Story and Pictures by: Andre van Vuuren
The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying the Okavango Delta. The Panhandle is the stretch of approximately 70km of the Okavango River, from where the river enters Botswana until it fans out into the alluvial plain of The Delta. This is also the section of river that hosts the annual Okavango Bream Derby, an event not to be missed………….
Opposite Lock was one of the sponsors of the 2017 Okavango Bream Classic. They, as well as one of their dealers in Botswana, High Range Safari City, each entered in a team to compete in this “bucket list fishing competition”.
Three of us met Darrell van Zeil, from Opposite Lock Africa, at their offices in Olifantsfontein to pack and prepare the well kittedOpposite Lock Toyota Hi Lux for the first leg of our journey to Gaberone.
We had not travelled too far before picking up a knocking noise somewhere to the left rear of the vehicle but couldn’t find anything wrong. On arrival at High Range Safari City in Gaberone, we met Chris Thomson and Brendon Claassen and they quickly took the vehicle into their well-equipped 4X4 Fitment Centre and attended to the problem. I immediately got the feeling that with these guys on board, we are going to be in safe hands. We spent the night at the Town Lodge in Gaberone.Ican really recommend it as a overnight facility when travelling through Botswana. There is ample secure parking and it is situated directly opposite a big Mall with excellent restaurants and other facilities.
The next morning we had an early start. We left Gaberone at 4h00 with the Hi Lux and a Land Cruiser 200 VX towing two big heavy boats, a 20 foot Skeeter FX 20 and a 23 foot Outback Aliboat, both on double axel trailers.
Our destination for the day was Ghanzi , a drive of 670 kilometers along the Trans Kalahari Hi-Way.The Trans Kalahari Highway runs across the southern section of Botswana linking South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, opening up trade and tourist routes right across the southern continent. It connects Johannesburg South Africa to Windhoek Namibia by 1362km of tar road.It also means there is now a tar road to Maun from Johannesburg a distance of 1243km. The road is a single carriage tar road running through only a few villages with long stretches of nothing in between as it cuts across the southern Kalahari Desert depression. There are only a handful of places for fuel, food and accommodation along this route and one needs to plan carefully.It is not advisable to drive this road at night as there are many wild animals as well as cows, donkeys, dogs and goats that wander onto and even sleep on the road.
We stayed over at KoMogatlhong, a 20,000hectare privately owned game ranch in theGhanzi district. The friendly staff waited for us with welcome drinks and after shown to our rooms we all went on a game drive with sun downers at one of the many watering holes.That evening we were treated to the best and thickest cut T bone steaks that you can imagine.Beef production is the mainstay of Botswana’s economy as it represents the country’s third largest income earner after diamonds and tourism and Ghanzi is the “capital” of the beef production region.
There are three categories of land tenure in Botswana, tribal land, state landand freehold land. At independence 50 years ago, about 49% of the national land area was tribal land, less than 4% was freehold and the balance state land. Today, tribal land comprises 71% of the land area; freehold about 4.2% and state land the remainder. The majority of freehold agricultural land is aroundPandamatenga and in the Ghanzi district.
Early morning we were woken by the welcoming sound of Botswana’s well known Red billed Francolins. After a steaming cup of coffee we left the farm at sunrise and headed for Shakawe, 460 kilometersaway. I was warned by Martin Slabbert, who just returned from Angola with a Leisure Wheels safari group that the 270 kilometers between Sehitwa and Shakawe is in a terrible state. They are busy building a new bridge over the Okavango River north of Shakawe and construction vehicles absolutely ruined the road. There are potholes upon potholes and for stretches it is better to drive on the gravel shoulder next to the road. We took it very easy and the Tough Dog Suspensions on the vehicles and the double axels on the trailers ensured a trouble free ride. We arrived at ShakaweRiver Lodge just after three o’clock. The lodge is situated in the pan handle region of the Okavango Delta which has now been listed as a world heritage site. We drovestraight to the slipway in the already fully packed campsite to put the two boats in the water. Opposite Lock booked us into a few of the ten luxury thatched chalets on raised decks with en-suite facilities The chalets are situated under the canopy of magnificent riverine forest and all have a picturesque view of the Okavango with a river channel in front of them . The rest of the afternoon was spent fuelling and preparing the boats and getting fishing tackle ready for the competition. After a scrumptious dinner, everybody went to bed early in preparation for an early start the next morning.
