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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Egypt

When Jeff Currier mentioned to me he went fly fishing in Lake Nasser Egypt, I was intrigued. I thought to myself that must have been an interesting novelty. When he mentioned that the lake record Nile Perch is over 270lbs and that it’s possible to catch fish over 100lbs on fly, I was hooked.

We talked about doing a trip there for about a year and a half. Finally our opportunity came. Jeff’s friend Jonathan Boulton of Mavungana Fly Fishing out of South Africa had a group of fly fisherman booked through African Angler to fish the lake. When there was a cancellation among the group we were invited to fill the spot. It was a big stretch for me but I jumped on the opportunity to be one of just a small hand full of Americas who have ever fished this exotic lake.

Our team consisted of Jeff Currier, one of the worlds best traveled and most dedicated fly fisherman, Brent Dawson of War Path Flies and myself. Each of our individual talents compliment perfectly to create one of the best fly fishing travel exploration and documentation teams on the globe. Jeff is one of the most consistent and methodical fly fisherman out there. He can cast like a machine and cover water with determined patience like now one else I’ve ever met. Jeff was one of the first people to ever try fly fishing for Nile Perch in Lake Nasser and had already landed two fish over 40lbs. The biggest anyone had ever recorded on fly at the time. Brent ties some of the most progressive large predator fish flies in the business and can also cast and fish like a champion. His flies and fishing skills were proven in Mongolia and he seemed up the challenge. I love a good exploratory trip and the chance to see a new country and fish to large challenging fish. I also enjoy documenting the experience with photos and film. After our truly incredible Journey in Mongolia together I knew our crew could pull off this trip and potentially capture some great imagery. With fishing conditions potentially dwindling every year, we knew this might be the chance of a lifetime to experience this fantastic lake before it is too late.


After many hours of travel including some extra hours due to the Volcanic Eruption in Iceland, we all arrived safe in Aswan Egypt. There we met the rest of our group and spent the night in a luxury hotel overlooking the river Nile. The next morning the whole group boarded a small shuttle bus and departed for the lake. First stop was at a military check point where we picked up our two armed guards that would accompany us on our journey to the launch site. Second stop was at a small market for the South African’s to buy cigarettes.

After an hour and a half drive through some very dry and bleak desert we arrived at a rough cement dock where we were greeted by our guides and placed our gear on the individual fishing boats that would become our floating homes for the next 7 days. The way the tours work is there’s a floating houseboat they call the supply ship. Then each group of 2 or three anglers has a boat and captain assigned to them. It’s the only place I’ve ever fished where you actually stay right on the boats you fish from. After a quick acquaintance with our guide and once our gear was settled we headed out onto the open waters of this massive lake.

Lake Nasser is a huge impoundment on the Nile. It stretches from Upper (south) Egypt all they way into Sudan. It’s one of the largest reservoirs in the world with over 250 km of shoreline. Because of it’s semi clear and calm waters it’s considered to be one of the best opportunities for sport fishing for Nile Perch in the world. As well as a host of other species including Tiger fish, fresh water puffer fish, Vundu and Electric Catfish and many species of Tilapia. Fishing on the lake has traditionally been trolling for Perch and Tigers and occasionally shore fishing with giant plugs. Fly Fishing for these species is fairly new and still in it’s developmental stages for this fishing operation.

Our first stop was an island perched out in the middle of the lake. It was a tall rock island with no vegetation. We all departed the boat with fierce anticipation. My first instinct was to get high as possible and try to spot cursing fish. Brent went straight to casing off the rocks and Jeff headed around the other side of the island to check out the scene. Around the far side of the island I spotted the first Nile Perch cursing along with a huge school of Tilapia. I estimated the fish at over 20 lbs. I yelled to Jeff and he scrambled to get into a casting position down the bank. As the fish approached, Jeff threw out a perfect cast with his 10t and a size 3/0 Tilapia imitation. The fly landed perfectly in front of the fish and Jeff started stripping. The fish tracked the fly, refused it and then disappeared into deep water. It would be our last decent sight fishing opportunity of the trip.

With very limited visibility and no fish in sight, the name of the game quickly became covering water. As much as possible, as quick as possible. Sometimes we would cast as far as we could into open water. Other times very short cast close to shore and pulling the fly past undercut rocks and ledges. Jeff preferred a weighted line and light fly. I became more fond of a heavy fly and intermediate line on a 10 wt.

