July 4, 2014 Last Updated 2:44 pm

* Guinea Bissau – How African Fishing Should Be!

Stan Ryan's accounts of his trips abroad are hugely popular here on TopFisher. Guinea Bissau is a African destination that is replacing Gambia as the "go-to" destination in West Africa.

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Guinea Bissau 2010 & 2012

Many people will never have heard of Guinea Bissau. It is a small ,very poor West African country that lies south of Senegal.

Our first trip to GB was at the end of October 2010. We organised this through World Sports Fishing ,which is run by Richard Sheard (http://www.worldsportfishing.com/) . Over the last couple of years I have read articles by people planning to go to Guinea Bissau and other African countries without an agent. From my experience this could be pure madness.

The plan was to land in Gambia in the early afternoon and then drive down to Ziguinchor, which is in the south of Senegal.  Unfortunately, the company that we were to fly with cancelled the flight and we flew out later than expected from Gatwick. It was too late to cross the Senegalese boarder as it closes at 6pm. So we had to spend the night in Gambia and set off  following morning on our journey.

The distance of 206km should have taken 3-4 hours, even on African roads. All went relatively well until we hit the boarder in Guinea Bissau. The two cars were stopped by the police who had to “check each passport”. Then we had a repeat performance by the army and again by the customs.   We had this each time we entered a town or village and again when we left and also in various places in the middle of the countryside. Each stop could take up to 20 minutes.  Our drivers both African, could communicate with those involved and knew how to deal with the situation. Being honest these two drivers took a lot of verbal and sometimes physical abuse from these people. Can you imagine the hassle that could be involved in a group of Irish fishermen travelling on their own??!!!!   Local expertise is required in “dealing” with the problems encountered.

After 11 hours we reached Bissau, the capital, and spent several hours in the “Mar Azul” hotel by the river.  After darkness we walked down through mud to the boats. As we passed down the river people shining lights in the mangroves guided us down the estuary. Soon we were on our way out to Acunda, which is one of 80 islands in the archipelago, off the coast.

( Author’s Note: Just to digress at this point Frederick Forsythe wrote a brilliant book called the Cobra about drug smuggling. I picked it up soon after I arrived back home. The Mar Azul hotel features in it.)

Travelling out at speed us we saw a tropical storm hit the mainland. Richard assured us that storms never moved out to sea….famous last words!!!  Soon we were out in the middle of nowhere being lashed by strong winds and rain with thunder and lightening coming at us from every direction. Our skipper threw an anchor overboard before lying on the floor rubbing his head. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Within quite a short time the storm had passed and we happily made our way to “our home” for the next 8 days. Well! With that kind of a start things could only get better…

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Accommodation is in two-man lava huts and is fairly basic but adequate. Remember this is Africa and you will be outside most of the time.

The next morning, after breakfast, we were given some lessons in tying Bimini Twist and Albright knots. These were reckoned to be the best for joining lines.A box containing lures, jigs, wire traces and hooks was handed to each angler. There was a vast array of poppers, sub-surface and deep-diving plugs plus some spinners.

Our first day was to be one of boat fishing. Three centre-console boats set out to sea at 8.30am and motored in different directions over the horizon.  Our boat speeded out to some sandbanks. The boats were only 20-30M from high rolling surf crashing on mounds of sand. The skipper and his mate used their eagle eyes to spot shoals of jacks racing along the banks chasing baitfish. “Cast , cast, cast!” came the orders. This was done in an orderly fashion to avoid tangles. First cast was from the stern and last from the bow, as the boat moved forward and we always cast ahead of the boat. Our big poppers skipped across the water pursued by very large jacks ( Jack Crevalle).

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Now this is where balanced tackle makes the difference. Richard uses Daiwa rods and reels. The rods must be stiff enough to make a popper work and at the same time strong enough to cast a large lure. I had brought my own gear, an Illex Tyrant and a Stella 8000. The former was bought with vouchers that I received for a Dublin tackle shop and the latter was bought for me by my son in the States.

Each boat had 2 crew and 3 fishermen on board. Never having experienced the thrill of seeing  a huge fish charging after a lure, our blood pressure soared! Watching a torpedo travelling at the speed of light grabbing a popper and setting off in the opposite direction like an unstoppable train is really something to behold.

We just don’t have any fish in Ireland that could match the size, strength , speed and stamina of a jack. Drags screamed as the fish tore away. There is no way of stopping the runs and patience is required to tire your opponent out. On several occasions each of the 3 of us had a 25lb or bigger jack tearing around at the speed of light. Rods were passed over and under each other as we raced from stern to the bow and back again.  In the African sun this was certainly tiring.

After 3 hours of being hammered by these brutes it was time for lunch.  We landed on an island and the skipper and his helper cleaned and filleted one of the jacks. The red flesh was sliced very thinly and soaked in lime juice with a bit of soya and garlic added. This mixture is then left to rest as the juice “cooks” the fish. The Spanish call this “Ceviche”. While it might not sound very appetising it is simply delicious.

After lunch we fished rocky areas with the aim being to catch snapper. Walk-the-dog lures were snatched by fish that literally exploded at the surface. Big snapper when caught try their best to get back to their home in the rocks. It is really very difficult to stop the initial dive and several lures were lost.

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At 6pm it was time to head back to base for dinner. Guess what was on the menu……fish for starter and main course. Desert was delicious fresh fruit.  Fish is the main food on the island and we only had one day where we had a bit of variation with chicken.

