Johan Burger Has been one of the pioneers of bronze whaler fishing in Namibia. Arguably one of the best anglers in Namibia, He has guided some of the most famous names in the fishing world to their first bronzie. He has fished for the national team many times, winning numerous awards and runs his own company http://www.westcoastangling.com
We are lucky to have some of his time so over to Johan with the questions…..
Me: Can you tell us how you started fishing Johan?
JB: I started fishing when I was about 6 years old. Those days we stayed in Khorixas, a small town that was quite far from the ocean. My dad was also a keen fisherman and we often took on the long dusty road to the coast, vehicles packed with camping gear and everything needed to fish. I loved it from the start. Those days there was no graphite rods, or the fancy reels of today, but I learned the basics well and was soon able to cast, bait up and even tie my own knots. The first big fish that I caught on my own was a cob of about 12 kg! This beast nearly dragged me into the water, but I stood my ground and got it out. It was longer than I was tall! By this time the bug had bitten me properly and I was hooked for life!
Me: Can you tell us what the Skeleton coast is like?
JB: The Skeleton Coast can only be described as a desert landscape that ends in the Atlantic ocean. One of my clients stopped me one day to take a photo of the landscape. I told him that there was nothing to photograph and he said…”Exactly! If I get home and tell people there is nothing, they will not believe me, then I’ll show them the photo!” The landscape is vast, very dry and pretty much featureless. It forms part of the Namib desert (the oldest desert in the world) and only gets about 8 mm of rain per year on the coastline!
The Skeleton coast got it’s name because of the bleached whale and seal bones which covered the shore when the whaling industry was still active, as well as the many seafarers that perished when shipwrecked (caused by rocks, or sand banks offshore in the thick fog). More than a thousand vessels of various sizes litter the coastline. In our summer (October to April) the weather can be very nice, with day temperatures of around 28 deg. C. and the sun will come out most days. Winter temperatures nearly never goes below 12 deg. C., but it is foggy most days and the cold south westerly wind does make things very unpleasant. In summer the water temperature rises to about 20 deg. C and falls to 14 deg. C. in winter. This is also the reason why I only take out clients in summer, as the bronzies migrate north to Angola, as soon as water temperatures starts to go below 16 deg. C.
Me: What was catching your own first bronze whaler experience like?
JB: I actually caught my first Bronzie shortly before I decided to fish competitively and I will never forget that feeling. That was probably early 1995. Prior to this I had no idea that these beasts roam our waters (as is still the case with many social anglers in Namibia!). Fortunately I went fishing one day and met someone on the beach and he started talking about Bronzies. To say that I was intrigued instantly, is an understatement! I had to catch one of them, so I went to the only tackle shop in Swakopmund and bought everything needed for this challenge. The next day I went to mile 8, baited up with a mackerel head and caught a 80 kg male Bronzie on my first cast. It screamed line off my Daiwa 350 and nearly took me to the knot on the bottom on the first run. I managed to turn it and got most of the line back and then it turned and headed west again with alarming speed! Again I turned it and this time I got it into the surf. I had to land the fish without someone to help gaff the fish, but I managed to get it out, eventually! I had never felt such power in anything I had caught before. Soon after I joined a fishing club and the rest is history…
Me: Can you tell us what a typical fishing trip for guests would consist of, from the airport what is it like?
JB: I’ll break this up into arriving at the airport, accommodation, meals and fishing.Clients normally fly to Johannesburg, then get a connecting flight to Walvis Bay, where I will pick them up. The airport itself is (at this very moment) being upgraded to international standards. The runway is complete, but the buildings will probably still take a year or two. Arriving here for the first time is quite a shock for most people, temperatures are quite high, customs can be a bit of a hassle, but it is the vast emptiness of the landscape outside that grips most people. Clients can choose to stay in Swakopmund, or Henties Bay (70 km further north). Accommodation can be anything from a self catering house, B&B, or a fancy guesthouse or hotel. Breakfast depends on what sort of accommodation clients choose. Lunch and drinks are included with the fishing and dinner depends on how late we get back from fishing! Mostly I try to head home around 18h00, or 19h00 in the evening, but sometimes this is not possible as someone hooked a big fish that might take 3, or 4 hours to land! Swakopmund has about 28 restaurants to choose from. Meals are very cheap (compared to Europe) and normally too big to finish. Even Henties Bay has 3 good restaurants to choose from.Fishing starts at 8h00 in the morning and I provide all tackle, bait, drinks, light lunch, 4×4 transport and fuel. Depending on water conditions, we will either drive north (if the water is calm), or fish closer to Swakopmund. First we start fishing for smaller shark species (Gullie sharks, smooth hounds, sand sharks, and blue, or bull rays). Some of the smaller ones will be kept for bait and then we set off to find a fishable spot for Bronzies…and then the real fun begins!
Me: You have been fishing the nationals since 1996 and are just back from this years competition, which your club won, how did you get into fishing competitively?
JB: My first Bronzie was the prelude to me joining up with one of the fishing clubs in Swakopmund. Someone saw me, I got invited to join a club and that was it! Most people in Namibia like to fish, but very few fish competitively and even fewer fish for Bronze Whalers. Hence the reason why I only started fishing competitively at the age of 27. Very late indeed, but I was very good and (after just 1 year) got selected for the Namibian development team to fish against South Africa. I was the overall winner of that tournament and haven’t looked back since.
Me: You also do trips for tigerfish on the Zambezi, what are the famous tigerfish like?
