There is a big surf on the beach and the high waves make it difficult for us. In combination with the strong current, it’s a tricky situation! In the midst of it all, we try not to fall over and cast as far as we can to reach the hunting jacks. It’s a madhouse, schools of baitfish erupt everywhere, chased by hungry predators! Our poppers are attacked in seconds and double and triple hook-ups are common! This place is WILD!
We are in Western Africa. On a beach in Gabon, where we are staying in tents near a stunning remote river. The river flows into the sea just one kilometer from our camp, it’s a true hot-spot and the main fish holding area. The current and waves cause disorientation for the baitfish, it’s an ideal place for big predatory fish to ambush their prey!
This trip was all about fishing from the shore, there were no boats to help us out this time! I’d not done a huge amount of this kind of fishing before so I did lots of research on the internet to get well prepared. A friend who had fished a similar place earlier that year provided me with valuable advice but nothing could prepare me for this hardcore adventure. It was much more extreme than I imagined.
Fishing with longer rods than I am used to, having to cast further and the difficult ocean conditions made it quite a challenge. Besides the chance of jacks, cubera snapper and tarpon, there is also the African threadfin. It’s a strange looking fish with extremely long barbules that can reach a respectable size and is a fish that is high on the wish list for the whole group!
There’s something magical about the evening sessions fishing on the beach. Dark clouds pass by, the last rays of the sun color the sky with bright orange skies providing a beautiful scene. It is a real pleasure to fish in this stunning environment. As the day turns to night we adjust our fishing style. Poppers are changed for heavy stickbaits and our head torches are put on.
The first lures I try are not providing any strikes until I attach a Salmo Warrior. I feel the lure vibration very well on the rod tip, much better than the previous stickbaits. Slowly, I retrieve the lure in the strong current when a heavy strike on the rod indicates a good fish! The hook is set, the fight begins and I warn my friends next to me. Everybody quickly winds in so I can walk past them to an easier spot.
A bit further down the beach there is less current and I can put more pressure on this strong fish. This does the trick and soon my guide, Nicola, can pull him onto the beach. The headlights go on and to our surprise it turns out to be a large threadfin! Everyone comes to check it out, none of our group has seen this species in real life before. At 118cm and an estimated weight of well over fifteen kilos, the evening is already a success! Yet it does not stop here.
I soon get another bite, this time it is a somewhat smaller cubera snapper. Apparently, my Salmo lure is the one they like, because a third bite soon follows with the rest of the anglers yet to have any action in the dark. This one takes quite a bit of line and is significantly stronger than the previous fish! Suddenly I feel the line scratching against something. Unimaginable, because there are no rocks here, maybe a sunken tree or is he behind a sandbank? Then it turns out that Raffaele is also playing a fish just along from me in the dark and the lines are tangled up. There is a moment of panic. The risk of lines snapping is high with a wildly fighting fish on both rods.
Fortunately, Nicola quickly finds out how the lines are crossed and after some careful unpicking we are free from each other again. I keep pulling but still I have to be careful. I walk to the calmer area again, but I am far from being in control. The fish continues to take line and shake its head wildly. It’s a chaotic situation, I can barely stand in the waves and current. But eventually the fish has to give in to the heavy pressure and we get the chance to admire a chunky cubera snapper with scary-looking teeth on the beach. Unhooking happens with respect!
Raffaele’s fish is also landed in the meantime and turns out to be a large threadfin, so we took a picture together. After this, the action is over and at midnight we go back to the campsite. Exhausted and soaking wet, but thoroughly elated!
Fishing is best when the water is dropping as at that time the current and waves are at their maximum, but there is also plenty to do outside this period – and not just where the river flows into the sea. Even the elongated, featureless beach offers possibilities. It looks the same everywhere yet this part is also visited by all kinds of predatory fish.
