Light Jig fishing
Light Jig Fishing: Each season, our camps welcome returning clients who can’t resist the allure of Sette Cama. For AJ Pretorius and Werner Rooseboom, the lagoon teeming with hungry Jacks and Snappers, as well as the abundance of predatory fish along the surf, are the irresistible lures that bring them back year after year, regardless of the weather. This time, even a two-day road transfer before and after their week in camp couldn’t deter them. During the week, a collaborative idea was conceived between the guides and clients, where both would contribute to the weekly blog. So, brace yourselves for AJ and Werner’s reflections on yet another incredible week spent on the West-African coastline of Gabon.
AJ: On the 12th of July at 14:51, an email from Rob Scott landed in my inbox, accompanied by that familiar “ping, ping” notification sound. The email began with the customary pleasantries and a brief explanation that African Waters had taken over operations at Sette Cama camp. Rob mentioned upgrades to the boat equipment, the recruitment of new staff, and access to new sections of the lagoon for fishing. Admittedly, I initially skipped over the mention of micro jigging, thinking, “Blah, blah, blah,” as I’ve never been a fan of jigging.
However, as I continued reading, my excitement grew. We were offered an Exploratory season in September and early October. I was immediately intrigued, and I responded with a resounding “Tell me more!” The email went on to describe this unique opportunity: “Now, we are looking for guests to join us for an exploratory period where we will focus on exploring larger parts of the lagoon system. For the first time in our history, we will have marine electronics in fish finders and GPS devices, allowing us to unlock areas quickly. Coupled with the fact that we know that there are big congregations of some species over this period, means we are highly confident that we will experience something very special over this exploratory period.” (Little did I know how special it would turn out to be.)
Further reading revealed that while the primary focus was on exploring the lagoon systems, we would still have the opportunity to fish the surf and mouth during evening sessions or when the morning sessions appeared too promising to ignore. “You had me at hello,” I thought. I checked the dates and was delighted to find that they aligned perfectly with my schedule. We would be the second group to fish this season. A virtual high-five was in order, and I promptly confirmed my participation to Rob. It was then that I revisited the email to understand the actual costs involved, not just focusing on the promise of “EPIC fishing.” I also took a closer look at the micro jigging mentioned. As a fly fisherman and an enthusiast of poppers and stick baits, I was new to micro jigging and decided to educate myself on the subject. A search on YouTube led me to videos featuring Ed Truter discussing micro jigging in the lagoon, and Ewan Kyle demonstrating it on another video. Listening to Ed’s enthusiasm for micro jigging made me reconsider my initial skepticism. I dove into online education on all things micro jigging. Realizing I lacked the necessary gear, I embarked on a shopping spree in some of the best tackle shops in Dubai, discovering an entirely new world and many items I had previously overlooked. I left one of the shops with a pencil-thin rod, a bag of tiny metal lures that resembled ladies’ jewelry, and a reel more suitable for bass fishing in a farm dam. I ended up with all the gear but no idea. The next challenge was assembling a team for this epic adventure. To my astonishment, most of my friends had developed lives that extended beyond fishing, with family vacations, children’s school days, and work commitments taking precedence. I found their unwillingness to take unpaid leave rather insulting and decided to remove them from my Christmas card list, as I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life. Eventually, my “brother from another mother,” Werner Rooseboom, and I were the sole participants for five days of epic fishing at Sette Cama. Our guide was Chris Matthews, and Rob Scott would join us. This trip was particularly exciting for me because, after three previous trips with African Waters, I would finally get to spend time with Rob.
Preparations went well, with flights booked, road transport from Libreville to Gamba arranged, and tackle bags meticulously packed and repacked as lures were curated or replaced with brand-new ones. However, my bank balance was steadily dwindling. Suddenly, on August 30, 2023, a coup d’état rocked Gabon. What a shock! Over the following days and weeks, we closely monitored the situation. Fortunately, Rob and Chris safely arrived in Gabon and assured us that all was well. However, Werner and I faced a new challenge – convincing our respective wives, Mrs. Pretorius and Rooseboom. How we managed to persuade them is a story for another day, but we eventually received reluctant approval from both parties (after confirming that our life insurance was up to date). Then came another unexpected turn of events. Rob had an unfortunate accident in camp and had to be evacuated from Gabon. Was the universe trying to send us a message?
