Text and photos by Ron Swilling
‘The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.’
Boyhood memories of family holidays often involve Dad and fishing. But as you travel back to all the times in your life you’ve stood with rod in hand, a collection of good feelings present themselves. Blue skies, warm sun, shining water, the feeling of standing with the sea crashing nearby, a finger on the line in the water, feeling for a bite. You feel the movement of the waves and are connected to the huge ocean world. The lucky catch is only part of the experience; it’s also about being out there in nature where the sea, space and planet work their magic.
Namibia is a popular fishing destination. The Benguela ecosystem, rich in plankton, offers prime fishing for cold-water fish. There is the option to fish from the beach or from a boat. Fishing for the coppershark, referred to informally as bronzy, is a popular option by boat, giving the angler the thrill of fighting for a catch and the elation of release. Namibian regulars, kabeljou, steenbras, blacktail and galjoen can be caught, and when the season is right, also snoek. Shore fishing depends on currents, tides and temperatures. Casting out further, the fish have more of a chance to nibble bait and swim your line into underwater rock gardens.
Driving from Swakopmund to the beaches north of Wlotskasbaken, a settlement of simple houses with water tanks dotting the desert sand, we drove through flat land with lichen fields and salt bushes. The guide from Ocean Adventures and Angling Tours, a family-run outfit based in Swakopmund, was equipped with rods and different kinds of bait appealing to the various fish appetites, from mussels to mackerel, and coolboxes and lunchpacks for the land animals. The only requirement for guests is hats, sun cream, a good sense of adventure and humour, the latter always an advantage.
I took my shoes off and dug my toes into the burgundy-and-black pigmented sand, rich with minerals glittering in the sun. We baited our rods with mussels to attract galjoen, blacktail and steenbras, the second hook with sardines for kabeljou, and cast our lines, travelling from gully to gully down the beach. First catch was an undersized galjoen, quickly thrown back as required by the fishing regulations pertaining to minimum and maximum size. Permits allow the angler to catch a quota of ten fish per person per day of a particular size, but only two of a species if exceeding a maximum size, so as not to deplete the breeding stock.
Next catch was a good size kabeljou, considered the tastiest eating fish of all and kept for an essence-of-the-sea supper over coals. The sea crashed and the mysterious underwater world became more and more enthralling. Although the bait is selected to lure a certain fish, lady luck and chance work together, invoking the excitement of a gambler about to turn over his cards.
With rods well-balanced and swaying in the current, I relaxed, taking deep breaths of fresh salty sea air. I focused on the here and now: kelp gulls watching for opportune moments, mussel inners shining iridescent against the purple colours of the shell, miles of beach decorated with bird and black-backed jackal tracks, stray feathers and seaweed strands like long knotted hair twisted on the sand. The thick mist bank on the horizon above the sea swayed in a dance, vacillating between whether to retreat or advance into the day, gulls cried and the sea symphony encompassed all with its enduring music. The sun shone down, supper was in the cooler and life felt good.
My rod jerked and pulled, the two worlds of air and water meeting through nylon and steel. Reeling in, a blacktail glittered, surprised at the world above and its unexpected fate. The guide looked at me and enquired whether I would like to keep or release the fish. I said release, and he deposited it back into the waves on the water’s edge. It hesitated, righted itself, the sun catching its scales, and in a flash of flight disappeared into the sea.
As I watched it zip through the water, free and alive against all odds, I felt satisfied. It was a fitting ending for a day of good hours spent fishing and communing with nature.
This article was originally published in the December 2007 Flamingo magazine.