The Kwando Unveiled – A Tigerfishing Banquet

If you have ever dreamed of a journey and that dream has continued to journey with you, then you will understand how it is for those haunted by waters to hear of a new river. You cannot wake from it. It draws you in because you are within its catchment. Sooner or later, you shall tumble and flow into the main stream for that has always been your ending. Or at least, that’s how I justified dropping everything to leave last minute to explore and fish the Kwando River – something like the above that Norman Maclean would have appreciated.

Our journey began from Mutemwa Lodge in Zambia and we had loaded the Land Cruiser and Ali-Boat with parts and equipment. And spares for those parts and equipment. And spares for the spares. The vehicle growled across Western Zambia and obliged with our request for her to average 30km/hour, although we had to cajole and coax her around some meteor impact sites on the road that others had mis-identified as potholes. The greenery of the Zambian bush in late summer resonates like an opera with bold and blackish green Rosewoods holding your eye like the bass whilst subtle silver greens of the teaks and sausage trees string together the countryside, lively and verdant. I wondered why we in African travel insist that high season starts when this performance has experienced its annual wilt after performing beneath the unforgiving conductor we know as the sun too many times? Around 14.00, Gavin declares it halfway and we stop for lunch.

kwando-river-exploration

It never ceases to amaze me how the combination of white bread and bully beef can soak up a hunger like pro nutro with too little milk. Truly, the Banting diet is a solution to a 1st world problem and Zambia, knows little of the need to avoid carbs.

kwando-river-exploration-food

We head onwards and finally rumble into the town of Shangombo. It is neatly planned with a post office, council buildings and a hospital all square and orderly with good grasses between the buildings for the cattle. We are impressed. Our view changes to awe as we trundle to the edge of the Kwando floodplain and stare across the 8km wide floodplain to the pink, squat buildings on the other side. Is that Angola? Yes. Is that where Angola starts? Well no one really knows. All that can be ascertained is that you leave Zambia on the eastern bank and enter Angola on the Western bank. Running down the centre like a spinal cord, is our river – the Kwando. But unlike our spinal cords, she seems to be in constant torsion – twisting and wrenching as if in a fit, forming tight loops and bends within the restraints of the fragmitis reeds and papyrus.

kwando-river-angola-map

But right at this point, at this ordered town, the body has been dissected. Thanks to the work of the teams from Clay Disposal, a canal has been dredged across the floodplain (right). The water spills laterally from the main channel and fills the canal before it slowly filters back through the floodplain opening an artery of trade and connectivity between the town of Rivungo in Angola and Shangombo. Our first job is obvious – we need to see the other side. The Angolan side. The unknown.

kwando-river-angola

We have met Yves from Clay Disposal and he leads us with humility through the canal and across the floodplain after we launch the boat and when we alight on the Angolan side, I look back at the boat as if to mentally convince myself it won’t leave. Francis, our skipper, tries to strike up a conversation with a young child sitting next to the river. The blank stare of the response confirms we have left the land of the Lozi. Even as we walk a well trodden path to the Administrator’s office, my steps are light as if the thought of landmines are hooked in the soles of feet although my head denies it. Like schoolboys awaiting a hiding, we sit upright on large leather couches surrounded by Apple Macs and enormous flat screen TV’s waiting for the Administrator. But he arrives in a white vest and gold chain as opposed to the forbidding cloak and his beaming smile is welcoming. Yves passes our greetings and exploration intentions and we are kindly granted the key to length and breadth of the Kwando.

Again, the river seems so untamed that neither government can definitively take ownership and it remains a friendly no-man’s land. As it flows south from Shangombo it appears the natural divider of the 2 countries. However, should you head north, it quickly becomes the heads deep into Angola. We resolve to stay true to our Zambian origins and only head south. Keep it simple. Learn Portugese another time. On our return across the canal, we decide to throw a line. I am slow out of the blocks and I hear Gavin’s FAT RAP splash for the second time when the drag screams hysterically and a healthy 4lb tiger hurls itself from the Coke coloured water. A few minutes later, the first Kwando tiger is boated. But our casting is stopped 2 fish later as the first warm, syrup like rain drops hit. This quickly turns into a deluge as we race across the canal for cover. Oh yes, that’s why we don’t call this high season.  However, our hosts from Clay Disposal soon have us dry, showered and swapping stories over perfect steaks before we retire for the night.

