Cape Town Fishing Travel Diary

Bored?  Try Africa

Africa: the Dark Continent, they used to call it. The white mans graveyard. Once, gallant Victorian explorers hacked their ways through near impenetrable leech-infested jungles, and across treacherous lion-haunted bushveldt, to map, and to claim this vast landmass for their Kings and Queens. Brave but arrogant blighters - as if it was simply theirs for the claiming.

 By John Cooper

  It was all very wild, wild enough to claim the lives of many a would-be hero, bent on discovering the source of this or that river, or hoping to make his fortune by re-discovering King Solomon's lost diamond mine.

Africa can still kill you, if you're stupid enough to venture up places like the Congo river, where perils various lie in wait, some courtesy of Mother Nature, and others of more recent birth, carrying an AK47. Not for me, that sort of ambitious macho Tom Foolery.

But when you've done France for the fifth time, and have with regret rejected Russia, having carefully considered Aeroflot's fleet of er.. aeroplanes, well then its time to shortlist some of the more survivable exotic destinations. If you want to ease yourself in, then South Africa should really be on that list.

I was last in South Africa in 1993, and was completely won-over by this huge, sprawling country. Of course, it's so huge, that it is really several countries in one. From the Southern Cape, a temperate Mediterranean land, with coastal farmlands, and vineyards, to the Kalahari desert of the west, and up to the tropical Northern Territory.

Some of the land is tamed, but without mans constant intervention this would all be re-claimed by the bush and the game in pretty short order. Just 120 years ago, Frederick Courteney Selous was making a good living from shooting big game in lands close to today's South African cities. Indeed, thousands of square miles of South Africa are still ruled by the elephant and the lion. And leopards, well, in their silent way, leopards are plying their trade over much of this land. Despite its seemingly civilised edges, South Africa is very much the Africa of 1950's British films.

But I was in South Africa for the fishing, and what fishing it has to offer. South Africa has an embarrassment of riches, particularly for the all-round angler.

I flew London Heathrow to Cape Town on South African Airways 747 red-eye flight, eleven hours overnight, non-stop. Let me say now, the service was brilliant, and the flight as uneventful as it should be. I should probably just mention though, the movie was Notting Hill. That Julia Roberts is drop dead gorgeous. I simply hated that lucky pig Hugh Grant by the time the titles rolled up.

I was met by my old chum Paul Coetzee, who runs African Fishing Safaris. "You're going to have a hell of a good time John", said Paul. "Tomorrow were going offshore".


  And offshore it was, a good forty miles south west of Africa's southernmost point, the Cape of Good Hope.

It was our amazing good fortune to have been able to book the best game boat in Southern Africa, the staggeringly beautiful Sensation, captained by top Cape skipper, Uwe Smidt. Uwe is regarded with some awe in the Cape area, where his record of very big catches of all species is not seriously challenged by any competitor. Wherever Uwe heads, a fleet of would-be-successful boat skippers is likely to follow. A bluff man of huge presence, I noticed within a minute or two that Uwe needed to issue orders only once. Action was immediate.

At 3.45 am. Sensation, all 54ft of her, headed south from Haut bay at a steady 25 knots, her two huge diesels growling in unison. Sensation this boat is, both by name and nature. Uwe demonstrated some of the extraordinary technology installed on board to improve the chances of success. Most impressive was a satellite weather monitoring system worthy of the Moon landing astronaut's Houston Control. As the signal came in from the satellite, the coast of South Africa was revealed. Yet more extraordinarily, bands of colour on the display screen showed exactly where the warm waters of the Agulhus current were pressing into the cold of the Atlantics Benguala current. There, where great clouds of algae and fish food were swept up by the clash of these two mighty oceans, would be the fish. This transition moves from day to day, and it can be anything from twenty to sixty miles offshore. Sensation's satellite ally very quickly shows just where.

The boat fairly bristles with rods of all classes. From serious marlin sticks to light spinning gear, it was all here. I was keen to try the sporting outfit I'd brought along for the smaller tuna, a Bruce and Walker Hexagraph spinning rod, equipped with the latest ABU Mörrum 7700 reel (about which I have raved in a separate review). The skipper was anxious that we should first boat some fish using his tried and tested standard gear, and you have to meet Uwe to understand that he's not the sort of chap you debate with. A rig like Sensation is desperately expensive to maintain, and I realised that he needed to get some fish into the ice-box.