On September 22, 2023, we left Dubai, embarking on a journey that included two flights, an overnight stay in Lamberene, 11½ hours of driving, 15 police checkpoints, a ferry crossing (with a one-hour delay), and finally, a one-and-a-half-hour boat ride from Gamba to Sette Cama.
Arrival in Sette Cama
AJ: We arrived at the camp on September 23. As soon as we spotted the green Sette Cama boats anchored near the thatch-roofed jetty, the fatigue from our journey vanished. Werner and I exchanged a quick high-five – five days of fishing awaited us. Our welcome party awaited us on the jetty, and with many hands helping, we efficiently unloaded the boat. Rooms were quickly assigned, and we hurriedly unpacked our bags, scattering clothes across the available surfaces. Within minutes, we transformed the lodge’s once-tidy main deck into a mini tackle shop. Rods, reels, lures, lines, pliers, hooks, and other gear were strewn about. With a cold Regab beer in hand, we began setting up our tackle for the first session. According to our guide, Chris, our jigging outfits were “awesome” (even though they consisted of pencil-thin rods, bass reels, and what looked like ladies’ jewelry). I remained a skeptic. We left camp around 5:00, and despite overcast skies and light rain, we arrived at the lagoon mouth, only to find that the tide was not as anticipated, and the mouth seemed somewhat subdued. The first session produced a few Long Fin Jacks but nothing extraordinary. We returned to camp for a quick coffee and omelette before heading out for our first micro jigging session.
Micro / light Jigging Adventures: Old Dogs Learning New Tricks
AJ: We made our first stop at our chosen jigging spot. I clutched my HB pencil rod with the bass reel and examined the small piece of jewelry attached to the 25-pound leader – in micro jigging terms, apparently a “heavy tippet.” I noticed Werner looking at me for guidance, but we both clearly had “the gear but no idea.” Chris patiently, and later sternly, attempted to teach us old dogs some new tricks. We were supposed to be engaged in “Finesse Fishing,” but we struggled to figure out which side of the rods to jerk. After tangling with every rock in the lagoon and losing countless jigs to the bottom, Werner finally landed the first Snapper through micro jigging. He quickly established himself as “Le Professional,” adding more Snapper to his tally. “The bites are soft and occur on the drop,” “Feel for the vibrations,” “Small bumps,” “Fish it slow” were the professional tips. Meanwhile, I looked at my 7.7ft rod with the small stick bait and thought, “No coaching required.” Then, it happened. I felt a light tap or vibration on my line, and I lifted the rod – fish on! I successfully landed my first brown snapper on a tiny jig. The size didn’t matter; at least I wouldn’t be skunked in my first micro jigging session. As the session continued, we hooked fish more regularly, and Chris was less stern with us old-timers. We returned to camp with a variety of Snapper, some small jacks, and a couple of grunters. It was a fun session, and I found myself disliking jigging a little less.
Seizing the Tides: Jacks, Snappers, and Micro Jigging Adventures
AJ: The following day brought another early start, and despite the wear and tear our bodies had endured over the past few days, we powered through thanks to a strong cup of Chris’ coffee. A short while later, we were at the mouth again, ready for a new day of adventure. The initial casts were merely practice, as the tide had yet to turn, leaving our lures stationary. One of the remarkable things about Sette Cama is how quickly the fishing improves when the tides shift. Within moments of our lures drifting with the outgoing current, Werner and I simultaneously hooked into Jacks – a double hookup. Jacks are incredible fish, built for the hunt. Some were battle-scarred, showing signs of close encounters with sharks or barracudas, while others looked sleek and pristine.
The morning brought numerous Jacks, and Werner established himself as the “Snapper Meister” in the surf, landing some impressive catches using paddle tails. As the tide changed and the action slowed, we returned to camp for a quick coffee and croissant before embarking on another micro jigging session. This time, we quickly started hooking into fish, and I was becoming more adept at sensing the jigs’ movements as they fluttered down and bumped off the bottom. Whether it was because we were fishing better or we had found better spots, we began hooking and landing more fish, including larger specimens. During our fishing breaks close to the shore, we enjoyed some bird watching. We spotted flocks of African Grey parrots flying overhead, various kingfishers, Hornbills, bee-eaters, sunbirds, storks, and heron species. Palm-Nut vultures and Fish Eagles were a common sight and sound, reinforcing our sense of being in Africa.
