Nile Perch

Christmas at Kasaba Bay – The mutiny

A great map of the area produced by Ndole Bay lodge. Nkamba Bay lodge is at the bottom left of the map. Copyright of Ndole Bay lodge (http://www.ndolebaylodge.com/)

After breakfast, we noted that the lodge employees congregated near the kitchen and that they were attentively listening to the manager. After a while, a heated discussion started. Apparently, it had something to do with the wages although we did not follow the deliberations with any attention.

We had already made up our minds to explore other accommodation located in the area and Anders had already gone to search for a better alternative. The ongoing mutiny had only reaffirmed our desire to leave. All we could do now was to wait for Anders, so we decided to spend sometime in the beach.

A couple of hours later Anders returned with good news. The Nkamba Lodge, sited about two hours from ours, at the Nkamba Bay, was a great looking place. Luckily, they had accommodation and Anders had already booked the last four rooms available, starting from that day! We quickly left the beach, packed and, after saying our farewell to the Manager and staff, we all climbed in the pick-up and departed. From now on, the other guests at the lodge would need to do their own fishing to survive!

Nkamba Lodge was built on higher ground and, at least for us at the time, it was a very beautiful and comfortable place that offered a magnificent view of the lake where we could see fishing boats moving in its clear waters.

The lodge was well run and that offered game viewing and Nile Perch fishing as its main attractions. What did we need! The lodge was in the Sumbu National Park where the rare Sitatunga and the Blue Duiker are found although we did not see them. We had spotted zebra and wildebeest from the car and we were told that lots of animals frequented the beaches, including Buffalo and, occasionally, Elephant, Lion and Leopard.

We also learnt that this side of the lake was teeming with Crocodiles –some up to six metres in length- so swimming was obviously not advisable and we tried hard to forget that we had been doing this for the last three days at the other lodge! We were also informed to “beware” of the Hippos that often emerged at night around the lodges on grass mowing duties. Birdlife was also plentiful and, apart from the spectacular Fish Eagles, we saw Skimmers and Spoonbills. We were also told that Palm Nut Vultures and Pel’s Fishing Owls were also occasionally seen but we were not lucky enough to spot either.

We decided that, apart from lounging in the pool and beach we could try our hand at fishing so the next morning, Anders, Bruno, and I departed before sunrise aiming towards the open lake where we were informed our chances were best, both of fishing and finding strong winds. Our skipper was the teenage son of the lodge Manager. The peace of the early morning was –regrettably- broken by the annoying sound of our outboard and the waves we created cut through an otherwise mirror-like lake surface.

We reached the chosen spot in a few minutes and started to fish for bait. This consisted in catching the Tanganyika Sardine (Limnothrissa miodon), locally known as kapenta. A small fish that rarely gets larger than 11 cm and that migrates vertically in the lake at different times during the day and night. It is fished by throwing a deep line with several hooks and subsequently pulling hard to foul hook them. If you are lucky –or hit a good shoal- you get several at once, if not, it can be hard work. Anders immediately became a “kapenta terminator” and supplied us with all the bait we required.

Once we had accumulated enough bait we moved to a spot where the large Nile Perch were known to live. There we baited large hooks fitted with steel trace and we threw our lines deep and waited. Not much happened and then we moved to another place where, again, our kapenta offers were ignored. Seen that we were getting rather impatient our skipper said: “I will call the fish” and without further explanation, removed his t-shirt and jumped into the lake!

Horrified, we watched him swim a few metres away from the boat while, aware of the six metre crocs that were supposed to be present, our eyes immediately started looking for water ripples that would indicate that one was coming. Our skipper stopped at about five metres from the boat and proceeded to repeatedly hit the water with both arms, splashing vigorously. He did this about ten times and then swam back very fast to the boat. Once onboard he explained that the technique worked for both Nile Perch and crocs, hence his fast swim back! It was clear that he had done this before but we declined to perform the attraction manoeuvre ourselves when he suggested it!

