The Cubera of Gabon

While the tides were very favorable for fishing the surf when we arrived in Cette Cama, they slowly started to turn against us as the days wore on. Our prospects of connecting with big tarpon were slowly diminishing, but head guide, Mark Murray, explained that our chances of pinning with big Cubera were actually increasing.

On the morning of day four we all set off to hit the surf for tarpon and threadfin at daybreak. We saw a few jacks busting up on the beach, but things went quiet quickly after that. As the sun came up, everyone decided to hit the estuary for long-fin jacks. The action on this particular morning was crazy and everyone enjoyed some spectacular fishing. John and I caught several good fish each and even had a few double-ups.

 

John and myself doubling up on long fin jack
John and myself doubling up on long fin jack

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After lunch it was fly tying time. John and I admired the collection of ’fallen soldiers’, lures that have been destroyed by monster cubera. We decided to take these as a point of departure and ‘match the hatch’ for cubera – Gabon style. Armed with some big cubera candy, we set off for the evening session at about 4pm.

Top: Cubera Candy. Bottom: DMA to match
Top: Cubera Candy. Bottom: DMA to match

This evening it was Garth Wellman’s turn to try his luck from an anchored boat in the river mouth. Everyone else started off on the beach, and from where we were standing, we could see that Garth was kept quite busy indeed. Apart from several big jacks, Garth managed to jump about eight (!!!) tarpon and eventually managed to beat the massive outgoing tide and land one. He also managed to catch a beautiful threadfin, the second and last one of our trip.

Garth with a special catch; Giant Afrirican threadfin on fly
Garth with a special catch; Giant African threadfin on fly

Meanwhile I decided to go check out a sand spit that Mark pointed out to me, saying that the big cubera hang out here on the outgoing tide. I was fishing alone when I had a hook-up as the sun was setting. A smallish tarpon launched itself out the water a few meters in front of me and after some hectic acrobatics it was off. I was still high on this hookup when John joined me. While we were chatting away I had another hookup – big fish! The thing immediately took of towards the surf and John walked with me as I followed it out towards the beach. I locked the drag on my Tibor reel and gave it horns on the 12wt.

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I expected to see a real monster at the end of the line, so I was quite surprised when I eventually landed the cubera snapper; I expected it to be a lot bigger. Still it was a handsome fish and the biggest one we would land during our stay.

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The business end of a cubera snapper it quite impressive; orange DMA did the trick.
The business end of a cubera snapper it quite impressive; orange DMA did the trick.

After some photos and a few more casts, John and I decided to fish the beach for a while. Mark and the guides were already setting out supper on the beach and some of the guys were enjoying beers under the stars. We started putting out casts into the surf and it wasn’t long before John hooked up and landed a mooi cubera after waltzing up and down the beach, grunting away, trying to beat this strong thing.

John Travis with a good cubera off the beach. I have also never seen a fish snapping away at forceps as we tried to remove the hook. If this thing had legs, we would have been in some serious shit!
John Travis with a good cubera off the beach. I have also never seen a fish snapping away at forceps as we tried to remove the hook. If this thing had legs, we would have been in some serious shit!

Day Five

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On the morning of day five, Arno van der Nest and I decided to fish the surf alone. Mark convinced everyone else to fish the estuary at dawn, and explained that the surf is very unlikely to deliver the goods. Still, we decided to give it another try. That tarpon fever has obviously taken hold of us both. After two hours of no activity whatsoever, we admitted defeat and joined the rest of the crew and smashed some jacks in the river. We had a great morning and also bashed some snapper against the mangrove edges, with the lush Gabonese forest as backdrop.

Arno laying out casts with the Gabonese forest as backdrop
Arno laying out casts with the Gabonese forest as backdrop
Going tight with a longfin jack
Going tight with a longfin jack

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For the evening session it was John and I who gave the anchored boat in the channel of the river mouth a try. The game plan was simple; make casts at a right angle to the boat with the fastest sinking line you have, wait for the current to pull the line down and swing it until it was straight out the back of the boat and start stripping. Although just a single angler could fish at a time, we had non-stop action from the tarpon that was obviously holding and feeding far out in the channel. At some point I would jump a tarpon, and after a few jumps it would spit the hook, and as I was stripping the fly back, hook another! After I lost a few, I connected to a medium size tarpon and this one stayed on. After a hefty battle, pulling the fish against the current, the fish was boatside, with the leader material breaking the surface. But as we were getting ready to leader it, the hook pulled and the fish was gone. Despite not landing a tarpon we both had a blast and looked forward to dinner under the stars in the moonlight.

