Joined: Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:19 pm
Location: New Delhi
|OK People, here you go and hang on to your seats!…remember– you’ve been warned.
a.k.a. Big Mahseer
A Report from The Heart of Darkness
By Jim Moorhouse
The Old Sahib Nails 59 1/2 Lb. Goliath Tiger Fish - Thomas Skunked Due to "Difficultees Techniques"
The OS and Thomas Moorhouse pitched up in the Republic of Congo along with a pair of Hungarians - a dealer in antique clocks and his sidekick - the Budapest Casino King (owner of 350 slot machines) festooned with wall-to-wall upper body fish scale tattoos, crocodiles, blondes and other intricate Central European intertwined symbolology - suffice it to say he was wildly popular with Congolese of both sexes. A 72 year old 6'5" 275 lb. Man Mountain from Minnesota (reported to own a collection of 500 weapons) who fished all day and consumed prodigious quantities of liquor and partied all night with the local ladies was also a highly visible and valued member of the party as was a young 3rd generation Zambian Indian... an eclectic and potentially explosive mix of personalities in the Heart of Darkness (HofD).
After a hour of hand-to-hand combat for retrieval of checked luggage, the group emerged from Brazzaville's Maya Maya airport to confront a downpour of "historique" proportions which flooded the streets to the floorboards disabling 90% of the city's remaining (after the last Civil War) vehicular traffic. Fortunately we had 4x4's and crawled through the blacked-out streets of Brazza to our overnight quarters.
The next morning at sunrise we ran up the Congo for 120 Kms. by boat to the Tiger Fishs's (sp.) Camp along an isolated stretch of riverbank. Drums along the Congo were a frequent and not unpleasant diversion.
On Day One @ 8 AM the OS and Thomas were positioned at the head of a likely-looking pool in a 17 ft. 50 hp runabout (along with Congolese guide Daniel and driver David) having mapped out an intricate strategy - i.e. the first fish to be taken by the owner of the rod it hit and the 2nd fish to come off any rod and then alternating strikes. With Thomas casting a 12 inch rubber shad off the bow and the OS leaning against the motor, the strategy instantly imploded. With the boat littered with gear and overcrowded with humanity and Thomas out of position when his rod went off on a 12 inch live bait with 18 inch whiskers (!) the OS called out: "Yours" . . . . Thomas then made a fateful decision and yelled, "Take it!"
A major league Goliath Tiger stripped off 100 yds. down river and exploded ten feet into the air . . . a terrifying sight indeed which she repeated and then tore off a number of hi-speed erratic runs including doubling back under the boat twice. But, the OS had manhandled century M'putas a month earlier at Murchison Falls and was singularly well prepared for her every move. She finally laid out boat side and was gaffed and dragged over the gunwale - a big beast with violently snapping three-inch teeth in vise-like jaws.
Back at camp the OS was greeted as a minor hero as the scales sagged to 27 kilos - a whisker under 60 lbs - and the trip was judged off to an excellent start. On Day 2 the antiques dealer roared into camp pumping his fists and declared himself the "new champion" only to suffer dismay when his catch failed to breach 25 kilos. On Day 3 the Zambia Indian showed up with a good fish which tied the OS's - @ 27 Kgs even. On Day 4 the clock dealer was wrapping 70 lb. braided line around his hand when a prop grabbed the trailing line, practically severing his fingers. An awful accident to experience anywhere, much less in the HofD; and shaken camp management rushed him to Brazzaville by boat. Later that afternoon the Casino King boated a 28.5 Kgs. monster wresting away the lead for biggest fish. The stricken Hungarian returned the next day - the medicos having saved his fingers, but his tendons and nerves were hopelessly severed.
Meanwhile the OS and Thomas were subjected to constant enervating motor problems and a smaller Boston Whaler was towed back with the Hungarian. In addition to mechanical problems we endured several OG's (outta gases) most usually dangerous ITMBCJ's (in-the-main-barge-channel jobbies). The Great Bait Escapes and Die Offs of '05 forced the party to zig-zag from fishing pirogue to pirogue IOT to negotiate/barter cigarettes for scarce live bait and guide Daniel accidentally kicked $200 worth of the Sahib's rod/reel into the depths. Whenever tentative complaints were lodged with camp management their reply was always "C'est l"Afrique mon vieux."
As there are few interior roadways in either Congo we were treated to a variety of folklorique river traffic - from huffing and puffing "African Queens" loaded to the gills to strings of flatbed steel barges pushed upriver by giant tugs at 3 miles per hr. The barges, literally floating villages of makeshift tents and plastic sheeting were invariably packed with seething masses of humanity . . . the indescribable din of which could be heard from more than a mile off. Many of these unfortunates were in for a two week trip upriver in heat which the OS's digital measured at 127F/51C. Pirogues loaded with bush meat, fish and vegetables darted out from both shores attempting dangerous tie-ups in the wash of these fearsome contraptions. There can be no more dehumanizing experience in this vale of tears and if Conrad were alive to pen a contemporaneous "Heart of Darkness, " Mr. Kurtz would surely be portrayed as a Congo River tug boat captain.
And when the "Ville de Pox" plowed past it occurred to us that it was a most aptly named steamer and was probably also carrying Ebola, Marburg and other hemorragic diseases and dreaded contagions far into the interior.
The fish quit hitting on Day 5 and the party sank into an awful torpor. Thomas experienced only three takes during those 4 dreadful days: . . . an elephant snout fish bait chopped in half despite being armored with eight 2/0 and 4/0 trebles, a take and drop before he could strike and a bustoff which guide Daniel charitably attributed to "diffilicultees techniques." If further explanation is needed, three dimensional engineering drawings can be supplied upon request. Definitely our fault. Thomas remained cheerful throughout and took his skunking manfully . . . the Man Mountain less so.
The camp was operated by a Belgian and a Frenchman, born and raised in their respective former Congos, and who can best be described as "baroudeurs" . . . the Collins French/English translates same as "firebrands, scrappers" which completely misses the mark . . . nevertheless their staff was able to whump up the most amazing meals of blanquette de veau, peanut chicken, breaded curried cutlets and flan, crepes suzette and flambee'd bananas. An incongruous table for the back of beyond was laid for each and every B,L and D.
The party then bribed its way out of Brazza with its remaining CFA notes and the Man Mountain was last seen attempting a connection to Sioux Falls with meaningless crumpled scraps of paper and damp and shredded itineraries. Finally, Thomas phoned in from Los Angeles upon arrival to report successfully lugging a giant frozen Tiger Fish head past an unwitting USDA inspector. Bravo!
PS: Now that the OS has rekke'ed in situ, planning is already well underway for a secret (but no doubt the drums will alert the baroudeurs in a matter of hours) on-the-cheap assault a further 100 mile upriver. Rations will be purchased, three pirogues lashed together sideways for stability, 4 paddlers hired for peanuts and a tented camp set up on a sandbank. The goal: a 100lb. Goliath . . . a century!
1. Jim & his GTF
2. Jim's guide, Daniel & Jim's GTF