I love fishing in Tanzania and the age of my car is a direct result of “having” to go back to fish the Mnyera and the Ruhudji “just once more”. When I got back to the office after my first trip, my week for the following year was already held. The same happened the following year, and the year after that. The cycle broke in 2018 as I planned for Cameroon in 2019 but Tanzania is, without doubt, a very special place.
It is also the one destination where more things have happened to me than you can credit. No doubt the redoubtable guide team of Stu and Greg dread my arrival in camp. Behind the camp staff’s song of welcome, there is a collective concern as to what trouble I might get myself into. Things happen to me; I don’t go looking for trouble, but it does quite often find me.
We were on the Mnyera, a river that always seems to be dark and deep. It is mysterious and full of secrets. It is a stuffed full of tigerfish, catfish, yellowfish and a whole host of other species that we know very little or absolutely nothing about. It’s not an easy river system to get to and because of that, it remains a rich, varied and largely untouched ecosystem. The birdlife is stunning and I find myself easily distracted. I don’t need much of an excuse to sit and watch the comings and goings of the various species as we drift between spots or as my boat partner fishes.
One afternoon, we were tucked in close to the bank, wedged across the current and Gordon had just hooked into a fish. I’d wound in to allow him to play his fish without any interference from me. Sitting in the prow I’d mentally switched off; looking at the weaver nests, wondering if it really was a bee-eater that I’d just seen. Gordon’s fish had just jumped, heading away from the boat. Happy that he had a while to go before bringing it in, I returned to my birdwatching. As I turned to look to my left, I heard Greg shout something, followed swiftly by a very hefty slap to my side. I don’t know if it knocked me sideways but it was a hefty wallop and stung like crazy. A little like being flicked repeatedly with a wet towel. With all the hoo ha going on in the boat, it took me a while to realise that I’d just been hit in the side by Gordon’s tigerfish. It’s second aerialisation brought it directly into the boat, stopped only when it walloped into me.
We sorted ourselves out, tigerfish back in the water and Gordon brought it in. Safely unhooked, it swam off showing no signs it had just hit a distracted angler head on. As I stood, the collective looks of horror on all three faces was quite something. I looked behind me expecting to see a huge crocodile bow waving towards us but realised that they were looking at me. There was bit of Glasweigan swearing from Gordon as he pointed out that I was bleeding. I honestly felt no pain at all and thought that the fish had just ripped my shirt with a tooth.
As it turned out, it had hit me head on and several of its teeth had embedded themselves in my side as it landed. At the halt in its momentum, it had slid down, cutting me cleanly as it went. Every day is a school day and I learned that tigerfish have an anti-coagulant on their teeth hence why I was bleeding freely. I also learnt first hand how sharp those teeth are; the cuts were incredibly clean. Thinking about it later on, I was very grateful that Gordon had been faffing around with fish in the 8lb/10lb region and not anything bigger as the cuts weren’t deep. The outcome of an 18lb/20lb fish hitting me would have been very different.
We sloshed the wound with water, it was still bleeding profusely but the wound itself was very clean and the bleeding added to the flushing out. Greg and Gordon wanted to immediately return to camp and deal with it but I refused. It was a clean cut, the bleeding was slowing and we had more time to fish. It took a while and a whole lot of stubbornness on my part (and the folding of arms) but eventually they gave in and we fished on. Surprisingly, it took a while for the numbness to wear off and it wasn’t until the end of the day that I was ware I’d had a toothy encounter.
By the time we were back in camp, the rest of the team were already there and as we walked up to the fire, was asked – as was normal – how the day had been. I said I’d had a “bleeder of a day” but before I could come up any other terrible jokes, I was marched off by Stu to have it looked at. I think I insisted on a gin and tonic before heading off but that might just be wishful thinking.
In very short order, Stu had collected all he needed. He seemed frighteningly keen to stich me up but thankfully, in the end, he decided not to. Thoroughly cleaned, the wound covered in ointment, it was covered over and sealed. The intention was to leave it covered and not touch it for the remainder of the week. As long as the waterproof covering remained sealed, all would be well. As it turned out, Stu had to change the dressing once more before we left but it caused few problems and the rest of the week saw some beautiful fish landed.
When I got back to the UK, I made way day to my Doctor for it to be checked out. I’m not sure who was more amazed; the doctor with the story or me at how well it had healed. What was truly amazing was that the wizard in charge of laundry in camp had managed to get all the blood out of my shirt and I still wear it. Have you ever tried to get blood out of clothing? It’s not easy but I’m glad to say that my favourite fishing shirt is still in use.
Was the blood offering to the river gods worth it? Of course it was. I hasten to add that in all the years the operation has been running, no-one else has been hit in the side by an airborne tigerfish so don’t use me as an excuse to take Tanzania of your bucket list; it is a phenomenal experience and one that truly shouldn’t be missed.
If you would like to join the group, or would like details for other available dates, please contact Charlotte Chilcott or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.