening up an entirely new arena for the bait, fly and drop-shot enthusiast, are variations of grunter and rock cod, as well as incidental catches of the delicious tripletail. Personally I believe there are countless other angling opportunities yet to be discovered; what we already know limited only by the techniques most often applied in the area.
A day offshore into the deep reveals an abundance of dorado, the biggest I've ever seen at average size of approximately 10-12kg, with larger specimens reaching 30kg. Also in the deep the Atlantic sailfish; larger than our indo-pacific species. Though we didn't catch any on my one day outing to the blue, we did see at least seven, sometimes right under the boat as we trolled a pattern of enticing Kona head lures past them. It happens I guess.
The mangrove edged river is not what you expect when you reach Kwanza; its brown water peppered with hyacinth mats more reminiscent of the Zambezi during the rains. Where it changes is beyond the mouth where this flow meets the blue green water of the Atlantic Ocean forming a thermal line laced with debris, effectively creating the perfect drift where baitfish abound. We all know what that means.
And that's where the obscure title comes in. This line is so distinct it's as diverse as night and day. Further out, less distinct, is the line from the previous push, on occasion creating a pattern around the river mouth not dissimilar to the aging rings seen on the cross section of a tree.
I've visited many rivers where they meet the ocean during my angling career but never has the disparity between fresh and salt been so clear. So much so that at the lodge itself, situated mere metres from the ocean, on an outgoing tide it is not uncommon to see tilapia swimming with the mullet. Crocodiles too take in the rays on the beaches. A scoopful of water to the tongue tells you just how fresh the water is. Though I didn't witness it I'm told that with a fillet bait presented off the jetty one is just as likely to catch clarius as sea catfish.
First opened in 2005 by proprietor Rico Sakko, Kwanza is part of a string of lodges across Angola run by Angola Adventure Safaris which specifically cater for the fisherman, whilst not forgetting their family members who may tag along. From Flamingo Lodge in the south where the cold Benguela current offers a diversity of cold water angling species and overnight trips to the Cunene River mouth to hook the biggest cob and garrick on lures, poppers and spoons, daytrips into the dunes on four wheelers, game drives, cruises and jet skis, through Kwanza's activities and Rico's new dream of a lodge at the Congo River mouth (a mangrove delta 18km wide virtually untouched by sport and commercial fishing for over forty years), AA Safaris has everything to offer. If that's not enough to excite the intrepid angler then nothing is. The Congo lodge is planned to be opened by the end of 2013 and I know I'll be amongst its first clientele.
With this my first trip to Angola, and given my limited view of the country, I don't think I'm yet qualified to pass judgement on all the fishing she has to offer. I will say that if what I experienced is the tip of the iceberg (and I was told the fishing was slow when I visited) then Angola must rate amongst the best angling destinations in the world. And all this so close to the capitol Luanda! One can only imagine what other treats await the fisherman in more remote regions of the country.
How to get There
The simple answer to this question is direct. TAAG, Angola's national airline flies every Saturday from the Harare International Airport to Luanda. Actual flying time is three and a quarter hours with a 45 minute stopover in Lusaka. The cost of the return air ticket won't break the bank. At a little over US$500 TAAG are approximately half the price of any other flight options. The service they offer is of professional quality and is absolutely safe, flying new aircraft such as the Boeing 737-700. The staff at the TAAG office in Harare are extremely helpful, assisting with the mandatory visa which costs US$100 per person. Their front man in sales, Titos, is always willing to assist and makes the formalities a breeze.
From the airport, transfer is free to the lodge, provided you are staying for three nights or more, which in the case of Zimbabweans is a necessity given the Saturday to Saturday turn around time. If a week at the lodge is a bit long for those travelling with family perhaps a few days could be spent visiting the sights of Luanda, the planning of which the Kwanza team would be happy to help out with.
The raised bungalow type lodgings overlooking the river edge are constructed of timber and are five star quality. Each is equipped with air-conditioning, digital safe for valuables (not that there's an issue Juvenile Cubera Snapper--bait compared to the 50kg plus specimens frequenting the river with theft) and a choice of bedding arrangements. My deluxe king-size bed was enough to sleep in with comfort and lay out the considerable tackle I'd bought along for every eventuality. The bungalows are equipped with plug points (two pin for those taking camera and phone chargers) and the shower, fed by a gas heating system, is also furnished with a two pin point for shavers. Laundry can be accumulated and handed to the management or staff for cleaning.
