RETURN TO THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN TROUT AND FLYFISHING DIRECTORY

BUSINESS DAY FLYFISHING COLUMN - Murchison Falls and the NileILE

Malcolm Meintjes

There’s something of a dispute as to who finally pocketed the cricket test played on the Masindi road. Certainly the one Pom in the affair had much to say about the South African bowling before two jerry cans, instead of one, made up his stumps. On the other hand, he did have much to contribute in terms of knowledge of Nile perch.

If you’ve bounced over the ruts of the Masindi road lately, you’ll know it’s less than a couple of hours to Murchison Falls in north-west Uganda. Which Falls, in turn, belong to the world’s longest river, the Nile. Indeed, the feature of Murchison is that it is the one place in the five-and-a-half thousand kilometre flow where the bulk of the river endeavours to squeeze through a six metre cleft in the geology. Imagine, if you will then, the velocity of the torrent should you try to fish immediately below the cascade.

Which is, of course, exactly where we set up rods - in the lee of the boiling turbulence known as "the Devil’s Cauldron". Not exactly prime flyfishing water, you might murmur and this was obvious from photographic evidence I had seen prior to leaving. Yet, as the saying goes -nothing ventured, nothing gained and my return to Uganda, where our family had lived in the time of the Kabaka, was nothing, if not somewhat nostalgic.

The Murchison Falls, apart from presenting a truly spectacular sight, was also the natural barrier to the upstream emigration of Nile perch to Lake Victoria. Then in 1954, a few perch were translocated above the Falls, a practice discontinued when it was realised they could reach Lake Victoria through the Owen Falls turbines.

Lates niloticus now makes up the major proportion of the lake’s fish population and continues to be a conservation talking point because of its impact on the existing cichlids and others. Yet the reported discovery of the fish in ancient fossil finds poses the question of whether it was present millions of moons ago. One cannot question the impact for the perch, indisputably a fish eater, grows quickly and reaches 150 kg.

The Nile perch at Murchison are not to be trifled with. They too grow to gaping sizes, but are powerful into the bargain as befits river-dwellers accustomed to a daily tussle with an inexorable current. In 1959, in the so-named Hippo pool, John Savidge recorded a perch of 160 lbs (72.2 kgs) and 100 pounders were the envy of those who tried their luck. Besides landing such a monster, how would you carry it up the gorge? Why, draped over your head , of course.

This is adventurous fishing. The original plan to erect tents at the Falls close to the fishing was abandoned in favour of the comfortable Lodge some half-hour distant, for the existence of a long-winged yellow fly along the dirt road made learning the tsetse shuffle obligatory. And above the Falls, there is a track spidering down to the very edge of the maelstrom. The way is carefully negotiated, since the view can be distractingly breath-taking. Look upon this remarkable spectacle as you tread the descent; later the heavenward path will test the knees.

The perch, though not at their most accommodating, were present and on the first day, both bait and lure anglers had some success with fish to 38 lb. (17 kg). While the strategy was to prevent allowing the fish use of the fierce current where possible, they were equally adept at snagging razor-sharp rocks and cutting the angler off after some minutes of grind.

As regards my taking along a brace of fly rods, this was in deference to research/ exploration and angling on Lake Victoria on the second half of the trip, seemed more feasible. The other members of the group sensibly arranged conventional lures and wandered off to procure some bait fish, notably the attractive Alestes (known locally as Ngara).

In the event, I did throw a fly for a couple of days and would have been well satisfied with a tiddler of ten kilograms or so. At the melodiously named Crocodile Rock, I still believe there was an outside chance of tangling with one, but being so close to the seam of the main current makes one reflect on what the course of action would be if the fly was taken and, as I reverse cast over the sweeping water, I wondered how appropriately the rock had been named.

A nine-weight rod is not very adequate when one cannot hear oneself talk, let alone think. Even with more than 300 meters of backing for comfort, it is not so much the bulk of the quarry, but the great maw of "Emputa" that takes some getting used to. A fish that easily inhales a 25 cm Depth Raider makes a "fly" look ridiculously skimpy. Yet there is no reason why they should not take it given suitable conditions. And, as far as the matter of the current is concerned, I noted that one Nile perch which eventually earned its freedom, though using the torrent, was also deceived by the strong reverse flow. This meant that it circled, rather than disappeared out of bounds.

There is little literature on the fishing at the Falls and none that I saw in terms of flyfishing. It would have helped to have come eye-to-orange eye with the adversary, for this is a remarkable fish, even apart from size. While there is no difficulty in tying up general attractors in bucktail and crystal flash using the usual "hot" colours, I always feel it an advantage to discover any preferred diet.

Thus I tied a pattern more suggestive of the bigger of two species of Alestes, which is a very handsome fish of silver, orange and yellow. But those employing such Sirens were using specimens of 700g - 1 kg., and even a 2/0 hook with long, trailing fronds seemed a little inadequate.

We gave the Falls of Sir Samuel Baker a couple of days to show its mettle and then walked the track to the boat rendezvous and closer to our destination with the Delta of Albert Nyanza.

As the boat cruised along a now sedate, broader Nile, past rows of open-mouthed crocodiles and numerous hippo, I gave thought to the use of the fly. Those who had been before were of the opinion that the angling could be far better, but in the wild there are few guarantees.

I began to think of the days to come on Lake Victoria.

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The trip was organised by Wild Frontiers (011 - 3154838)