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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bijagos Islands, fisherman's and Photographer's paradise

One of the more pleasant trip I have done lately has been the one at the Bijagos archipelago, in Guinea Bissau. This small African country is blessed with this amazing patch of small islands and mangrove environments that is virtually untouched. The abundance of wildlife and fishing brings here a good deal of tourists, photographers and fishermen from around the world. There is several lodges dedicated to fishing and echo tourism, and we happened to book at the one based in Keré island, run by Laurent Durris, a nice french guy who knows a good deal of African fishing and has brought forward a beautiful job in Bijagos, both for the fishing and the protection of the area.

Yes, this is Keré, a tiny gem in the hearth of the Bijagos

I'm not a bird photographer and I don't even have the right equipment to shoot them. My 18-200 is way too short to dare to take a decent exposure of one of these creatures but here, for one who knows how to use his camera and lenses properly, there are chances of achieving decent results even with a 300mm lens, something that in other places is just out of question. I don't know birds either, ask me about any predator fish and I might also tell you his Latin scientific name but birds are quite unknown to me. Thus, there was some very photogenic animals there, many herons, cranes and the gracious flamingos, that I only had the chance to shoot from quite far when, disturbed by the boat's engine noise they slowly took off for another planet.

This trip has been quite a turning point in my "fishing photographic career", in fact for the first time I think I have dedicated more time, or at least equal time, to fishing and shooting photos, something that in the past was something like 80/20 in favour of fishing. I clearly remember a couple of afternoons and mornings when I left the rod in the boat or in the bungalow, and only carried the D80. Those days we fished from shore, something that gave me way better opportunities to grab some decent images. I didn't have the tripod with me because of the serious weight excess I was already carrying but there was enough light to play with. I'm especially keen in these two images that far from being technically perfect, resume a bit how much life there was around both in the air and the water

One of those afternoon, while my friends were having a good time on a sandbar, working with light surface lures, I wandered around this massive beach in search of something to record in my SD card. All of the sudden a boat arrived, started dropping a net in a half circle until in enough shallow water to allow the fisherman to wade and pull the net closer and closer to the beach. There was not much fish round that area and the harvest was quite poor. I approached the crew and asked them if I could take pictures while they where working and as sometimes happens in such countries, they asked me for money. Well, is pretty unusual that a guy in a swimsuit, in the middle of nowhere carries a wallet with him, and mine was no exception. I told the guys my situation and that the money was at the camp. Somehow they accepted to be photographed and even though the light was between bad and horrible, I shoot some images .

Oh, yes, fishing... I haven't forgot about that but to be honest with you we didn't have a spectacular week, I would say between average and bad maybe. Thus, I enjoyed very much fishing light tackle with my black bass equipment. yes right, I brought my 6'6" 1 1/2oz pole and a small Team Daiwa to match. It was a blast to toss those little plugs or the soft plastics to the aggressive Cuberas, Jacks, or African Pompanos, in fact this is what I have done most of the time and never looked back. Basically this has been everybody strategy, and those who kept throwing big plugs with heavy rods didn't have much luck. Is here that I caught one of my most sought after fish on a soft plastic. The African Pompano is a shy member of the Carangidae family and its distribution is not so wide or abundant. Thus, here at the Bijagos is present in large numbers and not so difficult to catch. He grabbed the plastic right under the boat allowing me to see its take, and started a nice tug-of-war. the rod was so soft that would make severe u turns when the fish was sounding under the boat in order to get himself free, but somehow nothing wrong happened and it posed for a few fish eye shots.

The other guys had good and bad days, nothing spectacular again but if you use the right tackle you can have a ball even with a 2lb fish. the early morning session on the very beach of Keré where nothing short of spectacular. Action everywhere. Minnows jumping (you have seen the photo above) and birds diving. Mackerel, Barracudas and Jacks were partying at the Sardines expenses and this is where the old say came from:"You're more stressed than a Sardine at the Bijagos!"

I don't think I will be able to go back to guinea Bissau this year and this makes a bit sad. I would sure leave at home a couple of rods and a bunch of lures and carry a tripod, my flashes and work a bit harder on the birds stuff. is a beautiful place, quiet, clean, wild and the people is very nice and shy. Laurent does a great job at Keré, even in such a difficult place the logistic marche bien, everything runs as smooth as it gets and if they manage to keep the netting and illegal fishing under control, they will have a lot of work in the future with many tourists and fisherman coming to discover the beauty of such country. I plan to go back, don't know when but I want to put my feet on that clear sand again.

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