Our only full day of fishing emerges from beneath the clouds like an otter from a dam, wringing heavy with oily, sticky moisture. But the incessant African summer sun is not easily beaten and by the time we are on the Kwando, the light is washed and bright like a new car. My expectations for the fishing though, are not as bright. The river is full and cola coloured with none of the clarity our hosts speak about that appears from May onwards. In addition, it is full moon – never my favourite time to fish. We take a little time to learn the river, the countless bends and turns have us confused and we soon can’t tell which side is Angola and which side is Zambia. Not that it matters – there is not a soul around. The only life beyond ourselves and the Kwando are the swooping bee-eaters and waterfowl. But we are here for tigers, not feathers. It doesn’t take us long to start cracking Kwando codes and by midday, the last of the clouds have burned off and our FAT RAPS and PEE WEE lures have all landed a Kwando tigerfish for each of us.

kwando-river-in-angola

gavin johnson tiger fish angola

Someone mentions lunch and as if the Kwando tigerfish can hear and understand English, they agree and arrive on mass to a banquet – a greedy gorging on plastic and balsa wood lures that are gleefully attached to our lines. The next 4 hours is madness. Cast for cast we are smashed by strong, healthy and beautifully conditioned tigerfish.

james williams kwando river tiger fish

We soon abandon netting the fish and only use the boga grip to speed things up and countless times we have a double up. The largest fish we land on our light spinning kit is 8lbs but we definitely lose bigger. Hands are bruised and lures shredded as the frenzy continues. On one particular cast, I hook and lose 4 different fish between the lure landing in the water and the end of the retrieve – as one fish throws the lure a second awaits snapping up the disorientated PEE WEE lure as it lands back in the water. I have never experienced anything like this and I have done some tigerfishing. We end up with well over 100lbs of tigers caught on our boat between the 3 of us in about 5 hours fishing and easily lose that amount again. We conceive, strive for and then achieve what we hope to be a continued trend – the Kwando 100 Club – over 100lbs of fish in one day off one boat using only lures or fly.

gavin-johnson-tiger-fish-kwando

tiger-fish

The lures doing the job were the PEE WEE in purple from Oargee Lures and the old classic Perch and Fire Tiger Fat Raps. However, the balsa wood Fat Raps definitely broke up under the constant gnashing of the tiger’s teeth while the Pee Wee swam on, scratched, but still deadly. An unbelievable day fishing a river I doubt has ever been fished before.

tiger fish oargee lue

tiger-fish-kwando

But the Kwando Adventure was to have one final twist in the tail. Did we really think that such a piece of Wild Africa would give herself over to explorers without offering a counterpunch? Thus halfway back from Shangombo, we should not have been surprised when the intermittent cello like noises coming from the front left wheel of the Cruiser proved not to be mud on the plates but the bearings collapsing. Ultimately, we were lucky not to nose dive into the road as the wheel very nearly cleaved right off.

kwando-river-car

We stopped, we saw and we got out the camp chairs to begin the long wait. Phone calls and sips of water turned to a leisurely lunch, which gave way to an afternoon snooze.

kwando-river-exploration-lunch-stopover

Our new friends from Clay Disposal and Dalmar went above and beyond by driving out from Shangombo to offer assistance. Sadly, the bearings they brought were the incorrect size but we shared a Coke beneath the shade of the Zambezi Teak before they left us.  We had to wait for support from Katima. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited while the cows came home – literally.

kwando-river-exploration-cows

And so we setup a fire and brewed the finest cup of TriBeca Coffee ever tasted at a bush breakdown. At 20.00, our hero arrived having changed his Superman suit for mechanic overalls and 2.5hrs later, we left our now well acquainted spot in the bush. It was still and calm on the banks of the Zambezi when we arrived at Mutemwa at 03.00am. The Kwando re-discovered, an adventure shared and banquet we hope to be offering in the next few months…dates and rates to follow!

kwando river exploration tribecca coffee