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"Oh Shit! They're in the spot already...!" As they say down on Lake Nasser.

Leaving Aswan and we're on our way down into the desert wilderness.

Just recently I picked up a copy of Angler's Mail magazine from the newsagents, tearing at the bit to read about the latest in-depth review of a hook wallet or something. As I quickly flicked my way through the pages, feverishly searching out the tackle-on-test section, obviously, I came across a centre page article by their resident roam-about correspondent, Andy Little, reporting back from a trip he had just completed to Lake Nasser with Tim Baily's "African Angler" operation. While browsing through the piece, and looking at the excellent photographs, it suddenly struck me how different things are on safari there now, as opposed to when Steve and yours truly got ourselves down there for a piece of the action back in November '95. Looking back, there were several problems during our stay, and on our journey home we could think of umpteen ways in which we could have done better ourselves, or how things could be done better overall, because back then, I guess it was a pretty new operation. But having read the Andy Little article I was left raising my eyebrows a little at just how luxurious and professional the whole set up has become nowadays- a truly five star experience under the desert stars, with support boats, a silver service dining deck, piano lounge, stealth boats, a casino, GPS, echo sounders and maybe even a troupe of dancing girls. Thinking about it, they even had a cap on all the fuel tanks.

So many things stand out about the place and the trip when I cast my mind back across the Sahara.

Morocco Mole.

The desert skies for one thing. Anybody who has browsed any of the other pages on this site will know what a sucker I am for a dawn or dusk shot. There is always something magical about being by the water as the landscape begins to glow orange, and there on the banks of Lake Nasser, with the Sahara spreading out beyond, every morning and every evening was like heaven to me, with a huge orange sky giving way to vast, seemingly endless desert, which in turn met a vast seemingly endless expanse of water. And then, as a curtain call to the day, when the last of the sun’s glow had finally drained from the horizon, the stars would begin to smoulder. Of course, I had read people waxing lyrical before about how spectacular the night sky is when you’re in a desert with no clouds, zero light pollution and very little air pollution, and I guess I had always taken it as some kind of urban (or extra-urban) myth. But laying in the sleeping bag on the first evening, well, everything I had ever read or been told rang exactly true, as clusters of stars and far distant galaxies airbrushed the night sky, satellites silently slid around their orbit, and the occasional “shooting star” burned a white scar as another piece of junk reached meltdown on re-entry. I really had no idea there was so much going on up there. In fact it was quite worrying... I mean, how do they know they aren’t all gonna run into each other?

Actually, while I mention the subject, I remember an ex-girlfriend being really disappointed, no, upset even, when she found out that “shooting stars” weren’t really stars that were, well, erm, shooting… Bless her little cotton socks. Mind you, this was the very same young lady who also thought that Oak trees produced Unicorns... I'm better off out of it I think. Short digression there. Sorry.

The Egyptian Alps.

Steve returns a nice Nile Perch in the bright sunshine.

Our party consisted of Guy Taplin- a sculptor from Essex, Alan Kiff, a tour operator who was looking at adding the Nasser experience to their catalogue, a retired accountant from Hampshire who's name escapes me now (his quote of the trip: "I really have no idea what I'm doing here to be honest..."), and finally Steve and yours truly. During the trip we caught lord knows how many Nile Perch between us all, both by trolling close to the rocky islands, cliffs and humps, and casting from the shore, but unfortunately although a few of the big girls were encountered, they always seemed to get away with it one way or another.

Alan, for instance, would I think readily admit that he wasn't really an angler, and in fact had borrowed a spinning rod and a tiny fixed spool reel for the trip, which he had filled with 30lb BS mono... which of course it held barely a hundred metres of. The three of us were trolling along a drop off at sundown one evening, when Alan's 'toothpick' lunged over extremely powerfully, and immediately we knew he had hooked something very large indeed. Thing is, the lure was already some 40 metres out the stern, and by the time the boat had been taken out of gear and stopped drifting, the fish was in full flight. Within seconds the rest of the line disappeared from the spool, the knot came into view, everything locked up solid... and the fish was lost. A breath-taking display of power, but my guess would be the fish would have been even more breath-taking on a stringer!

Mohammed tries a lure as the sun dips behind the rocks.