So there we were. Five anglers with five expensive rods trolling five Rapala saltwater lures at about six knots. At seven o'clock all five rods were nodding gently to the action of the Rapalas. At one minute past seven, five reels screamed as if working to order, and on cue. Five anglers leapt to the bucking 30 lb. outfits. "It's long fins man", shouted Uwe, over the howl of the reels rachets. The long fin tuna is generally known around the world as the albacore, a relatively small but very beautiful tuna with long scimitar-like pectorals. A big one can be over 70 lbs., but these fish were all much of a size, about 35 lbs. Even on the stout 30 lb. outfits these fish were great sport. At the boats side, those huge fins beat the water to a foam, before being gaffed aboard by the boats regular hand, Patrick.

It's a strange business this fishing. We set out to catch these beautiful creatures, to haul them from their world into ours. Then we kill them, and we eat them. It was ever thus, and ever thus it will be. But the sight of these fine fish in their last moments of life moved me. So pure, their eyes still so bright, their shape so perfect for its purpose. A man may fish though, and if there is no waste, then he may make his peace with the God of the fish he kills.

On this day, the sea off the Cape of Good Hope threw up its bounty. The long fins came in fours and fives. I was even allowed to take one on my lovely little Hexagraph/ABU Mörrum outfit, which performed with utter perfection. But my 12 lb. sporting gear required all too much time, with the longfin 20 pounder twisting and diving for more than fifteen minutes before coming to Patrick's steady hand. I loved it, but the skipper needed the fish, so without being told, I settled for my single glorious battle.

There was a lull in the proceedings, and on a hunch Uwe moved closer to shore. Then two rods sprung into action again. But these were not the 30 yard runs of the longfins. I was unaware of who was attached to the second fish, because I was into something that screamed the ratchet in a new and electrifying way. Even allowing for the forward movement of the boat, the fish must have torn off 80 yards of line within seconds of the big Rapala's hooks being set. "That's a good yellowfin man", shouted Uwe from the flying bridge. "He'll go deep man, then you'll have some sort of job. Don't use too much drag". But the fish didn't just go deep, he went wide too. "Anything he takes you've got to get back man", said someone from my left. I was standing in the stern of the boat with just a simple butt pad, and was wishing that I was in the fighting chair. This was very heavy work. Again the fish tore off line, straight down, I think. The line sang in the breeze, and then turn upon turn began to build on the reel. We battled, that fish and I, and the result was none too certain. "You're sweating man. Need some help?", asked another. But then the trace appeared, and the line cut right as the fish saw the boat. Through the sweat and the salt I glimpsed a magnificent flank, and then a great shape was hauled on board by two big men. Slaps on back. "Well done man". Aching arms. An overwhelming sense of relief, and unreality.

A yellow fin tuna it was too, and it weighed 148 lbs. "Hold it up man". I couldn't, I just couldn't. But Uwe came over, and gave a great heave as the cameras clicked away. I confess, Uwe was taking almost all the weight, my arms and my knees had disappeared from my list of body parts.

Offshore again in search of the fish. Three more big yellowfins came - to the other rods, thank God. And then the longfins found our lures again. Uwe declared a fair day.

We set for port at Haut Bay at about 3 o'clock, with a two hour run ahead. With a celebratory brandy inside me, I nodded off to the beat of the engine, and the waves, and slept the sleep of the just and the exhausted.

At the dock the fish were unloaded, and laid out for the fish dealers approval. They looked different. Gone the flash, gone the dash, staring now that once bright eye. No look of unbelieving. The crowd on the dock knew nothing of their gallantry, their speed, and their resistance to death. But I knew, and as we parted from their corpses, dulling, ready for consumption in the expensive restaurants of Tokyo, there was guilt in the air.

But would I go again? Oh yes. And again and again, because this is a thrill beyond the ken of those who hesitate in life. With a little daring it's there for anyone.

SAA are doing return tickets at ridiculously low prices, and once you're there you get the feeling that you are a millionaire, because its all so cheap. A good lunch or dinner can be had for under £5. The South African Rand is on its backside at the moment, fourteen  to the Pound, so there's never been a better time. But even so, boats like Sensation don't set to sea for peanuts, so unless you have plenty of money to spend, this sort of day is probably best attached to a varied fishing itinerary. Paul Coetzee has all the details. Go for it. A dead mans shroud needs no pockets.

Next month I'll tell you about the next leg of my African adventure. Not boring. Oh no, not boring.

Useful information

South African Airways reservations :

Standard fare - London Capetown Expect to pay around £600 return (thats a bargain)
Flights - Every day to Johannesburg and Capetown

Flight distance/time 6,000 miles/ 11 hours

Paul Coetzee - African Fishing Safaris                (Paul can arrange everything for you)

Visa requirements - None from UK. From elsewhere, you should check.

Jabs - Check with your doctor. In the north you should pop malaria pills, just to be certain.

Clothing - Generally lightweight. A lightweight rain suit can occasionally be useful. I'll be writing shortly on the clothing and tackle I used.

 John Cooper