Malcolm Meintjes

It's comforting in this world of little pleasures to know that, in the world of the ornithologist, the sighting of a shoebill stork is worth a flock of invitations to dinner. And so it was, 20 kms above Lake Albert, my attention was turned towards, not one, but two shoebills, doing what they are trained best to do - disguising themselves as grey blobs marginally beyond normal eyestrain range

We were still resonating to the Oohs of the bird-people when we reached Entebbe from Murchison and made ready for the boat journey to the Ssese Isles - some two hours distant across Lake Victoria. Here the Nile perch have made their home and are encountered at sizes normally only associated with encounters of the saltwater kind. A Nile perch of 45 kg is a milestone for a newcomer, but the professionals only begin to smirk when the three figure mark hoves in sight.

The normal method of catching them is by trailing a lure the size of a breakfast trout behind the boat and given the fact that Lake Victoria stretches over the horizon, the desire to cover as much productive water as possible is understandable.

The perch seemed to frequent rocky ledges around the promontories and deepwater drop-offs and, by using technology, we were able to generate excitement by watching the "fish finder" bouncing off underwater nothings and translating them into monsters. At least that's how it seemed.

If there was any noticeable trend in behaviour it was that, in the morning, the fish held around the 15 - 30 ft mark and later in the heat of the day, kept to similar levels but over water of 50 ft depth. In the later afternoon, they would come back into the picture and angling improved.

Trolling and flyfishing don't go together unless you troll a lead core line behind the boat, which is commonly used to take trout in the deep lakes of New Zealand and South America. My own inclination was drift areas off rocks and outcrops, where we assumed the perch would be, cast, and try to manipulate the fly down 20 m and deeper - not always easy to accomplish consistently, especially if the wind is blowing. Then a slow retrieve is instituted to keep the fly down.

Not a touch, not a follow and few fish on the surface to make the heart a little gladder. It transpired later from fish caught trolling that the perch had romance on their mind and this was adjudged the major reason why they were not at their best. All of the bigger fish caught were milt-laden males close to offload time.

Again our guiding lights informed us that the angling definitely was slow and the flyrods were packed away for the remainder of the trip. Yet in covering much more water we were able to cross the paths of perch with silver and experience the sight of these great fish shaking their heads at us. The biggest of the trip - a 35 kilogrammer and a bevy around 20 kgs as well as many smaller.

Despite our disappointment at not getting the conditions right - flyfishing has been done successfully before by a few, though there is a dearth of literature on the matter. The method of trolling with lead core has been used to effect, but drift casting is still to be properly tried out.

Is a fish of this ilk a bad fighter? My belief, similar to the story about tiger fish having no stamina, is that the Nile perch's reputation for size is, in a sense, its own worst enemy. Once one has passed the "I want to catch a fish, any fish" mindset, the desire for size quickly overwhelms one. Lifetime records for most freshwater anglers in respect of heaviest fish caught tumble hourly and after a couple of days, even a newcomer is blasé about anything under 25 kg. At any time, one may feel the inexorable pull of a 100 kg steamer and no one takes the chance of losing a veritable fish of a lifetime. So, the tackle used is rather more in tune with the desire to be properly gunned for Leviathan than for even tussle with lesser mortals.

One should also bear in mind the comment that another reason for poor performance could be the depths at which the fish are sometimes caught. Pulling any fish up from 10 - 20 m down quickly will have an effect on it.

Personally, I feel that, on an 8/9 weight rod with 200 m. backing, even a "small" perch of 5 - 20 kg will give one more than money's worth and that, not only will they entertain the captor through bass-like head shaking on the surface, but that they will test the resolve to keep them away from the rocky bottom.

With two comfortable boats to negotiate the lake and the many islands of Ssese to explore, it is a wonderful experience to fish a water the extent of Lake Victoria. Though I am philosophical about the lack of flyfishing success, I am heartened by the news that others, after us, were more fortunate and look forward to the opportunity of coming, once again, to grips with the great Nile perch.

For more details about fishing on Lake Victoria, contact Wild Frontiers on (011) 3154838.