One particularly memorable escapade was an evening spent trolling to the death before heading back to the allotted beach-camp right on darkness. As usual, we had pushed our fishing time right to the limit, and it was very soon completely dark, with the added problem we weren't quite sure what direction the camp was in! For a long time we slowly crept from bay to bay trying to spot some lights, sounds or anything to indicate where the camp was, and without a two-way (well, one that worked anyway) or a GPS, this eventually became a futile exercise. Things were also getting a little hairy, since intermittent rocks were poking up above the surface in many places, and bouncing the hull across one of those would have spoiled our day to a certain extent. After some deliberation, and in the absence of any beaches to land upon in the area, we eventually decided to stay out on the lake and sort it out in the morning, when at least we could see what we were doing. So there we were, drifting about on Lake Nasser, not quite sure where we were, and without any food on the boat. Not a problem though: cos we had the booze! So we did what I'm sure all the great explorers in history did when lost and confronted with a little difficulty. We got pissed. Several bottles of Egyptian Stella and Tim's bottle of Johnny Walker later, Guy, Steve, Tim and myself were having a lovely evening swapping drunken stories under the stars, when suddenly we could hear voices. We hushed down, and turned on a small torch. The voices got louder, and then louder still, until suddenly looming out of the darkness was a large, wooden Nubian fishing boat, the like of which run their catches up and down the lake all packed on ice in the hold. The ship pulled up alongside, and we tied the two together as Mohammed explained our situation to the crew. The booze took over at this point, since we thought it might be a good idea to have a look in the hold to see the species and size of fish they were catching. So after being granted permission, we jumped aboard and headed down below armed with our head torches to have a browse over the catch.

A night on a Nubian fishing boat. I don't know what was in the hubbly-bubbly, but it sure did the trick.

Sometimes I think I love fishing a bit too much.

A rod set up on a buzzer overnight for Vundu as I slept in the boat. I had a screaming run at first light- and then missed it!

If I remember rightly, I think we expected there to be a little more than there was- a few small Nile Perch, several small Tigerfish, a couple of Catfish and a pile of Tilapia was about the size of it, though I guess a lot more would be added before reaching Aswan. So we were soon top side again where many of the crew sat in a circle as the bubbling bong was passed around. They gestured to join them, so being pretty wasted already, and going on the "when in Rome..." edict, we huddled in next to the fishermen and took it in turns to have a draw on the pipe, as they sat around us laughing at our attempts to get a good drag on it, while stroking their multitude of cats (?) that were scattered all over the decks. Now I'm not a smoker, so I don't have a clue what stuff they had going through the system there, but stick it on top of a tank full of Stella and Johnny Walker and it sure did the trick for me. Eventually, with a proper buzz on in the head, we bade our farewells to the friendly fishermen, and boarded our own boat, whereby Steve decided to jump. As he did so, a loud 'SLAP!' rang across the bows as his forehead nutted the side of the boat's canopy.

"Shit, shit, shit!!" he shouted. 
"Duck Steve!"... and with that we were rolling about in a fit of laughter. 

It was only when we all came round with a mother of a hangover long after first light the next morning that the extent of the damage could be seen, with a nasty cut across his forehead right on the hair line, which was by now all matted in congealed blood.

"Felt nothing", he says. And you know what? I really don't think he did.

Needless to say, we struck up the engines and found camp a short while later (just two bays further along of course!), and after a coffee and a quick bite to eat we were soon laying siege to the lake's Perch population once again.

Alan, guide and Perch.

Engine problems were a recurring theme all week. Steve gives a hand. Thing is, it was usually water in the fuel tank.

A typical 'hooking job' on the unsuspecting Nile Perch.

This wasn't the only mishap to befall Steve during the trip either. One beautiful evening he hooked a nice fish of perhaps 30 or 40 pounds whilst trolling close to a near vertical cliff face disappearing into the water. Soon the Perch was alongside the boat and hoisted aboard, but as it was being manhandled for unhooking and a picture, it flapped, and the point of one of the large trebles pierced right through his middle finger... so there was 2 or 3 stone of fish hanging from one hook, going absolutely nuts, and 12 or 13 stone of angler hanging from the other, going even more nuts! In the end Mohammed and I managed to pin the fish down and stop the thing from bouncing around and doing any more damage, and quickly we took the remaining hook out of the fish. This just left Steve to be unhooked! Luckily (?!) the point had gone right through the flesh and was poking out of the other side, so we were able to get to work with the pliers on the hook point and barb, and after a lot of crimping, crunching, pushing and pulling the thing came out with an audible pop. Not pleasant. And he still had his photo taken with the fish too, before returning the fish in much better shape than he was and dousing the wound in Savlon to prevent a nasty case of 'boxing glove hand'.