Back at camp, we updated our scorecard and were pleased with our numbers. After a delicious meal, we took an afternoon nap – a wise choice, as the evening session promised to be fantastic. Making it count – our first time round.
AJ: We left camp at sunset, initially searching for busting Jacks. After chasing birds for half an hour, we decided to head to the mouth. We began casting from the south bank but had little success. As the tide started to turn, we noticed splashes over the sandbank. “Let’s move,” came Chris’s instructions, and Pascal quickly transported us to the other side and onto the bank. We shouted “Jacks” as we could clearly see splashes just beyond the sandbank. Werner and I hurried off the boat, racing to the drop-off. Our first casts landed among the splashes, and I had barely closed the bail arm when my line tightened – “Fish on!” I instantly knew it wasn’t a Jack; I proudly exclaimed, “Snapper,” and Chris rushed over to assist. It was a substantial Snapper that put up a spirited fight. Werner was to my left, and his rod suddenly bent over as he was dragged toward the drop-off. Over the sound of the waves, I could hear his reel screeching as the line rapidly disappeared. I was alarmed to see that more than half the spool of line had been pulled out into the darkness. The rod tip bounced up and down a few times as the Tarpon jumped further away, trying to shake the 90g lure. Werner was now about 50 meters from where he hooked the fish, and more “F” words followed as he struggled to stop the fish. Finally, he managed to halt the fish’s progress, but now they were in a classic standoff. The Tarpon wasn’t moving, but Werner wasn’t able to gain any line. This tug-of-war lasted for about ten minutes, and Werner had been pulled about 100 meters from where he hooked the fish. He gradually started to retrieve line, applying steady pressure and frequently shifting the rod from arm to arm. We eventually saw the fish’s fins surface, and a few more “F” words ensued – this was no ordinary-sized Tarpon; it was Werner’s first. At this point, we needed to maintain composure, as landing a big Tarpon can be treacherous. Many things can go wrong, and there are numerous stories of anglers and guides sustaining injuries during such encounters, with some even getting knocked out. Landing a beast like a Tarpon in Sette Cama, where hungry bull sharks abound, strong currents prevail, and sometimes shore breaks occur, is considered an extreme sport. Werner maneuvered the fish into shallower waters, but he had no idea of its size. Chris and Graeme Lee engaged in an MMA-style battle with the Tarpon, and I joined the struggle. Eventually, we managed to pull the fish into shallower waters, revealing a 180cm Tarpon. It was Werner’s first Tarpon at Sette Cama, a fish of a lifetime. I glanced at his face, which appeared to be a mix of relief, pride, and joy rolled into one. His face was wet from the ocean spray, slightly tanned, but there was a glint in his eyes I had never seen before. After taking photos and releasing the Tarpon, it was time to celebrate. We retold the story of the take and the battle, toasted, and exchanged high fives. Adrenaline coursed through Werner’s body, and as it waned, he sat in the boat with a silly grin. He eventually said, “I told you all I wanted on this trip was a Tarpon. My trip is complete; this is the best fishing day of my life,” holding out a beer can for yet another “Cheers.”
A Knife to a Gunfight.
AJ: For our morning micro-jigging session, Paku was our skipper. Chris had camp logistics to attend to, so it was just Werner and me. Micro-jigging had become our go-to activity between mouth sessions, foregoing sleep or idle time. After all, we were there to assist with exploring the lagoon’s treasures. Our first drift took place in an unassuming spot near the camp. Unlike the previous jigging spots, which were in areas with bays or defined points, this spot was along a straight bank, with a bit more current. I made my first cast, not expecting much. As the 20g jig touched the bottom, I lifted the rod for the initial jig. But as the jig left the bottom and started to descend, it was hit hard! I instantly knew this was not a small fish, as the line peeled off my Twin Power at an alarming rate. Paku confirmed, “Good Fish.” The Pencil Rod bent almost like a ‘U’ as the fish darted around. I tried to slow the fish by tightening the drag, but it didn’t have much effect. I looked at the rapidly emptying spool and realized I needed to apply more pressure, gripping the spool tightly and steadily increasing it. The fish slowed, then made another run. I tried to halt it but to no avail. “Off” – a frustrating moment. The jig remained on, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that the small hook was the issue – it had bent wide open. I replaced the hooks and made another cast. “Boom!” on the third or fourth bounce, I hooked into another substantial fish. Paku confirmed, “Good Fish,” and the reel screamed again. As the fish dived under the boat, a series of “F” words followed, and then SNAP! “WTF, dude,” Werner added. This scenario repeated itself another three times before the fish lost interest. I was 0 for 6, with cut-offs on the rocks, straightened hooks, and broken lines. I had been soundly defeated, and Werner quipped, “Uncle, you brought a knife to a gunfight.”
