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African Angler Sport Fishing The Gambia

What John Wilson has to Say about

John Wilson Fishing in The Gambia

e would like to express our gratitude and give special thanks to John Wilson, T.V. angling presenter of the 'Go Fishing' Series who has over the years promoted fishing in The Gambia.


The below excerpt gives an excellent over-view of what to expect when fishing in The Gambia with 'African Angler'.  We hope you find this article an interesting read.    It is taken from the book..........

ISBN 0-7522-1969-3
Order your copy from www.amazon.co.uk


John Wilson  

Rich & yet poor in so many ways: harsh yet beautiful. The hallmark & stark images of Africa, together with its many different peoples, cultures, languages, exotic perfumes and diversity of flora & fauna make this continent utterly fascinating. And you’ll find it all here in one of her tiniest, most colourful children, The Gambia!

Geographically this vibrant country is narrowly wedged into West Africa’s Senegal, with tourism fast becoming its major industry due to the English-speaking people, wonderful year-round climate and golden sandy beaches dotted with affordable hotels and colourful fishing villages. 

The real heart of the country is the fabulously rich and coloured, shrimp-packed Gambia River, which flows westwards for over 400 miles from its source in Guinea Bissau, finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Banjul, the capital. Here in the five mile-wide mouth of the river, where depths vary from just 10 to over 100 feet, schools of bottled nosed dolphins delight tourists and anglers alike, and the strong tidal influences prevail for some 200 miles upriver all the way to Georgetown.  Stretching inland from the delta around Banjul is a huge, fascinating network of mangrove swamps and tidal channels attracting many fish species including tarpon, nine-bones, crevalle jacks, barracudas, and captain fish plus a host of quaint lesser species from butterfish and red snappers to the tooth-laden bastard halibut. And the exotic bird life provides a veritable ‘twitchers’ paradise, with ospreys, goliath herons and bee-eaters considered everyday sightings. 

Boston Whaler Fishing Boat
Boat fishing charters, whether fun trips through the maze of creeks or inshore reef fishing at anchor, trolling, shark fishing, tarpon fishing, among others, all start from Denton Bridge a few miles south of the capital. Here the main coastal road from Banjul spans a wide and fast tidal channel where all the boats are anchored, providing boat captains & skippers with a quick route out into the ocean, or a chug through the mangrove channels (trolling for barracuda en-route) into Banjul harbour and to all upriver destinations. Prior to setting off, a tub of fresh livebaits in the way of 4-6 inch yaboys, a silver-sided herring-like fish, are easily taken adjacent to Denton Bridge by anchoring a little up-tide and jigging with a set of hok-eye shrimp lures. Also, live mullet may be purchased from the cast net fishermen who work the shallows beside the bridge every morning. Also from the local fish markets, fresh bonga fish (an alias shad no less and the staple food fish of The Gambia) are always available for whole or cut bait. 

On the social side, you can order sumptuous seafood cocktails in the way of jumbo-sized curried shrimps, and grilled lobsters, whilst lazing beside your hotel pool. So It’s not difficult to understand why, being less than six hours away from Gatwick, anglers are now flocking to The Gambia, and they are returning year after year. My wife Jo, and I, have it at the very top of our holiday list. For unequalled lunchtime pleasure there is nothing to beat ‘ ILL Mondos’ at Kotu beach, along with lobsters and giant shrimps, visitors can enjoy a Special Pitcher of delicious calvados, amaretto, cointreau, dry cider and crushed ice. Small wonder I can never fathom out which mix I like the best. 

John Wison's Lemon Shark caught whilst filming the Go Fishing t.v series
As for the fishing, I need to go back to the late 1980’s when I first met Yorkshireman Mark Longster, now by far the most experienced and respected skipper of all Gambian charter companies. In those early days when filming for television, Mark made an enormous effort to ensure that we caught large sharks whilst anchored in the middle of the river mouth at Barra. We accounted for lemon sharks to over 300lb, plus some large barracudas on two consecutive days. Strangely, shark fishing is now largely forgotten in Gambian waters; it has been replaced with a growing interest in giant tarpon and unbelievably exciting reef fishing for a dozen or more species that can top 30lbs or more. And with his current boat (23ft Boston Whaler), which is a beamy & comfortable fishing platform, he and his partner Tracey day offer several exciting packages to the visiting fisherman. 

