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December 11, 2011

BOTSWANA: Okawango fishing report

With the unusually high water flowing through the Okavango this season, the ubiquitous catfish runs took a while to get going. However, any shortfalls in September were certainly made up for in November.

The unseasonably high flow regime encountered during the early days of September became a highly contentious debate amongst those who frequent the lodges, camps and bars of the Okavango’s Panhandle. The main concern among the fluff chucking brigade – simply put – was that the high water was not conducive to fly fishing. Another concern was that the catfish runs would remain scattered throughout the inaccessible backwater channels. As with most things in life, the symmetry of nature’s balancing remains impressive. Towards the end of the season – when the catfish runs showed no sign of slowing down – we realized that a meager start was balanced out by a grand finale!  The old age adage of swings and roundabouts has never rung truer. The catfish phenomenon continued well into November and Tourette Fishing guests were treated to an epic run right in front of camp in the last week of the season!  This is an exceptional occurrence as these runs are usually well past Nxamaseri by mid November!

With the high water temperature from early to mid-November, the tigerfish surface feeding frenzies became a daily spectacle. During the early days of November, Richard, Malcolm and Peter experienced several afternoons of pure top water madness. Fishing downstream of the island through an area we call the flats, we experienced some of the most frenetic feeding frenzies of the season. The scene which unfolded before us, will remain deeply etched in the minds of all those who witnessed it. Shoals of various fish – mostly juvenile bream and silver catfish – were flushed from the reeds by a writhing mass of voracious catfish. The sight of several hundred – occasionally several thousand- catfish feeding in unison is a spectacle which would impress anyone.

The catfish run itself is a natural phenomenon which everyone – be they a fisher, aspiring naturalist or simply an outdoors person – should witness during their lifetime.

If the sight of big tigers smashing through shoals of fleeing baitfish doesn’t get your adrenaline pulsing through your system then nothing will. To remain calm and collected during a feeding frenzy requires an uncommon degree of discipline. All those skills one has learnt and meticulously honed over the years seem to be no use whatsoever and even the fishing die-hards seem to fumble and fall apart! In short, it becomes unadulterated chaos. Blistered fingers, sore arms, broken fly lines and bent hooks are merely part of what the Okavango tigerfish experience is all about.

Anyway, back to the action. After positioning ourselves upstream and slightly ahead of the run we managed several nice tigerfish up to 7 pounds. As the afternoon wore on, the feeding action intensified. At one point the sound of the feeding catfish was so impressive that we found ourselves shouting across the boat. As the run built up to a crescendo we noticed a plethora of baitfish were being driven out into the open water and were attempting to reach the sanctuary of the reeds on the opposite bank.  This is when the adrenaline spiked to unprecedented heights. As per usual, we concentrated our efforts close to the feeding catfish, however the larger tigerfish appeared to have lost interest in the catfish run and were now feeding out in the mid-channel several hundred yards downstream. At first it appeared that the feeding frenzies were haphazard, occurring randomly throughout the open water areas downstream of the actual run. Then we noticed that the fleeing ‘fodder fish’ running the gauntlet to the opposite bank were being swept downstream in a wide parabolic arc. The tigerfish quickly figured out where to hold station and let the food come to them. This was fast food at a whole new level. As soon as we figured out that there was in fact a clear feeding pattern, we immediately moved into position close to the opposite bank where most of the surface carnage appeared to be taking place. The result was an instantaneous success and culminated in both Richard and Keith remaining continuously connected to big tigerfish for the good part of an hour. Sipping well deserved sundowners and pleasantly exhausted, we took a moment to appreciate the success of our fortuitous discovery. Everyone unanimously agreed that afternoon epitomized why we go to such great lengths to fish. Very often it is not about the actual catching of fish but more importantly the experiences and memories created while we do it.

All in all the 2011 Okavango season was a huge success with a record number of double figure fish up to 16 lb landed!! According to Lionel Song, this is by far the most double figure fish landed in one season. Furthermore, the abundance of 7-9 pound fish encountered in the Okavango this past season suggests that next year has all the makings of a great season to come.

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