It was a bit of an accident going there in the first place. Originally I had intended to take Belinda to Cape Town, but at this time of the year it is too cold. We then thought about Eritrea, but once again, at this time of the year, down on the coast it is too hot – although lovely up in the mountains. Well… I was enquiring about something I had seen on a web site, concerning fishing in Angola, and so when I wrote to the site and Steven McGuire about it, as a PS he said ‘…have you thought about shark fishing in Namibia?…’ I was vaguely aware of the possibilities, but I had never given it much thought. I told him that I might be interested in a couple of days fishing, and that I had even thought of taking my wife to Namibia – so he said that he could fix us up with a whole safari, and a couple of days fishing. Rather tentatively we accepted this proposition, paid our money and headed off to Namibia – the main purpose being to give my wife a holiday, rather than a fishing trip for me. It was all a bit of a shot in the dark, particularly as I only managed to get out of E. Congo the day beforehand, and that was touch and go.
This trip, however, worked out incredibly well. We were met at the airport by our guide, Charles, who took us around for the next five days to various game parks and lodges, including Etosha, which was fascinating, and where on one moonlit night we saw a herd of elephants and six rhino at the waterhole. He also took us up to Damaraland, where we were fortunate to see a herd of the rare desert elephant, conveniently gathered (for photographic purposes) in the middle of a local village around a man-made water tank – such is the scarcity of water there at the moment. He then dropped us off at Walvis Bay, where we stayed in an extremely friendly hotel, and another guide, Terence, took over for the two days fishing that we had planned.
Well… this bit of fishing was one of the most exciting fishing expeditions I have ever had. Fishermen talk about certain benchmarks in fishing, such as catching a Salmon, or a Marlin or a Mahseer, or Bonefish on a fly, or Tarpon, or Tigerfish, or a large Nile Perch, or a large Catfish on the Ebro – but… I have never heard anyone mention catching a Bronze Shark from the beach. No boat to follow the fish – just you on the beach and the Shark out at sea. It ought to be up there amongst all these other pinnacles of fishing, and I thoroughly recommend it as a truly exciting experience.
Our guide, Terry, who is a member of the Namibian fishing team, (they have an annual competition against the S. Africans), met us punctually at 8 a.m. He obviously knows the coast well and he needs to. Faced by hundreds of miles of what at first seemed rather bleak and featureless sand and sea of the Skeleton Coast, (especially in the early morning Winter fog drifting in from the Atlantic) I would not have known where to begin. He seemed to know the underwater topography intimately, and knew exactly where to look for the fish that we wanted to catch. We had about an hour’s drive to the spot where we were going to commence operations, but it was a fascinating drive through the sand dunes and along the beach – and the Namibians do drive for miles along the beach with no difficulty. All these guys are well equipped for this sort of fishing, and have their 4 X 4s and trailers that can go anywhere, kitted up with fishing equipment, bait, and camping gear if necessary.
We arrived at another bit of the S. Atlantic, where the thick morning fog – the sun had not burned it off yet – met the grey waves that were crashing in to the shore; where the wind was blowing coldly; and, where according to Terry, our baitfish should be swimming around. First job – catch your bait. In this case the baitfish that we were after were Gully Shark or Spotted Shark, which the Bronze Shark, our primary quarry, are particularly fond of, and which are particularly good as chum, because they are quite bloody, when chopped up. What we needed was one of about 5kgs – 10kgs. So… the powerful single piece 14’ rods were set up with 8 oz leads and Pilchard as bait, and our guide dashed in to the surf to where the waves were breaking and proceeded to cast the whole caboodle miles out to sea. Most impressive beach casting, and I’ve never seen anyone in England equal it.