Surprise catch while fishing off the anchored boat; Senegalese kob
Surprise catch while fishing off the anchored boat; Senegalese kob

While we were fishing off the boat, it was Jeff’s turn to hook and land a big cubera snapper from the spit in the estuary mouth. The fish put up a tremendous scrap and according to Arno and Gath, who helped Jeff land the fish, he was grunting like a wounded hog as the fish gave him serious horns. The day ended with everyone relaying stories while having a couple of cold beers on the beach.

Jeff's cubera
Jeff’s cubera

Day six

On the last morning we all hit the estuary a little later than usual. The late night and early rises were beginning to take its toll. Nonetheless everyone had an excellent morning on the water and I remember that quite a few good snapper were landed.

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small pencil poppers remained a favourite pattern
Small pencil poppers remained a favourite pattern

I witnessed John hook a medium size snapper that hit his tiny EP baitfish as he dropped it on the edge of some submerged timber. Seconds later the snapper was crashing through the submerged branches and sticks like a wild boar, quite unbelievable! Luckily John kept his shit together and managed to pull it from its hole. Others weren’t so lucky; Garth and Arno were both smoked by bigger snapper that were lost to mangrove roots.

John with his bush wacking snapper
John with his bush wacking snapper

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After lunch the majority of us went for a guided forest walk with one of the nature conservation officials in the area. We took a boat ride up a small creek that took us to our starting point. From there it was a two hour forest hike that took us on the guided forest walk to the beach and another 30 minutes or so to the river mouth. Mark and the other guides, who came down with the rest of the skiffs and our tackle, met us at the spit.

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The forest floor is covered with leaves, witch allowed for barefoot walking.

Emerging on the ocean side of the forest.
Emerging on the ocean side of the forest.
Approaching the river mouth.
Approaching the river mouth.

After a beer and a swim in the croc-infested estuary, everyone got ready for our final session at Cette Cama. Some of the guys walked down to the beach to have a final go at some threadfin. Arno and Garth took a ride across the mouth to fish the Southern bank of the mouth; a spot that we did not fish at all during our weeklong visit. But as Mark predicted, the current was pumping out the estuary way to strong and fast and the guys returned just after dark.

I gave the spit another go, hoping to catch another snapper. The tide was full and only started falling as the sun went down. At some point I saw lights bobbing towards me from the beach side. It was guide Jeremy, with Jeff and Mike in close pursuit. It transpired that they were charged by what seemed to be a wounded buffalo. After they passed Jeremy came back to persuade be to return to the boats and the crashing sound of the animal in the bush was audible not too far away. I told a distraught Jeremy to give me another five minutes or so. Five more casts please! The foolishness paid off as I caught another fine cubera , and the only fish of the session, in the dying minutes off our trip.

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Back at camp an atmosphere of celebration was in the air. Beers flowed, stories were told and John pulled out a box of cigars, which prompted us to sit down for a departure group shot.

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The next morning I was up first and while waiting for the boats to take us back, stood on the jetty with a coffee. As I was contemplating this magnificent place, a school of jacks came crashing by, smashing baities in front of the lodge. If there ever was a shadow of doubt, this immediately expelled it and made the resolution then and there that I had to come back to this epic place.

 

5 thoughts on “The Cubera of Gabon”

  1. Bryce says:

    Nice one Conrad…

  2. Andre Van Wyk says:

    Fokken awesome Conna… Cubera are definitely one of my favourite fish ever, but yet to tangle successfully with a big one… awesome fish and pics man..

  3. Fred Davis says:

    I love that group mugshot! And those Cubera alone make the Gabon trip worthwhile – I wish I could have been along for the ride!!!

  4. Leonard Flemming says:

    Lekker Conrad! Boet, that place looks amazing…

  5. Darryn says:

    Lovely stuff…. ! Dunno if I would brave walking around barefoot in that bush however!

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