April 08, 2022 5 min read
Guest Author: Michael Ashley
“This isn’t easy Mike, to connect with a fish like this is an extreme test to the fly angler's skill and perseverance”- Teddy Coulter, African Waters Guide
I was confronted by a dangerously unassuming current to the front of me, and a seemingly impassable jungle behind. To make this type of fishing even more foreign to me, angling was done mostly at night when water temperatures would optimize for the Tarpon and assorted big game fish to move in. This meant Blind casting into the darkness as far as possible, aiming for the sounds of baitfish getting slammed by 40+ pound Snapper, Threadfin, and Tarpon at sizes that would make even an experienced saltwater angler nervous about the well-being of his gear.
(My Dad with a 300+ pound guitarnose ray)
Having only Fly Fished primarily freshwater/Anadromous species for most of my life, learning the ways of coercing saltwater gamefish to hit my fly was a new and exciting task and I eagerly accepted the challenge. I quickly learned that your strip speed here at Sette Cama was the key to success, along with a seasoned and well versed guide to help thin out your weak points. My biggest weak point of the trip was getting the right strength of strip set for the caliber of fish here, as these weren’t the 12lb Silver Salmon or Steelhead back home in Alaska. I lost the majority of my Tarpon throughout the trip to an improper hook set.
(I spent a lot of my time between fishing windows contemplating what I did right and wrong.)
I found my 9wt and 12wt G. Loomis NRX+S rods work tremendously well in both estuary and lagoon, and paired with the equally well performing Hatch Iconic 11+ reels in both mid arbor and large arbor. My Hatch 9+ gen. 2 Finatic still held up to the amazing standards you'd expect from Hatch when handling the smaller lagoon fish. I used both a sinking billfish line from Rio, and a Flats Pro Intermediate from Rio, as well as Rio’s Outbound Short WF Floating line.
(Ready for battle)
Our morning outings in the lagoon that make up Sette Cama were more familiar of an experience, similar to Florida and Bahamas fisheries I’ve witnessed. We fished from a skiff making tight casts into openings in the mangroves for aggressive longfin trevally and reclusive mangrove snapper. It was a relief from the taxing actions of heaving a 12wt rod into the darkness for 5-6 hours straight. On our third morning out my dad and I came to a massive school of Longfin Trevally that dominated the open water, taking no prisoners with the name mullet. Casting top water poppers and Clouser minnows, we were a lethal duo and proved so effective that I'm quite sure we didn't use anything else all week. We began to notice the Longfin Trevally dispersing quickly, more interested in escaping than what we had in the water. I decided to give it one last cast before moving spots and just as soon as my fly left the water for a false cast, a Barracuda hit my Clouser at Mach speed. Although Barracuda are a one wind fish, the stress of him cutting me off made the fight last several minutes. With his strong run and acrobatic act this fish was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.
The Gabonese coast is something special all on its own with endless coastline and beautiful wildlife some people only get to see in zoos. It's hard to imagine the people that live here get to experience this amazing ecosystem every day. We saw a lifetime's worth of elephants walking out from the jungle and hippos swimming along the current. Monkeys topped the trees and called out to us early in the morning from the safety of the skyline. The dense dark greens of the equatorial country made the helicopter trip to camp a sight to behold and impossible to describe in words. When the forest would meet the Atlantic ocean, only a small stretch of white sand separated the dominating features. We had only a short time before heading to camp and if I could do one thing over I would schedule a safari out of Libreville to get the most out of every day. One thing to remember when traveling there is that it’s a French speaking country and most of the locals speak French as a primary language and English as secondary or even not at all, so be sure to have learned some common phrases or bring a translation book or app on your phone to help you.
We talked over the game plan on our walk to a rock point where the tarpon came in within 100 feet the night before. “don't stress it Mike, just keep doing what you're doing and I know you're gonna make it happen tonight”, I gathered what motivation I had to push through the sore muscles in my arms and the line burns in my hands from trying to stop the impossibly long runs they gave me the night before. Casting endlessly into the pitch black night not knowing if I made a good presentation at the end of the line, I sat and watched the bioluminescent water around me flare in brilliant blue as the Tarpon moved in for the kill on my fly. The hookup was almost instant and as I stumbled to reel in my excess line as the fish crashed through the tide, I knew it was now or never. With Teddy guiding me down the beach with our headlights on, and my dad who stopped fishing to join the marathon, I could feel it all coming together. Each pull on the fish would cause it to dart back into the current and undo all our progress, testing my strength to continue. I had Almost 200 yards of backing to reel back in and to do slowly so not to break off like I had the past few days. As we were finally beaching the Tarpon on a shallow sand bank with hands on the leader, the test of time and sharp tarpon gills on my line got the best of me. I watched that fish dart back into the pitch black water and somehow, was the only person on the sand in that moment not disappointed it got away. I high fived Teddy and celebrated with my dad as though everything went right. Fishing is never about the fish, it's about the challenge and the adventure it brings us. If the worst part about the trip was sitting on a beach in Africa, then I'm okay with losing a few fish along the way.
Guest Author: Central Oregon Resident: Michael Ashley
Photos by: Michael Ashley, Steven Ashley
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