I guess that while readers might expect my first article for the NJ to extol the virtues of the fabulous pike and chub fishing to be had in the country right now, allow me to give you a different angle. Truth is, when temperatures drop below zero and there is snow on the ground, or thick ice makes fishing on the Boards impossible, I love to get away from it all and take advantage of the fact that many tour companies offer attractive alternative leisure in the Tropics at most affordable prices.
Lets take The Gambia in West Africa, for example. Just a six hour flight away, you can laze by the pool or sit on a beach sipping cool pena coladas, visit wildlife parks, or haggle over the price of wood carvings in the markets. And the fishing? Well, the Gambia is a tropical haven with average temperature in the 90s, and is blessed with the fertile waters of a huge river system several hundred miles long.
In addition to spewing it’s waters into the Atlantic Ocean, where you can troll the pelagic species or anchor up and do battle with everything from sharks downwards, the river’s shoreline contains an enormous maze of mangrove channels. For the cost of hiring a dinghy all sorts of oddities fall to those who anchor and present cut fish strip or shrimp on the bottom. Stingrays and snappers, bastard halibut and barracuda to name a few require nothing more than the same outfit you would use in British waters for carp and pike with a reel line of 10-15lbs. A 2oz bomb and hooks sizes 6-2/0.
Frankly, these mangrove creeks are worth exploring for the exotic bird life alone. Pelicans, osprey, goliath herons, plus countless waders, are daily sightings among the oyster-encrusted mangrove roots which become exposed at low tide, when the fascinating fiddler crabs are most active away from their holes.
Beach fishing is particularly rewarding if you start as the sun drops, which is when the big boys move close inshore to feed. Small sharks and stingrays to over 100lbs, catfish and guitarfish to 50lbs plus are regular customers to bait of small whole mullet cast 50-80 yards from the shore. It is wise to use a wire trace with hooks in the 4/0-6/0 range and a reel line of 20-25lbs. Otherwise it is the same outfit you would use for cod fishing off our East Coast. But always leave the reel out of gear with the ratchet on or the rod could go for a swim.
On my last visit, just a few weeks back, I teamed up with an old pal, Mark Longster, who runs Warrior Sports Fishing and offers off-shore charters from Denton Road Bridge, adjacent to the old peanut factory. Regular viewers of my Go Fishing television series will no doubt remember the 300lb lemon shark Mark and I caught in the mouth of the Gambia river just a few miles out from Banjul, Gambia’s capital.
On this last trip, we concentrated on trolling the winding mangrove creeks for barracuda, and bottom fishing over the numerous rocky reefs and sand bars close inshore for big red snappers, kujeli and ladyfish using 20 and 30lb class outfits. Bait was whole belly fillets of bonga (a herring-like local fish) for the snappers. These beautifully coloured, fully scaled battlers we took to around 25lbs along with a host of other oddities-fish so weird and wonderful in both colours and shape the mind immediately questions the particular purpose for which nature created them.
A step down to really light tackle and change of bait to shrimp literally means a bite a chuck from exquisitely shaped angel fish-which would set you back Â£50 at your local marine aquatic centre-to the prickly puffer fish which inflates to three times its size as a defence mechanism.
As anything and everything may and often does turn up in these waters, we always had a heavy outfit presenting a big bait on the bottom well down-tide of the boat in case a big shark or stingray happened along. Unfortunately, I lost what appeared to be a fair sized shark, the hook inexplicably pulling free after five minutes. But shortly afterwards, a freshly mounted whole Spanish mackerel bait weighing fully 4lbs was snapped up by a bonus 5ft long barracuda weighing over 30lbs. And didn’t it go in an 8-knot tide!