Last month, I traveled to Central Africa for the first time to fish with a long time online friend, Dr Patrick Avery, in Cameroon chasing after Nile Perch, Tigerfish, and a host of smaller species on fly. We have been in talks to fish in Africa together since 2017 and it was a awesome to finally make it happen. One of the most physically demanding fishery I have been to, the Faro River is home to the most impressive variety of fish and animals I have seen. The days were brutally hot, the nights were pleasant and the fishing was incredible. Below is a day by day recap of the trip. Thanks for reading.
3/11/23 - I landed in Central Africa Friday night. After customs, a man with an unofficial looking yellow shirt but an official looking lanyard herded me into a cramped room. There a large man in a black shirt greeted me with a borderline eloquent bribe request. A welcoming gift. Honoring the ancestors. Are you rich? No no no. Do you have any money? None at all.
My offer of a 1/0 blue & white deceiver was demurred. Their loss, it catches everything!
Time for some freshwater river fishing until March 19th. In the words of the an airport porter “Big Boss Man” with Big Fish dreams!
Everything here, in the words of the late Larry Munson, is extremely large. The hippos, the crocs, the antelopes and everything in between. The animals are thriving.
Day 1 in Cameroon kicks off with high hopes. The cumulative jet lag is kicking my butt but fish dreams wait for no one. I quickly realize the bonefish booties were a bad choice. And perhaps carrying my big camera & binoculars was a bit ambitious. The follies of first day enthusiasm. After some tactic and fly changes I land my first fish. A Labeo. Funny name, super cool fins and colors. Soon after I land my first ever Tigerfish. A dream fish for me for years and years. A tiny terror and mad as can be. I get a nice gash removing the fly. Lesson learned.
This absolute unit of a mystery fish highlights Day 2. I streamline my pack, ditch a rod, and bulk up to wading boots for the second day and thrive. A variety of smaller fish occupy the morning until I climb a boulder at the tail out of a large pool, ruled by a solo hippo until just recently, and spot a 3', very dark fish holding in slack water. Likely a type of labio.
I scramble out of view, switch from a wire trace tigerfish fly set up to the tapered nymph rig. Back to the rock. The dark fish is gone. I wait. Gold tails flutter on the surface to my right. Niger barb. They chase the nymph but spook. I wait. The dark fish cruises into view. Atlanta carp fishing comes to mind as the fish chews the bottom, oblivious to my presentations. And then I connect. But with another fish. It's lighter coloring camouflaging it. A thrilling fight on 4x tippet.
The scales are rough and dry. I pass around the photo at lunch. Distichodus brevipinnis is Patrick's guess. Possibly a first on fly.
The nighttime casting in the dark for nile perch, the headliner of the trip, continues. With a fish over 100lb possible on any cast, the anticipation overcomes the labor of casting a 12" fly on a full sink line again and again and again. But nothing happens.
Day 3 in Cameroon arrives and I am fully Tigerfish focused after moving two big ones in the afternoon on day 2.
The rewards come in quantity if not quality. Around noon I skirt a group of hippos and settle in upriver. A bonefish-esque tan sand flat drops off into blue water. It’s exactly the formation big rainbows in Alaska love. When brown bottom becomes blue. And the baby tigers adore it as well. I land 7 on 9 casts. More small tigers fill the afternoon. Dusk arrives and its perch time. The 12 wt sings in the dark. No fish.
Tiger dreams occupy Day 4 as well. Fewer fish, bigger size. I’ll take it. To close out Day 4, I hike back to a run where I moved a tank Tiger, and massive hippo, on the second day. Here’s the journal entry.
“Know it’s going to be the first few casts. Deceiver. First cast gets a boil. Second cast gets nailed. Hookset rips thru my stripping guard. Dry line cus casting from way off. So strong. Reach a bit of a stalemate. Start putting line on reel. Then it surges downstream and to river right and gives a massive jump. Spits the hook. Duck. I did nothing on the Jump. Should have stabbed and driven back into the water. The line burn had me all flustered. Pissed.
Stake out the pool til 6. Nothing happens much. Watch some birds. Get a few nips from small fish while working the upper stretch. Tsetse get bad. All in my face.
Down closest to hippo to finish. Reel up. Going fast cus tsetse are annoying af. Sun is setting. Time for perch. Reel has slack in line so stripping off line to to redo. And hear massive water break. Look to hippo area. It’s half out of the water and closing. Oh $uck. I bolt upstream over the rocks. After 20 yards I look back. He’s settling back and laughing at me. Bastard.”
Victory arrives as the sun drops into the trees on Day 5. Hasan holds the GoPro while my long awaited double digit Tigerfish does its best to bite my hand off.
Three days straight utterly focused on Tigers. Spit hooks, heart pounding follows, watching my new friends hook all types of fish on nymphs, questioning my sanity, shouldn't I just enjoy the fishing, wouldn't it be fun to catch new species? No. I traveled to central Africa to chuck streamers to stone cold killers. Focus Kane, focus.
The blue & white deceiver slaps an eddy a foot off a rock island. Teeth and eyes rise above the surface to meet the first strip. One jump. Two jumps. Three jumps. I slam the fish back in the water after each. The fourth jump begins in the water and ends in the sand. Beached. Guttural roars.
The two youngest members of the angler & tracker party, Hasan and I gradually gravitated to working together, a reassuring safeguard in water choked with hippos and crocs, my lack of French necessitating non-verbal communication.
I am not sure what Hasan thought of the Baja-style stake outs, standing in full sun, 500 miles north of the equator, 100 degree heat pulsing, staring, waiting at a pool for hours at a time. But I know he was stoked about this fish.
Nile Perch baby!
After the sunset Tigerfish landing on day 5, I rejoin the group for perch-time high on life, confidence brimming, greatness in my eyes. I arrive to chaos. Fish are being fought and lost left and right. The momentum continues into the darkness and everyone hooks into Perch that night. Except me.
A little gift. Observance over experience. I watch as fish are lost in a myriad of ways. I start to form a theory. But I need a chance to test it. I have been fishing for 5 nights straight without a bite. A double tap on the 4th night but no bites. There’s a special labor to fly fishing for nile perch. Blind casting a 12wt with a full sink line and 12” fly in the dark.
The chance arrives the next day, on night 6. The second to last night of the trip.
I am casting from a small sand cove. Perfect for my theory. 15 casts in, the fly completely stops after the third strip. I bury the 8/0 hook. I hurry back to put slack line onto the reel. I completely lock the drag knob and return to the river's edge while reeling in. The fish will have to break the hook, 100lb leader or fly line directly. I am not going to give it an inch. No rock rubbing. No oyster ovations. No surrender. No retreat.
The theory works and I land my first Nile Perch.
But will the theory work on fish 4x the size of this one? I hope to find out next year.