Pushing the Boundaries
Chris: Following the micro jigging drubbing that Werner and AJ took, the fishing days continued to improve. The tides and coefficients aligned perfectly. On the last day of fishing, we decided to do one final extensive micro-jigging session.
AJ: Chris listened to our stories about the ones that got away with a look in his eyes that said, “I’ve heard that story many times before.” I thought we might have stumbled upon an even bigger micro-jigging opportunity than Ed’s “tips” suggested. Challenge accepted. We planned to change hooks, increase leader strength and diameter, and use larger, stronger jigging hooks. I replaced the double hooks with single assist hooks and upgraded to a 40-pound leader. Game on! On the last morning of our trip, we revisited what we now affectionately called “The Uncle’s Alley.” This time, Chris joined us to capture some marketing material. Paku set us up for the first drift, but as I tried to explain to Chris where the fish were last time, I felt gentle taps on my line. I raised the rod while reeling down and immediately hooked into a hard-hitting fish. At that moment, I relived the entire process from two days ago, but this time, I had a bigger knife. I applied maximum pressure, and the 40-pound leader was more resistant to the rocky bottom. I gradually gained control over the fish, which made a few more runs. Finally, I had the fish under the boat in about 5 meters of water. Our first words upon seeing the massive swirl followed by the “number plate” would make a sailor blush. Chris was ready with the camera. After what felt like an eternity, Paku lifted an impressive 8kg Brown Snapper into the boat. I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement – it was astonishing that this tiny rod, a 20g jig, and a bass reel had landed such a behemoth from the rocks in shallow water. We completed a few more drifts and landed several high-quality fish in the 3 to 5kg range. Chris captured some great footage, and we were pushing the boundaries of micro jigging at Sette Cama, thoroughly enjoying it.
That evening, on our way to the mouth, I landed an even larger Snapper, marking the beginning of an unforgettable session – the most epic I’ve experienced in my three trips to Sette Cama. Ps: I no longer hate jigging!
A Night of Tarpon Triumph and Heartbreak
Chris: After a brief mid-day siesta at camp following our successful morning of micro jigging, we headed back to the mouth to fish during the outgoing tide. We anchored our boat on the sandbank and made our way to the edge of the sandbank. The session started well with a small Tarpon caught by AJ, an incredible start. The following five hours turned out to be the best session of our trip. Many large Tarpon were hooked but sadly lost, as we watched them jump and throw lures under the full moon in the channel in front of us. In between Tarpon, we consistently caught numerous large Jacks and good-sized Snapper, keeping AJ and Werner busy throughout the session. During the session, AJ hooked a very large Tarpon – it was a beast of a fish. The battle began, and we fought the Tarpon for over 45 minutes. The Tarpon eventually tired and started to circle, which is a sign of a tired fish. A few minutes later, we had a 200cm Tarpon on the surface, ready to be landed. But then, disaster struck. The Tarpon dove again, got tangled in the line, and snapped it. We watched the giant Tarpon swim away, disappearing into the night. AJ was devastated. But that’s the way fishing goes; it can be both the highest high and the lowest low. Still, there was no time for disappointment, as the action continued at a frantic pace. The massive Tarpon marked the highlight of the session, and it was exhilarating to see such a monster in the moonlight. It was a fitting end to a week filled with adventure and excellent fishing.
Werner: Apart from my big Tarpon catch, another highlight was the morning when a group of Humpback Whales swam right past our boat as we fished the mouth. They were so close that we could clearly see the barnacles on their skin and hear the loud exhales as they surfaced. The sheer size and majesty of these creatures was awe-inspiring and reminded us of the incredible wilderness we were fishing in.
AJ: As Werner and I reflect on this trip, it’s clear that this exploratory season was a remarkable experience. The fish at Sette Cama never fail to amaze us, and this week was no exception. We discovered new micro jigging opportunities, watched massive Tarpon leap, and experienced the wildness and beauty of the Gabonese coastline. We hope to return to Sette Cama, as there’s always more to explore and more fish to catch. Special thanks to Chris Matthews and the Sette Cama team for making this trip unforgettable.
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