A renowned heathen-ware angler who has dived into fly fishing guiding over the last few years with Mavungana Flyfishing and African Waters, when Mike Dames is not with clients wrangling tarpon in Gabon, tigers at Pongola or yellows on the Orange, you’ll find him fishing for his first love, kob, along the South African coast.
5 best things about where you guide?
- Feeling like I’m in a BBC nature doccie on the beaches of Parc National de Loango in Gabon.
- Watching tarpon roll into the lagoon and hordes of jacks on a killing spree in the waves – just shows how much we’ve plundered our oceans elsewhere in the world.
- Experiencing the ever-changing Mavungana Pongola tigerfish seasons. Each one is different to the last, so it’s always engaging and never gets stale.
- Being surrounded by the red cathedrals of the mountains along the lower Orange River. Damn, we are not made to survive in that place, but I feel alive every second I am there.
- The ability to spend the majority of my time on the water with like-minded souls and to show them what makes me tick.
Mike helps a client land a smallmouth yellow in the Richtersveld.
5 items you don’t leave home without before making a mission.
- Spool of .77mm Maxima Ultragreen. Barbed hook in the body? No worries, come here.
- Obviously you cannot go anywhere without a Leatherman. I like the Wingman model, nice and cheap because they sink like a tungsten jig fly.
- Jonathan Boulton’s Orvis Helios 3 Blackout 8-weight 8’5″…
- Savage Gear Splitring and Cut Pliers. Cuts anything, keeps my digits from getting cut, and doesn’t stop working.
- Assassin Spinmaster backpack. I’ve had it for years; it carries more than you need and it has never been washed or taken care of. If you were to take a genetic sample swab it would expose a plethora of species.
5 bands to listen to while on a road trip?
- Rainbow Kitten Surprise.
- The Blaze.
- Metallica… when big fish need hurting [sad face].
- Amadou & Mariam.
5 things you’re loving right now.
- Stranger Things. So many of our spots are named after references to the series.
- Zane Grey’s books on hunting and fishing from back in the day.
- One-minute long fly ties on the ‘Gram.
- Russian Fishing 4 [A simulator game with RPG elements – Ed.]. When I can’t fish I do it on the PC. Super-realistic, so expect hours in between bites.
- Darling Brew JUST Beer… it’s jas, bru.
5 indispensable flies for saltwater?
- A South African version of the Clouser Minnow, obviously.
- Richard Wale’s Stella, from tigers to leeries on top.
- Skinny Surf Candies.
- LeRoy Botha’s Ironman.
- Bulkhead Hollow Fleye… Dre [Andre van Wyk], you are a god.
5 indispensable flies for freshwater?
- Tuscan Bunny.
- Game Changers of any flavour.
- Muddler Minnow (add Loon Aquel and you are a dry fly, larney).
- PTN vibes for when they don’t want meat.
- Phlexo Crab.
With elephants and underrated tigers, Pongola is an underrated fishery.
5 favourite fly-fishing destinations across Africa?
- Pongola. It’s by far the most underrated tiger fishery. It’s technical and not short of handing out a “PK”*.
- Gabon. When you want big, angry saltwater fish, this place is next level.
- The lower Orange River – a place that resets the soul.
- Thrift Dam, Winterberg. Ice cold, with trout that behave like wannabe saltwater fish.
- My home waters in the Eastern Cape for my true love – rock and surf fishing.
Mike’s first love, rock and surf fishing in the Eastern Cape.
5 of the best things you’ve picked up from guiding?
- Patience. From things going wrong to unplayable clients, just remain chilled.
- Listening. Clients are paying you for your attention. They are actually really rad people when you get to know them.
- Don’t judge. The client with the dream tackle will disappoint. The one with hand-me-downs will be Top Gun.
- No space for ego. Acting like you are the shit only gets you labelled as a…
- Observation. From people’s body language to a tiger sticking his dorsal out 50m away – use your eyes and brain. They will surprise you.
5 of the worst things you’ve picked up from guiding?
- Those first few days once I get back from location, I can be a bit grumpy. Decompress… what’s that?
- Lodge Podge. Two back-to-back tiger seasons where the most exercise is carrying cans of fuel and drinking lots of beer.
- A love for sleeping.
- Starting to enjoy watching people fish more than doing the deed myself… Am I becoming an adult?
- A hate for civilisation/normal life.
5 flies to pack (in the smuggler kit under your driver’s seat) to cover most species?
- Olive Over White Clouser
- Mrs Simpson
- Small White Foam Popper
- Original Zonker
5 people you would like to guide or fish with?
