Inevitably, we went to Maasai Mara, one of the favourite subjects of TV wildlife programmes, and it was excellent. We saw an enormous variety of game, including three leopards in the space of about two hours. We also did a balloon trip, about which I had initially been somewhat sceptical, especially at the price, but ended up thoroughly converted to the joys of ballooning. It really was the most marvellous way of seeing that bit of country.
Fishing was not top of the agenda mainly because the philosophy of the holiday was to indulge our infinitely patient and tolerant wives. But, a trip to the coast was important for wives, and maybe some fishing could be sneaked in. As it happened, the fishing turned out to be fantastic. We achieved, finally, what I have tried so often to achieve in the past, which is to get stuck in to some of the big shoals of fish with a fly, in this case ‘Koli-Koli’ – otherwise known as Golden Trevally. Much depends on the timing, and we were lucky enough to find these fish when they were taking voraciously.
It was a bit of a toss up, before our friends (Ollie and Victoria) arrived, as to whether we would go to Hemingways, Watamu, or Malindi or this place that none of us knew about called Kiwayu. In the end, because we (i.e. Belinda and myself) were on holiday as well, and we wanted to go somewhere new, we opted for Kiwayu. It is the northernmost island in the Lamu archipelago and therefore the most northern island of Kenya – after that it is Somalia, and the islands further North are where the Al ‘Qeeda are supposed to have terrorist camps. Anyway, if you stray to that part of the coast if the terrorists don’t get you the Somali Pirates might.
There is a resort on Kiwayu that is magical. It is situated in a beautiful but remote lagoon, surrounded by mangrove swamps and saltwater creeks (which hold bonefish), on the beaches of which once roamed large herds of elephant – up until 1982, when they were, sadly, hunted to extinction. What I did not know, when we decided to select this spot, is that it has very good fishing, in fact possibly the best fishing on the Kenya coast judging by some of the records (24 Sailfish on a fly in one day, all caught by the same boat), and apparently a lot of Marlin.
Although I never go anywhere near a piece of water without a rod, as I said, I did not really expect to fish very much. On top of this, I had only returned from a mission in Somalia the night before and so I was not quite so well prepared as I would like to have been – to the extent that I even took the wrong single handed fly rod (for which I was subsequently to pay). Anyway we took a couple of fly rods and a selection of flies and other bits and pieces to Kiwayu with us, but when we got down there we were still quite casual about the fishing. Jaak, who picked us up at the airstrip, was the fishing skipper, and when he saw the fly rods he wanted to know whether we were keen to try some bone fishing because they have seen them on some of the flats there recently, and certainly the area looks good. We said that we might try the next day. As it was we were carried away with the snorkelling, and by midday it was probably too late to go and try for bonefish, although I was still keen to do so.
Instead Jaak suggested that we go out for a couple of hours in the evening in one of the small boats (seriously small) to try for Koli-Koli, which were shoaling in huge numbers, attacking the sardines, and, he said, we might be able to catch one on a fly, although he doubted whether we would land it. We didn’t need much encouragement – come four o’clock we were ready to go. The two girls decided to come with us, because we were told that many of the shoals were not far out to sea. This was when I discovered that the single-handed rod I had brought was not the 9-weight that I had wanted to bring, but a 7-weight trout rod.
Off we set, out through the lagoon, past the headland, surfed with the giant waves over the coral reef, and into the main ocean – a slightly bumpy ride when we got past the headland into the main ocean, but all good fun. It was a beautiful evening, although, at first, we saw no signs of birds or fish. Soon our excellent guide, Ali, got us to the chosen area which he said was over some sandbanks – we had just started becoming a wee bit worried about going further and further out into the ocean in this tiny boat.
After about ten minutes, we spotted our first shoal and what a remarkable sight it was – hundreds of birds diving and the water literally boiling with fish, just like the scenes in ‘Blue Planet’. You could hear the noise from several hundred yards away, it was a roaring noise, and it sounded like a very heavy, localised, downpour of rain. This was enough to give an average fisherman like me a sexual blackout. Well we steered our boat into the middle of the fish and instantly Ollie’s fly was taken, and taken so fast that the line was down to near the end of the backing in a matter of seconds. I was, for a moment, completely mesmerised. Ollie, of course, had the 7-weight trout rod. Fortunately, the cast broke (as opposed to something more critical like the backing) and Ollie reeled in. I had started to tie on another fly (which I thought was probably a waste of time) when Belinda’s fly was also taken, and that too disappeared at an incredible speed, and totally out of control. This was amazing stuff. However, this time we were on the double-handed 13-foot saltwater fly rod with my JW Young saltwater reel with the outstanding drag system, and I thought we might stand a chance. Rather unceremoniously I grabbed the rod from Belinda, because wonderful person though she is, she didn’t really know what to do. I played the fish - well actually I had no control - for about five minutes but then it went off and took out all my backing. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get the boat going quickly enough and when I got to the end of the backing the rod bowed ominously before something broke. It was actually the knot to the fly that came undone, and so another lost fish. I thought then that fly-fishing was a hopeless cause and so I suggested to Ollie that he stuck out the two heavy-duty trolling rods, on which our guide put some plastic squid. Whilst Ali did this, I gave back to Ollie the single-handed fly rod which now had a new fly. We went off to find more fish, whilst I sorted out the other fly rod. We quickly found another shoal and we were followed there by a large school of dolphins. It was all an amazing occasion. As soon as we got to the other shoal, Ollie hooked another fish, and it was the same thing again – the line whizzed off the reel and I thought that we didn’t stand a chance. After a while, though, it seemed to slow down, and we followed with the boat so it looked as though we might have it on for a bit longer. Suddenly there was a thump, and Ollie found himself without fish, without fly, without fly line and without most of the backing, and generally completely astonished. Fortunately, although it was a much-favoured fly line, it was getting a bit old and worn, so it was no great loss. Ollie thought that something very much bigger had grabbed the Koli Koli, whilst he was playing it.
