The country’s name itself conjures up images of civil war, destruction, corruption, desolation and poverty, but upon landing in the country you realise that it’s a whole different ball game from the war zone it was not too long ago.
This destination has been on my bucket list for a long time, but due to my shifting work schedule and family commitments, I had never managed to coordinate the right time of year out of my already jam-packed schedule. Finally my long-time friend and dive buddy, Henry Geldenhuys, gave me a call and said that the winter water looked to be on its way out and, if I could swing it, I needed to get my ducks in a row and get up there sharpish.
I got the ball rolling with the visa application process which I had been warned would be a nightmare, but it turned out to be plain sailing with the help of a seasoned Angolan visa veteran agent.
10 days after my application I went in and I got my passport back. It was GO time! I booked my flights, frantically threw my gear together and prepared for two weeks of hard diving!
My itinerary took me from PE to Cape Town, onward to Windhoek and finally into Lubango where Henry would be waiting for me at the airport, all packed up and ready to head down to the coast on a three hour drive which would take us down the infamous Serra do Leba pass. The pass is an engineering marvel and at times it can be like running the gauntlet with the big trucks driving way, way faster than they should be. One would think that they would be more cautious seeing as there are literally hundreds of vehicle wrecks lying on the side of the mountain.
Finally, after hours of anticipation, we pulled into the little fishing village named Chapue Armada which loosely translated means Army Hat, no clue how it got that name? Henry and a partner had started laying out foundations and installing the necessary infrastructure to set up a fishing and spearfishing lodge, so this trip was primarily meant to be a prospecting exercise to assess the viability of bringing guys in to spearfish in the area.
From a fishing point of view, Henry and his partner already they knew it was viable as the locals have been fishing the area for quite a few years. Big Shad are plentiful and on almost any rocky point with a bit of white water, there will be hordes of them ready to smash a surface lure or inhale a spoon at speed. Kob are in abundance off the beach at dusk, Pargo can be easily caught off the rocks and the game fish during summer are plentiful, so there is no lack of action for even the hardiest of anglers. What the guys didn’t really know is what fish would be able to be speared on a regular basis, which is where I came in.
Day one saw us prepping the boat and sorting out gear, trying to stay calm while staring at a mirror flat sea with huge bait balls which were already getting smashed by predators. Our first destination was to be the two small islands lying roughly 3 miles offshore and 3 miles north of the camp, reputed to be a hotspot that the locals rave about. We eventually launched just before midday and were on our way. I could barely contain myself and was frothing for what I would find underwater at the islands. The good news, I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Unfortunately the vis was poor at the island area and the current was raging, but the fish life was prolific, conservatively speaking. I was swarmed by shoals of big Shad, Kob in caves, Yellow Belly, Rock Cod ducking into holes, shoals of Pargo on the deeper flat reef and all manner of tropical fish teaming everywhere. This all happening in what Henry tells me is the winter water which isn’t supposed to be very productive…
I really battled with my sinuses and couldn’t dive much deeper than 10m, but at least I got to test the waters and knew what to expect in the days to come.
The prevailing wind in the winter is a south westerly and it blew at a steady 8-10kts for most of the first week which prevented us from heading south and scouting that area, but it did give us ample opportunity to get a good idea of where to dive north of the camp. On one of the days during that first week, we were swimming along a shallow ledge looking for crayfish in about 3m of water when I heard Henry’s gun go off, followed by a shout for me to come give him a hand. Much to my surprise Henry had shot a 10kg Yellow Belly out of the smallest crack and we worked hard to get the fish out. It just went to show how prolific the Rock Cod in Angola are and I soon learnt that every nook and cranny needs to be explored with a short gun and a good torch, regardless of water depth. The south westerly died down, which was a blessing because we were finally able to head south for the first time. The downside was that with no breeze, the day time temperatures rocketed well into the high thirties, which made sleeping at night a sticky, sweaty affair.
The southern area was a completely different story; totally different to where we had been up north. Luckily my sinuses had cleared up by that stage otherwise I would have been in deep trouble as we had to dive deeper than before. I found spectacular reef in the 19-23m range with huge shoals of big Pargo which reminded me of the big shoals of Musselcracker we get in November in the Eastern Cape, albeit not quite as spooky. We also found a few areas with acres of caves and literally hundreds of small Yellow Bellies and Broomtail Grouper, and it was in this area that I speared the biggest of the Rock Cods of each species on this trip.
I found that the best thing to do with the bigger Yellow Bellies was to swim after them until they retreated into their holes. Then, I’d mark the spot with a drop weight or marker buoy and fetch a short gun and torch from the boat. It’s almost a sure thing once you have the fish holed up and it’s just a matter of getting a solid holding shot into the fish and trying to stop it from heading deeper into the cave. I spent almost two hours on an 18kg Yellow Belly that had wedged itself tight inside its hole, but I finally managed to get it out using a specially designed gaff that Tommy Botha had made me. Along with a high powered short gun (I used a 70cm roller gun) and a good LED torch, a decent robust gaff is an essential piece of kit for extracting the stubborn Rock Cods. There were numerous occasions where I held off shooting a big fish purely because I knew I would never get the fish out and would end up losing gear and spoiling a good fish.
On the last day, the current picked up and the vis cleared to a green 15-18m, which was a blessing because it enabled me to cover much bigger areas in search of new reef. My persistence paid off and after swimming for close on five hours without a break I found a huge ledge in 24m that totally blew my mind!
The spot held solid Amberjacks, Cubera Snapper, Rubber Lips, Kob, Geelbek, Pargo and bigger Yellow Bellies and Broomtails than I had seen the whole trip combined. I shot a few select fish off the spot and it really was the cherry on top of an absolutely phenomenal trip.
All too soon it was time to pack up and start the long journey back to civilisation, back to traffic and the daily grind of modern life. It’s only on trips like this where one really gets to appreciate the simpler things in life and you realise that there is life beyond cell phones, traffic and social media. At the time of going to press, Henry is busy setting up the lodge with luxury tented accommodation, generators, fridges and all the other necessary bits and pieces. He hopes to be up and running within the next few months with his first guests.
I can’t wait to go back and I can highly recommend Angola to anyone who is as crazy about spearing as I am. Ticking this mind blowing destination off my bucket list was everything and more that I had hoped for and I can say with conviction that Angola is my top destination that I have travelled to so far.
Huge thanks must go out to Henry and his Brother- in-law, Alfredo, for looking after me and making this trip the best I have ever done. For more information and progress on the lodge please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org