Nile Perch are for the most part a lay and wait predator. They look allot like a huge Silvery Large Mouth Bass. Unlike their Australian cousin the Baramundi, Nile Perch don’t seem to be very surface oriented feeders. They for the most part lurk in deep water and in caves or near drop offs along the shore and wait for baits to swim by. Their eyes are orange which is speculated to help them feed at night. The eyes are aligned close to the top of the head indicating the fish most often attack from below. Their teeth are like sand paper and their mouths are very large in relativity to their body. They attack by sucking in a large area of water like a Snook or Large Mouth Bass. The main source of bait in the Lake is a range of different species of Tilapia as well as a couple other small bait fish species.

Lake Nasser also holds lots of Tiger fish. The Nasser tiger fish are smaller and more slender than their Southern African cousins. They have a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and can cut bait in half with one swipe. As a sport fish they are fast and aggressive. If a spot looked good for tigers, we fished sink tip lines on 8wt’s with a steel leader and small bait fish imitations. With Tigers, the faster the retrieve the better. The fast retrieve helped induce strikes and increased your chances of sinking the fly into their hard mouths.

Brent tied up nearly 100 different flies before this trip ranging from small flashy red and white streamers for tiger fish to size 7/0 marlin flies with double hooks and over 15 inches long.

The terrain around the lake consisted of mainly hot, dry, sharp, loose rocks. There were occasionally sand dunes and sometimes small juniper shrub looking bushes and small trees. It’s was a very stark but beautiful landscape mostly comprised of shades of brown, tan and grey. The sky was free of clouds most of the time but there was a heavy haze in the air. With temps hovering around 100 degrees during the day it made for some seriously challenging scrambling. Each time we stopped we would all fan out and start fishing as much water as possible until we covered the whole island we were on or excused all the water within walking distance. I as usual spent alot of time heading for high ground and trying to spot fish or film.

In terms of Egypt, Lake Nasser if very remote. Other than some very small local fisherman camps there’s no town or settlements on the lake with the exception of Aswan right at the dam. All the open water and space provides great refuge to a variety of wildlife and birds. Some of the highlights for me were seeing Egyptian fox’s, Nile Monitor Lizards and giant fresh water Crocodile. There’s also some creatures you need to watch out for. When walking around the lake its important to watch every step. There’s many scorpions, snakes and spiders that can be potential trip or even life enders if they bite you. Also Nile Crocks kill people every year. Makes you think twice about that afternoon swim or stumbling off in the bushes to take a leak at night.

Our guides were native Nubian people. They are all Muslim and wear the traditional white robes, pry to Meca 5 times a day and eat traditional food. Suca was our boat captain and a couple of the days we were joined by some of the guides in training, Mizzo and Mohamed. They were all pretty enthusiastic and fun loving people. The whole group met three times a day at the supply boat for breakfast lunch and dinner.

One night our guides got all hopped up on the Hookah and we had a big party and jam session on the top deck. That Egyptian Stella Beer goes down too easy after a long hot day of stumbling around on the rocks.

The first few days we fished hard. I mean real hard. Lots of walking and casting. Covering water and ground as fast as we could and still no fish to show for it. We got totally blanked on the first two days. Then Brent finally got a small Nile perch on day three. Jeff was shaking his head and saying the fishing his past two trips had been much better.

Finally day four I got a grab from a nice fish and had him on for a second. I cast again and managed to pull a fish around 12 or 14 pounds out from a ledge on a very steep cliff area that according to some inscription on one of the rocks was named Nile Perch Heaven. It was a sign of hope for all of us. Each day after that the fishing slowly improved. We never got into great numbers of fish, but at least we were getting fish on a semi regular basis. Reports were similar through out the group. Finally on day 5, Jonathon Boulton got a massive fish. It was never officially weighed but he estimates it at over 60lbs. It was his only fish of the day. His biggest before that was just over 20.

The next day Jeff and I fished with Jonathon. We started off on a small group of rocky islands. Fishing was good right off the bat. Jonathon got a nice fish around 15lbs. Jeff started getting into some nice tiger fish and small perch. Jonathon got another fish over 10 and I managed a 15lber. Action stayed consistent all morning.

Jeff and Jonathon both talked of experiencing better fishing on past trips. We speculated whether it was due to over fishing by the local subsistence fisherman with their long lines and gill nets or if it was due to a small cold front in the weather. Temps had dropped from the 100’s down to the 80’s and a stiff wind had picked up.

The next morning we ended up on a small island we dubbed Tiger Island. For a good 20 minutes Brent and Jeff were getting grabs on every cast. Brent squealed like a girl when a giant Tiger grabbed his fly. I saw the flash and can vouch that it was a massive fish. The next cast yielded a 4 lber. As we were landing and photographing it, Jeff started yelling. He hooked a small Tiger and while playing it in a giant double digit fish came in and attacked it. After landing the small fish he cast back out and hooked a 7lber. He claimed the first fish he saw was at least twice that size.