This was an event that made us all the more wary for the rest of the journey, since many of the Perch landed were hooked in the most mysterious ways, with flying hooks bristling everywhere. I think this possibly happens so much because the fish actually try to knock their prey off balance and stun them before eating them whole maybe? Whatever, it certainly gave rise to some 'interesting' hooking arrangements (see picture left)!

Steve anticipating a fish as the sun sets.

A beautifully marked fish for Steve, shortly before I lost a really big pig. Worse still was that I actually saw it engulf my lure.

One Perch that didn't mess about however, was a lump that 'got away with it' one morning while fishing from the shore. We had jumped ship to fish an area that we had taken fish from every pass while trolling, so as to try and not spook the fish by passing a boat over their head continuously. Now I was having one of those mornings. This was the first time I had ever used one of them there new-fangled wonder braids. Abrasion resistant my arse! The first five casts I hooked five fish, four of which broke the braided Power Cable on the rocks. All of them were nice ones in perhaps the 25 to 45 pound range. After the first four I had become utterly sick of the braid, got the hump on, and had tied on a 20 metre leader to try and counter the problem, and at least after this I had succeeded in landing one. Shortly after I heard Steve swearing along the bank, and looked up to see a huge boil on the surface beneath his feet:
"Jesus! Andy! That was f***ing massive!"

Again, next cast the fish followed but stopped short again... as it did again, and again, and again. Eventually the fish sunk to the bottom and lay there ignoring every rattling piece of plastic that passed in front of it's nose, so Steve left it be and went to try further along.
"Have a go and see if you can get it mate", he said as he left.

So I wandered along, and there on the bottom was a really, really large shadow!
"'Kinell!" I exclaimed.
"Told you..." added Steve from his new fishing position.

The gaff in action for an evening Perch for Steve.

A shot of it's prehistoric looking bonce as it's slipped back home.

I tried a first cast, and although the fish adjusted it's stance slightly to view the Shad Rap, it wasn't at all tempted to strike. Hmmm. Now I remembered watching some Pike in a clear river one time, and a way of guaranteeing a strike was to bring a bait across into their field of vision over their shoulder from behind them, so to speak. So I noted the angle at which our Perchy friend was laying, and then moved slightly along the bank to where I thought the angle was right. A longer cast saw the lure land in about the right place, and I began the retrieve. Suddenly, a few metres from my feet, the bright green spot came into view... and right behind it was the huge predator! Almost at the point where I had to lift the lure from the water my heart nearly leapt into my throat, as a huge mouth the size of a bucket, sucked the plastic bait in, and with a horrendous boil the rod folded over to the butt. I was in!!
"Steve!! Steve!! I've got it!! I've got it!!", I screamed- dead cool, like.
And as the line buzzed from the clutch, I saw him scrambling along the bank, shouting "I'm on my way!!".

Suddenly the fish stopped for second, a very heavy weight hung on the end of the line. I briefly thought "I'm gonna get it"... and then it set off on another powerful run. This time though, it wasn't a burst of panic, the fish had composed itself and worked out where to head next. More braid melted from the spool, and then... slack. That grim, hopeless and hollow feeling that all anglers know filled the pit of my stomach. The braid had been cut on a rock- again.
"Oh dear. Ho hum... this blinkin' braid. You know, I think I might go back onto the monofilament after all..."  Well, something like that anyway, burst from my foul mouth almost involuntarily. One of my more articulate outbursts, I'd say. I then picked up the nearest rock to me, which was about the size of a football, and chucked it into the lake by way of retribution. Steve did an about turn and went back to his fishing, leaving me to smoulder over what should have been a memorable morning's fishing, but which had turned into a nightmare. I was so disappointed that I couldn't even bring myself to fish until later that evening. And by then I had mono on the rods.