I guess overall that the reef/sport fishing at anchor over the rocks either at Barra or further south over Mantel Reef, provide the best ‘bran tub’ sport of all. Whilst ledgering out a bonga bait or a live-bait on a 20-30lb class outfit, likely customers include the colourful and absurdly hard-fighting cubera snapper to over 40lbs, crevalle jacks to over 30lbs, cassavas (known as Kob in South Africa) up to 40lbs and the strange transparent-nosed king threadfin salmon, also called captain fish, but locally known as kujeli. These fast-running super sport fish are regularly caught in the 30lb to 50lb bracket on small live-baits, yaboys, or mullet (and the world’s all tackle best of 72lb was in fact successfully recorded in The Gambia). Incidentally, and this illustrates the potential of these incredible fertile seas, whilst shark fishing off Barra in 50ft of water Gambia's largest Cobia caught on rod and lineduring the early days before anyone in The Gambia bothered about IGFA Records, Mark caught a truly mammoth threadfin salmon weighing 120lb, using a whole bonga fish as bait on a 10/0 hook and wire trace – but never bothered to claim the capture as a record. The same can be said of another species, the cobia, also occasionally caught in the 40lb-70lb bracket by anglers fishing over Mantel Reef. A huge cobia, weighing 154lb was taken by English angler Bob Murrock whilst trolling a CD18 plug for barracudas at the back of the Sunbeach Hotel. The capture was in fact recorded on video, but not ratified by the IGFA due to a mix up during the exhaustive form filling process. 
There are, however, several Gambian records Accepted by the IGFA including the all-tackle sandbar shark of 260lb caught by Paul Delsignore in 1989. But none can compare with a truly giant barracuda which Mark witnessed at Bakau Head of 76lb Barracuda fish market having already been hacked into three easy-to-weigh pieces. Together, the head and two body chunks totalled a staggering 60kg, which despite losing an enormous amount of body fluids, came from a colossal barracuda easily 40lb heavier than the current world all-tackle record of 83lb caught by K. Hackett from Lagos, Nigeria in 1952. Some of the best trolling for both barracudas and crevalle jacks, incidentally, is also along the reefs running parallel with the southern coastline, and in Marks opinion the most successful artificial lure of all is the rapala CD18 – a preference I would say that skippers share on a world-wide basis in both freshwater and saltwater.

Now lets talk about tarpon fishing ‘Gambian style”. Again, monsters far larger than the long-standing current all-tackle world IGFA record of 283lbs not only exist but in large numbers in The Gambia River. The largest authenticated tarpon weighed an incredible 303lbs and was landed following a three hour battle by Carl Pashley from England using a 55lb test braided reel line (it was refuted by the IFGA on technicality, despite being officially weighed).

With reference to there being real numbers of huge tarpon living in the Gambia River however, I recall a session of several years back when Jo and I visited Mark and Tracey for a week’s serious fishing.




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We had motored upriver opposite Dog Island and anchored in the middle of a 50ft deep tide rip where the Gambia River is getting on for 12 miles. (This is a known tarpon channel where anything can in fact turn up, like the 115lb cuberaWorld Record Size Tarpon snapper in 1997 which gobbled up a single yaboy intended for tarpon, the angler needing all of his 50lb class outfit to subdue such a massive cubera).  During the last two hours of the flood tide Mark was convinced we would experience tarpon breaking the mirror-like surface and together with a group of bottle-nosed dolphins, he was so right. Massive tarpon could be seen wallowing and crashing through the surface film for at least a couple of hundred yards in all four directions around the boat. Scarcely a minute passed by without one, two or even three tarpon simultaneously rolling, topping and tailing or crashing out.

There were obviously hundreds of tarpon around us – huge deep-bodied specimens, between 7 ft and 8 ft long in the 150-300lb range. I have never experienced such a spectacle of fish ever before or since. We were like kids in a sweet shop and expected any second for one of our four free-lined mullet live-baits to go screeching off. Suddenly Mark hooked up with a fish of well over 200lb but after a 20 min battle it got away.  Around two years later, Mark and I were anchored in more or less the same position off Dog Island, this time sharing the boat with Don Metcalfe, who hooked up with no fewer than three tarpon within a mad hour’s spell one after another, pulling out of each following that initial jump or two. Personally I have actually still yet to land one of The Gambia’s huge tarpon, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Incidentally, and coming down in size to much smaller tarpon within the 25-70lb range, there is some fabulous action to be had during the Gambian summer months, June through to September, throughout the rainy season. Its pretty humid and wet, but nice. The rain is not of the monsoon type, merely short, heavy bursts. And during this period tarpon in plenty can be hooked using jigs, lures and live-baits, even on fly from around the rocks off Cape Point, just south of Banjul.

