05 April 2012 | Freizeit

Chemists at work: Freshwater fishing in Namibia

It's hot, very hot. The brown murky water stretches seemingly endlessly like a dull Persian carpet and on the far end of it we can glimpse grass and bush covered hills. I should have brought a camping chair and an umbrella, I think to myself while taking a sip of my beer and shifting on the rock uncomfortably. Suddenly my reel rings: I caught a fish!
This month we want to revisit activity tourism in Namibia and without a doubt freshwater fishing counts as one of those. We take an afternoon trip to Avis Dam close to Windhoek where we intend to spend a relaxed Sunday. Although our country of variety boasts a 1570 Kilometer long coastline with endless fishing potential, freshwater fishing in Namibia has become a popular attraction for tourists and sportsmen alike.

As my reel rings like a 1950's alarm clock I jump up and give my rod a tight pull. It's hooked. I fasten the drag and reel my catch in. The little bugger shows very little resistance; nevertheless my adrenalin is pumping in my euphoric state. It might be disappointing to some if you eventually see the size - of the fish that is. If it is, like in my case, a "baby" tilapia, you try to hide it in shame from other gaping and smiling fishermen. At least I caught something I think to myself as I loosen the hook and let "Fred" swim free. Next time I'll get the big one.

Freshwater fishing has evolved significantly over the past decades. Angling is by far the largest participator sport in most parts of the world and also very common in Namibia. I used to think of a scene where father and son sit in a small rowing boat and both have an unlucky worm stuck to a tiny hook - almost how Gollum and his brother went fishing in the Lord of the Rings. Nowadays freshwater fishing is a completely different ballgame, although the boat/worm-method might yield results, fishing has almost become a type of chemical experiment. Depending on what type of fish you want to catch and at what location you are fishing, you require a specific rod, reel, line, bait, flavour and much, much more.
Namibia boasts many different fishing locations. Most common are the Von Bach, Oanob and Avis Dam which are close to the capital and have been carrying water for the past couple of years. In total there are over a dozen dams in Namibia. But not only those offer prime fishing locations: When attempting to catch tigerfish, tilapia or nembwe a boat cruise along the Kavango or Chobe River can be very entertaining. Some very nice spots are also found along the Orange River. If you have chosen a preferred fishing location you can prepare yourself accordingly. Do you want to do bank angling or use artificial lure? For a variety of equipment and advice you can visit any tackle shop, but be forewarned, there are more types of bait, hooks and sinkers than there are clothes in a Mr. Price warehouse.

Freshwater fishing and fishing in the sea are both completely different. At any dam you do not need to heed low or high tide (as there is none) and your sinker and bait never move with the motion of the waves - as a freshwater fisherman that takes something to get used to. Another difference; freshwater fish tend not to taste very good. They usually have a huge number of spiky fish bones, taste muddy and also are quite slimy. The latter applies especially to Cave catfish.

On our fateful Sunday afternoon we intend to go bank angling - carp is our goal. One person uses "millies" from a tin, another compresses bits of white bread on his hook. Both people don't have a lead sinker attached to their line, instead they have a so called milliebomb; a little cone shaped piece of plastic that is partially hollow where you attach some "pap". They use this flavoured pap to lure fish into the vicinity of where the hooks are. This method is very common and does yield very positive results. The pap you can flavour with literally anything. In tackle shops you get dozens of little bottles, very common and apparently very successful are flavours like "Tjop Tjop" or "Garlic". Once you have fastened your pap and some bait on the hooks and you cast your line into the water, you wait. Freshwater fishing in some sense is the same as going on a hunting trip: Both are a game of patience. Sometimes you wait one minute and sometimes it takes over an hour before you catch something. This type of fishing is best suited and enjoyed with a cold beer while relaxing on the shoreline.

While using millies or pap for fish like carp or yellowfish you can exchange the bait with something meaty - a toad, crab or some chicken liver. Fishermen generally use meaty bait for only one type of freshwater fish - catfish. These slimy and often considered ugly fish are common all over Namibia and can grow to huge sizes. A catfish of over one meter can put up quite a fight and it can take a while, before one finally lands the catch. For that you do need very strong line, a good rod and a lot of patience. For a catfish to finally bite it can take many hours and just as you feel like giving up you land the "big one".

Using an artificial lure for fishing is completely different than the method just described. Basically, a little shiny lure with hooks, it can be a plastic fish or a rubber worm, is fastened to the line and cast in. Instead of leaving the bait and waiting the caster must reel his bait slowly in, giving the plastic fish a realistic swimming motion. This type of fishing is very common for Largemouth or Smallmouth bass.
Not very common in Namibia and almost nonexistent is fly fishing. The name already implies what this is all about. At the tip of the line a little artificial "fly" or "bug" is attached and the caster mimics the movement of an insect. Fly fishing is very common in South Africa when catching salmon trout, but in Namibia it has been used successfully on carp. It is quite tiresome though.

"Compared to other countries freshwater fishing is not too big in Namibia but we are well structured", says Anton Seabrooke, President of the Namibia Federation for Freshwater Anglers. The official mother body boasts an impressive five Associations: Species Angling Namibia (SAN), Namibia Artificial Lure Angling Namibia (NALAA), Namibia Bass Angling Association (NBAA), Namibia Freshwater Bank Angling Association (NFBAA) and the Namibia Light Tackle Boat Freshwater Angling Association (NLTBAA). The freshwater fishing sport hasn't grown to a big size in Namibia as it doesn't draw big numbers of spectators, says Seabrooke. But professional freshwater fishermen are busy with a couple of competitions taking place every month. "We are well organized", Seabrooke continues, "the federation is recognized by the Namibia Sports commission". Does dam fishing sound like your cup of tea? Few things can beat a weekend away from the stressful city life like a rod in one hand and a beer in the other. For more information on the federation as well as freshwater fishing in Namibia visit www.namibia-freshwaterangling.com.
For today "Fred" can swim free again in the muddy water where he was born. Hopefully he grows to become a big fish that I can catch again in a couple of years and boast about it to the same fishermen that were laughing at me the first time.