When conditions present a challenge, then sometimes we have to adjust our focus and our techniques, in order to make the most of our trip.
This happened to us recently on a fishing trip to the lower Zambezi, where we had been invited to fish with a new operation called; Zambezi River God Adventures, a live aboard operation, which covers almost the entire lower Zambezi.
I was very excited about this trip. The timing was ideal, over the last week of October, usually the best time for targeting tigers on the lower Zambezi. Also the concept of fishing different parts of the river each day was very enticing! I packed plenty of surface lures, as well as some bucktail jigs and copper spoons in preparation for an amazing tiger trip.
The day we arrived was extremely hot. We stepped off the plane and were told by the pilot that the outside temperature was 55 degrees Celsius, which is pretty cosy, in fact it was difficult to breathe!
That afternoon and evening was very still, with barely a breeze to offer any relief from the oppressive heat. I woke up at around 3.30am to the roaring of a massive thunderstorm. The rain came down hard, and the wind shook the trees while thunder and lightning lit up the sky and rattled in our ears.
It rained all that day, filling the rain gauge to 170mm, a huge amount of rain in that area. The river level rose substantially, and of course the water became very brown and dirty, with plenty of floating debris drifting down with the current. The other rivers that flow into the Zambezi such as the Chongwe and the Kafue were also in full flow.
We were staying in the Royal Zambezi Lodge on the lower Zambezi before joining the River Gods Adventure crew. We were pretty dismayed by the river conditions, as it was clearly going to be very challenging to catch any fish on artificial lures with such dirty water.
We were collected by Cuan Meredith, owner of ZRGA the following morning, and taken by boat to the impressive mother ship, which was moored just off Chikwenya Island about an hour’s drive downstream from Royal Zambezi. We had a team chat, formulating our plan for the next few days. We all agreed that it was going to be very difficult to catch any fish on artificial lures, due to the dirty water. We decided therefore, to put our efforts into fishing natural baits.
I was quite excited at this prospect, as I had fished the area in the past with artificial lures on numerous occasions, but had spent very little time using bait on the lower Zambezi. This meant that there was a good chance of catching numerous species that I had not caught before, which is always a thrill.
We started out by taking some small bream rods and fishing in a pool on Chikwenya Island with earthworms and tiny hooks. We caught a variety of small bream, which we put into the live well of our boat, for use as live and dead baits later.
We then headed up, alongside Chikwenya Island, which is 8km long, and found a good spot to drop anchor and let out our baits. We rigged up with circle hooks, baited with a small bream each and made our casts.
It was interesting to me that Cuan chose to kill his bream and fish it as a dead bait. I rigged mine live, with the hook point going through the nostrils. Cuan cut the head of his bait with scissors, leaving the gills in place on the bream’s body, and clipped off the fins. He explained that the scent that would be sent downstream would attract fish. I decided to stick with the struggles of my live bait to attract some predators.
As a lure fisherman, it felt odd to me that we were sitting doing nothing, yet we were fishing. I quickly got into the swing of it though, when Cuan handed me an ice-cold beer and I settled into my chair and waited.
It didn’t take long before one of the drags started screeching, it was Cuan’s rod, and he picked it up and tightened up. After a short fight, Cuan landed a feisty little tiger of around 4lbs.
A little later his bait got picked up again and the fish took off downstream with some speed. He set the hook and started fighting a heavy, hard fighting fish, which eventually came up next to the boat and we saw that he had caught a solid vundu.
We lifted our anchor and drifted back down towards the mothership, spinning towards the bank with lures. I had a couple of smashes on surface lures close in to structure, but no solid hookups.
That night we had a fantastic dinner on a sandbank, next to the mothership, then went to sleep in our comfortable tents on top of the boat roof.
The following morning we went upstream with the fishing boats and spent a few hours casting some lures, trying in vain to pick up a tiger on artificial. After that we headed back for a breakfast, then the crew cast off and we made our way downstream on the mothership.
It was an amazing experience steaming slowly down the Zambezi, sitting on the roof with a great view of the bush around us, and some cold beverages in hand. We saw plenty of birds and wildlife along the way. Apart from the usual pods of hippo and giant crocs, there were buffalo and elephant, along with many species of antelope. Many of which would not have been visible to us from water level, but we had grand stand seats to enjoy the passing spectacle.
We stopped on a shallow sandbank, where the crew setup a gazebo and some chairs and tables so that we could have a comfortable lunch in the shade, with our feet in the lovely cool water.
After lunch, the mothership headed off on its own to find a pace to set up camp for that evening, while we jumped onto the fishing boats and went off in search of some fish.
We went downriver, past Shamashanga, Tafika and Chewore, and made our way into the Mapata gorge, where the mountains came down steeply into the river. The river narrows a lot in the gorge and becomes deeper with faster running water.
We fished with baits for a couple of hours, I managed to pick up a tiger and a vundu.
The next day we fished with earthworms around some rocks on the side of the gorge and got into a variety of species. We caught red breast tilapia, Cornish jack, electric catfish, silver barble, chessa, nkupe, Zambezi parrotfish and a couple of species of squeaker. It was a lot of fun catching all of these species and getting an opportunity to have a good look at them.
The Zambezi River Gods setup is amazingly simple, yet all details are well taken care of. Accommodation is a very comfortable, and the food was delicious. The trip was something very different and offers a superb lower Zambezi experience, giving anglers an opportunity to see so much more than they would if they were based at one lodge for their stay. I am certain that it is going to be a massive success, the only problem being that it is going to get harder to get a booking, due to its increasing popularity.