Sunday, May 4. It is 4:15 and I am awake before my alarm. I’ve been awakened off and on throughout the night by passing rainstorms. The rains have ended by 5am when Maarten stops by, and we proceed to gather Paul before heading to Nyanga river for a morning of fishing. It is an hour away by car, and the last few kilometers are flooded from the recent rains. Deep pools washing over the bonnet of the car turn the glow of headlights amber-orange, adding to the mystery and suspense of a forest hanging heavy over the track. Fresh elephant footprints cross the track before us. Squeezing through the thickest of jungle, our eyes search the twilight undergrowth, alert for moving shadows. Breaking through to coast, the car rocks and spins through a kilometer or two of soft sand, cutting around immense beached logs, a crashing surf on our right, heavy forest to the left.
We leave the car at the side of a small breakthrough stream draining one of many lagoons inundating the forest, and begin our walk of 1.5 kilometers to the river mouth as the sun filters through the stained red clouds of sunrise. After wading another breakthrough stream, we surprise a school of mullet, or something of bait-size, rocketing across the calm waters of a lagoon fed by the high tide of sea. It appears that some predator fish have found them and are giving chase. We fire a few poppers over the confusion of fish. They blow in every direction at the splash of the lures, and after a few casts, we continue along to where the sea tosses breakers across the river mouth. Looks perfect: a high tide, rolling swells, no one else in sight. Maarten and Paul are spinning silver spoons across the channel as I try a bait set in the deep pools sculpted by river current. Local fishermen boat past to a net spanning a deep river channel, removing several large capitaine entangled in the night. The ferry Emeraude appears as a speck on the rolling sea, plows up the Nyanga, returning an hour later to disappear back out to sea. A few hours of this and we begin to realize there are no fish interested in what we have to offer. By 10 am, we decide to pack it in and return.
Halfway back to car, Paul sees a carangue stirring the surf along an edge of bay and stops to fire a popper out to sea. Several more carangue are pushing schools of baitfish into shallow water. Soon we are all chasing the next carangue we see with our poppers. Adrenaline has replaced the fatigue of a long morning. Maarten connects with a carangue and has a sporting fight for several minutes, in the midst of which, we believe we see a tarpon writhe out of the surf, at least a meter and a half in length, gaping mouth large enough to swallow a coconut, scales glittering like silver coins.
As if we weren’t recharged enough, now we are in the midst of a school of carangue AND tarpon. I hook into a big carangue and battle for minutes as it cuts back and forth through the surf before tumbling out onto beach. Maarten finds another carangue interested and the excitement escalates as we see the glitter of several tarpon following our poppers through the sea. Maarten finally pulls his lure through an explosion of sea as what looks like several fish fight for the bite, in the middle of which a huge tarpon becomes airborne. It is not clear which fish has Maarten’s popper until the tarpon dances across the sea, tossing its head, vigorously trying to throw the lure. Now Maarten has a serious fight going as the tarpon races for Brazil. Paul and I clear our lures from the sea and watch the spectacle in amazement; the tarpon, close to two meters in length, twisting above the surf in slow motion, immense gills flapping, flashing red, the shimmering coat of scales like some animated Erte’ sculpture.
In what seems like forever, especially for Maarten I presume, the tarpon is finally turned and brought in to shallower waters, but holds fast in the breaking surf, the thrash and splash subdued, but not yet ready to give up. Maarten’s arms are aching, his tackle abused, and in one last monstrous effort, the tarpon crushes the popper and throws it clear, weaving its way wearily back out to sea.
Paul is soon back to fishing, and hooks a nice carangue on a distant cast, creating several more minutes of excitement. He quickly unhooks the fish and is back but within seconds, his fishing rod snaps in two mid-cast, the resounding crack! audible even over the pounding surf. Fishing along the Gabonese coast is hard on equipment. We close out the morning with four carangue and the battle with the tarpon, all happening in the span of an hour. A brilliant morning on the Atlantic coast, where the Nyanga river meets the sea.
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