Mini-Nile Perch... Dilemma: bait or not bait? That is the question...

(Answer: Bait, by the way).

Preparing a Nile Perch for food- it really was superb eating.

Typical view down Lake Nasser. The white specks on the island are the army outpost tents where the lookouts stay for 3 months. And you thought your job was a bit dull on a Monday.

Our last morning on the lake, and we were all to visit a favourite spot of Tim's- Maharaga, where from the cliff tops one can watch large Nile Perch swim right along the edge of the rocks before casting a lure for them from the shore. We were all excited at seeing this, and knowing that the area had not been fished in several weeks, it was likely that there would be plenty of hungry fish in the area.
"First", Tim instructed over coffee, "each boat should go and fish for 2 or 3 hours in the spots we finished in last night. Then, at 11am this morning we should all meet at Maharaga and fish it together so that we all get an equal crack at it".

So off we all went in our separate directions, but after a quiet hour or so, Steve, Guy and I all looked at each other, and a look of 'Shall we?' passed between us.
"Mohammed. Maharaga? Now? Ok?" asked Steve.
"Ok sir- no problem!" And a big smile lit up his face as we wound in the lures, turned the boat eastwards, ...got the engine going again..., and then crashed our way though the waves towards the Nile Perch gathering point.

Arriving at the scene of the crime a couple of hours early, Mohammed quickly scooted up the rocks like a mountain goat, the three of us trailing in his wake. But soon he pointed downwards and shouted above the howling wind:

Steve plays one out as I watch. We saw some Perch swimming around the base of the cliff face. I looked around  and the mountain goat was already down there and cast in. So I sat with my camera and spectated the action!

"There sir!" And below us large dark shapes could be seen way below us drifting round the outcrop of the rocks. I turned to Steve to say something, but it was too late, he was already half way down the cliff pushing a tumbling wave of scree in front of him. No "should we/shouldn't we?" dilemma with our Steve! By the time I had debated whether to stay and watch or join him down there, he had already cast out, and as he wound the lure I could clearly make out three fish making a dash to catch up with the lump of plastic. So I decided to stay put a get a couple of photos. Steve went on to land a couple of fish, before I headed round the corner a little to join Guy, and soon we too were into fish as the waves smashed into the rocks around us. Wonderful fishing, because we all went on to catch some nice ones before gathering for a quick chat atop the cliff again. As we stood there, still a good hour before the arranged meeting time, we heard the sound of an engine getting closer, and closer, until around the corner came Tim's boat!! As he looked up and saw us sitting high up above on the rock face, we clearly heard the immortal line- drifting over us on the wind blowing straight in our direction
"Oh shit! They're in the spot already!"

Looks like the early bird wasn't quite early enough. And any slight pang of guilt about pulling our little stroke evaporated in a second. Ha!

My biggest of the trip- approx. 40lbs taken from the rocky shoreline. I had a lucky escape with the lure in my arm there, cos it just about missed the flesh...

Sunrise silhouettes the boats from across the lake.

A rock that had teetered precariously in it's place... maybe for centuries.... It just had to go in. Notice Alan couldn't even put his fag down to give us a push; but at least he stood his beer down for a second or two.

The other guys did get to fish there though, and managed one or two nice ones too, before all too soon we had to pack and begin our journey across the lake to the western shore & Garf Hussein. Not without being pulled over at one of the islands holding an army outpost for them to check over everything we were doing though.

Unfortunately, those poor conscripts were out there for three months at a go, waiting for an imminent waterborne invasion up the lake by the might of the Sudanese navy, so any excuse for a bit of a change to the daily routine- even if it is just hassling anglers for a while- was gleefully indulged. Four hours we waited, for no apparent reason, since there didn't appear to be a problem. That was until one of the party (I can't remember who) decided to take a picture of the soldiers. Great move. With this they wanted to confiscate all the bloke's films, and it was only through Alan's experience of travelling through Africa that he managed to keep them, by pretending to open the back of the camera up and demonstrating that the film was unwound and exposed to the sun- with an unused film I hasten to add. This little diversion over, we went back to waiting again, so I unrolled my sleeping bag on the deck of the boat to catch a few rays. As I lay on the bag, I happened to notice the label in it, identifying it as an ex-Israeli army bag that I'd bought at the local army and navy store in town a year or so before. In the light of recent events, this, I figured, would not be a good thing for our new hosts to discover ("Honest mate- I bought it in a second hand shop in Spalding..."), so I quietly rolled it up and stowed it back into my rucksack!