After a few minutes his trick seemed to work as Anders -again- got a mighty pull and our first –and only Nile perch- emerged. Not as large a monster as we expected but a rather babyish fish of about 5 kg that did not do much apart from letting itself being brought to the boat and immediately released as it was considered too small for the pot.

Soon it was lunchtime and, as we had no more bites, it was unanimously decided that it was time for a dip in the pool, a good lunch, and some resting on the beach. We agreed to return in the afternoon as both Bruno and I wanted our fish as well.

We went out again at about 16hs when the heat of the day had lessened and this time we saw a few large crocodiles so our skipper did not perform the earlier trick again! Perhaps because of that, we did not catch anything.

We started our return after sunset and then our engine stopped! All attempts at repairing it failed and we got stranded almost at the mouth of the bay. Although our skipper assured us that his father would come to our rescue, it was a weird feeling being alone in the lake with no lights and aware of being surrounded by large crocs so we kept our hands clear from the water. Luckily, Anders produced the brilliant idea of firing the flash of his camera at regular intervals and, after a while, we started hearing a boat engine that preceded the arrival of the lodge owner who towed us back to safety.

The following day we were due to catch our weekly flight back to Lusaka from Kasaba Bay while Anders and Birgit would continue with their Tanzania leg of their journey.

Fishing in Kenya

In the 19th. century, the United Kingdom started distinguishing two kinds of fishing: freshwater game fishing that includes salmonids (salmon, trout and char) usually caught using fly-fishing and coarse (rough) fishing that refers to angling for freshwater fish inhabiting warmer and stiller waters (rough fish), except the salmonids, caught by other techniques. It was believed that only game fish made as good eating.

Not being British, I regard this as an academic issue but I am not interested in fly-fishing, having tried it, so I -proudly- fall under the coarse fisherman class. This condition gives me a license to fish anywhere and I am happy with that!

Several of my friends and colleagues in Muguga, Matt, Robin and Paul, were fly-fishers although the latter enjoyed coarse fishing as well and I have already narrated our exploits in Corrientes[1], the Mara River[2] and in Naivasha[3] to name a few.

The fact that I did not do fly-fishing did not stop me from accompanying my friends when they invited me to go to the trout-fishing spots around Nairobi, the Aberdares and to the Sasamua dam.  Although Matt invited me to go fishing for trout, I never made it with him. I did go with Robin but this river fishing was unexceptional, apart from some unexpected encounter with the odd elephant in the thicket!

I also accompanied Paul a couple of times, including the weekend when we tried his car[4]. He used to go often to the Sasamua dam where, according to the connoisseurs, some truly large trout lived. On one of these occasions, after fishing from the dam wall without success, we boarded the rubber dinghy to fish in the open water. It was drizzling and I tried to persuade him otherwise but he was looking forward to try his newly acquired folding grapnel anchor.

As expected, the fishing was bad and we got soaked but the anchor did work, too well. It got hold of the bottom of the lake immediately but, when we tried to retrieve it, it got stuck and the second rope to pull it from the front snapped so that was  fool-proof anchor that operated with two ropes, one to fold it and one to retrieve it. An interesting contraption.

A folding grapnel anchor.

To his credit, Paul kept going to the Sasamua, despite the odds and, eventually while fishing on his own he caught a rainbow trout that came very close to the Kenya record! It is the largest trout I have seen in the flesh! He was, justifiably, very pleased with his trout. Not only he got a fibreglass cast made but also he kept it in the freezer to show it to his friends! It was eventually eaten at one of his birthdays.

For an attempt at true coarse fishing we traveled to Lake Victoria in search of the introduced Nile Perch (Lates niloticus), one of the largest freshwater fish, it can reach a length of 2 m and weigh up to 200kg! We were aware that the latter were difficult to get but our hopes were high.

Nile Perch was introduced in Lake Victoria in the 1950s. Its introduction was ecologically disruptive and the subject is well known[5]. However, we were not going there in a “damage assessment” mission but to try and get some out of the water!

Nile perch drawing. Credit: Nile_perch Attrib- Boulenger, George Albert; Loat, L. [Public domain].

