I have been trying to score a few dinners of fresh fish, now that my photography assignment is mostly completed. I think the season hasn’t quite begun, for I am not seeing much action. Last week, Shell dug a breakthrough between a lagoon and the sea, probably to relieve pressure on the network of lagoons. The lagoons have been slowly filling to capacity with the few rains we have been getting. Breakthroughs always seem to attract fish. I tried bait-fishing last Sunday for the first time, with a little tilapia I caught in the lagoon. Using a bait rig I got from Andrew Caselin before he left Gamba, I add an old 4-ounce lead jigging lure (missing its treble hook) to sink the rig to the sea-floor, tying it all together with some 150 lb. test monofilament. This contraption I hurled out into the mouth of the breakthrough, where the coffee-colored lagoon waters boil up against the incoming surf. The bait-set was slowly tumbling out to sea, and probably sitting in 2 to 3 meters of water depth. This is boring, I was thinking, as I am used to lobbing poppers and spoons across the breakthrough while walking back and forth along the channel. Twenty minutes into my boredom, however, my pole is nearly ripped from my arms, the drag screaming as I see my 65 lb. test braided line cutting through the surf in a beeline straight out to sea. Suddenly I am thinking I need to slow this down or will lose all 300 yards of newly-replaced line. I am hastily cranking down on the drag as the line disappears into surf 100 meters out and still running. Perhaps I should try to break the line to salvage what is left. I consider this option, but the fish is now slowing a little, then stops and appears to turn on itself. Suddenly the line goes slack and I fear it may have bitten through the line. Reeling in what is left, I see that the monofilament has been severed slightly back of the hook. Classic shark behavior, I am told by two of the fishermen here in camp.
Today, I am back to using a musky monstrosity I found in the sale bin of an outfitting store in the US. The jointed, rapala-type temptation shimmies through the water, sporting a pair of dasterdly-looking treble hooks. Being nearly a foot long, it is not very aerodynamic, and tumbles into the surf less than 30 meters offshore. It is like repeatedly throwing a softball into the wind, and after 20 minutes of this, my arm is going numb. Three more casts, I tell myself, and I will look for another lure. I am bringing in cast number 2, passing over a deep pool immediately beyond the breaking surf, and the line suddenly goes taut, a twenty-meter sprint up the coastline before the fish turns back in a zig-zag effort to head out to sea. It is fighting the incoming breakers as well as the drag on the line and soon rolls out of the sea, spent, onto the beach. It is a cassava croaker, called “bar” here in Gabon, 6.5 kilos. I try a few more casts, in case I’ve come across a school of bar, but my arm tells me school has been dismissed.
Back at the breakthrough channel, sprays of tiny baitfish skip across the surface, likely retreating from some predator fish below. I try pulling a popper across the channel and succeed in bringing some fish to the surface, but they don’t follow, so I change out to a small 16cm rapala, already full of toothmarks. A few minutes of sneaking this lure along the bottom of the channel proves fatal for a scrappy 4 kilo rouge, battering its way into the lagoon on the incoming tidal surge before I can pull it onto a sandbar. A few more casts to settle the line back on the reel and I am ready to leave. The 500 meter slog back to Terminal jetty proves taxing in the soft sand with 10 kilos of fish. From there, with the bar strapped to the back of my bicycle and the rouge hanging from the handlebars, I am headed back to Yenzi.
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