- My mate Graeme Forrer. We push the limits together, play stupid games and win stupid prizes.
- Nathan Pahl. Nate Dawg has been there for me since day one in my guiding career. Yet we have never really fished hard together.
- My sister, Viv Dames. Same psychological issues as me and fishes like a boss but unfortunately we don’t get to fish together often. Wish she could see what I have seen.
- Edward Truter. Another big player who’s had my back. Albany humour and wicked smart.
- Martin Rudman. I have met very few people that can keep up with my fish/fishing talk.
5 fish on your species hit list?
- Asp, a piscivourous cyprinid? Yes, please.
- Any species of Labeobarbus (yellowfishes) across Africa. Would love to catch some of those unknowns.
- Tropical West African leervis.
- Barbus ecocinus (mangar).
5 shower thoughts that have occurred to you while fly fishing?
- When that elephant gets hooked on the back cast. Will he hit and run or give you an “in” bite?
- Why aren’t there more village idiot fish? Have the clients wiped them out, because they appear to be extinct on guides’ days off?
- The “women’s pheromones theory” behind why they always get the good fish can’t be true. I tied the fly on, and they literally haven’t touched it.
- Why do we also have to send it when the fish are mostly hooked boat side?
- Was catch and release invented before fly fishing? Because it is basically a prerequisite to joining the fraternity.
Longfin jacks off the beach are standard fodder in Gabon
5 of the most underrated species in your book?
- Jack crevalle. They are everything you want a sport fish to be, yet people get over them or don’t care (maybe it’s only a Gabon problem).
- Longfin jacks. Same as above just the jungle camo version.
- Large and smallmouth yellowfish. True, we South Africans love them, but they deserve a star on the Hollywood Boulevard.
- Bass. Cheap thrills, but try catch a true lunker.
- Any large tilapia species. You might see them but they don’t want anything to do with you.
5 things (outside of the fishing) that make where you fish so special?
- The African Waters operation in Gabon does so much to help protect Africa’s last true Garden of Eden. Check out @50_pristine_miles on Instagram, which documents their fight to remove the scarring of human plastic waste from Gabon’s remote beaches.
- Mavungana Flyfishing and their fully-fledged tagging study on tigerfish, which are severely under-studied.
- Just being surrounded by wildlife every day. Come on, elephants and hippos on the beach, FFS!
- My fellow guides, without you gents I might have murdered someone and/or had a breakdown.
- Knowing that the reason it is wild around me is that I have a small part to play in adding value to the natural world. Unfortunately, if it pays it stays.
5 destinations on your bucket list?
- Gabon (it’s where I guide but I haven’t actually fished there).
5 things you would take up if you weren’t always fly fishing?
- Rock and surf.
- Spinning for kob.
- Tie game-changers.
- Jokes aside, I do all of the above more than I fly fish.
- Basically see a psychiatrist.
5 essential ingredients for an incredible mission?
- JBL speaker.
- No one else for miles.
- Preferably zero contact with the world.
5 things about fly fishing that you may never understand?
- Fly lines… why are you being so difficult?
- The elitist status surrounding the sport and refusal of some to try other facets.
- Why is it so tailor-made? The rod and line that works for me will not work for you.
- A quality spinning reel is leagues ahead in terms of engineering yet half the price of a fly reel.
- Flies are the most effective artificial lures, yet fly fishing is the least effective method of presenting them.
Mike Dames with a client and a tarpon off the beach in Gabon.
5 common mistakes that most clients make?
- Not getting acquainted with casting before the trip. We will refine it while fishing, but please, we want you to catch fish not learn how to cast.
- Not reading the pre-trip info in terms of tackle.
- When the guides say “get a midday nap in” we mean it. Those tarpon will eat you when the battery cells are drained.
- If coffee is set for 5am please don’t come before 5. We are still making the coffee and it’s truly our only alone time outside of sitting on the loo.
- Getting too competitive. A bit is lekker but don’t be sour if your mate or wife is shooting the lights out.
Your last five casts were to….
- Sight fishing for double-digit tigers. I even “Czech Clousered” a few.
- Feeding trout game-changers.
- Sending tackle and redbait into the furthest submerged rock for galjoen.
- Throwing chew toys for kob in the surf.
- One midnight cast into the Ndogo Lagoon mouth, Gabon, with a slight bit of nervousness.
* Abbreviation of “poesklap” which translates as “a proper smack”, but if you need an exact translation we suggest you Google it.
Ge the rest of issue 36 here. As always, it’s free.