Adventures on Jozini Dam
I first went there last year (about five-and-a-half hours by road from Johannesburg), lured by the only tiger fishing in South Africa. On that occasion I didn’t catch one of those magnificent fighting fish (after all, it was off-season in July), so I had to go back to try my hand again.
It was high season when I returned – mid-February – so my chances were good. My base was a houseboat called Shayamanzi, with 10 en-suite cabins, a jacuzzi on deck, Captain Branston from Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe in charge, Zakhele, the Zulu miracle-worker of a cook, and two small tenders to take us fishing.
In all, there are 27 species of fish in the dam, so if I didn’t catch and release a tiger, maybe I’d get a yellowfish, carp or tilapia.
The dam itself is lined by the Pongola Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s oldest reserves (proclaimed in 1894), so all sorts of game mooches along the banks, from hippos, black and white rhinos and elephants, to basking crocodiles, giraffe, hyena, zebra and different kinds of antelope.
As a birder (but not a twitcher) I was in avian heaven, as the dam is a magnet for waterbirds of every description. I spotted herons, spoonbills, fish eagles, jacanas and storks, as well as lovely bush birds such as rollers, bee-eaters and secretary birds – all this in just 48 hours. In all there are over 350 different species.
On my first night on the boat, I sipped a glass of excellent South African white wine (Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir to be exact) as fireflies danced over the glittering moonlit water, and hundreds of frogs took part in what seemed to be an amphibian Idols contest.
Suddenly, a large hippo popped up in the reeds a little way away. He disappeared under the surface, resurfaced briefly right beside us, let out a stream of bubbles and dived right under our boat.
I saw lights flickering from some of the camping grounds that line the dam, as the familiar smell of woodsmoke and cooking braai (barbecue) meat drifted up into the night sky (if you don’t fancy a tent or a houseboat, then choose one of the fully catered lakeside lodges that overlook water, bush and plains).
We went out fishing at dawn, but still no luck – the tiger fish were wily and bit off the big sardines we used as bait without getting hooked.
The next day we chugged out on the tender in the late afternoon. Again, lots of bites, but no catches.
But suddenly, a large hippo popped up in the reeds a little way away. He disappeared under the surface, resurfaced briefly right beside us, let out a stream of bubbles and dived right under our boat.
When he surfaced on our other side, he had a brightly coloured fly lure (a tiger whistler, to be exact) sticking out of his rump. 'Cut the line, cut the line!' we yelled to Paul, a fellow fisherman who had just got the biggest catch of his life.
The hippo turned round, eyed us balefully, and swiftly made off in the opposite direction. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Hippos are often savage and dangerous.
But Paul had just hooked a hippo. Beat that for the ‘one that got away’!