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Nick Bowles

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Having had the good fortune of growing up in a very special part of the World in Southern Africa it is something that will always stay flowing in my blood. I was lucky that my parents enjoyed the outdoors, wildlife and fishing. As a young child I got taken to game reserves, beaches, mountains and enjoyed camping rough or in the middle of lion infested bush. Sleeping under the stars and listening to some of the most haunting noises made by mighty lions or small tree frogs. It is something that you may not think of everyday but when you sit quietly and reflect you realize you miss Africa, the animals, the wide open skies and being in the bush. As much as I have travelled and enjoyed many parts of the World there is always the longing to return to your roots and enjoy the simple outdoors of Africa and its wildlife and people. There are issues, violence, corruption but everywhere has its positives and negatives, but if you strip everything away and look at the true beauty and experiences that the Dark Continent has to offer it is simply an amazing place with lots of adventures and memories.

So when good friend Neil Shackleton asked me to join him and his family along with a happy band of travelers on a trip to stay at their Lodge Shackletons on the Upper Zambezi River in Zambia, I jumped at the chance. Many years ago I did a similar trip with Neil and his Father Howard Shackleton to a place just up the river before they built their lodge. This trip has stuck in my mind ever since and I was hoping to capture some of that same experience and fish we had on the last trip. It was not just the fishing it was the whole experience. And now that I sit and write this article I realize that the fishing might change, the people might change, the setting might change but the African experience stays the same, truly amazing!

After many weeks of waiting the time finally arrived for the family and me to pack our bags and head for South Africa. We were going to stay a few days with our partners and then I was going to head to Zambia. After a great few days in Kwa-Zulu Natal I packed my gear and headed for Johannesburg to meet with the rest of the team. I had spent many hours talking and emailing various people regarding gear. I had built up a small arsenal of tackle. For the last decade I have almost solely focused on big saltwater species so it was very exciting to be targeting ferocious freshwater tigerfish and the elusive 3 Spot Bream. But also I had to put a whole new range of gear together. I spent many hours on the internet and sending emails. Finally I had decided on my tackle and put in the orders. A very exciting time getting new Shimano and Megabass gear from Japan and South Africa. It was all packed into my trusty roller bag and ready for action.

Toyz from Japan including MEgabass Travel Rods

Stellas and Rapala

We all met up in Johannesburg and bordered the British Airways flight to Livingstone Zambia. The excitement was very evident with a lot of banter and laughs. The flight took us over Botswana and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and then we came in low over the spectacular Victoria Falls. We landed in Livingstone and met up with Howard Shackleton and a crew of vehicles to move all of us 2 hours to the Shackletons Lodge. We arrived at the Lodge and were instantly transformed into another world. The lodge is everything we were hoping for and more. The lodge is a mix of old school hospitality and modern bush chic. I was sharing a bungalow with good friend Dylan Buckley along with a boat for the next week. We made our way to our lavish bungalow and started excitedly unpacking and rigging up our gear. After a couple of hours and as the sun started to dip behind the horizon we were ready to take on the mighty Zambezi River. We walked up to the central lounge/dining area and were greeted by a red African sunset, raging fire and a cold Mosi Beer. Now we were truly in Africa!

Flying over the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana

Flying over the Mighty Zambezi and Victoria Falls

Finally in Zambia and packing all the gear

You know you on a proper trip when there are dirt roads!

Shackletons entrance and sign! We had arrived!

Our chalet and preparing the gear!

The inside of the chalet!

A well deserved drink at the bar

Finally all the gear is prepared and enjoying a raging fire under the African Skies! Priceless!

The next 6 days we spent waking up early and heading out onto the Zambezi on bass style boats and fishing up and down the river. We were centered perfectly at Shackletons Lodge to enable us to fish many parts of the river, from clay banks to rapid flowing water over sand banks to deep holes and reed forests. Initially we all dreamed of catching big fish on every cast but it became evident that the Zambezi has not survived millenniums by giving up her wares easily. We had to work hard to catch fish but if you put in the effort the rewards came.

Cold early morning on day one!

Final changes to the gear.

Dylan with the first tiger of the trip.

Breakfast after the morning session on the deck over the river.

Sundowners at the end of the first day with all of the team.