The equipment is undoubtedly powerful. They use these special one piece 14 ft graphite rods, made in S. Africa, with the reels mounted on the lower half of the rod handle (to give them better leverage when playing a powerful fish) and, mainly, Daiwa, multiplier reels, with all the brakes and magnets removed from the reel, so that they can cast further. They had approximately 450 yds of 30lb b.s. monofilament line on the spool. As you can imagine, to avoid achieving a serious bird’s nest, a considerable degree of control is needed. Having cast out, the bait lies on the bottom, waiting for a passing fish to scoop it up, and we watch for the tell tale dip of the rod tip. The casting sounds a bit haphazard, but actually Terry had cast accurately into a gully, where the Gully Shark and Spotted Shark swim through. Not that I would have been able to tell, because the water near the shore was quite coloured, having been churned up by the action of the waves. This is perfect for fishing off the beach in Namibia, what they describe as green water – they don’t like clear water here.
At this stage the rods are usually placed into rod holders, which are on the end of spikes, which are then driven into the sand, but on this occasion I wanted to experience the take, and so stuck the rod directly into the fighting belt, and held the rod.
Things happened exactly as our guide said they would. He said that when a fish took the rod tip would twitch and then bend right down. On this first cast, the rod tip twitched then rapidly curved towards the sand. I restrained from striking until line started going out, as instructed. Despite striking hard, to my amazement the line just carried on going out as though nothing had happened. We were, after all, fishing for baitfish!
The line carried on going out, and out and out, and way out to sea! I thought ‘… if this is a baitfish what’s it going to be like when I hook a Bronze Shark?…’ Terry told me, then, that we probably had hooked a Bronze Shark, which was a bit of a problem because we only had a nylon trace and 30lb breaking strain line on. He advised me just to let it take out line, and then retrieve it when I could. But I couldn’t, and it was all very well letting it take out line, but what was I supposed to do when there was no line left to take out, a point which we seemed to be rapidly reaching. There was no option for following, for example, by swimming out behind the fish, because if the other sharks didn’t get me, the hypothermia would. Anyway not being a champion swimmer I couldn’t follow fast enough to keep up with the fish – especially, if I was also using my arms to try to keep the rod and reel out of the water.
Fortunately, just before we got to the end of the 450 yds of line the fish turned and swam back inshore and I was able to retrieve some line, although with difficulty because we couldn’t apply the drag too tightly. To cut a long story short it carried on like this for nearly an hour with the fish’s runs getting shorter. Trouble was that, as it got closer in, the runs became more awkward because they were faster and parallel to the beach. It was an extremely tough fight. My back was beginning to kill me, and my arms felt as though they were about to seize up. I was determined, however, to play it without any assistance. Just as I thought I couldn’t manage to play it any longer the fish weakened. With a combination of moving back up the beach and leaning over almost 180 degrees backwards to put pressure on the rod, we managed to get it into the surf, whereupon our excellent guide leaped in and gaffed it. It weighed 128lbs, which is small by Namibian standards, but is the largest fish that I have ever caught, and all done from the beach. It is much easier from a boat, when you can follow the fish. The fish was then unhooked and returned to the sea with a tag.
I was, of course, more than a little pleased, and I would happily have gone home then. However, our guide decided, that as we had now caught a Bronze Shark, and as we hadn’t caught any bait, and as the weather was changing, unfavourably for Shark fishing, we would go and fish for edibles. So we went off to another bit of coastline where there was a slight difference from the first bit, inasmuch as there were some rocks about, and we fished just beyond them. Terry cast out again, making it all look so graceful and easy using the same bait, or rather a fresh bit of the same bait – Pilchard.
I stuck the rod into the fighting belt, and waited for the action. After about ten minutes of waiting, once again, the rod tip bent, and I let line go out, and then struck – and was into a fish. I thought, at first, that it must be another Bronze Shark, but no such luck; it was instead a hard fighting and beautifully silver Kob. Belinda, who had been patiently waiting for her turn to catch a fish, although I think she would have been towed out to sea if she had hooked a Bronze Shark, then caught another Kob, and a saltwater Catfish. We subsequently caught another couple of Kob, and then called it a day.
