Saturday, 11 August 2012

What's Luck Got to do with it?

It's a wonderful photograph.  How do they do it?

‘My brother is building a tourist lodge in Africa, by the way,’ my brother Micky informed one of his German neighbours recently.

‘In Kenya?’

‘No, in Angola

ANGOLA! Who in their right mind would go there?’

‘Well, Angola Tom says the sport fishing is world class’, he told him.

And it is.  Fishing Planet Earth – An Angler’s Guide to Fishing the World’s Trophy Hotspots put out a survey in which they reconciled world record fish with the countries they were caught in.  I was more than a little surprised when I discovered there was only one country, and only one place listed for Africa.  My own back yard here on the Barra de Kwanza in Luanda.  In a sense, this is misleading, suggesting as it does that nowhere else in Africa is worth fishing.  Anyone fishing off Mozambique or Kenya would be outraged but this survey was based on record fish, the quality, not the quantity and out of the top 150 location ranked by trophy fish, the only African country that made the cut was Angola.  England had three locations, one of them being Canvey Island.  I know where I would rather fish although there are pubs in that part of London serving a better pint of beer, I’ll give them that.

My Father always used to say that ‘Work’ was merely the tiresome means by which a chap earned the money he needed to engage in the pursuits he really enjoyed.  Generally I suppose that is true, but there are those lucky enough to stumble upon a way to both enjoy their vocation and get paid for it.  Gary Burger of the Kwanza Tarpon Lodge is such a man.

The Kwanza Lodge is a fishing lodge in an idyllic setting at the mouth of the Kwanza River in Angola just where on the West African coast it, with a wide sweep overlooked by the Quissama National Park and its elephants, empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  Fortuitously, The Great Architect of the Universe in his infinite wisdom decided that this should be the place where the cold northward flowing Benguela current collided with the warm southward flowing Angola current.  This allowed for a rich marine bio-diversity and the Kwanza Tarpon Lodge boasts countless (thirty at least) IGFA world records as a result of its blessed position.  Even if the trophy fish are on holiday, the fishing is still excellent.  Pitch into a weed line from the river out at sea and you’ll be hauling Dourado until yer arms fall off.  Personally, once out of sight of land I always seem to be re-acquainting myself with my breakfast which is a terrible waste of good malt whisky, but I understand the bill fishing is about as good as you get and the records support that.  Even the billfish like the place.  One was tagged off Puerto Rico and turned up here, 4,776 nm from where it was tagged to gamely gnaw on some sport fisherman’s lure.  I prefer going after Tarpon, they hang around the river estuaries, and so does my oldest son Dominic who aged 11, hauled in a 90 kg specimen.  Or was he only nine?  I don't recall, they grow up so fast these days.

I follow a number of Huntin’ and Fishin’ Blogs so when I saw a review by Albert Rasch about Fish Creek Spinners’ hand made fishing lures, I flippantly posted a comment suggesting I would be willing to write a review of them if I could fish them in these verdant waters.  Naturally, in order to do so I would need a slack handful.  I never expected a reply; I never get replies when, fortified by distilled grain I launch cheeky comments into the ether.  But, blow me down with a feather, this time I did.

John Delaney of Fish Creek Spinners sent me a message offering a few spinners.

I am a keen fisherman but by no means an expert, so I thought I had better check with Gary about the sorts of lures we should test from Fish Creek Spinners extensive offering so that they were given a fair crack of the whip.  Besides, I needed to use Garys’s boat.  I strolled over to his place and gave him the address of Fish Creek Spinners’ website.  The next day I was sipping an afternoon gin and tonic by the lodge swimming pool when Gary shoved a bit of paper at me with a few product codes scrawled on it.

‘The Armadillos look good’ he said.

Armadillos?  To me, an Armadillo is an odd looking animal that local lore says can be cooked inverted using its own carapace as a pot.  I could hardly imagine employing one as a fishing lure. 

‘Tell the guy from Fish Creek to forget the hooks and send the lures over just with split rings so we can mount our own hooks, his look a bit lightweight’

‘I’ll tell him’ I said.

‘And tell him that whatever he sends, it’d better be tough, some of the fish here’ll straighten out a butcher’s hook’

‘I will’, I replied, wondering how a bloke as slight as he could hang on to a demon fish like that without being pulled overboard and going waterskiing instead, especially since Nice Paul, built like a brick shithouse and also a lodge skipper, had embarrassingly been heaved out of his own boat gaffing one of these monsters, leaving his astonished and very inexperienced client to work out for himself what the man overboard drill was.

So I passed Gary’s advice on and this is the advantage of getting your lures from someone who makes them by hand, in this case a father and son team based in Colorado, about as far as you can get in the civilised world from Angola.

‘No Problem,’ came the reply by email, ‘we’re very busy at the moment so give me a couple of weeks.’

I was getting these things for free so I could hardly complain.  Not that I would have complained anyway.  These are bespoke lures.  Have you noticed how long it takes to have a suit cut by a reputable tailor nowadays?  Besides, I live in Angola so I am used to waiting.  In queues mainly and it is always encouraging to know you are getting something from someone who is busy.  Since most people vote with their wallets, clearly this was good kit if I had to wait for it. 

I also had to figure out how to get them to Angola.  ‘It’s a postal service, Jim, but not as we know it’ sprang immediately to mind.  The safest way would be using DHL as they have offices here, not just agents acting on their behalf.  But that kind of service costs.

