We were super excited to welcome our second group of the 2023 season to Gassa Camp. This group consisted of two South Africans (Chris and Pete) and an Aussie (Alex). Spirits were very high, and bags were haphazardly thrown into tents while the 12wt tackle was assembled for the first evening of fishing for the mighty Capitaine.
An eventful evening chasing the Capitaine
Strip…strip… the hours ticked by, the seconds marked out by the rhythmic hissing of the fly line through the guides. Strip… Strip… stri – – VAS!!*
“Nice, Pete! Finally! Blaede, please swing me the MVP!”
The fish had some weight and was really hard to turn but surprisingly slow. Pete continued to pump it as he, Blaede and I continued to puzzle over its potential identity. And then a grey blob appeared in the depths. One look and at it and a very assertive “not my problem this one’s yours, mate” was heard from behind me as the MVP clattered to the ground at my feet. How does one go about landing an angry electric catfish that has enough charge to knock you over? By some miracle, the fly popped out as we were trying to swing it into a shallow bay to deal with it, and I was saved having a really bad hair day.
Strip…strip… stri – – VAS!!
“Ok, Pete, keep tension, only fight it off the reel if it gets there. Where’s the MVP? Ah, cool got it. Lekker. I don’t think it’s huge, but stay alert regardless.”
There we were, fighting a fish on the hand, relieved to have had a proper hit at last. Definitely a perch, trying to head under the undercut at our feet. Surely, it must be a perch. And then it decided to go up stream and man, was it unstoppable.
“Big fish Big fish! Ok, Pete, your best chance of landing it is to keep as little line in the water as possible. We need to follow it”.
Along we trundled, stumbling over the horribly uneven ground trying to follow the unstoppable force on the other end. We then got to a rocky point and really put of the brakes as it continued to peel off line. At this point we realised that something was not quite right, as no freshwater fish, let alone the infamous capitaine, should be able to peel 150m of backing off a locked and palmed Shilton SR12. A loud, angry snort and splash, suspiciously close to where we thought the fish must be came barrelling out of the dark as our hearts sank. How the hell do you lip grip a hippo? Or do you grab it by the tail like a tiger?
Luckily, Ewan had by now noticed the commotion and came strolling up with the .416 at the ready. He calmly walked as close as he dared and managed to snap the line without getting charged by 2 tons of angry meat. Licking our wounds and shattered egos, we headed back to our spot to retie the leader, put on a new fly and try again.
The nile perch aka Capitaine fishing
The perch were tough. Conditions seemed to be perfect the whole week, but they just never seemed to turn on properly. Despite this, the massive perseverance paid off, with Pete getting a couple of fish in the mid 80cm and Chris getting one or two slightly smaller. Pete also managed to get a severe line burn from what must have been a tank of a fish in a very deep pool while casting what may as well have been half a parrot. While the perch may not have been entirely prepared to play nice, the other species made the fishing extremely memorable.
Day time fishing
The tigers were absolutely wild. Everything from the water level to the water temperature, to the weather was perfect for them and they really gave us an exciting week. In the first half hour of day time fishing of the trip, Alex got his first ever tigerfish, a lovely H. brevis of 67cm out of the pocket water. One pool up and a 52cm perch smashed his tiger fly just sub-surface. He was all smiles, and that continued for the rest of the trip. We spent most of the days sight fishing tigers in the pocket water from shoals of small H. forskali to pairs of 8-12lb H. brevis cruising over the sand banks. Everyone landed a few tigers well over 60cm and a bunch of small ones in between. Most notably, Chris managed an absolute unit of 78cm (probably over 10lb) which came out of the depths and T-boned the sculpting fibre baitfish before going airborn at least 6 times. Watching shoals of tigers chase down the flies, fighting each other to have first go at it is some of the most fun I have had while guiding.
The barbs began to make more of an appearance, but were still being difficult with the water being slightly too high to target most of them effectively. Despite this, Chris managed an incredible fish of 60cm one day with Blaede, having said he would never fish for yellows and the joy on his face in landing it was something to behold. Oh how the turntables.
On our last night we headed back to Place du sur. The evening was perfect with not a breath of wind. I was with Alex, who had not yet managed to land a night-time perch. We were discussing the trip and he turned and said something along the lines of “you know, my wife asked if I was disappointed not to have caught a perch. And I thought about it and, no, I am not. Yes, it would be nice, but I have had amazing fun catching tigers out of skinny water. I spent the day fishing for tigers with Ewan in pocket water like I would usually do for trout, and it was some of the most fun I have had in a long time. If catching the big fish is the only thing that is going to make you happy, you will very seldom enjoy your fishing.”
On reflection, I think there is a lot to be said for this. Yes, this is a perch fishing destination, but it can be so easy to miss out on everything else, from the other fish species to the general wildness of the experience and having not seen Alex without a smile for the whole week, he must be doing something right in life.
*Afrikaans for tight, but used by South African English anglers in fishing slang. Pronounced like “fuss”.