Amazing Fly-Fishing Opportunities in Africa

By Scotty Kyle

From sneaking up on giant Nile perch in a remote river in Cameroon to casting for billfish off the Kenya coast or hunting trophy rainbow trout in South Africa there are now incredible, and often well organised, but little known, opportunities for the sport fly fisher in Africa. 

In colonial times the settlers from Europe brought in their favourite brown trout to suitable areas and this was quickly followed by rainbow trout and various species of bass. Over the decades fly fishing grew and developed into a world class industry, with well-managed fisheries catering to local and international guests. Early fisheries focused on  species exotic to Africa, and many local fly anglers scorned or simply overlooked Africa’s incredible variety of indigenous fish. In the last couple of decades, however, this has changed and some incredible fish species have been “discovered” in often exotic areas and new and exciting fly fishing destinations are suddenly becoming available to enthusiasts.

For well over 100 years fly fisheries based on brown and rainbow trout have been developed and nurtured in suitable cool areas of Kenya, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Both species have become established in many mountain rivers and are stocked into often well managed dams with trout hatcheries supplying new stock in all the areas. Excellent fly fishing can be had in each area with lodges in wild and remote mountain areas in Lesotho providing world class trout fishing right through to manicured dams in the South African Midlands containing trophy trout in good numbers. Most African trout areas can be fished throughout the year and conditions are usually pleasant with mild clearsky winters and warm moist summers. There are local fly fishing clubs in most areas and many camps, lodges and resorts that advertise on the internet. While the species are the same as in Europe and USA it is often best to obtain a local guide for the first visit to ensure that suitable flies and methods are employed. 

Tanzanian tiger fish
Tanzanian tiger fish caught on a fly

Over the past few decades fly anglers have slowly begun to explore indigenous African fish species and one of the first “discoveries” was the tiger fish Hydrocynus vittatus in southern Africa. This species grows to about 5 kilograms (11 lbs.) and these are vicious, violent, explosive top predators found in many of the warmer rivers of Southern Africa. Their large, strong, sharp teeth fit firmly into their bony jaws and hooking them is a matter of skill and also luck, especially as they often leap repeatedly and high into the air during the fight. 

The best tiger fishing is found in eastward-flowing rivers, the best known being the mighty Zambezi and Limpopo. Reservoirs such as the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique and Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe provide excellent tiger fishing opportunities. Fishing in South Africa is mostly from the river banks, but on the Zambezi boat fishing is available and can be very rewarding and memorable. Tiger fish are also found in Botswana in the Kavango River and Okavango Delta. There are many lodges and fishing camps offering the tourists tiger fishing. 

A second tiger fish species, Hydrocynus tanzaniae, has very recently seized the attention of some adventurous fly anglers as it is substantially larger, generally, than the “normal” tiger fish. The Tanzanian tiger fish can reach up to 10 kilograms. As the name suggests, it is found in Tanzania, mostly in rivers, and is usually found in very remote areas of the country. A few select camps and lodges have recently been established on rivers such as the Ruhudji and Mnyera, and they offer “extreme” fly fishing for limited periods when the rivers are not in flood and the roads are in reasonable condition. Access to these areas and their fishing is mostly through established guiding companies as access is not easy and the best areas are far from basic amenities.

As if this was not enough, for the true enthusiast with good resources the goliath tigerfish of central Africa, Hydrocynus goliath, is now offering the dedicated few opportunities to fish for tigerfish that can grow to massive sizes and the record is about 70 kilograms (154 lbs.). This species lives in the really large rivers in places such as the Democratic  Republic of Congo but often these rivers are simply far too turbid to usefully fly fish. Bait fishing here can then be very productive with a wide range of fish species but the “windows” of relatively clear,  fly fishing water are unpredictable and few.  Some guiding companies are now offering trips to target the goliath tiger, if conditions allow, and a fallback of other species and methods should the water be too turbid.

a nile perch
A Nile perch caught on a fly

By far the largest freshwater fish in Africa is the Nile perch, Lates niloticus , which can attain a mass of about  200 kilograms (440  lbs.). As the name implies, it is found in the Nile River but also in many other areas of northern and central Africa. It has also been introduced to places such as Lake Malawi. Various lodges and camps in countries like Uganda and Tanzania that fly fishing for Nile Perch but, again, local conditions can change rapidly making fly fishing unpredictable and fly fishing periods short and uncertain. On the other hand, several specialised operators are now actively investigating and establishing exactly how, when and where these amazing fish may be caught on the fly. 

One current example is in Cameroon where, for very limited periods early each year, guided Nile perch fly fishing in rivers is being successfully offered and provided by an international fly fishing outfit. On the Faro River the reasonably predictable  “window” for fly fishing is about two weeks in January/February. For those prepared to invest in getting there, hooking into and landing a giant river Nile perch will be a wonderful and memorable catch and a lifetime achievement.

It is not only freshwater fish that can provide spectacular fly fishing in Africa, as the Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus), well known around Florida and the Caribbean sea, is also found along the west African coast. While much of this coast is inaccessible, developed or overfished, there remain places where excellent fishing in safe, pristine areas can be successfully carried out. One example is Sette Cama Camp situated on an estuary on the far south coast of Gabon. The camp is several kilometers upstream from the estuary and guided fishing trips head out daily, during the limited season, to fish through the sunrise and then into the dusk. While tarpon is a prime target, especially for fly anglers, there are also several species of jack (trevally or kingfish), barracuda and several snappers including the legendary cubera snapper, Lutjanus cyanopterus.

The season is only a few months, due to the local climate and the fact that the fishing becomes much less productive and the conditions uncomfortable for anglers. In the morning and evening you can experience short, but completely explosive and productive periods of intense activity with huge fish, and amazing fly fishing for “smaller” fish (about 5 -10 kilograms or 11-22 lbs) continues outside these periods. While fishing, the angler has to be wary of elephants very close by, sharks in the evening tidal waters and three species of crocodile and hippo in the estuary.

longfin jack
A longfin jack caught on the coast of Africa

All in all, Africa is rapidly growing an impressive suite of unique fly fishing destinations, as new species, destinations, infrastructure and experiences are coming into the spotlight for fishing enthusiasts. The above is only a sample and taste of what is already available on the continent. Africa is, however, a complex and sometimes volatile continent and first time visitors need to work through experienced, reliable and trustworthy operators and outfitters. Conditions, from weather to politics, can change rapidly in some areas and it is essential, but well worth the effort and resources, to carefully plan your trip well in advance. 

To reduce the chance of unfortunate incidents, it’s recommended to book your fishing trips only with trusted operators. thoroughly vets the operators, and if you book your trip on this online marketplace, you can be sure that proper channels are followed and backup plans are in place. Many of the best fishing areas are remote and this requires not only things like medical evacuation plans in case of accidents but also an understanding of the local people and authorities to avoid unnecessarily upsetting them or breaking local laws, taboos or customs. If this is in place then you should enjoy a safe and absolutely unforgettable fishing experience of a lifetime. 

Travel to Africa is improving progressively and two hubs, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Johannesburg in South Africa, now provide relatively fast, safe and easy access to most countries. There are a rapidly growing array of guiding outfits to be found on the internet and preparing for and anticipating your African fly fishing trip can be almost as much fun as the trip itself. 

Each year additional truly wonderful fly fishing opportunities are discovered or being created in diverse, exciting and exotic parts of the African continent.

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