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Looking for a truly unique fishing adventure? Try stalking Nile Perch at Murchison Falls in Uganda. While Nile perch are often targeted by fishers in Lake Victoria and Lake Nasser, they also swim up the Nile from Lake Albert stopping just below Murchison Falls. The largest Nile perch that has been caught at the falls weighed 237 pounds; the largest caught on a fly weighed 55 pounds.
The landscape is awe inspiring. At Murchison Falls, the entire Nile rushes through a 25-foot chasm, dropping 150 feet and creating the greatest force of water on earth. The prime fishing spots are just below the falls in the turbulent waters called Devil’s Cauldron. The river is infested with crocs, hippos and a wide array of fish several species of catfish, tigerfish, barbel, alestes, awaka and, of course, Nile perch. The surrounding national park is full of African game, as well as 450 varieties of birds.
I fished there for four days recently, casting from the banks at the base of the falls two days and fishing twice from a Uganda Wildlife Authority boat. One must be fit to hike down the trail to the falls (it’s a hot 45-minute climb back out) and sure- footed to scramble through the bushes to get to Devil’s Cauldron. The water is incredibly swift, and if one fell in the enormous current, it would sweep you away to make a nice lunch for the crocodiles. The tsetse flies can be unbearable, and I strongly recommend buzz-off clothing. I had buzz-off pants but forgot my buzz-off shirt and wound up with more than 50 bites on my back.
I targeted the Nile perch with a 12 weight and huge saltwater flies, aiming my casts into the back eddies near shore. When the first fish hit, it smashed my fly and instantly took off for the deep churning water. I was mesmerized just watching him run, but I came to my senses before he got into the heavy current from which I would never have been able to reel him in on a fly rod. I cranked the drag down and walked back towards shore from the rock spit I was fishing from. My friend netted him – a stunning 20-pounder! According to Alistair Brew, the only fly fisher who guides at Murchison, I was the first woman and the fourth fly fisher to land a Nile perch on a fly at Murchison.
Fishing from the boat, we targeted tigerfish using heavy mono or wire leaders on our fly lines. These are not the big tigerfish of Zambian and Zimbabwean fame, but they are fun. Tigerfish have an anti-coagulant on their teeth, so we handled them with care. The alestes and awaka were also great fighting fish. The Uganda Wildlife Authority boatman was very knowledgeable and put us on to plenty of fish. He kept remarking as to how in all his years he had never had two ladies fishing from his boat.
I organized this trip myself. Having worked for the US foreign aid program (USAID) for 25 years, spending eight of those in Kenya, I had friends in Uganda who helped me set this up. I borrowed a car and driver and went on this adventure with my fly fishing buddy from Oregon.
The best time of year is the dry season, as the roads can be very unpleasant in the rains. (I managed to get stuck even in the dry season). The dry seasons are generally July to October and January to March. The best fishing is when the river is at its lowest and clearest level from mid-January to early April.
To undertake a similar trip, start by checking out the web site. This site provides all the background information needed to fish Murchison the fish to be caught, tackle and tactics, location information and how to get there. There are also some stunning photos on the web site. The Ugandan Wildlife Authority web site provides the fees for the fishing license ($50 per day; or $100 for four days) and for boat rental ($300 per day; $150 for a half day). You can reserve the boat by calling ahead. English is the national language of Uganda.
If you do not want to drive to Murchison Falls, you can get there by taking the 17-kilometer daily UWA launch trip from the ferry crossing to the falls. You can be dropped at the falls on the morning trip and picked up by the afternoon trip.
To arrange a trip through an outfitter, I would suggest Wild Frontiers. You can contact Alistair Brew, the fly fishing guide, through the Murchison Falls web site. – Lee Ann Ross.
(Postscript: You can see photos from Ross’s trip in the Photo Gallery section of our web site at www.angling report.com.)