Tides run about 55 minutes later each day. When we got to Sette Cama Camp here in Gabon sunrise was perfect for fishing the mouth of the estuary for tarpon and to try for giant African threadfin. Now the best tides are well after sunrise and because that’s midday, those fish aren’t there regardless of the good tide. This morning we fished the estuary for African cubera snapper.
No doubt my partner Mike wanted to try for tarpon anyway. He’s got tarpon on the brain. But after some convincing from me and Mark, he agreed to go full bore on a hunt for big cubera snapper. When the fish you want isn’t happening in the salt, you must switch gears otherwise waste your time.
The big cuberas handle the fresh or saltwater. They keep life simple, they live in places where there’s plenty of structure whether it be against the bank in sunken trees and stumps or where there are submerged rocks. As long as there are plenty of baitfish to prey upon you’ll find them. They also thrive where there’s strong current so when you find both together it’s a prime location. Of course, as long as there are no elephants!
Our boatman this morning was Paku and like the other boatmen he doesn’t speak a lick of English. However, he too can find the fish. The only issue we had with Paku was early on getting him to understand that despite huge schools of marauding longfin jacks in every direction, we didn’t want them. This had to be confusing. It was hard for me but I did my best to display some disappointment on this first accidental longfin. Luckily we picked off a couple small snapper and with hand signals made it known, snapper was what we wanted.
Once Paku understood the quest, off we went to his top snapper spots. With the chance of a 50lber taking the fly, I fished my 12-weight Winston and my 450 grain sinking Sonar. My fly was a big black and gold Brent Dawson Warpath Jig fly. The bottom line here is you need to get down to the snappers.
We hit a few structured banks and like each day the juvenile cuberas were abundant with the occasional gorean snappers mixed in. About every mile or so we drifted through some riffle areas created by rock gardens underneath. No doubt, these are the places that stand out and I could see Paku perk up with anticipation with each cast in these places. An hour into our search I buried the Warpath fly into something strong.
I know I’m repeating myself but snapper pull hard. In fact the first thirty seconds attached to a 10lb
snapper will test tackle like you cannot believe. Several times Mike went tight and he thought he had a monster only to learn it was another 5lber.
The idea is to not let the snapper run. They beeline for safety which are the rocks or the sticks. Once they bury you in the sticks you can’t pull them out and in the rocks the leader abrasion eventually leads to a break off. This snapper turned out to be only slightly better than ordinary which is why I was able to hold tight. But even so, he left my forearms quivering for a few minutes.
We didn’t touch anything big this morning yet we got pulled around, dragged around and got our arms stretched out for a few hours with Paku. It was an absolute blast. We shared the estuary with the forest elephants, exotic birds and we saw monkeys several times. The primates are too fast for my point and shoot camera but John Travis put some time in with the long lens and got this amazing shot of this red-capped mangabey.
The day turned into a scorcher. You can only imagine what that means here almost directly under the equator. After our beers and lunch I tried to nap but couldn’t. I took a short hike through the forest behind camp and arrived at a piece of beach I hadn’t seen yet. The surf was too big to consider retrieving my rods but it was a beautiful piece of water nonetheless.
At 5 PM we left for the estuary mouth. We were early yesterday but today we were way early. We tossed a few flies but to no avail. From 6 till dark we relaxed and sipped a few Régabs while we waited for the tide to drop.
We’re getting close to the full moon which means the change from high tide to low tide becomes more extreme. This also means the current during the dropping tide is getting stronger by the day. Tonight it was like a roaring river where Conrad caught the snapper last night. The area seemed alive with the tidal rip and I got one of those feelings as I cast into the darkness between Arno and Garth.
I was fishing one of my favorite Baja roosterfish flies. It’s a mullet imitation tied by my friend and coffee mug business partner, Mark Kuhn, better known by his nick name, Milkfish. This was a huge one of Marks flies so I had to be careful not to cast too hard or it would tail wrap. But man, in the water it looked so alive there was no doubt I was about to get my Winston nearly jerked out of my hands.
It’s a weird and hard to explain feeling that few anglers experience, but I made my cast and I knew the **** was about to hit the fan. And what made things more exciting is that I was wading thigh deep and it was a short cast into the darkness. Two strips in and I got a jolt like I’d hooked a hippo. In fact for about five seconds this was a legitimate fear.
But I had a snapper! And I’d already been snagged while fishing in this spot earlier in the week and I wasn’t going to let this fish hang me up and get away. I pulled my rig tight to my belly and though the drag was set so tight I couldn’t move it, I put my left hand completely over the top of the face of the reel spool just to be sure I could keep it in place. The fish pulled so hard that as I tried to lean back and went for the beach, I was pulled forward and dragged into the water. Scientific Anglers new 80lb shock tippet material is stronger than you think!
All that and the snapper still won round one. I held with all my might until finally the spectacle of power pulled me deeper than I wanted to be at night. The reel handle slipped from my hand and started slowly spinning. Once it started it picked up speed. I knew the fish was headed for trouble so in one last ditch effort I used my hand to stop him and then came the knuckle bashing that happened on the tarpon earlier this week. I don’t remember the pain but Arno and Garth said I was grunting like a wounded hog!
I never saw the line leave fast but evidently it did. When the reel finally stopped spinning and I was able to start reeling I was 20 feet deep in my backing. It’s no less than a miracle that this fish didn’t find a sharp rock to break me off on. It was then I knew this fish was mine and I cranked and reefed hard and fast until the fish thrashed near the edge.
Arno and Garth moved in to corral the African cubera. I had him shallow enough however that his weight alone had him beached. Big fat fish like this after a fight like that don’t have it in them to flip around much out of water. I dove into place to hold the fish I’d worked hard for all day.
This was a good one on the fly rod. Cuberas get more than twice this size but much bigger than this and you may be reading a much sadder fish story like last year’s Africanus blog. Mike and our friend Jeremy that works here at Sette Cama Camp came for the excitement. We admired the ferocious predator. His half-dollar sized eye looked at us all while the jaws opened and closed with such power you could hear the grinding of his massive canines.
After a few pics I released him then collected high-fives from the guys. They went back to dredging and I retreated to a log and enjoyed a Régab. My day was done and unfortunately that would be our one fish off the beach for the night.
Meanwhile, John and Conrad went out on boat duty. After Garths incredible session in the boat last night the boys had high expectations for jumping numbers of tarpon. Instead the tarpon fishing was dead slow, however, Conrad caught the highly prized Senegalese Kob. I would have loved to have seen this beautiful species in person.
It was another great day fly fishing in Gabon. We ended like the previous nights with dinner on the beach. We took turns casting in hopes for the illusive giant African threadfin but it’s becoming apparent they aren’t cooperating this week. No one really remembers the boat ride back to camp – we are getting tired!
A special thanks to my friends of Tourette Fishing – Fight it in Africa for inviting me on this unreal trip!