Another Day on the water

Day 2 we set off for a wreck called the “Chimneys”. Fish of all descriptions shoal up around it. On the way we stopped to get some livebaits. Small feathers yielded yaboys and pla-pla. The former are regarded as the better bait.

On arrival at our destination shoals of yellowfin jacks were chasing baitfish around the wreck. First cast I hooked into a monster of a fish and a 20 minute fight ensued until I managed to bring a 40lb plus leerfish to the side of the boat. Just as it was unhooked a large cobia passed under the boat. Livebaits were immediately dropped over the side and my rod instantly buckled. Another long battle and I was totally wrecked after another 25 minutes of having my arms nearly ripped out of their sockets. We all landed jacks, cobia and leerfish. One of the cobia was well over 100lb.

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At lunchtime we anchored up and Marty dropped a livebait over the side. This was grabbed by a huge stingray and a 2 hours battle saw the fish brought to the side of the boat 3 times. On each occasion the crew tried to gaff it in the wing but could not hold it. Eventually the rod just exploded under the strain.

That night a tropical storm hit the island in the middle of the night. As our door was open, to help the hut keep cool, stuff was blown all around the room. My passport disappeared and were eventually found under the furniture. The ticket looked like it had been chewed on.

As the seas were still quite high we opted to stay on the island for a days rest. Of course the beach rods soon came out as we sat on the sand outside the bar.  Beer was ordered, seats came out and books were read. Small marbled snappers and ramora were caught. The latter generally live on big fish such as sharks where they act as cleaners.   Suddenly my rod was lifted from its stand and headed seaward. The take and fight resembled that of a tope. Several long runs later a large guitarfish was landed on the beach. This creature looks half shark and half ray. Unfortunately, it died soon after I had released it much to the delight of the locals who brought it home for dinner.

Day 3 on the water

Guinea Bissau Red Snapper (Large)

Day 3 was at a place called the washing machine. This is due to the strong currents which curls around an area of sub-surface rock. All kinds of fish are caught there. I chanced using a Dexter wedge and caught six large Spanish mackerel one after the other. By the way I have tried these lures elsewhere and they are like a magnet to Spanish mackerel.

Just for curiosity I set up a shark rig with a side of mackerel and floated it down in the current. Barely had it hit the water when something grabbed the bait and took off straightening out the hook. I had 3 more takes without a hook-up. Finally, on the fifth attempt I hooked a very large fish which took off like a train as it headed for the horizon. Nothing was going to stop it and soon my line snapped. You just never know what is going to grab a bait in Guinea. It is not unusual while fighting a big fish to have a bigger one eat it before your eyes.

Day 4

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Day 4 we headed out to a sand bar that is uncovered at low water. Beach casters were set up with mullet as bait. Many large fish were landed including guitarfish, barracuda and jacks. Each fight was simply incredible. However, the heat was far to intense and so after 4 hours it was time to head back to Acunda before we were cooked! One piece of advice is to bring rehydration tablets with you when going to such a hot country. A glass of Dioralyte in the morning and evening will keep the body salts up. Of course suncream factor 30 or even 50 is essential.

The last 2 days fishing were spent trying various locations. One was the Uno channel which was alive with big barracuda. Our trip home was even worse than the journey down with all the stops by the army, police and customs. Some of these guys are not very nice and waving guns around does not make them any more palatable.


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Due to the success of the first trip we decided to return in  February 2012. This time we flew into Bissau via Lisbon. As we landed at 1am there were no officials on the road to hassle us.

This time we were on another island called Orango. The accommodation was much better and we had a bit more variation in the food served each evening. We had chicken on one or two occasions. One meal consisted of what I thought were ribs but it was in fact goat. It was simply delicious. Fishing was more or less the same as the previous year. It was a little cooler which made life more pleasant.

I have seen various comparisons made between Acunda and Orango on websites. Being honest there is little difference. As we had a good experience with Richard Sheard on the first occasion it just made sense to return with him again.

One consideration if thinking about going to Guinea is that there is always a good chance of a huge fish. We had cobia to over 100lb, stingray to 180lb and barracuda to 57lb. There is an endless variety of fish and we had over 30 species.


Things to do or places to visit

Acunda is uninhabited except for the staff involved in the angling and catering. So fishing is the main preoccupation. Some of us paid a visit to a local island where the locals were playing a football match. There were kitted out in various gear from the GAA and Mayo and Kerry jerseys featured strongly.

On our final night in Acunda the king and queen from an island nearby came for a visit with some of the natives. We were treated to a night of dancing that would leave Riverdance in the halfpenny place. On Orango there is a trip to “see” saltwater hippos. However, they would not come out to play when we were there and they were buried in the mud. Apparently, the best chance to see them is in September or October. The local monkeys gave a little bit of a show jumping from tree to tree.

For bird watchers either island is paradise with all kinds of colourful feathered friends present. Sea eagles are common and fabulous to watch. Vultures will come down to take fish remnants left of the beach.

Again I would warn people going to Guinea to be prepared for hassle from the authorities. If you know in advance that this is just about extracting money from travellers and that the shouting and roaring that may occur is just a show then you will take it in your stride. You need to remember “This is Africa”.

Would I go back?……Certainly, once I get to see some other destinations on my list.


Some video of the trip:


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