For a totally different Gambian experience, from December through until April, Mark and Tracey arrange five or seven day trips to the high upper reaches of the Gambia River, to Georgetown at McCarthy Island known locally as JanJanBurreh. Here the river is between 200 and 300 yards across, scattered with islands, sandbars, and reefs overhung along the margins by tall hardwood trees. There areTigerfish Caught in the Gambia River baboons, monkeys, plus an unbelievable diversity of bird life along with crocodiles and numerous hippos. This is the original slave-trading island settlement of the colonial days where, in addition to many of the previously mentioned saltwater species, tooth-laden Tigerfish, several catfish species, and elephant snout fish plus dozens of weird and wonderfully colourful species can be taken using a variety of baits.

In complete contrast to these upriver safari’s and for groups of up to six anglers and for the bottom-bait enthusiast using standard beach gear, guitarfish and stingrays feature regularly on the incoming tide. In fact, anyone considering shore fishing in The Gambia would do well to remember that usually the most prolific sport is during that last three hours of the flooding tide. From the surf beaches south of Banjul, Mark had in years past taken both guitarfish and stingrays exceeding 100lb using fresh small whole squid or small fish for bait, on more or less standard British shore angling gear and a 25lb reel line. So we were both intrigued as to what could be caught during the three days of the internationalShore Angling for Jacks sponsored African Shore Angling Championships held in The Gambia during November 2000, along the golden sands and bass-like surf waves of Sanyang Beach, some 18 miles south of the capital, Banjul. With £5000 of tackle vouchers to be won plus big money optional pools, the 70 competitors from all over Britain and Ireland were split up into three sections which were rotated over the three days. Having already agreed with the competition organizers, to both open and close the event with a prize- giving evening, Masterline’s marketing director, Chris Leibrandt and I felt decidedly frustrated merely walking the three sections without a rod in our hands each day instead of competing. Sometimes there were so many fish being caught I couldn’t decide which direction to point my camera lens next. I felt particularly sorry for Colin Palliser from Dublin who, after playing a huge guitar-fish looking all of 70lb plus for over half an hour, had his line parted when the spent fish was almost on the beach by an enthusiastic helper, who I nicknamed “the gaffman from hell”.

Another titanic battle which literally went right down to the wire was mail-order tackle guru, Tony Kerrage’s encounter with what was obviously a huge stingray looking well in excess of 100lb. Again, the result was a botched gaffing attempt. So Tony watched his good friend Norman Message from Eastbourne receive the biggest fish of the festival prize for a 40lb stingray knowingly he had almost landed its granddad! Frankly I could not stop wondering what might have been beached had some of the competitors gone for broke with a size 5/0 hook offering a large bonga fillet or small whole squid as bait, on a 25lb test reel line, instead of two or three small fine-wire hook traces to just a 15lb test reel line – the mind boggles. But then paradoxically top man over the three day event was John O’Brien from Ireland who not only caught far more fish than everyone else, at the competition rules of 5 points per fish and 10 points per kilo, his 17lb captain fish was the biggest landed. During the couple of days prior to and immediately after the competition many of the competitors also experienced some very memorable boat fishing trips. Nigel Lloyd and his son took it in turns to successfully land a tarpon hooked near Dog Island which was returned and estimated after measuring at around 220lbs.

What unbelievable sport The Gambia has to offer!!.

John Wilson

John Wilson’s book ‘Greatest Fishing Adventures’ includes fishing stories from Lake Nassar, Egypt, The Bahamas, British Columbia, Namibia, South India, Florida Keys, Lake Kariba Zambia, Spain. Kenya, The Red River and Lake Victoria.

If you would like to join John Wilson on one of his escorted fishing holidays please contact Christine Slater, Tailormade Holidays, 5 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Surry, KT10 OSP.



Please visit this page again as we will be adding more FEATURED ARTICLES from John Wilson. 

Missile Minded Barracuda'                           
'Gambia Top of BIG NAME game'



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