We try our luck and fish the expansive open beach, casting towards the horizon, always looking for signs of feeding fish. There’s nothing to see, until suddenly Claudio’s popper gets smashed! I am standing next to him and see that there is nothing he can do as the fish takes a long unstoppable run! It takes a while before we have the fish in sight. A sizeable jack appears in the surf and with a lot of effort we get it onto the beach. It’s the biggest jack I’ve ever seen. Massively built and probably close to twenty kilos!
The irregular fishing times based around the tide consume energy so we try to rest in the afternoon and prepare our gear for the next session. However, not everyone can resist the urge and Raffaele casts out a bait to soak in front of our campsite. It doesn’t take long before something picks it up too! There are many smaller catfish in the river, but this one turns out to be another threadfin that we admire in daylight this time! They are such remarkable creatures with their bizarre barbules.
By dusk we are back on the beach. The evening starts well with stacks of action. Big jack crevalles are plentiful, testing our tackle to the limit. The smaller, but even prettier longfin jacks, hunt between their bigger brothers. The baitfish don’t stand a chance here!
The tide is again beating against the current, causing huge rips, eddies and waves. In the dark, the action continues but now it’s the threadfins time to hunt. Various fish up to about 35 kilos are landed! Suddenly I see a lot of headlights being turned on where we stashed our gear. When I go to take a look, I am shocked to see that Antonio has a large treble in his hand!
While unhooking a threadfin, the fish went wild and an Owner 3/0 got stuck deep. The hook is in a very unfortunate place and first attempts to push it through or pull it back come to nothing, except for inflicting searing pain upon Antonio.
We decide to go back to the camp and have a look there. We disinfect a sharp knife and try to cut away some skin, but this is too painful and the large barb is really deep. We go for option two, fast but also very painful. We wrap braided line around the stuck hook point and try to pull out the treble with a solid tug. Antonio takes another sip of whiskey and we count down from 3 to 1… Antonio screamed and cursed, but it worked….the hook was out!
The wound is disinfected and bandaged. This proves once again that it is important to have some first aid material with you. In a remote place like this it easily takes half a day or more to get to proper medical care.
The following days, we alternately fish the hotspot at the estuary and various spots on the long beach. Every time is different. Sometimes an active school of jacks, other times just the odd cubera. To my surprise I even manage to catch a nice catfish on a shallow stickbait. However, some of the fish we hook remain unseen.
I am standing next to Bastien when he has a fish on that just keeps going. Slowly but steadily, I see the spool getting more and more empty. The drag is almost completely locked and the rod takes on a dangerous curve, but the fish is unstoppable. Eventually the braided line snaps. What could it have been….a big jack crevalle, monster cubera or something else?
The one fish notable by its absence is the tarpon. We have seen pictures of fish over 100 kilos caught in the same area before, but we barely saw them on this trip. Nicola had six bites in four casts (!) one night, but all were lost! Then the school was gone. Their hard jaws make them difficult to hook, especially when they jump. However, that changed on the last morning.
It is close to slack tide and the current is almost gone. The expectations are not very high, yet my stickbait is immediately smashed at the first cast! During the fight I notice that it is not a jack, but I cannot determine what it is when suddenly the fish comes off. I quickly cast again to the same spot resulting in another lost fish. This happens a few more times and I am becoming a bit frustrated. Then it becomes clear why when Raffaele lands a small tarpon next to me. That explains why they kept dropping off!
I switch lures and try to find something that works better. Eventually a smaller popper comes to the rescue. I cast and just before the drop-off there’s a big swirl in the surface and my popper is gone! After the strike I don’t give the fish an inch and slowly back up the beach. The tarpon doesn’t know what to do in the shallows and I have luck on my side. Nicola and Raffaele come to lend a hand and a nice tarpon is my reward. Not one of the monsters that swim there, but I’m very satisfied with my metre long specimen!
We will definitely come back to this special beach. For the adventurous angler, this extreme place has a great attraction. You also have the chance of a true monster……to be continued!