What we found was very different to that which we had been led to expect, and very different to anything that we had experienced in the past.
The Gambia is a tiny country of less than four and a half thousand square miles, and with a population of little more than a million it is significantly smaller than Yorkshire! Long and narrow it stretches east to west along the Gambia River and the capital, Banjul, lies on an island in the river delta. Most of the holiday resorts are either in Banjul itself or on the Atlantic coastline to the south of the city. For our holiday we selected the Senegambia Hotel situated near the small town of Kololi, about twenty minutes south of the capital.
I have already referred to the 'oft-maligned' Gambia, and the most common complaints that we have heard have been that the country is infested with mosquitoes, and that the pressure from beggars and locals trying to sell you goods and services is downright oppressive! Let's put both of these complaints into perspective:
Mosquitoes:- Yes, as in almost all warm countries there are mosquitoes, but we found they were not particularly numerous, nor were they much of a problem. The simple expedient of using a proprietary insect repellent before going out in the evening meant that neither Val nor I suffered more than a handful of bites during our two week stay, no worse than a summers evening fishing on an English river.
Beggars and street traders:- Again, it cannot be denied that these people can be a nuisance, but they are not a problem within the hotels, nor are they a problem when you are on a guided tour or fishing. If you do want to wander around without a guide it is simply a matter of being prepared to be firm and ignore the numerous pleas and offers that you will undoubtedly receive!
Two major bonuses that should be noted are that the cost of living is extremely low and that the bird life (feathered variety) is something to behold. If you drink in the hotels a beer will typically cost one pound, but if you buy from the supermarkets a beer is only about forty pence whilst a litre bottle of spirits will set you back 1ess than two pounds fifty. Don't be afraid of bed and breakfast because there are numerous good restaurants, most of which will provide an excellent evening meal for less than seven pounds a head.
The fishing was a complete revelation to us. We had been led to expect reasonably cheap, but very ordinary fishing, whereas what we found was in fact very cheap, and at times excellent fishing. Almost all the hotels offer fishing packages, and there are three main kinds of fishing available. There is only one road into the capital, Banjul, and this road crosses the river at Denton Bridge. It is from here that the majority of charter fishing is organised. The charter companies offer Blue Water Fishing, Sport Fishing, and Creek Fishing, the last of which is usually on a "no fish, no pay" basis. In addition there are numerous boats along the beaches that offer local fishing trips.
Outside the Senegambia Hotel there were four or five boats offering reef fishing, and these boats are launched from the beach. The quality of tackle is variable in the extreme and at times the launch can be hairy, but at an average cost of less than five pounds per person per hour (after bargaining) the price is reasonable, and the fishing can be good, comparable at times to the 'sport fishing' offered from Denton Bridge.
Blue Water Fishing:
For the adventurous it is possible to charter a boat from Denton Bridge and do some big game fishing, but there is a serious drawback. Unfortunately the Atlantic coastline of The Gambia is shallow, and if you want to get into big-game fishing you must be prepared for a four hour plus boat ride to the fishing grounds. This means that for safety reasons you will need a fairly large and sophisticated boat, which in
turn means that it is going to be expensive. Whilst we were in The Gambia we did not meet anybody who had taken this option so I'm unable to report on it.
No fish no pay, but don't count on getting your money back because you will catch fish! They say that there are forty-three species of fish in Gambian coastal waters, and most of them inhabit the creeks.
The most common species include Catfish, Sunpats, Jellynose, and Ladyfish, most of which weigh in at less than a pound, then there are Red Snapper, Moray eels and Butterfish which weigh in at two to five pounds. If you are really lucky you may catch an adult Ladyfish of anything up to fifty pounds or an adult Jellynose (also known as Captainfish) which exceptionally grow to over one hundred pounds! During these trips the crew run a competition between male and female anglers, but be prepared to get upset guys - the women always win - the crew cheats!
The creek fishing is done from relatively large pirogues carrying up to sixteen passengers, but sport fishing which is done on the open seas beyond the reefs is carried out in smaller sea-going boats that usually carry only two or three anglers. It is normal for the boats to run four to six rods and if you are bottom fishing each angler will have one
lightly rigged rod whilst the other rods will be more heavily rigged. On the 1ighter rigs you can expect to catch a myriad species of fish in the one to five pound category including locally named Angelfish, Chickenfish and Doctor fish, all of which are superb eating. You may also take Casava to twenty pounds plus and small red Snapper up to five pounds. On the heavier rigs you may take the same Casava but the red snapper will be very different with fish up to a hundred pounds, thirty to forty pound specimens being not uncommon. If you enjoy trolling your skipper will be happy to oblige, and this method will take Snapper, Barracuda to over fifty pounds and the occasional school-sized Yellowfin tuna.
And what does it cost?
Remember that everything in The Gambia is negotiable, but I will give you a rough indication of the range of prices that you can expect to pay:
Blue water fishing cannot normally be arranged through your hotel, but if booked through Denton Bridge you
can expect to pay between four and five hundred pounds for a full day charter. Creek fishing can be booked through your hotel for about twenty three pounds per person per day and
this price includes lunch but not drinks, however if you make your own arrangements you can expect to save up to one third of this price.
Sport fishing can cost up to one hundred and eighty pounds per boat per day, but this is for a well equipped boat (toilet, pre-prepared meal and two crew) whereas a more simple, but perfectly adequate boat will cost about forty pounds per person per day, if booked through your hotel, but significant savings can be made by making your own arrangements.
Although there are several groups offering fishing from Denton Bridge, Val and I gave all our custom to Lady Parrie Fishing run by a Belgian lady, Peggie, and her Gambian husband Mandi. Her prices were good, her boats were good, but most important her skippers Dembo and Chiffe were amongst the best in the business and on the days that we fished, Lady Parrie boats invariably did better than anybody else. If you want to arrange fishing directly with Peggie you can contact her on the web at firstname.lastname@example.org or on arrival in The Gambia, by telephone on 00-220397149.
In all, Val and I had four days sport fishing and one day creek fishing, catching enough fish to satisfy all but the greediest of anglers. We had literally dozens if not hundreds of fish most of which were admittedly small, but we had Jellynose, Red Snapper and Butterfish to five pounds, Casava to seventeen pounds and yours truly managed to lose three really good Red Snapper, all due to line fraying on the reef. Our only disappointment was that we had no success whilst trolling and consequently we could not add Barracuda to our list.
In conclusion Val and I would recommend The Gambia to any holidaymaker who is looking for a beach and fishing holiday and who does not want to re-mortgage the house in order to pay for it!
'til next time, tight lines
Val and David.