Working at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), I could arrange accommodation at the institute’s research station (the same that was being built when I visited with my boss Matt years earlier), and we booked it for a weekend when rain was not expected.

Rusinga island seen from Mbita point.

We prepared the strongest tackle we had and took Paul’s rubber dinghy to have our own fishing experience. We left Nairobi early and after a long drive through Nakuru and Kericho, we got to our accommodation quite late and tired but looking forward to the next morning.

The start was the pumping of the boat by the lakeshore. This was a true public event and we were not short of volunteers to step on the pump and get the boat ready. We explained the onlookers of all sexes and ages that we were going to fish Nile perch or in their Luo language, mbuta. This caused quite a lot of excitement and anticipation for our return with the fish. People in Kenya were very hopeful!

The boat ready, we left the beach, taking great care not to enter the water as Schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia) was known to be a problem in this area. We sailed towards the east part of Rusinga island, where I was meant to work according to the original plan of FAO! Being a less populated area we thought that the fishing would be good. We decided to troll at about 100m from the shore using our largest lures.

We fished the whole day apart from a break for lunch and a rest and returned to Mbita Point empty-handed before sunset. We did not get a single fish bite and the anxious crowd that waited for our fish were rather crestfallen and soon left while we pulled the boat out to a safe location.

Alarmed and disappointed, we discussed the situation over dinner and following Mabel’s down to earth advice, decided that, despite our intention to do the fishing ourselves, we should swallow our pride and consult some “experts”. We knew that a new company was starting to bring sport fishermen from the Maasai Mara by plane and we decided that meeting them was advisable as our fishing time was running out.

The following day, after finding our the whereabouts of the fishing company, we boated straight to their camp. Luckily they had no clients that weekend so all guides were present at camp and they kindly gave us some useful advice that I still remember: “Fish by trolling near the white rocks” and added “you will find the rocks easily and these are the best spots”.

We had boated past these rocks that had been “whitewashed” by the guano of countless cormorants stopping there to sun themselves after fishing. We realized that the Nile perch would also feed on the same fish, coming from the deep.

Clearly these rocks were the obvious places and we had overlooked them! We wasted no time and as fast as the small engine could take us, we did a beeline to the first rocks. Luckily it was a Saturday and a market day so, although the canoes were there, the fishermen were at the market and the lake was empty.

We caught a small Nile perch on our very first troll! Although it was not of spectacular proportions, it was a Nile perch.

One of the first Nile perch I caught.
Mabel and her fish with others on the bottom right.

By lunchtime we had all landed fish and returned to shore to weigh them at the fishing camp and we gave them some to thank them for the information given to us. They were very happy as fish is the main item of their diet.

Thanking them again, we re-started our fishing and trolled near some other rocks where we caught a few larger fish, closer to the “real thing” although we did not have a balance to ascertain their weights.

We also tried our luck to fish them from the shore and Paul managed to hook one, although -luckily-not too large as to bring it in would not have been easy with the tackle he had.

This time our return to Mbita Point was very different as we came with fish that we gave to the waiting crowd that were immediately cut up and shared. Our mood had also changed and we slept dreaming with our catches!

The following day, during our long return journey we had lots to talk about!

[1] See: https://bushsnob.com/2015/01/28/a-fishing-expedition/

[2] See: https://bushsnob.com/2017/02/05/camping-in-kenya-mara-river-fishing/

[3] See: https://bushsnob.com/2019/11/23/lake-naivasha/

[4] See: https://bushsnob.com/2018/01/21/simbas-bush-baptism/

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_perch#Lake_Victoria_introduction

At the cradle of mankind

We saw the camp way before we got there and, involuntarily speeded up to finally arrive and have a break in our journey. Our entrance was far from a triumphal one. We got to the camp near the shore of the lake where the track suddenly changed into deep sand and we got buried as our car was not able to pull the trailer in the sand. Despite unhooking it, it would not bulge and, worse still, when Paul tried to help, he got also stuck.

Turkana safari Land Rovers jc and pr copy

Stuck on arrival at Koobi Fora.

