When we arrive at our campsite after a long drive through the desert, it looks like we ended up in a refugee camp! There are some homemade tents and a single thatched hut. Here, we have to survive for the next ten days. We are in Djibouti, Africa, but it looks like we’re on the moon, given the extreme volcanic landscape. This rugged, mountainous area surrounds the lake of Goubet. Except for a single sandy beach, there are razor-sharp rocks everywhere. Moreover, the wind is blowing very hard. It will be a big challenge to catch a fish here!

Very impressed by this extreme place, we start rigging our rods. Little is known about the fishing on this lake, which is connected to the Red Sea. Everything is possible, from beautifully colored snappers and groupers to huge GTs. But where are we going to start? First, we go for a walk around the camp. Only taking a 100g spinning rod, some lures and spare material. Every rock and drop-off are fished and it doesn’t take long before we find some action!

The first look of the place reminds me of a refugee camp

A large snapper emerges from the deep, azure-blue water, he follows the lure and just before it gets to the shallows, he smashes it with full force! The snapper takes line, too much line and just a second later he is stuck under a rock and the line breaks. This requires an adjustment. The spinning rod with 65 pound line is a bit too light in these circumstances. The fish are bigger and stronger than we expected. We are too far from camp to pick up another rod. I decide to (almost) lock down the drag, it will be all or nothing!

As we walk on, Michael sees a large Napoleonfish. From the top of the hill we can see the beautiful dark blue fish. Michael climbs down while I try not to lose sight of the fish. On my instructions Michael casts several times at the Napoleonfish but unfortunately he does not show any interest.

Exploring the remote lake

As we continue to walk, we see a school of baitfish swimming in a quiet bay. They naturally attract- predatory fish which is immediately confirmed when Michael hooks a bonito. When the bonito is close to the shore, it suddenly gets attacked by a big grouper and a snapper! Wildly hunting among the rocks they try to get the bonito. In total panic, the bonito almost jumps on the shore, and all this happens right under our noses!

I throw my stickbait at the hunting fish, but they are totally obsessed with the bonito. They didn’t even notice my lure. Then, all of a sudden, the fish disappear back to the deeper water again. We continue to fish this part of the bay, changing lures, but it seems that most of the activity has ceased. Then the big snapper appears again, out of nowhere! He’s swimming close to the rocks, probably looking for the bonito.

Climbing rocks with just the basics, rod and backpack

This time he is interested in my offering and starts following my stickbait, then as soon as I stop the retrieve, he hits it and immediately tries to reach the dangerous rocks. I don’t give any line and the rod bends like never before. The water explodes, but I can just manage to keep him away from the sharp stones. This rod is far too light for brutal violence like this but thankfully it holds. When the snapper is losing strength, I climb down to land it. Once in my hands, I admire the beautifully colored fish and while removing the hook, I am closely watched by two big, brightly colored orange eyes…really bizarre!

After this, we only get some bites from garfish and I miss a GT. But the first impressions are looking very promising. The expectations are high and we are left wondering what else does this large African inland lake still have in store?

In the evening, the first experiences are discussed and a plan is made for the coming days. With the boats we are dropped at various interesting places. From there we go on an expedition to target the many kinds of fish that inhabit this lake. After the experiences of the day before I switch to a sturdy popping rod and much heavier line!

Maximum power needed to stop this big snapper!

The following morning it doesn’t take long before we have the first bites, but nothing sticks. That changes as soon as a hungry grouper inhales my stickbait. Unfortunately, I have just a bit too much line out and he manages to reach the rocks. Disappointed, I check the frayed nylon and discover the 200 pound leader is totally destroyed!

Thankfully, I soon get another chance. Again, it’s a grouper that intercepts the lure. Fortunately, this time luck is on my side and I can keep him out of the danger zone. Only now, to land it I have to climb along a cliff…it’s never straightforward. Most of the power is out of the fish, but it is still tricky. As soon as I climb down, there is a last surge of strength from the grouper and he wedges himself under a big rock. From the shore I can’t do much about it and decide to go into the water to assess the situation.

Even a 200lb leader is cut in a split second

With the line in my hand, I try to reach the fish but he is just too far. Completely in the water, I hold on to the rock and follow the line with my foot.  After a while of twisting and pushing, I am able to get the grouper out of the rocks and see the beautifully coloured grouper appear at the surface. Soaking wet, I climb back on the shore, but it was all worth it! By now its lunchtime so we get something to eat back at the beach, rest a bit and cool off in the water.

In the afternoon session we go to another area. The fly fishermen try a shallow spot looking for GTs, the rest fish the drop-off. This rocky wall goes straight down into the depths and is ideal for large, migrating fish. We start by covering the margins with big stickbaits. After a while, a huge GT comes out of nowhere, attacking my lure and misses. My heart is in my mouth when I see this monster. I continue fishing, but I can’t get this GT out of my head….they do that to you. Later on, I lose another big fish and also Stewart manages to land a beautiful red snapper at dusk, which is taken for dinner. A very welcome addition to the basic pasta with sauce!

Beautiful colored species fell for our baits

The fly fishermen also experienced something extreme, as we later heard. Besides the spotted GT’s on the shallows, there was a sinister find. While walking along the shoreline, they suddenly stumbled upon human remains. A complete human skull and bits of clothing. Probably a drowned refugee who has been washed up here. We already heard that a boat with refugees had sunk a few months ago. It is regularly in the news.

Exploring the lake on foot is an adventure in itself with only a backpack and fishing rod, looking for new fishing grounds. For miles we walk over mostly rough terrain and all the climbing and clambering ensures that the satisfaction is many times greater when we catch a fish. The wildlife and the mountains are stunning but occasionally we are startled when the army holds their exercises. We regularly hear heavy bombing and Chinook helicopters flying low over the lake. One time they even attacked the bank zone with heavy machine gun fire! There’s a reason that there is no fishing pressure here!

Not just from the shore, but also action from the boat

We also fish from the boat, but surprisingly, that doesn’t bring much luck. Only the first morning session was any good. Christer and I had a nice GT and red snapper but after that there is only sporadic action while fishing with big poppers and sticks. The channel that connects the lake to the sea is a hotspot for GTs, and even though there is a very attractive tide rip it doesn’t work out for us. Later, it would appear that timing is everything when fishing here.

The channel to the sea had been fished on an earlier trip and there was a lot of action in the dark. This time round we have a full moon and take our chances. Given the extreme current, the full moon is of vital importance because if you accidentally go overboard in the dark, you will not be found anytime soon, if at all!

Night fishing seems to be the trick for the big GT's

The narrow passage is much shallower than the lake. As a result, the water is pushed up by the strong current and creates waves over three feet high. The GTs are waiting around this area for the baitfish that are being disorientated. The guide does his best to keep the boat stable, but we still have to be careful. It is amazing to see that a place which appears empty during the day comes alive after dark. Eventually, we get ten bites in barely two hours.

A number of times they are able to reach the rocks, but we finally land six GT’s with weights between twenty and sixty pounds. All in all, a very productive evening and the highlight of the trip. 

 For more info about this destination or other extreme and challenging places, have a look at the Wild Sea Expedition site. http://www.wildseaexpedition.com/en/company-profile/

A dream catch for Nicola, a big GT on fly from shore!
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