Finally on the last evening of the second to last day, I decided to try a different technique. I talked the guide into killing the motor off a nice point and letting the boat just drift with the wind for a while so we could cast flies or let them sink and jig near the bottom. I tied on the heaviest of a few jig style craft fur streamers I had tied up a couple nights earlier. I cast it out on a 12 wt with 400 grain sinking line. I let it sink deep and started to twitch the fly as we floated along. Within minutes I got a massive grab. The fish started running hard and I knew it was a big fish. I was thinking for sure I had a 80 to 100 lb fish. Eventually it came to the surface and jumped. I was like, what, that fish just put that bend in a 12 wt. It was a nice fish but not the 80 lber we were hoping for. When we got it the boat and landed it, we tried to weigh it. At first it bounced out the boca grip that ends at 30lbs. I thought it must be like 35 or 40 lbs but once the scale settled it measured only around 27 lbs.

We decided we might be onto something and motored up for another pass at the same spot. This time Brent hooked up on his giant super tomahawk dredger fly. The same pattern I got my huge taimen on in Mongolia. Brent reefed his fish in on a 14wt rod. Another nice fish around 25 lbs. That pair ended being the biggest of the trip for our boat. An epic ender to an epic trip.

After our tour on the lake we were carted back to our Hotel in Aswan where we had a nice meal on a floating restaurant on the Nile. Jeff, Brent and I took a stroll through the local market. We checked out all the shops and took in the local culture. It’s always cool to see how people live on the other side of the world. Cars spend in and out of pedestrians and ox driven carts. There were kids playing soccer in the streets, women shoping and men smoking the Hookah pipes. The smells there were amazing. Every scent, herb and fragrance you could think of wafting out of small shops. The smoke from Hookah pipes and cigarettes drifted off the streets and filled our noses as we strolled down the colorful streets. It seemed surreal after being in such a remote desert lake for the past week.

The last day of our trip we returned to Cairo on a morning flight. We spent the day touring the Great Pyramids and riding camels. Then took a quick tour of the Egyptian museum. Our flight departed late that night so we killed the rest of our hours in Egypt at the airport hotel bar.

All and all it was a great trip and another epic experience all in the name of fishing exploration. Keep an eye out for video of the trip in SOULFISH 2.

For a more detailed day to day report of the trip and even more photos check out the travel blog of global fly fishing expert Jeff Currier. www.flyfishbum.blogspot.com

This trip was made possible in part by a contribution from William Joseph. www.williamjoseph.net.

14 comments:

El Pescador said...

well done. i think you've got enough material to write a book given all the adventure travel you've done. i'm proud to know you. can't wait until our paths cross again.

Bernard Yin said...

Really amazing Mikey!

Brian J. said...

Wow. Amazing pioneering trip Mikey-- great write up!

Brent Dawson said...

perfect mikey, perfect explanation buddy, well done. Once again we had a most epic adventure and it is always the most fun hanging out with you and jeff. Fricken Killer!

Jackson said...

I have enjoyed previous posts on your blog. You clearly have a healthy respect for the fish you catch. But parts of this post made me cringe.

You write, "We speculated whether it was due to over fishing by the local subsistence fisherman with their long lines and gill nets or if it was due to a small cold front in the weather."

Sorry to be the fun police, but did you really mean to trash talk the reputation of folks who catch fish to survive? I figure that someone, like yourself, who (a) respects the resource and (b) has been both a guide and a sport would not be one to conflate the need to feed a family with the desire to catch for recreation. It just struck me as a very poor insinuation to make, even in the name of a great write-up. Be that as it may, I am still in awe of your trip. I want to believe that you just misspoke.

Burl Productions said...

Trust me i stood up for the local fisherman all week against the africans. I have a healthy respect for guys fishing to make a living and feed their families.

First of all April is the only month of the year where the lake is closed to commercial harvest. In a meager attempt to help protect fish stocks. All the commercial fisherman on the lake at this time were poaching and selling to the black market.

They were not fishing sustainably and not respecting the resource. They are out exploiting it. They leave trash, nets, and long lines covered in hooks everywhere. That gear kills many fish and wildlife unnecessarily.

Besides speculating that commercial fishing is the reason the fishery is declining is not talking trash. It's making a very valid observation. Don't write too much into it without having been there and seeing the situation yourself.

Burl Productions said...

Actually i can't really say if the locals were fishing sustainably. I'm not a biologist and don't have proper data to know what biomass this lake is capable of producing. Maybe they were just scratching the surface and the decline of the perch fishing really was due to a drop in the barometer. I don't think so though. I'm sure the local biologist and authorities recommend a month long closure for a reason and it should be respected.

