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On a trip to Africa in November 1997, I had the pleasure of spending several days fishing the waters off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, a small West African country nestled between Senegal and Guinea. The fishing takes place 25 miles off the coast in the Bijagos Archipelago, which is made up of 30 main islands and a multitude of small islands. Its waters are the perfect habitat for sport fish such as tarpon, jacks, barracuda, snappers, cobia and sharks.
On my visit to the Bijagos, I stayed on the island of Rubane at the highly recommendable Acaja Club (*), which is in its seventh year of operation. It is run by a team of five avid French anglers, including Patrick Sebile, a famous journalist and fishing guide. Most of the fishing takes place among the numerous mangrove islands and the channels between them during low tide, and at the mouths of the many small rivers that flow off the mainland. The average water depth in the archipelago is about 20 to 50 feet, with some places of about 150 feet; these drop-offs are characterized by clear green water that is typical in the tropical seas.
The club has six open 15-foot center console boats with 40-horsepower outboards, and one 21-foot boat with two 40-horsepower outboards. It is possible to get into fishing within 10 to 20 minutes of leaving the club. The normal fishing week includes six very hard fishing days, and anglers who have enough strength after 10 to 12 hours of fishing under the sun can surf fish on into the night.
During my week there last year, I fished in many different ways, including surf fishing, trolling, live and dead bait fishing, heavy spin fishing and ultralight spin fishing. My only regret is to not have spent some time fly fishing, although it is possible here. The recommended fly fishing setup is a nine to 9 1/2-foot, seven or eight-weight rod for the smaller species, and up to 11 to 12-weight outfits for the larger species. Flies that work well include poppers and Deceivers in white, yellow and orange.
My catch included many different species. High on the list were tarpon in the 20 to 25-pound range on both spinning tackle and with dead bait. These were mainly found in small channels with strong currents flowing between mangrove islands. I also hooked but unfortunately lost several huge tarpon that would have approached 200 pounds at various rivermouths along the shore. There are also lots of jacks in this area. My personal record was a 32-pounder that I caught while trolling. I took smaller ones on light spin fishing gear.
During a night of surf fishing I caught two nice 15-pound fish called otolithes, as well as barracuda up to 35 pounds. Otolithes tend to move in schools, so multi-hookups are almost a constant. They can achieve weights of up to 30 pounds, but the average size is around 18 pounds. Other fish you can catch in the surf include snappers and cobia.
Last but not least, I caught numerous tiger sharks, the biggest of which weighed 780 pounds. Fishing for big sharks is a relatively new activity at the Acaja Club. Last season, 63 shark fishing days produced 49 tiger sharks, nine hammerhead sharks and seven bull sharks. In the first weeks of the 1998/1999 season, 17 fishing days produced 21 tiger sharks caught or released on 39 strikes. These sharks weighed from 250 pounds up to 800 pounds. The biggest shark ever caught from an Acaja Club boat weighed 1,152 pounds.
As regards when to go, the fishing season here runs from October to May, as the rainy season is from June through September. During the fishing season, there is usually a light sea breeze, which helps to keep down the mosquitoes and heat. Clients stay in bungalows situated about 30 feet back from the ocean, each of which has two beds, shower and toilet. The main lodge has a living room, souvenir shop and eating area, although some meals are served around the grill or on the beach of a nearby island.
Getting to the Acaja Club requires flying into Dakar, the capital of Senegal, through your own arrangement. Once in Dakar, clients are met by an Acaja Club representative who helps with customs and gets you on a SenegalAir plane for the 1 1/2 hour flight to Bubaque, the main island of the Bijagos Archipelago. This flight is only available on Saturdays, and costs 2,250 FF roundtrip (about $400 US). It is arranged through the Club’s office in France. Once in Bubaque, you must pay a 400 FF (about $75) entry fee to the Guinea-Bissau government. The cost of the rest of your week-long stay is 6,660 FF (about $1,200) per person, based on two anglers per guide, for the complete fishing experience. You can opt for the shore-fishing-only experience (surfcasting, light tackle spinning and fly fishing – no bait fishing, trolling or shark fishing) for 4,930 FF (about $900 US) per person. These prices do not include fishing gear or alcoholic beverages; there is also a surcharge of 300 FF ($55 US) for the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. Enjoy! – Ferrario Roberto.
(Editor Note: At press time, we learned of another fishing lodge in the Bijagos Archipelago, namely the Tubaron Club, also on Rubane Island. It apparently offers the same type of fishing as Acaja Club, and is booked through Planet Fly Fishing. Their 1997 quoted price was 12,500 FF (about $2,275) per person for seven days and six nights between October and May, all inclusive from Paris.)