What Went Down in Djibouti

Landing at Djibouti International, I knew I was back in Africa. Simple, tired decorations, signs of better economic times now past and, of course, confused customs officials – I felt right at home! We’d set off on this little exploration on a sniff of a rumour and a couple of French blog posts.

We’d set our sights on ultimately getting to a section of coast north of Obock that, in our minds, held lots of fishy potential. The way there was simple enough; pick up our 4×4 rental (a 70 series diesel Land Cruiser that soon became affectionately known as ‘The Donkey’), buy some food and spare fuel and head north.

Djibouti City is quite small and easy to navigate and we were soon on our way out of town. The port of Djibouti serves pretty much the entire central and NE Africa (shipping companies prefer to avoid the Horn of Africa these days!) which means the main road to Ethiopia is endless trucks. After dodging some damn interesting driving from the khat chewing (more on this later) truck drivers, we eventually made it to the turn off that would take us, via Lake Assal, to the north. Moment of the day however, was when we found ourselves staring in total disbelief at what appeared to be a random rocket launcher just standing on ridge… I uttered a sentence of disbelief that half faded into Alistair nearly driving off the road as he craned his neck to have a look… Throughout the trip we passed military patrols – mostly American and French – and figured that they run extensive training operations out here.

The second rocket launcher we passed…

Lake Assal is, in itself, worth a visit. A desolate place reminiscent more of a desert planet in Star Wars; it is Africa’s lowest point and is saltier than the Dead Sea. It’s alien and harsh! We managed to barter a few salt encrusted goat skulls from the local Afar tribesmen.

The next few days were spent frustratingly catching small fish (and losing some big ones) along the coral fringes between Tadjoura and Obock. There were fish all along the reefs – which are as close to pristine as one can imagine! Absolutely stunning! But fishing from shore with a drop off that slides down more than good few metres is a recipe for losing fish and tackle. And that’s what we did…

Our goal was get to the north of Obock, to a spot that, on Google, looks like some epic fishing to both deep water and on flats! In Obock – a strange, khat fuelled place that was more surreal than one can imagine (from UN aid workers running around in bikinis to almost the entire local town population being stoned on khat) – we had to find some diesel. The main, and only, petrol station is covered in UNAID food bags and not a drop available. Eventually we found fuel, pumped from the window of a local mechanic… Time to head north.

About 20 min north of Obock our northern mission was brought to an abrupt halt as we were warned by khat chewing, AK welding Djiboutian road block guards that there was sometimes trouble north of here; Eritrean “bandits” liked to hide in the desert out there. And white skins mean ransoms…

So, back south we headed… Dejected and frustrated. After another day of small fish we made a call to head back to an area we had skirted over too quickly.

The spot we found ourselves for our last full day fishing ended up providing some of best and hardest fishing I ever done. This place is not friendly. I tore through flylines and braid on the sharp oyster encrusted igneus rock and cheese grater coral. Allistair lost more than few poppers and stickbaits. This place ate our gear!

But wasn’t only the rock and coral with an appetite for tackle. Big angry coral trout, fat lazy grouper and gangs of GTs all took their toll. The reefs drop off into inky blue and, standing on shore, there’s very little one can do to stop a fish reefing you…

The loss tally was huge. I tried fighting the Geets flats style – lock down the drag and hang on, break him early. Here, all this method resulted in were lost fish… Allistair had the same problems on the heavy popping gear. As soon too much pressure was put on a fish, into the bricks it went. A change in tactics was necessary.

So, running out of time, I eventually hooked a Geet that, against every fibre of my instinct, I let run. I gave him just enough drag to make him work for every meter. And work he did as I watched the bright yellow 80lb backing peel off into the blue. I had figured that, without to much pressure, the fish would keep its initial run going, straight out into deep away from the coral heads and oyster encrusted banks. Out there he could drag a fly line as much as he wanted. That much backing out the tip of my rod makes me nervous…

Twenty minutes later, I saw my fly line for the first time. Five minutes after that, with a massive monkey climbing off my back, I cradled my first and only decent GT of trip. But it will remain a Geet of my lifetime.

It only takes one…

Allistair faired better with the popping gear, landing 5 GTs on spinning tackle.

The parking lot water bottle shower at Djibouti International finished off an incredible trip.

I know I’ve said about many places that I haven’t yet, but I will be back!

A good grouper that didn’t manage to find its hole in the reef!