Too tired to dig them out we decided to leave them for later when the day was cooler. So, we walked to the camp and did a few trips bringing our luggage. Luckily messages sent to the camp via the National Museum of Kenya had arrived and they were waiting us so our bandas were ready and very well equipped and comfortable so we could have a shower and relax during the rest of the day.

turkana koobi fora

Relaxing at camp.

Later on we decided to tackle the cars, more out of embarrassment than real need.

With the help of a few camp hands, we succeeded and we were ready to re-enter the camp now as a proper expedition, after a quick wash in the lake to freshen up. While digging our cars we learnt that the Koobi Fora sand spit was the best area for fishing and we had decided to try our luck the following morning and, with this in mind we had an early night as we were rather tired after a busy day.

Early the following morning we assembled the boat and a party ventured into the lake, heading for the sand spit as advised. The idea was to do trolling with our largest lures in search of Nile Perch or Tiger Fish as we had done in Lake Victoria, hoping to catch some sizeable fish.

We knew that the lake had a large population of crocodiles, some of them truly humongous, and that some of the lake dwellers hunted them [1]. Crocodiles were not new for us so, as usual we kept an eye for them but did not worry too much.

The sight that waited for us at the sand spit was as unexpected as frightening. The people at the camp had omitted that the place was the parking area where the they enyoyed their daily sunbathing. The whole length of the spit, between two and three hundred metres, was “green” with crocodiles.

In view of this unexpected and rather perturbing find, we decided to keep our distance from the area and fish some good distance away. As we approached the spit the crocodiles started sliding into the water, an even more unsettling situation as now we could not see them!

Despite this, we stuck to our plan and fished, perhaps at a greater distance from the sand as previously thought. We trolled along the spit and, every time we passed, the crocodiles -clearly with large mouths but small brains- kept jumping into the water only to climb back again on the sandy spit once we had passed! We trolled the whole morning but only caught a couple of small Nile perch and one Tiger fish. We were not impressed and decided to come back in the afternoon.

The lake has no outlet and water levels are kept by a delicate combination of the river waters, volcanic springs, rain (if it ever falls!) and evaporation. We noted that the water was a bit cloudier in this area, probably due to the entry of the Omo river from the north and we thought that this interfered with the fish seeing our lures. A good excuse for our failure!

The afternoon fishing, again, did not live up to our expectations and we only had a couple of bites but the fish got away. Busy fishing somehow we forgot the rather predictable crocs an we nearly came to grief when the boat shuddered violently and unexpectedly! A fraction of a second later, looking back we saw a commotion in the water and a large crocodile turned and showed itself clearly! The beast, I believe as shaken as us, crash-dived and disappeared.

turkana sunset in k fora croc.jpg

Sunset view of the sand spit and one of its occupants…

Luckily we did not hear any hissing so we assumed that the rubber dinghy was intact and, to our great relief, we saw no obvious damage. However, the crash shook us badly and, unanimously, decided that we had fished enough and that it was time to return to land doubting whether we hit the crocodile by chance or it came towards us with bad intentions or just got too close while having a look.

The crash with the crocodile rather than our rather poor fishing anecdotes dominated our conversation during and after the trip and, at the time, we did not of any one that had had a similar experience although today a few can be seen in YouTube.

That afternoon, after resting, we decided to have a swim in the beach shallows where we had seen people bathing earlier. While we were washing ourselves at dusk we detected a circle of red eyes at a distance and we withdrew rather fast from the water, ending our wash with buckets of water, quite away from the lakeshore!

Before we left Koobi Fora, we had a walk along the sand spit and, although we did not find any new hominids to make us famous, we saw the crocodiles from a different angle and we realized their true sizes and were rather impressed despite having seen many during our bush life. We also found lion footprints and decided that the wiser move would be to return to camp where we were informed that there was a lioness that “specialized” in hunting crocodiles.

That afternoon we packed our cars and got ready to start our return to Nairobi after a rather exciting time at the camp.

 

[1] Graham, A. and Beard, P. (1990). Eyelids of Morning: Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men. Chronicle Books. 260p.