The purpose of a vacation is to see and do things that you can’t experience at home. Otherwise you’d never go anywhere, which would be a lot cheaper and would allow you to sleep in your own bed. With that in mind, my wife Hanna and I just spent three weeks traveling through southern Africa hoping to experience as many new sights, activities and cultural awakenings as possible.
We were not disappointed. As we traveled Africa, each day offered up new experiences straight out of the pages of National Geographic. On our first day living on a houseboat on the Chobe River, which spans the border between Namibia and Botswana, we watched for 45 minutes as crocodiles feasted on an elephant carcass. When we later moved to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, we watched a lion guard a fresh kudu kill against jackals and vultures, as seven cubs sought shade underneath our safari vehicle. In Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia we witnessed a frolicking group of six wild dogs, an endangered animal of which there are only a few thousand left in the world.
It wasn’t just wildlife viewing, either. We fished for tigerfish, which are both the most exhilarating and the most maddening prey I’ve ever chased. They hit like Mack Trucks, run like Usain Bolt and jump face high before spitting your lure back in your face. We landed one of every five or so that we hooked, which apparently is par for the course. We also ate like royalty, including on Hanna’s recent 29th birthday, when the staff at Chiawa Camp treated us to a gourmet dinner on a boat parked in the middle of the river. We radioed back to camp for each new course (and possibly more wine) and the night concluded with a Zambian chorus delivering dessert while singing “Happy Birthday” in their native language.
Despite all of those new experiences, the trip was punctuated by an awfully familiar note, and a good one at that. George Robey, a son of the Buckeye State who married a woman from Zambia and then moved to Johannesburg, invited us to dinner with a virtual roundtable of his adopted country’s bass elite. In addition to George, who has turned Venom Lures into a tackle powerhouse in South Africa, we were joined by Werner Lubbe and Duncan Murfin of BASS ANGLER MAGAZINE (the country’s leading publication on the matter); Hendri and Kobus Oosthuizen, Africa’s distributors for Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits; and Mike Milligan, one of the Managing Directors for the South African Bass Anglers Association (SABAA).
Coincidentally, the dinner took place as the Election Day overwhelmed the United States. As we talked easily about our shared interests, I realized not only how much we had in common, but also how good we have it in the U.S. When the South Africans visit their tournament venues, there are typically no manicured ramps awaiting their arrival. Instead they find a properly sloping piece of bank, hope it’s not too muddy, and slide their boat into the drink, where they hope that no angry crocs or hippos impede their fishing efforts. Since most of their lakes are in remote areas and crime is prevalent, they often hire a security guard to watch their boats at night. Indeed, that’s not limited to just fishing – at each shopping center and restaurant there is a “car guard” who for an expected tip of a few Rand will ensure that your car is still there when you return. The vehicle you return to probably won’t be an eight cylinder Tundra or a big diesel puller, either. For a variety of reasons, most of the tow vehicles are much smaller and less powerful than the ones we take for granted here.
Despite all of those inconveniences, there is obviously a very devoted bass subculture there, and their reward for dealing with these hurdles is that there is some incredible fishing available. Multiple lakes in southern Africa have produced confirmed 50 pound limits, and George told me that the team of Ivan Todd and (five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier) Gerry Jooste won a three-day tournament at Lake Chicamba in Mozambique with 15 bass for 86.20 kg. Be sure to focus on the “kg” in that last sentence. If it had been “lbs.” it would still be an average of nearly 6 pounds per fish, but instead it’s an average of nearly 13 pounds apiece. That alone was enough to make me look up Mozambique on the map and inquire about the price of airline tickets. I’ve been to many of the best big bass waters in the world, including the California Delta, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Fork and El Salto, and I don’t think that any one of them provides a realistic chance today at that kind of catch under any conditions.
While the South Africans got me jealous with their tales of incredible fishing (even if exaggerated – as fishermen are prone to do – by a factor of 20 percent, it would still be off-the-charts exceptional), it was obvious that they are hungry for knowledge about the American tournament scene. They were curious about Ike and Swindle and my thoughts on the Alabama Rig and who might be a dark horse in the upcoming Conroe Classic. Hendri and Kobus told me about their trip to the Bassmaster Classic in Shreveport. Mike, who has a son in college in the U.S., took a 30-day stateside trip which included a week at Lake Fork. I guess the grass is always greener – they want the conveniences and structure of the American bass scene, and I crave the opportunity to fish for comparatively unpressured monster bass.
I went to Africa thinking it would be a once in a lifetime trip, one which required me to build up a war chest of savings and of vacation time from work to afford the chance to experience things that I can’t see at home. As I left Africa, I was sad that I had not had a chance to fish with my new friends, but a week later the concept of “once in a lifetime” has gone out the window. I am 100 percent convinced that I will be back, bass rod in hand, fending off hippos and crocs for the chance to do the thing I love most.