Unfortunately the weather changed for the worse on the following day, and it was totally unsuitable for catching Shark or Kob, although we did catch another couple of Catfish. It didn’t matter anyway, because catching the Shark on the previous day was more than enough for me. It was quite definitely one of my most exciting fishing experiences, and I would really recommend it to anybody who wants something completely different.
Just the environment in which one is fishing is fantastic. Those long deserted beaches, and the fact that you can fish anywhere gives one a feeling of fishing freedom that one can experience in very few places. Whilst waiting for the fish to take, there is always plenty to see – the bird life alone is fascinating, with a variety of unusual species not encountered in other parts of Africa. Pelicans and seagulls will quickly descend on you if there are scraps of fish to be eaten, and the seagulls will even try and retrieve the bait as it disappears below the waves. Occasionally a seal will poke its head up to see what is going on, and sometimes Dolphins will come in close to the shoreline.
Our final day was, sadly for me, a rest from fishing and was spent looking around and shopping in the delightful old German town of Swakopmund, where we wondered whether we might encounter an old Nazi war criminal trundling along the beach front. One of the antique shops that we visited certainly had a lot of Nazi war memorabilia for sale. Nevertheless, it was a delightful town, and on this particular day the weather was warm and balmy. If Germany had a Mediterranean coastline, this is what it would look like. In the middle of the morning we had Cappuccinos in German style with thick double cream, and cakes with the same, which were delicious. I had beautiful fresh fish for lunch, although possibly not quite as good as the fresh fish that I had two nights before – the Kob that I had caught.
If you want to try your luck at fishing for Bronze Shark from the beach in Namibia it is not so difficult to arrange. The most expensive part of any trip to Namibia from Britain is probably the airfare. There are direct flights from Britain to Johannesburg, and you can catch daily flights from Johannesburg to Walvis Bay (where Belinda and I based ourselves for the fishing). As far as the fishing is concerned, although in theory you could go off and fish on your own, you would be foolish not to employ a guide, even though it is a more expensive option. The guides are complete experts in this type of fishing, and also provide the specialised fishing tackle and bait. One really needs the specialised kit, and much as I prefer to use my own tackle, the prospect of lugging around a single piece 14’ rod with me on aeroplanes and through airports does not appeal.
The rods are single piece to limit all chances of breakage – not only when you hook a large fish, but also when you are throwing out the heavy weights and bait. They are different to beach casting rods in Britain; they are much more powerful, but they also have the reel seats placed near the bottom of the handle (rather like a salmon fly-fishing rod) to maximise leverage when you are playing a large, powerful fish. The reels that are used have had most of the magnets and breaks removed to maximise casting distance. They usually have 300 or 400 yards of monofilament line. Monofilament is the preferred option, as opposed to the finer diameter braided lines, because there is more elasticity in the line. With the braided lines there are too many breakages when the fish takes due to the lack of elasticity. Monofilament also survives abrasions on rocks more successfully.
As with any other fishing knowing the water is key to success, and if you only have a short time available for fishing you need to maximise your chances. Hence the need to employ a guide who really knows the water. Our guide, Terry, as well as providing expert knowledge, and all the equipment (which was excellent), also provided fresh bait, lunches, drinks, provided transport and collected us and delivered us back to the hotel, and was a charming companion. You can either go fishing, as Belinda and I did, for a couple of days, combining it as part of a longer holiday or safari in Namibia, or you can arrange a dedicated fishing trip. To do this the best person to speak to is an operator in England, Steve McGuire, firstname.lastname@example.org who has personally caught nearly 150 Bronze Shark, and who as well as arranging the fishing for us, fixed up the rest of the safari.
Forget all your Marlin, Bonefish, and Tarpon; for a truly brutal salt water fishing encounter try battling it out with a Bronze Shark from the beaches of Namibia.