The first couple of days Dylan and I spent fishing the fast flowing waters for Tiger. After a slow start we managed to get a few smaller Tiger. We were fishing with light spinning gear with braid. We had a good number of hits but hooking up the hard mouthed Tiger turned out to be something that would continue to be a problem the whole trip. These fish are extremely aggressive and have hard mouths and jump so we had massive strikes, jumping fish throwing hooks and plain non hook ups. But finally the effort starting paying off with a few 3-4 kg fish and then on day 4 I had a great hit at sunset and the hook stuck. A big Tiger came flying out of the water. I had finally after about 20 hits stayed attached to a big fish. I put on the pressure and kept my rod low. The fish came easily to the boat and then became a wild thing. The tiger got a second wind and jumped, rolled and headed for the deep. Finally I got the fishes head and worked the fish to the net, landing a fantastic 7kg Tiger. A few pictures and the fish was released into the darkening waters of the Zambezi! A really great moment and I enjoyed it immensely. That night around the fire the story was retold many times as the beers flowed and the fire burned into the African sky.

Running up and down the river on bass style boats

Dylan with another smaller tiger

FInally on the board

Another good tiger

Tiger on a black Bucktail

Very happy with my biggest tiger! Worth the trip!

Sunset on the way home at the end of another great day.

Another great meal at the lodge. Food was out of this World!

One of the main reasons for the trip was to target the elusive 3 Spot Bream. On my last trip we had some excellent bream fishing but this was something I wanted to try and repeat as the 3 Spot is tough fish to target and needs patience and finesse. The river was about 2m higher than normal and it was going to be difficult to target bream as they live under the reed beds and in structure. So with more water the fish were spread out. Tanton Dace and one of his sons Joel had on the previous day caught some big bream and we followed their lead to a channel that became known as Hippo Channel as you can guess had some hippos guarding the southern entrance which gave us some exciting fishing! I had spent a lot of time working out the rigs I wanted to use for the bream and with light Megabass Rods, Stella 2500 reels and 12lbs braid we were ready. We used Mepps and Blue Fox no4 spinners with a worm rigged on the hook. We anchored up to the reeds and fished along and under the reeds working the spinners slowly. We tried a couple of places and then on one of the last stops I cast out into a small bay in the reeds and as the spinner touched the bottom I felt the very soft tap tap of the bream taking. Bang, I set the hook and all hell broke loose. The bream tore out into the main channel and peel off line from the tiny 2500 spool. I finally got the fish under control and to the boat. Once at the boat the fish went mad and ducked and dived under the boat, into the reeds, around the engine. A great fight finally came to an end and I landed a beautiful 3kg 3 Spot Bream. The trip had been made with a great Tiger and now a big Bream! Everything after this was a bonus!

Early morning start

Into the hard fighting 3 Spot Bream!

Bus bream! Trip made again!

Bending again

Another good sized bream

Now we having fun!

And yet another big bream

Waiting for one more bite at sunset.

Magestic African Fish Eagle.

Traditional Wooden Mokoro

End of another great day and another fire.

The next few days we caught some more nice tiger and we went back to our bream spot and caught some big bream in the evenings. Dylan was fishing with me and was a good fishing partner, taking photos, giving encouragement etc. But he had not had too much luck with big fish and had landed a couple of small tiger. But this all changed, Dylan on the 4th day landed his spinner near one of the reed bays and before we had even stood up hooked into a bus bream. The fish gave a very good fight and Dylan brought a big 3.6kg 3 Spot Bream to the boat. Great fish! Then on Day 5 Dylan was not finished and landed the fish of the trip. We were drifting down Hippo Channel and had the Hippos on our left about 30ms away and a crocodile on the bank on our right. As we drifted through the middle Dylan hooked up to a monster Tiger. The fish came out of the water and it was clear it was bigger than anything we had seen. The fish was a beast. It peeled off line and gave some huge head shakes. Dylan got the fish to the boat but she was not ready to be landed and ducked under the boat several times. Finally Dylan got the fishes head onto the surface and Charles our guided landed a monster 9.5kg Tiger. After many high 5s and pictures she was returned to the murky depths of the Zambezi. Dylan had stolen the show with two great fish.

Dylan fighting his big bream. Gave him a proper workout.

3.6kg 3 Spot Bream

Dylan into his big tiger, keeping the rod nice and low.

Monster 9.5kg Tiger!!

Final sunset on an amazing river

Finally our time came to an end on the Zambezi. It is one of the best trips I have done and this was only partly due to the fishing, but more to do with the experience of being in a special part of Africa at an amazing place with exceptional food, hospitality and friendship. Howard and Sherri Shackleton run one of the best lodges I have visited and their generosity will long be remembered along with the fish and friendships rekindled and forged. I have partly quenched my thirst for Africa for the moment but I will be back for more!

Vic Falls before we left a great country

Sheer power!

and Beauty!

Last Edit: February 19, 2015, 11:17:13 PM by Amr Kehila

Mahmoud Salem

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Great Report Nick
If you are interested in fresh water, you must try Lake Nasser

Nick Bowles

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Hi Mahmoud, thanks was a great trip. I was supposed to go to Lake Nasser about 5 years ago but never made it, still on the bucket list! Heard a great place and adventure!