You are sitting quietly, expectantly at the back of the boat; the boat man is trolling at speeds that initially make you think it is far too fast; the echo sounder indicates rugged territory beneath you and the first of several ‘blips’ show at around 20 feet. Your heart races, surely there will be a strike yet you pass over the hotspot without a take. Suddenly and without warning just as you had begun to relax the rod is wrenched downwards with such ferocity that you can only have hooked in to a submerged tree.
For a few frantic moments you back wind or give line against the clutch whilst you indicate to the boatman that he needs to throttle down. The speed drops and the boat is turned in to the fish (or is it yet another snag?) and you regain some line. Bending in to the weight there is a sudden kick on the rod and yes, it is indeed a fish, a heavy bucket headed perch that stays deep for several minutes before, ever slowly, it begins to swim to the surface. The line, reflecting the sun, cuts upwards through the water then, quite unexpectedly 50 yards away, the fish clears the water in great head-shaking surges. The lure is clearly seen in the corner of the jaw, another shake of the head (surely this cannot be perch?) and the lure flies clear. The fish is lost.
It’s 10 o’clock on your second day afloat on Lake Nasser, Egypt. The first day was spent motoring south with occasional stops for fishing known hotspots; the best perch to date, a 32 pounder came from the bank and is a welcome introduction to this vast desert wilderness environment. A few near misses from small tiger fish and a 4 pound perch are the only intrusion before the big one just lost. Could it have been a 100 pounder? Possibly, but more likely 85 pounds. A monster of a fish for most English anglers and a sad loss but there is plenty more time.
It is December, the evenings pleasantly cool, the days beautifully hot. You share the boat with 2 mates from back home and the local guide and boatman, a Nubian who knows the lake like the back of his hand. Your guide is keen to cross the lake (an hour at full throttle) to a spot that has produced well in recent weeks though you persuade him to run over the spot at least one more time. You inspect the lure that just lost you your biggest ever fish, though everything looks fine. Just to be sure you run a stone over the hook points, swing the lure in to the water and let out sufficient line to ensure the Depth Raider runs at about 15 feet. You are each full of expectation.
More ‘blips’ register on the echo sounder but this time, after only a few yards, the rod to your left slams over and all hell breaks loose. You quickly reel in the two ‘free’ rods and put them at the front of the boat, the boat man, ready in anticipation turns the boat skilfully in to the fish and your mate bends strongly in to what is clearly a big fish. This one, this time, comes quickly to the surface and spends much of its time air borne; it’s a good fish, a twin of the one lost. Fifteen minutes pass, your mates shoulder muscles are pumped up and the pressure is beginning to tell on him. Lake Nasser regulars insist on at least 50 pound test line and powerful boat rods, the trouble is that you are not expecting such a protracted fight and you begin to wish you’d brought that butt pad after all!
Suddenly, and almost without warning, the perch gives up. Twenty minutes spent thrashing at or near the surface has taken its toll on her too. Line is retrieved, the boat is edged ever-nearer then with good team work the prize is in the boat. Bigger than you thought – the scales confirm 92 pounds. A monster, and the rest of the week no longer matters.
It doesn’t matter what type of angling you do, generalities can be dangerous. Having said that, however, most Nile perch are taken from water down to 20 feet or so although when bank fishing the take can be literally at 2 inches as the fish steams up from behind or beneath a rock overhang. Such a rapid, dramatic, take always takes you by surprise but what a way to be surprised! One very good reason for being careful, and quiet whenever you are near the waters edge is that even very large fish indeed, well over 100 pounds, can be lurking just a few feet out. Quite often, if you are due a take from the shore it will come on the very first cast across the new area so always be ready for action.
Lake Nasser is famed for the quality of its perch fishing and it is undoubtedly the Nile perch that most anglers travel for. Tiger fish are also present in large number and are an extremely game fish too. Growing to perhaps 15 or 16 pounds (most are under 10 pounds and frequently only a pound or two) their takes are savage and rapid, often all you feel is a sharp knock before the fish is gone. Tiger fishing is a bit of a compromise.
Common sense says to use 50 pound test line and 1/0 hooks in case you hook a big perch. Angling sense says to use 10 pound test line and #8 hooks to increase your strike:hook ratio. The trouble is, Tiger fish have small mouths that are literally filled with sharp teeth. They hunt by chasing their prey from behind snapping at their tail to demobilise them. Probably most ‘hits’ from Tiger fish are missed because all you get is a quick whack at the lure which is missed because of the large hooks. Smaller hooks increase the hook-up ratio but what happens should you hook a 100 pound perch?
Back at evening camp site you meet up with the other boats and compare successes with failures. You are there to catch fish, of course, though the word failure is hardly appropriate. The beauty of the desert, the peacefulness, the company shared and the potential are more than enough to overwhelm you – the fish, at least the bigger fish are a bonus. See it that way and you cannot fail to enjoy your time.
Most days someone catches something; most weeks someone catches a fish of real note. It’s important not to assume preconceived ideas about what will catch, what won’t, where the best areas are and what is a waste of time.
The shoreline of Lake Nasser is convoluted and if you get away from the ‘main’ shore line and explore some of the many hidden bays you not only find yourself in a different world, you might well be fishing areas never fished before. Add to this the fact that the water line changes seasonally by as much as 20 feet and the choice of fishing spots is imponderable. In summer you may be trolling beneath rocky outcrops that in winter form a regular hotspot with the higher water levels.
The flooded Nile valley, despite its desert environment and negligible rainfall, is littered with submerged trees and bushes which, in this environment are taking a long time to rot. Many of the ‘takes’ you get will be from branches of trees which, because of their flexibility fool you in to thinking you have a big perch on. Thankfully, because of the heavy tackle and the skill of the boat men you get most of your lures back undamaged. Occasionally a rocky outcrop claims its prize and leaves you £15 the poorer! Once you’ve hooked a real fish though, your tackle is mostly safe.
It is difficult, and it would be entirely wrong, to indicate what could be your reward from a weeks Nile perch fishing on Lake Nasser. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that you’ll blank completely; it is just as likely that you’ll get at least one perch over 50 pounds. The most important thing, for your own values, is not to let yourself believe that you’ll break records, or that you are guaranteed a one hundred pounder. Compare it to a weeks fishing in the UK on a top carp lake or on a water where its pike are going nuts. If you spent such a week would you be happy, and feel rewarded with a couple of 20 pound carp or a 25 pound pike? I should think so! That Nile perch grow larger than any carp or pike anywhere on Earth is not a sensible reason to set your target too high. The guides you’ll be sharing the boats with know the Lake well and they know its moods, the most likely lures to start with, and the most likely areas to get some fish. If you fail to catch a big perch it is not their fault – it's angling, so don’t get despondent. Share in the successes, the joy and humour of other anglers on the lake during your stay and you’ll come away happier and probably more sure of a return trip.
Angling trips to Lake Nasser are organised by Tim Bailey of The African Angler.