Luckily they let us leave in the end. I think it was the bribe of a couple of copies of FHM and a GQ that secured the deal, (ooh, and I just thought, I wonder how badly 'thumbed' they are by now....) and eventually we bounced our way back right across the lake through choppy waters, before picking up our truck back to Aswan and civilisation.

A forty pounder for Steve- after it had impaled his finger on a 2/0 treble hook. Not good.

A little'un from the shore- we caught loads of these during our week on the lake, but unfortunately the big girls managed to avoid us- in one way or another.

Our final evening meal was spent with Alan at the Cataract Hotel on the banks of the river, made famous by Agatha Christie and her novel 'Death on The Nile', and so after a few cold beers on the veranda as the dhow boats drifted quietly by, we were led though to the dining hall, which was full of people in full dinner dress, as a string quartet provided the backdrop. Very poshe. As we shuffled through the tables dressed in the best gear we had on us- boots, jeans and a dusty old shirts- I have never felt so out of place in my life. But we were treated to a wonderful meal of Nile Perch (of course), washed down with some wine and a couple of cold beers, all in the most wonderful of 'old-colonial' settings. The Perch we ate on the lake had tasted good, but the meal that night is one I will always remember.

A quick browse around the market the next morning wasn't without a couple of incidents either. While bartering with two stalls for a silver Cleopatra charm to take home as a present for my sister (tradition dictates that I buy her a piece of cheap tourist tat from each country visited) it became clear that: a. all the stalls got their goods from the same factory, and b. they had agreed a 'lowest price' across the board for everyone. After far too much messing about, I finally decided to buy the thing from one of the vendors, for 12 Egyptian Pounds, I believe, since neither would budge below this. Deal done, I was relieved to finally be finished messing about and wandered off to find Steve elsewhere in the market. But I was just passing the other stall when a young lad ran out and intercepted me:
"We can give you special deal now on the silver", he said.
"Sorry- already bought it".
"What? Where from? You show me!"
"That shop over there. Here it is..." I said, holding up the piece.

A nice last morning shore caught fish. Just one of a few we caught shortly before leaving.

Two Pounds sir. Aswan market: problem was we didn't realise the charge was just for the photo. Cheeky sods.

"But this is bad quality silver sir. No good. No good".
"But I bet it was made at the same factory your brother's was!"
"How much you pay for this?!", he asked, looking at me straight in the eye.
"Ten pounds Egyptian...."

And with that, a look of disgust swept his face; "I tell my brother!!!", and off he ran into the stall. I hung around a few seconds a little further up the road, and sure enough, out came the lad, with what was obviously his brother and another bloke, and they set off in the direction of the other vendor's shop. Time to make a sharp exit methinks...

Oh, and the other incident occurred while browsing some hats and stuff at a street corner stall. As we stood looking, the owner wrapped a kind of Shmagh around my head. Steve found this amusing, so grabbed my camera to take a picture. The salesman wrapped one the same around his head and joined in for the photo.

We didn't do it. Honest, guv.

Entering the spectacular ruins at Karnak.

"Five pounds sir".
"It's ok thanks. I don't want it", I replied, unwinding the rag from round my bonce.
"Five pounds sir. For picture".
"You what? Get stretched!!!" 

And with that, some vendors from other stalls, his mates from out the back, in fact seemingly everyone, started to gather round us, very ominously it has to be said.
"Five pounds it is then..." It left a little bit of a bitter aftertaste did that little incident.

However, vendors aside, we had a fascinating trip in a lovely environment, and of course since we didn't land any of the big girls down on the lake, we were determined to get back there again. Unfortunately, we always want to go back to everywhere, and there are dozens and dozens of other places on the list. But one day we will I hope.

You can see the African Angler website here, and you'll be able to see just how the operation has been refined over the past few years. Although I still would prefer the 'organic' option myself. A great place to fish.

Oh to have had a crane hire business 3000 years ago. Still, I suppose a couple of thousand slaves was cheaper.

 

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