The whole lodge is powered by generator (the quietest I've ever not heard) 24/7.
Meals are buffet style with a huge variety of meats, seafood, starch, vegetables and salads. Breakfast, also buffet, is a choice of continental tit-bits like cheese, cold meats and cereals, or can be the traditional eggs, bacon and toast. The chefs, all four of whom take shifts, have considerable experience and I must say the home style cooking is amongst the best I've tasted.
Meals are consumed on the deck of the main lodge, a quaint setting overlooking a bay on the inner side of the river mouth. It is here where the well stocked bar is situated for those wanting to take in the view over delicious sundowners. The deck is also equipped with a well kept and inviting salt-water swimming pool, recliners and deck chairs for that day or two off the water.
Best Time to Visit
November-April is tarpon season with December and January being peak times for trophy tarpon. If you're after a range of species then March is the time to go with the tarpon still in abundance and the winter species such as threadfin and snapper moving into the estuary. For trophy threadfin, snapper and jacks the cooler months of July-September are the best and all these species can be caught on plastics, conventional lures and top waters, making for some exciting fishing. Come prepared; threadfin and snapper have been caught inside the river exceeding 50kg! If you aren't aware, what this means is with locked drag, 100lb braid, casting tackle some of those big snapper are still going to clean you up in the mangroves. During the winter months a walk down the beach, bumping a spoon along the bottom and through the troughs may reveal a kob or six. All one has to do is witness the bragging wall above the bar displaying the impressive catches from the area. And brag Kwanza can. Rico, Wes and the other staff will go out of their way to provide you with the best tips and suggestions to ensure you catch fish.
Really, whenever you decide to visit you are virtually assured of some epic fishing and for most of us, many new species will be added to your capture list.
What it will Cost You
The lodge charges are a very reasonable US$175-00 per night per person all meals included. Bar is extra and is well stocked with local and imported beers, wines and spirits. On special to Zimbabweans is a reduced rate of R1200 (US$142-00 at time of writing) per person per night if payments are made into AAA Safari's account in South Africa.
Boat hire can be a little expensive though no more than what 'Angolan Dawn'-Kwanza's live aboard vessel alongside the jetty. The long boats alongside are rigged for fly and casting one would be paying for a charter in Mozambique or South Africa. A day fishing the river and mouth is charged out at US$400-00, outside the mouth on the line is US$500-00 per day and trips to the deep are US$1000-00 all inclusive of fuel, guide and tackle (the lodge supplies top notch Shimano conventional equipment and the guides have extensive knowledge of the area and conditions). For those chasing tarpon most of the fishing is conventional live-bait though other options exist. My suggestion is to follow the guides' expertise and land your first tarpon before trying other methods or light tackle. I had one encounter casting a surface lure to a +/- 70kg fish rolling on the surface not too far from the boat. The tarpon gave instant chase snapping at the lure all the way to the rod tip. I was equipped with a light 6kg spinning stick at hand and I'm still not sure which emotion to embrace when the fish didn't hook up!
Kwanza run several state of the art rigs and will choose a rig according to what type of angling you choose on a particular day. For tarpon, threadfin, snapper and the incidental species I've mentioned fishing is confined to the mouth of the river and the estuary. They practice catch and release of certain species, so if you want your picture with that world record fish, you may have to get into the water with it.
What to Take
* Your own fly, drop-shot, baitcast or beach tackle (the lodge only supplies conventional live-bait/game fishing tackle). I used a 7.6ft Shimano Crucial with butt extended, Curado 300E and 201b Power Pro for most of my beach and estuary lure casting.
* Yellow fever certificate, (available from your GP for US$50-60)
* Insect repellent (Kwanza is a malaria area so take adequate precautions)
* A light jacket or wind breaker for the evenings during winter
It is my belief that if most anglers knew just how accessible Angola was there would be a sudden influx of visitors to that part of the world. And it is easy! The only real difference between fishing your regular locations and something a little bit more exotic is the airfare.
For anyone who would like to visit Kwanza and tackle the magnificent tarpon, or other species, email Rico Sakko-mailto:rico@ aasafaris.com
If you are interested and need to know a little bit more about getting there the author would be happy to answer any questions. Contact--Greg Budd on (+263772) 866519. Tight Lines!