The heavier rods were now ready, so the others started trolling and soon they were into a couple of fish. On such a small boat bouncing around on top of the waves, this was chaotic stuff, but I let them get on with it whilst I fiddled around with the fly rods. Even with the trolling rods, it took a long time to play these extremely tough fighters, and I really thought that there was not much point in even trying to catch them with the fly rods. However, once we had boated these two fish (they weighed about 10 Kilos each) we set off in pursuit of another shoal. The shoals were not too difficult to spot. Once we got into the middle of them I started casting, using the 13’ rod and a fast sinking sink tip, and pulling the fly back rapidly, whilst the others carried on trolling with the squid. I could not get a fish to take, but in the meantime, Ollie had hooked another fish. Once he had cranked in this we set off to find a new shoal. Once again, we navigated the boat into the middle of them and I started casting to them, and once again, I had no success. I was, of course, ignoring the blindingly obvious evidence of my own eyes, which is that the fish were taking right on top of the surface, and I was using a fast sinking tip. The trouble was that I had lost one floating line, and the other floater was a bit too light for the 13’ rod, so I changed the fly line on the reel to the floating line, and put that on the 7 weight rod – all quite tricky in a tiny boat with 5 people in it, and with Victoria stuck into yet another Koli Koli, with Ollie giving lots of useful advice, and Belinda giving, possibly, not such useful advice, and Ali trying to steer the boat.
Finally, I was ready, I cast into the swarming mass of fish (and if you had your polaroids on it was a remarkable sight), and now there was no mistake as a fish whacked into my lure, pulled the rod into a tight hoop, nearly pulled me into the sea with it, and went off at high speed. All the superlatives apply; on the fly rod it felt as I had hooked Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari when it wasn’t in pole position. This time both the boat and I were better prepared, (although my wife, rather sweetly, clung on to my shirt to prevent me from falling overboard) and Ali quickly changed the direction of the boat to follow the fish. As you can imagine it was a serious battle with the 7-weight rod, and several times I got near to the end of the backing and to the end of my strength. These fish are not aerobatic but they are incredibly hard fighters. If they were aerobatic you could have said that they fought in three dimensions, but as it was they either went zipping along just sub surface or they did deep, seemingly endless, dives (which were a bit more difficult for the boat to follow). Eventually, miracle of miracles, we got the fish to the boat, and gaffed a fine specimen of about 12 Kgs.
We went off again, and now it was getting a bit late, but we quickly found another shoal of fish. I cast into them, pulled the fly a couple of times, and I hooked another fish. At the same time Ollie hooked one, and so Ollie’s fish was going off in one direction, and I was insisting on the boat following my fish which was going off in the opposite direction. The dilemma was soon solved when Ollie’s fish dropped off, and were able to devote full attention to the pursuit of mine; if we had not been able to follow them in the boat, we would not have had enough backing to cope. Yet again after a prolonged struggle, with the rod pulled over, into the water, we eventually managed to land the fish, which was about the same size.
By now it was getting close to the time that we should have been returning and so we decided to have one more go. We spotted the birds diving about 500 yards away, and we were soon back in among the fish. I cast out and first cast, before I even started pulling (having cast out at right angles to the boat, the fly was being swept around by the boat’s momentum) I hooked a fish and it was the same business. However, I gave up on playing it because my left arm was totally knackered and so I passed the rod over to Ollie, who managed to land it much faster than I had done with the previous two, although the fish was a bit smaller. In the end, we caught seven fish, and could have caught a lot more, but it was two hours of hectic activity. All the fish weighed between 8 and 12 kgs, and were supremely delicious to eat – not that we ate them all, but the lodge used them for many of the meals in a variety of delicious ways.
Altogether, it was an exciting couple of hours fishing – although the next day, when casting for little fish in one of the creeks (whilst on the lookout for bonefish), my gallant 7 weight rod collapsed. It was such a wonderful place, and the fishing was so good that ‘Mission Control’ has agreed that we can go back in a couple of weeks time over Easter – while the Koli-Koli are still on. There should also be a good run of Sailfish at the same time, so, watch this space…