By Bob Kimber
Its March 2000 and I have just completed my tenth Lake Nasser safari, so obviously I am something of an addict. I was lucky enough to be on one of the original Reconnaissance Safaris put together by Tim Baily, and from that point on I have developed a passion for the lake unsurpassed by any of the other exotic locations I have been fortunate enough to fish. In fact it would be true to say that Nasser has formed a major part of my life for the past seven years. I have countless wonderful memories of life on safari and have forged some great friendships I even met my wife on the return flight after one trip. Tim Baily really has a lot to answer for.
So how has it changed over the years? Well the lake itself has changed a little of course, although the level has risen steadily over that time. Even at its seasonal low it is now well above areas where you could once stand and fish. Yes, this huge lake is actually getting even bigger.
But other things never change: the magic of just being in such a wilderness, the magnificent sunsets, sleeping under the awesome desert sky, and of course Tims jokes. (Hands up to all those who have heard him tell the one about the ships of the desert.)
There has been a real change, though, in the African Angler itself. Formerly known as the Sport Fishing Club of Egypt, this organization has progressed in leaps and bounds. Taking a look at trips one and ten is probably the best way I can illustrate this.
Safari one found myself and four friends at a slipway close to the High Dam. We had made the journey from Luxor by road, an interesting experience but not one I was eager to repeat on a regular basis. Waiting for us were two boats, and the most polite way to describe them would be functional. These were to serve not only for fishing purposes but also as our mobile camp. Everything had to crammed on board, so as you can image space was at a premium. We duly set off: two boats stuffed to the gunnels with equipment, food, fuel, three Nubians, Tim Baily plus five anglers and all their gear.
The fishing turned out to be very hard. I believe it would have been a difficult week regardless of our knowledge at the time, but our tactics and lure selection certainly did not help the situation. The trolling was exclusively done hard against the shoreline, and we were very unselective in the areas we tried, the only criteria being that they appeared rocky and deep thats a lot of shoreline on Nasser. Sometimes we would troll endless stretches for what seemed like hours with little or nothing to show for our efforts. During all this, the guides were enthusiastic and excellent at handling the boats but had not at this stage developed the feel for finding fish. Tim, too, was very frustrated by the poor results but did not then have the resources to improve things. This is not meant as criticism, Nasser is a vast area with major seasonal changes in water temperature and level. Getting to grips with it was going to be a huge undertaking.
Meanwhile our shore fishing was attempted in much the same areas as the trolling, and we did catch greater numbers of fish but the average size was very small. We also had limited success from the shore with small tigers. In fact, it was while using a small spoon intended for tiger that my friend Terry hooked and lost a perch of around 45lb, easily the biggest we hooked from shore all week.
The biggest actually caught on the trip was 57lb and luckily enough fell to my rod. It was taken on a trolled Yo-Zuri Formurat, a deep diver about the same shape and size as a Big S. (Depth Raiders were still to be discovered and we made little use of Rapalas or Russelures.)
Although our methods now seem a little crude, they did represent progress over an even earlier safari. They had apparently spent several days trolling in open shallow weedy areas. It seems funny now, but at the time who knew any better?
One thing we did quickly discover were the difficulties presented by our fishing boats doubling as supply boats. Moving camp, which we did regularly, entailed a great deal of loading and unloading during valuable fishing time. Needless to say, this was more than a little frustrating.
Life in camp, though, was great fun, dinner being one of the undoubted highlights every day. The food was prepared by our Nubian chef in a small field kitchen set up on the shore, basically a couple of gas rings and a grill. Using these limited facilities and working alone he prepared dinner for everyone all things considered, quite a feat. Dinner was served with us seated on a tarpaulin on the ground (the luxury of chairs had not yet arrived) with lighting provided by the traditional safari Hurricane Lamp purring in the background.