The first day of the competition started at 7h00 and we were up and preparing the boats well before sunrise. The lodge supplied breakfast and lunch packs that needed to be collected as well as ice and drinks to hydrate the fishermen during the long hot day on the water. Each boat was inspected by the marshals before receiving a Day Sticker and Team Tag and given the right of way to leave the jetties. It was icy cold and the horizon was a burnt orange colour as all the boats gathered at the buoy in the middle of the Okavango River. When the marshal blew his horn, instant organized pandemonium broke loose as thirty boats went on full throttle into different directions on the river to get to the best fishing spots first. The fishing was average and everybody had a different theory as to why whichvarie from dirty water to water temperature and overnetting of the river by the local fishermen in their mokoros. The really good and experienced fishermen however proved that with the right bait, correct technique and persistence, one can come back with good weight for the day.
Thirty teams entered the competition and fishermen came from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The only species that could be weighed in was bream and it was strictly Catch and Release. Every team could weigh in a maximum of five live Bream each day for two and a half days and only the teams heaviest ten fish counted towards their final weight.
In an attempt to minimize the mortality and relocation of fish, a measuring mat was used on each boat to measure the fish. A continuous video was to be taken and the fish were released after weighing them.
The video should show the following:
- Fish in a landing net or firmly lip landed, showing the lure in the fish’s mouth, and the removal of the lure
- Live fish on measuring mat
- Day sticker and team tag
- Full view of fish on mat (to identify the length of the fish from the head to the tail)
- Your digital scale with the calibration sticker towards the camera
- Scale should be zeroed and shown on video before fish is weighed
- Scale showing the weight of the fish (in the event of anything disturbing the scale – ie, fish falls / jumps off the hook on the scale, the scale must be re zeroed during the video and the fish re weighed)
- Live release (swimming away on its own in its natural state) (under 1.5kgs)
- Live release into live-well (in case of fish that needs to go to weigh station) (above 1.5kgs – FIRST DAY ONLY)
The winner of the 2017 Bream Derby was ESB Tigres, a team from Namibia, with a bag weight of 17.895 Kg. Team Induna from Mpumalanga came in second place with 14.91 Kg and the third place wentto our High Range Team with Chris, Brandon and Darrell on board the Skeeter FX 20. Their bag weight was 13.703 kilogram.
All the participants enjoyed the price giving function and discussed fishing and fishing techniques into the early hours of the morning. Some guys only believe in Jigs, others in Copper Effzetts and then there were the Mepps Spinners and Rapala enthusiasts. The best of course is to try all of them on different days and in different areas in the river. Piet du Toit from Kabula Lodge in Zambia once told me that the best bait for bream is still earthworms dipped in brandy and every now and then you can have a sip yourself to helpfend off the early morning cold on the water.
When we took the boats out of the water, we found that a wheel bearing on one of the trailers needed to be replaced. Chris Thomson came well prepared and he had all the necessary spare parts and grease. I realized again that when you are towing on the bad roads of Africa, it is always a good idea to carry a spare set or two wheel bearings with you. Also make sure that you know how to replace them. It was a team effort and in no time we were ready to start our home journey via Ghanzi where we stayed over in the well-known Kalahari Arms Hotel.
Ghanzi is known as the “capital of the Kalahari” and started out as a small hunting and trading post in 1870. The Kalahari Arms Hotel was one of the first businesses to be established in Ghanzi. According to some, the town was named after the Naro word describing the good condition of the antelope found in this part of Botswana. Today Ghanzi is ideally situated just off the Trans-Kalahari Highway.
We left the next morning at six o’clock on the final stage of our trip back to South Africa. One of the things that one must try to prevent as far as possible when driving in Africa is to drive in the dark. There are just too many animals on the roads. The Opposite Lock Hi Lux is kitted with the most amazing Lightforce light bars and LED spotlights and we decided to leave a bit earlier to see how they could perform. Our conclusion was that when you need to drive in the dark due to circumstances beyond your control it is definitely the best option.
We had an amazing trip, made a fantastic team, formed great new friendships and are already talking about putting a team together to participate in next year’s Elephant Charge in Zambia.(www.elephantcharge.org) Watch this space………..