AdventureTight Lines

Grootdrink to St. Nowhere – The Namib experience!

by Rohan Koegelenberg

Henties Bay awakens excitement and expectation in any rock and surf fisherman. Friends plan months, even years, ahead for this trip. It is and has been a place of fishing dreams for me since I was a young boy. I have heard so many stories of Mile 72 and Mile 101 and how the guys caught huge Cob, Steenbras and Galjoen, and then the stories of the huge sharks starting to show up and spooling reels empty of all line. This made me want to experience it for myself, and once you have been there, you only want to go back.

Once you past Henties Bay on your way to the Skeleton Coast you find a place in the middle of nowhere, called “St. Nowhere”. It is a camp running on generators and desalinated water. When you arrive here, you know you are out and about.

The camp St. Nowhere.

I had the privilege of going with a group of guys who are somewhat legendary because of their influence in the area. The grape and raisin farmers of the Grootdrink area in the Northern Cape have been going to this camp every year for the last 20 years. The story goes as follows, and as it is, legends are heard of but rarely experienced first-hand, but this is a legend. So, the group of Northern Cape farmers used to go to Henties Bay for their annual holidays after harvest time. The farmers went to the old salt spa and asked the owner if it would be possible to sleep over at the spa in order to cut short the driving distance from Henties up the coast past the spa to the Skeleton Coast fence. The owner was agreeable, and he offered them a caravan to sleep in. The next year the owner built a house that could accommodate 10 people and named it “Grootdrink” after my friend Willem Gresse’s farm area. This was great as the guys could sleep in better comfort and out of the weather. It became known to other visitors and the owner saw the potential and built more sleeping units. Each of these units was named after a farm or area in the Northern Cape of one of the groups of farmers. Today it is a big campsite with a few houses for rent, camp stands and facilities.                                              

On the walls of the bigger house “Grootdrink”, the framed photos of Willem Gresse and his group of farmer friends is still proudly displayed and have probably been seen by thousands of visitors. For me to go with this group of farmers was a great privilege, and I could never have dreamt that I would have this opportunity. The other side of the coin is that these guys know the water, each hole and where fish might hold; they have experienced all types of weather and know exactly how to fish each of these scenarios, and that is worth gold. The only challenge of the trip is that it fell in the month of April which is considered the tail end of the season (the fishing is at its best from October to March).

The road between Upington and Namibia after much needed rain. Flowers jump up overnight and become picture perfect!

It is a 14-hour drive from Upington, a marathon drive, but the scenery makes the trip feel short. I love how nature changes the deeper you go into Namibia. There is so much beauty and interesting things to see that are not common in our everyday lives.

I do want to note that crossing the border was really a joy, so thumbs up to both the South African and Namibian border staff for friendly and fast service. Some good news for the regulars visiting Henties Bay is that the road from Swakopmund to Henties and even beyond to the Skeleton Coast is being tarred.

Arriving at St.Nowhere we were greeted with good weather, sunshine and a moderate wind. After unpacking we immediately got the wheels deflated to the desired pressure in order to drive safely on the beach.

Single hook with sardine.

We went out with great excitement and started our trip with a few smaller fish but nothing really impressive at all. The next morning however we woke to a different world – the weather had changed for the worse, and it showed us the other side of the Namibian coast. Howling winds, overcast and cold weather pushed the fish off the surf zone and off the bite. I personally found it very tough and frustrating as it did not matter where you cast or what bait you put on, the fish were just not biting. The guys pulled out all the lessons learned on their previous experiences and we started driving to each marked spot and tried our level best to get into fish. It took us a good 3 days of fishing to finally figure out how, where and when to get fish. It was an absolute waiting game. You needed to sit on a spot and wait it out, and the fish would suddenly move in and go on the bite, and just like that move out again. Then the sea barbel would move in and snatch up your bait as soon as it hit bottom. And this was how the trip went on for 11 consecutive days. The weather got worse every day and the wind was just about unbearable.

Stefan Duvenage with a Cob caught in our first few days.
Willem Gresse with a beautiful specimen of a White Steenbras taken in the last hour of our last day in Henties Bay.

On the issue of bait, and it is a real and uncomfortable issue as there is a 5-year moratorium on catching sardines on the Namibian coast. Sardines are now imported from Spain, and we on the receiving end don’t get fresh bait but soft and almost unusable sardines – a big frustration. White mussel was available, but the fish were feeding on fish and thus the white mussel didn’t work as expected.

On the other hand, when fish were on the bite, presentation of the bait was a key factor. The words of one of the good anglers in the group still resonate in my head: “presentation, presentation, presentation” as he would say out loud while putting on bait, and he caught more fish than us all.

Willem Gresse with Kolstert, one of the few we managed to land.
The author with a small Galjoen. Notice the scar in the backfin.

But persistence paid off and we started getting more fish more regularly. We had to wait for the fish by going to the areas where we knew the fish were biting best and sit and wait for them to move into the area. While having some rods in sand pipes we would walk up and down the beaches casting in productive looking spots in search for Galjoen, and it did pay off with a few decent size Galjoen. Henties is also known for its Blactail (Kolstert), but we only caught a few and only 2 or 3 were the required size.

Small Spotted Gully shark.

We were mostly looking to catch Cob, and we did manage to get a few small ones, but overall the fishing was super tough as the wind started to really pick up towards the end of our trip.

The last day of fishing was probably the most frustrating as we did not even get a bite the whole morning. We had decided to fish a hole and to just enjoy the last bit of beauty and scenery.  At around 3 o’ clock we decided to call it a day, pack up and get ready to go back home, almost defeated. While starting to pack the mist moved out and for the first time we had sunshine and almost no wind. One of the group decided to make a last cast with a big chunk of sardine on the hook. The bait hardly got to the bottom when he was on with a decent Kob. Minutes later I also got a decent Kob. Suddenly, with the change of the weather, the fishing had picked up. My friend Willem landed a good size White Steenbras but then the bite went off again.

Riaan du Plessis with an average size Cob. This was the size we caught.

To be honest it was one of my toughest fishing trips I have ever encountered. I have a lot of respect for the guys in the group who kept on fishing their hearts out even when the fish were not biting. It takes a lot to keep on going in the toughest of weather when Henties shows you the wrong side of itself, but that’s Henties for you – it can be as terrible as it can be kind.

As it goes two days after we left we heard the guys filled their quota of fish in two days – we had left the day before the fish started to bite as they are known to do at Henties!

We left for home, but we will return to the house Grootdrink in St. Nowhere and have another dance with the Namibian coast, the place where your soul can breathe…