JB: Tigerfish…the name says a lot about their character. These fish strikes a lure so hard, that, if you are not wary, will rip the rod right out of your hands. No fresh water fish that I have ever fished for, gives such a hard strike. And then they leap into the air whilst shaking their heads vigorously to get rid of the hook and succeeds most of the time! If that doesn’t work, they will dive and try to cut your line on underwater structure. As a last resort, they will try and run with the current a few times to try and snap the line. This is truly an awesome fish to catch and it will make your heart jump in your throat every time it strikes your lure, or bait!
Me: Besides bronze whalers what other sea species do you fish for out there?
JB: In our summer months one can catch large cob (+ 20 kg), steenbras (up to 18 kg), galjoen (3kg), smoothounds (up to 25 kg), gullie sharks (up to 35 kg), blue – and bull rays, sand sharks, garrick (up to 15 kg), shad (4 kg) and the pesky catfish! Then there are the odd catch of ragged tooth sharks (raggy) as well as spearnose skate and diamond ray, but these cannot be targeted and are normally just a huge surprise! During the colder winter months the larger cob leaves, but one can still get the odd big one of around 10 kg. The smoothounds, garrick, shad, and Bronzies also travel north and make way for the cow shark (7 gill shark). They are not very good fighters, but they are very good points in a competition.
Me: What has been your personal favorite catch over the years?
JB: This has changed considerably over the years. As a boy it was always Galjoen, cob and steenbras. Then it changed to Bronze Whalers, Gullies, cob and steenbras and then we (me and my brother) started going to Angola with a 4 meter anchor dingy powered by a single 30 hp Yamaha motor…, and we caught Marlin! It was great being towed around the ocean by a fish nearly the same length as our little boat!
After a few of these brutes we started jigging and spinning for other game fish species like Dorado, Trevally Jacks, tuna and Amberjacks. It was then that I had found what I am looking for in a fish…, a massive strike and a fish that pulls far above its weight. The first Amberjack that I hooked felt like a 30 kg fish. It ripped the 80 pound braid that I was using off the reel at an alarming rate. You can imagine my surprise when a 10 kg fish emerged out of the blue! I still rate Bronze Whalers very high though. They are magnificent fish that will fight until the last breath. Here are a couple of links to films my brother (smallboatbigfish) has posted on YouTube:
Me: Can you describe a typical African evening is like when the sun goes down at the camp?
JB: The only time we camp whilst fishing, is when I have clients that want to catch Tigerfish and this will be on the rivers in the Caprivi area, namely the Kavango, Zambezi and Kwando rivers, so, I’ll describe a pretty normal sunset for this area. Day temperatures are normally quite high, even in our winter, but it soon gets chilly when the sun goes down. So, the first thing to make is a nice, big fire. There are very few things in life better than a cold beer after a long days fishing, sitting around a fire, recapping what had happened that day. The sun sets much quicker here than it does in Europe. That red ball of fire seems to drop out of the sky and disappear behind the horizon within a few minutes, but first it colours everything in red, which slowly goes to a light orange that dims into a light purple and finally changes into a dark blue that keeps getting darker as the crisp chirps of the birds make way for the sounds of the night and a star filled sky.
Me: What are your top catches since you have started taking clients out?
JB: It has always been a firm belief of mine that clients come here, not just to catch a bronzie, but to catch as many as possible in the time that they spend here. The first group that bagged up on Bronze Whalers was a group of 9 anglers that was escorted by Dave Lewis. Seven of them where really keen to catch as many as possible, with the rest more interested in cob, gullies, etc.. They caught 88 bronzies on that trip with a best day of 44. Here is a link to a youtube video that they had made:
This is the most fish any company has ever caught in Namibia.Second best trip ever was actually this year! I have a group of English clients that I call the mullet men. They have been coming here for close to 7 seven years now. All 3 of them have caught more than 50 Bronzies and their previous record stands at 57 Bronzies for a trip with 25 in one day, but this year they broke that convincingly with 83 Bronzies! I’m busy compiling a video of that trip and will post it soon on YouTube. Then there is Darren Harding. He has been coming here for 15 years and this guy has broken nearly every record Namibia has to offer. His biggest Bronzie was close to 200 kg, biggest gullie 49 kg, biggest smoothound 28 kg, sandshark 6 kg, steenbras 19 kg, cow shark 100 kg, the list carries on… He is not too keen on the Bronzies anymore, but has caught more than 200 of them over the years. Gullies is what he likes most and he has probably caught more than 500 of them with his best day of 54 in one day (2 anglers). Best day on Bronzies was 25 (2 anglers) with a total weight of close to 2 tons of fish!
Then there are the really big Bronzies. The first one was also with a Dave Lewis trip. Paul Bowen hooked a very big fish in the bay of mile 17. This fish dragged him 2.2 kilometers north along the beach before surrendering. We estimated it at about 185 kg. For a few years we caught a couple of fish this size and then Roger Gates came out with a group of 3 for the fourth, or fifth time. We fished mile 72 one day and hooked 3 monsters. Unfortunately we lost one of them as 2 of them jumped into the air with the fish closest to us cutting the one in the back off, a spectacular sight to see, but not so good for the guy who lost the fish. After more than three and a half hours, Roger managed to land his fish. It measured 2 meters 48 cm from the nose to the start of it’s tail and I estimated it around 245 kg. It was a heavy pregnant female. She was so heavy that 4 guys could not pull her further up the beach. We had to take a quick picture between the waves! The other fish took four and a half hours to land. It was slightly smaller at 2 meters 40 cm, and was also quite heavy pregnant, but not nearly as big as the previous one. I estimated her just over 200 kg. My personal best is 18 Bronzies in one day. On this day we were tagging fish for Sea Fisheries at Sandwich harbour, south of Walvis Bay. Most Bronzies caught in a competition was 11, a record that still stands to this day.
Me: Johan thanks a million for your time and hope to see you there one day
JB: Any time lads look forward to it….