It always pays to be nice.  My place isn’t even built yet but when I see a few lost souls wandering around the wonderful countryside surrounding the confluence of the Kwanza River and the Atlantic, I always have a cold beer and something on the stove to offer them so long as they do not mind dining in the middle of a building site, and so I met Tom from Florida, here to build a power station.  I spent three years building power stations across Angola before keeling over in the site office with a heart attack so clearly Tom has balls the size of planets.  Believe me, when you have the Governor of a State five hundred miles away spitting expletives down the phone at you at four in the morning demanding to know why the lights have gone off in Lubango, it is wearing to say the least.  Earning my living feeding people and taking them out fishing like Lucky Gary and Nice Paul seemed infinitely preferable which is why I have retired, accepted that I will be forever poor and am building my own lodge instead.

So I emailed Florida Tom and asked him if he could hand carry a few lures to Angola next trip.

‘No problem’ he replied.  ‘I also have the junior softball kit for the kids’ he continued.

Blimey, what a bloke.  We were well through cracking a case of beer when I mentioned that I really wanted to get the street kids here together and teach them softball (playing baseball I was a steady hitter but deadly at short stop).  It would get them off the streets, give them something to do and, most importantly, it’s a team game with all its social benefits.  And he’d remembered.

What is it about Americans?  They’re so laid back, they have gravel rash on the backs of their heads.  Except those, thinking about it, who wear razor shades, carry everything in Velcro pouches and talk in calibres.  They’re arseholes.

No surprise then, when I received a phone call from Andy ‘The Hammer’ Mallet, Tom’s English colleague based here in Angola, saying the lures had arrived and he would be driving down to my place on Sunday.  Andy is decent like that, he gives me enough notice to fill the fridge full of cold ones and rattle the pans so he can help me empty them.

On their website, Fish Creek Spinners categorize their lures by, among other things, weight.  Two ounces, if it were Gold, is a respectable weight but for a lure?  I wasn’t so sure.  Mind you, I have never weighed a lure before.  Even Gary had used the term, ‘a bit lightweight’.  First off then, I was surprised by the size of the package.  I was expecting a padded envelope, instead here was a stuffed carrier bag, its contents neatly ensconced in bubble wrap.

I unwrapped a couple and, man, they looked good.  Don’t ask me to qualify lures by build quality, as I said, I am not an expert even though I have seen and used more than a few in my time, but even I could tell that these were something special.  Down to the tiniest detail, they were beautiful.  So much so that I had to quickly pack them away again as my three year old son was so entranced he was busy stealing them off the table by the pool (another good reason to ship lures without hooks when sending them to inattentive parents).

Unpacking the bag from Fish Creek Spinners
Suddenly bored with the lures his father was so keen on, Alex decided there were more pressing matters requiring his urgent attaention

I took the bag around to Gary to show him.  His parents were visiting from South Africa and I can see where Gary inherited his fishing genes.  They are out fishing every day.  Gary’s Dad held these lures in his hands the same way a concert violinist would cradle a Stradivarius. 

‘Where did you get these from?’ he asked so I explained they were hand made in the United States and how I had flippantly, no, cheekily suggested I write a review of them being wetted in Angolan waters thereby scoring a few.

‘Can I borrow them?’

I hesitated.  After all, I ought to take a load of artfully staged photos as they came out of the box and then be there when, after such a long journey, they finally went off the back of a boat.

It is a question of ethics, though.  If I have received the very generous gift of these superb looking lures, how can I be impartial when reviewing them?  I really, really wanted to be the first to put these lures to use but if I am to write about them, better to leave them in the hands of experts, don’t you think?  After all, a Ferrari is a great sports car but let one loose in the hands of a novice and it will end up in the kitty litter with its driver complaining vociferously about its handling.  So, ever so reluctantly, I did the decent thing and handed these over to the experts to see what they would say.  Then, and only then, will I have a go.

Gary’s parents were out of here the next day and wanted one last dip in the water.  It didn’t matter if the tide was way where it shouldn’t have been, the moon in the wrong position in the firmament or the temperature bloody Arctic, they were going fishing one last time with their boy, even if it was for only half an hour.

So I was very pleased for them, and the Delaney´s (junior and senior) that is was another father and son team that with first splash had a nice little Kingy jump onto the lure.
'Lucky' Gary, Fish Creek Spinner dangling from the mouth
Number one son, Dominic, is on his way down to me from Luanda and I have the boat ready.  Then it will be yet another father and son team giving these lures a real testing.  Dominic is on holiday for a whole month so I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if we don’t catch something special on these lures… in these waters.

Clearly, this article has a way to go and will only be concluded after some serious fishing.  I want the Father Son action too so I am waiting impatiently for Dominic to arrive and then we’ll be out on the water.  In the meantime, they don’t call Gary ‘Lucky Gary’ for no reason.  Here are a few snaps of a fraction of his haul over the few preceding days….

It is seriously hard not to hate a guy like him.

Rich divorcees of any nationality (we aren’t racist here in Angola) should address all enquiries to Gary through my blog but I warn you, he seems to favour tall, slim, dark haired types so lanky Hispanics will jump straight to the front of the queue.  Gary is still young and has a lot of water left to fish.  Me, at my age? I’m satisfied with these lures.


  1. Glad you got them in the water Tom.

    As far as the picture goes, it's the finest indirect lighting that the cellar window well can provide.


    John a.k.a.Fish Creek Spinners

  2. So awestricken I forgot my point!

    Those are some monster fish.

    Gary and the Kwanza Lodge appear to be a dream sport fishing destination.

    Very happy to read they liked the lures!

  3. You can write interim articles on the lures and how well they work for each group of father and sons who use them.

    It might be interesting to see how 'expert' fishermen fare vs the average bloke fishermen.


  4. Wao after catching these fishes you people will enjoy allot. It recall my old days when I was on trekking in Pakistan same fishes I caught there.

  5. Wao after catching these fishes you people will enjoy allot. It recall my old days when I was on trekking in Pakistan same fishes I caught there.


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