I wanted to check out their catch to get a gauge of species diversity in the lake and distribution from the different areas of this huge lake we fished. The local fisherman are there to make a living and they are good at what they do. They come to catch as much as they can as quick as they can. They fish as much as they can physically handle for as long as they can handle camping on the lake. Usually about two months or so form what the guides told us. Most of them don't live in the area. They come from far away towns to work a stent on the lake then head home with their money. It's not their home and many of them won't return if they don't have to. We are just there to bother fish and satisfy our own egos. However, we left the ecosystem relatively undisturbed. And if the fishing is good we will come back and spend money without taking from the environment.

If the guides working for the sport fishing outfits took accurate records over a period of time they could come with with a long term management recommendation that would suit all parties needs. Preserving large perch and managing sustainable harvest of other species. I think there could be a great niche for someone to conduct research on fish migrations spawning habits and species distribution in any lake where there is sport-fishing outfits and commercial harvest taking place. Then create protected areas within the ecosystem. Either permanently closed or rolling closures to accommodate spawning fish. Really tough to enforce something like that though. Instead of spending the money on law enforcement boats, like the one on the lake that just drove around and all the poacher knew where it was, they could spend it on education. If all the fisherman on the lake knew why there were closed areas and really understood the dynamic of the ecosystem they would have personal pride in sustaining it.

This place isn't anywhere close to that though. These guys. Get what every they can and get out of there. I wanted to try fishing the local way. They had an interesting technique i hadn't seen yet. They would set out the gill nets across a cove entrance or around an island. In most places i've seen these nets, they just set them out and wait. Come back the next day or ever later. These guys would string out the nets then get between them and the land and start beating on their small boats like a drum. Some pounded the water with their paddles and others jumped up and down on the deck of the boat with a tap dancing type rhythm. Others played tribal rhythms with there hand on the haul of the boat. They tried to scare all the fish in the area into the nets so they could wrap them up quicker and move on. Kind of impatient buy very cool. I think i'd enjoy fishing like that more than fly fishing if i were out for food.

We stopped at one island and just ripped the Tiger fish. More action in half an hour for tigers than we had seen in the whole previous 5 days. We fished it in the morning and another group fished it in the evening. When they arrived there was a netter just cleaning his catch of a couple dozen tiger fish. They didn't even get a bit. We went back the next day and not even a bite. He cleaned the point off in 20 minutes. It was pretty astonishing really.

Burl Productions said...

In the old days people took pride in the river Nile. Perch were considered a sacred fish and only royalty fished for them. They had a mummified perch at the museum in Cairo that was over 1000 years old. People have been fishing the nile for at least 5000 years. From long before the time of Christ. When they flooded the river though to make the lake, all the local people were displaced. Many of them were forced to leave the area. Thousands of people were displaced. Their fishing traditions lost forever. There's allot of history of human development and fishing techniques buried under that lake not to mention some one of a kind temples and priceless historic sites. It's sad to see the shorelines littered with huge bundles of old gill net and miles of heavy monofilament line with old stamped eye heavy gauge metal hooks all over. One of our guides spent most of his time gathering piles of discarded plastic fishing gear and burning it with gasoline. The river below the dam no longer floods and the ecosystem is permanently changed. Some fishing techniques have been passed down but it's not the noble profession it used to be. I feel blessed to have gotten to catch one of the oldest fished for species of fish on the planet once reserved only for royalty. I hope to have that opportunity again some day.

brent Dawson said...

Well said Mikey, well said. It is very easy to comment when one can not see first hand the ecosystem at hand. Poaching runs crazy throughout our globe and Egypt is dying fast as many other countries will be soon to follow. We need education like mikey said to sustain fish for food for locals and recreation. Mikey you said it perfectly and you will never be able to satisfy everyone brother and keep up the solid posts.

Jackson said...

First, thanks for taking my comment at face value and not making assumptions about my intent. The latter is too often the case online.

Secondly, I appreciate the additional information you provided. I have not been to Egypt, but I have fished a little in Central and South America and have seen the apparent impacts of commercial over-harvest. So I completely understand your concern there. What threw me off in your initial post was describing it as "subsistence" fishing, which is fundamentally different from commercial fishing (as far as I know). Thanks for clarifying.

sebi_2569 said...

very beautiful photo,and interesant blog; bravo

Kevin Pereira said...

That was amazing! Very interesting read, amazing pictures, and beautiful fish!

Burl Productions said...

Jackson,

Poor choice of words on my part in my original post. I just wanted to clarify. The problem was from illegal commercial harvest, not subsistence fishing.

amazon said...

nice