Sleeping options were boat or shore. For the shore a mattress was taken from the boat and laid directly on the ground, which obviously left you at the mercy of scorpions. Not surprisingly, we mostly opted for the boat, although I think we all tried the shore at some stage. So with five anglers and three Nubians, the boat did get a little crowded. Tim always slept on the shore. It was wonderful drifting off to sleep with the desert sounds broken only by Tim's unbelievable snoring...
March 2000 now, and I have been ferried to the lake from Aswan's smart new airport in air-conditioned comfort, my transfers in Luxor having been handled by Abercrombie & Kent. There to greet me is Tim, who has decided to take time out and join me for the week.
From a land owned by the African Angler at the edge of the lake, we step aboard an enormous barge that Tim has recently purchased. He plans to convert it into a floating lodge but currently it is being used as a pontoon to moor the boats which are not already out on safari. The African Angler now own all their own boats: a fleet consisting of ten fishing boats and four supply boats. Tim proudly shows me the new boat that we are ready to use for the week. Like all the boats, it has been specifically designed and built for the job. The accommodation is excellent, having comfortable twin beds with plenty of space to maneuver between them and bags of room for all your kit underneath. The deck is spacious and clear of any obstructions, with a rail round the outside enabling you to walk right around the boat - so no more gymnastics required whilst playing fish. A permanent rod rack is standard and this latest version has forward steering complete with integral fish-finder. Long-range fuel tanks mean an end to all those stops to siphon fuel (often practised in the past with a cigarette dangling from the lips). And in the evenings you can sort your gear using electric lights, the battery being charged during the day by the outboard. We are also to be accompanied by one of the large supply boats. This not only transports all the food, fuel and equipment but also has a fully fitted kitchen and dining area.
Out on the lake, owing to some high winds, the fishing was not at its best. If this is sounding familiar, it has to be said that this is not typical of my trips - on occasions during the intervening years I've experienced some truly spectacular fishing. Sometimes, though, its fun to have to work at it. It's a good test of just how much has been learnt over the years.
We hardly trolled the shoreline at all. Instead we concentrated on offshore marks which often appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Beneath the surface, however, they had all the features likely to appeal to big fish. (The fish-finder is now of paramount importance.) Often we would troll extremely intricate lines, searching for the right spot. On occasions we would try a more stealthy approach: cutting the engine and anchoring or drifting, casting lures from the boat. This strategy has proved very successful.
The shore fishing was very selective. There are of course now plenty of known hotspots but Tim and his guides have also developed a sixth sense for new areas that are likely to produce. It would be true to say that at some of the heavily fished areas the fish have become wise to conventional techniques. However, using a stealthy approach and something they have not seen before still brought us some success. We did particularly well with wobbled dead tiger fish, which we had previously caught using a fly rod and small trout patterns. (Catching the bait was fun in itself.) Overall we certainly did not hammer the fish, but with the knowledge of Tim and the guides, and by working at it, we caught our share. Better hook-holds would have given us a couple of 'biggies'. We also found some prolific areas for tigers, taking fish close to double figures on lures and others six or seven pounds on an eight-weight fly rod, great sport.
The crew were superb, great company and taking a real pride in their work. I have noticed lately that a real sense of team spirit has developed within everyone associated with the African Angler. At the end of a full day's fishing we would be treated to a splendid three-course dinner served at the dining table on the supply boat, usually accompanied by one or two ice-cold beers. Then, after a comfortable night's sleep (only disturbed by Bailey's snoring, no change there I'm afraid) we would wake to a cup of tea or coffee freshly prepared. (On some of my earlier trips I can recall making the coffee myself just to try and coax the crew out of bed in the morning!) Finally, heading back to Aswan on the last day, I had the same thought I've had at this point on all nine previous occasions: When can I do it again?
Reflecting on my ten safaris, it's clear that the progress made by Tim and his team is remarkable, particularly if you know some of the red tape and major obstacles that have been encountered along the way. For me, all the refinements that have been made so far are for the better - but the safaris still maintain the charm and magic of the early days. I hope this never changes.