Over a couple of pints, guide Johann Rademeyer fills Jazz Kuschke in on a recent tarpon trip to Angola’s Rio Longa. There are many students of fly fishing but not everybody graduates. Few go on to become professors (though a good bunch like to lecture). The real masters, though, are those who combine a sponge-like thirst for knowledge with natural fish-finding (and catching) instincts. This combo might make Johann Rademeyer the next Karate Kid.
Back working for Mavungana Flyfishing on the Orange River in South Africa, I struggled to get those poons out of my mind, especially while talking to clients around the fire at night. They all asked about the possibility of targeting them on fly there. It had been done before by the odd client, and Justin Kemp and Wesley Rapson did an exploratory trip up there a few years back with AJ’s brother Zander. Hearing those stories just got me more psyched and every time I got back into signal after taking a group on the Orange I would get in touch with Spyker Kruger from Camp Yetu to ask him about the river conditions and what was happening. Spyker, who owns the concessions and has exclusive rights for spinning in the area, had long desired to expand the lodge’s offerings to include fly fishing. After a final discussion with fellow guide Mike Dames, comparing the potential at Rio Longa to Sette Cama in Gabon where he guides part of the year (plus a few teasing WhatsApp messages from Spyker asking when I would visit), I couldn’t resist any longer and promptly booked my tickets.
Getting to Camp Yetu is not unlike getting to a lodge on the Zambezi. You fly to Luanda (there are direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg). After that four-hour hop, Spyker will pick you up and you do a road transfer. The Angolan roads are still in a terrible post-war state so the 200km drive takes about another three-and-a-half hours.
ON THE RIO LONGA
It’s a special river. Rio Longa flows through wetlands and dense jungles, creating a unique environment. It’s pretty wild, with a variety of snakes and small game as well as crocs in the river. When it reaches the coast, it turns sideways and flows horizontally for a couple of kilometres, not unlike some of the systems in Gabon. The mouth of the Rio Longa also has some really interesting features; one side has an open beach with the ocean and the other side is full of mangroves. The current is almost always going out to sea, with a lot of water moving down even on a pushing tide. Only during a spring high tide is there a bit of a standstill, but there’s never a push like on the tidal estuaries I’m used to on South Africa’s Garden Route. Because of that, the mouth of the river creates this kilometre- to a-kilometre-and-a-half-wide back eddy, providing still water and allowing you to fish in different areas with different currents and seams.
ON HIS FIRST TARPON
We were anchored up just on the riverside of the mouth, fishing in the faster water. There was another angler in the bow casting in the front 45 degrees and I was at the back, putting out swings, reminiscent of how I had fished for largies on the Orange River. On the fourth or fifth swing, I went tight…
After I hooked it, the tarpon jumped once and made one solid run before coming up and then running toward the boat. I stayed with it and luckily managed to net it on the first pass. To be honest, it didn’t give much of a fight compared to the other ones I caught later, but it was such a relief to get that first one in hand and the monkey off my back.
ON THE BIGGEST TARPON HE CAUGHT
The biggest one I got on this trip was on foot. It was on a spring high tide at the mouth and all these weed islands were washed up right close to the shore. The poons and other creatures were going mal right there at my feet. As mentioned, it’s not a light weed off which your fly line will just bounce. When I hooked this poon, there was just fly line everywhere and it tangled in the weed islands on shore. I somehow managed to free the line and get it all back on the reel and beach that fish. It was a wild and immensely satisfying moment, especially being all by myself with no one to help land it or take pictures.