My husband Mike has been dreaming about fishing at Sette Cama in Gabon for more than a decade.
When he eventually booked this trip of a lifetime with our son James and said I should come along, I was hesitant. I thought it might be wild, and that the level of fishing might be too much for me. But, the lure of an adventure to a remote destination and the chance to explore an equatorial jungle was enough to convince me.
Traveling to Sette Cama is an experience. We took two flights via Ethiopia, overnighted in Libreville at the Tropicana, then boarded the African Waters charter flight to Gamba, and then a boat to the camp.
Settling into Sette Cama
The lodge exceeded my expectations. It felt homely and relaxing and the accommodation was comfortable air conditioned en suite chalets . Delicious three course meals are served on the wide verandah with black weavers, sunbirds and orange headed lizards on steroids providing constant entertainment.
The fishing schedule at Sette Cama
The first evening was a night session at the mouth. It was wild!! On the boat ride there, we stopped to watch a long tusked elephant on the beach. Then we got off a little further up that same beach and started fishing. All well and good until the sun set!
We were told not to use our headlamps unless absolutely necessary and not to shine on the water. The waves were ink black and I couldn’t see a thing. I struggled to cast the heavy surf rod further than the first wave and while reeling in, nearly popped the lure into my face when I pulled it out the sand. I was uncomfortable and out of my depth. I felt disorientated in the dark and unsure as to why I had decided to come along on this trip. Then the action started. James caught a big cob, we landed a threadfin, a snapper, sand sharks and Mike hooked two big sharks that broke him off. This was why we had come to Gabon.
The night ride boat trip back to camp with lightening on the horizon, potentially dodging hippos went against my instincts and common sense . Was I being courageous or reckless? To be honest, on that first night I wondered if I was going to cope.
The morning session the next day started just before sunrise and involved looking for feeding Longfin Jacks. We chased them excitedly around the estuary casting into the splashes with lures and flies learning some of the tricks that our guides Mike Dames and Oliver Santoro had up their sleeves.
Teaching a flyfisherwomen about spin fishing
I was intrigued to find out that there were so many options; different lures and ways to retrieve them that could attract interest from fish and target different species. It was a bit like learning dance moves. There was the jig, the paddle tail , the jerk, the pop, the shiver, the pulse and the spoon. We cast to and caught jacks, snappers and ferocious barracuda until our arms ached.
Back in camp the chill time between fishing sessions was lazy hours spent reading, sleeping or swimming. The boys discussed tackle and plans and talked endlessly about fish caught and lost.
Glad to be a girl in Gabon
That night we attached glow sticks to our caps so the guides could see us in the dark, and we “danced” on the beach with lightening in the sky like a disco strobe light and the sparkle of phosphorescence in the waves around our legs like glitter. I felt brave and happy to be a part of it all. Glad to be the girl in Gabon. But the magic was broken and the dance moves quickly changed when Mikes reel screamed until it went well into the backing. It was another shark! His reel was spooled and the line snapped as he fell backwards into the water. (I thought it was pretty funny, but apparently it was too soon to laugh;)
Tarpon on fly
The next evenings fishing was beyond wild. Mike and James were targeting tarpon on a fly that looked like a small budgie. Apparently, conditions were perfect for surf in the river mouth. The boat was taken to the middle of the mouth where Ollie dropped anchor. He explained to the boys what was about to happen and how they needed to prepare and react so that there fly lines didn’t hook around their legs if/when a tarpon was hooked. It could pull the rod, or even them overboard into the water.
I wondered what I was doing out there and remember thinking I should have stayed in camp.
Out of my comfort zone
It felt edgy, I was nervous. I closed my eyes and waited. The current was ripping. Lines were out and slow strips being made back into the boat in the dark night under the orange moon. Deathly quiet and tension that could be cut with a knife. Just the sound of the water slapping against the side of the boat. Then out of the silence, Mike shouted “ Yes , I’m on”! CHAOS ERUPTED. The line flew out the boat as the tarpon headed out to sea. “It’s a big fish”, Ollie shouted as he pulled anchor and raced to the south shore where everyone jumped onto the beach and Mike continued to grind away at the reel, for what felt like ages. Lots of shouting instructions and encouragement to keep going. It was almost in – and then the line went slack. Shark!! Mike was broken.
They tried again. Same procedure. This time James hooked up but lost the fish when it jumped. On the third hook up close to midnight, James landed a mighty tarpon. The guides braved the waves and sharks to release it quickly and safely back into the night. Being there at that moment, seeing the catch, the silver tarpon, the joy, the fist pumping, hugs and delight made me realise that it was worth pushing myself out of my comfort zone to be included.
Despite tricky weather from lack of normal rainfall resulting in difficult fishing conditions for the next few days, Ollie and Mike tirelessly persevered to give us an incredible experience and lots of beautiful fish!
Kayaks, baby tarpon, and beach picnics
We spent a day riding quad bikes on the beach in the National park and fished off kayaks for baby tarpon on the estuary at Petit Loango. Another day we had a fish picnic next to the ocean and slept the afternoon away in hammocks tied between tall milkwood trees.
50 Pristine Miles
One of the things that impressed me most was the Beach Clean Up Project that is being implemented at Sette Cama. The plastic and litter on the beaches in Gabon is completely out of place. But a pro active decision by African Waters to do something about it is uplifting and inspiring.
This beautiful part of the planet is still true wilderness and it was a privilege to explore it.
The wildlife – leopard on foot
We looked for fishing owls and dwarf crocodiles by torchlight at night. Listened out for chocolate backed kingfishers and rosy bee-eaters. We saw Palmnut vultures and African grey parrots, a water chevrotain and a manatee.
I took a guided walk into the mangroves with Casa who has spent decades in the jungle. We waded barefoot through swamps and the sounds of the monkeys and forest birds were deafening. We didn’t see chimps or gorillas but were rewarded with a rare sighting of a leopard instead.
It was a wild and edgy incredible week of adventure and new opportunities and definitely the trip of a lifetime that I wouldn’t’t have missed for all the fish in Gabon.
If you would like to experience this incredible piece of Central West Africa, click here!
So well written. An adventure of a lifetime!
Thanks so much Sally 🙂 Hopefully we get to see you out on location soon 🤞🏽