“Yeeeeuw!” The hoot from out of the next bay sparks everyone in our boat’s attention. We’d been fishing the river section, right near the mouth of the main lake, working tight in the bays to find some protection from the wind. That was a proper howl to have cut through the wind.

Without a word Tim Andrews and I reel up as Jono hastily hoists the trolling motor and starts the engine.

“Jono. Jono…Jonooo.” Charged, in a blend of confidence and ecstasy, guide Rowan Black’s voice blazes through the radio.

“It’s a tank,” he exclaims.

“We’ll be right there,” says Jono, the boat already on a plane. You can just sense this is a special fish.

“13-and-half, at least. 14 maybe,” Rowan crackles back over the radio.

My pulse is pumping with that raw mix of elation for whoever landed the beauty, combined with slight pangs of honest envy. We run the 100 metres around the corner bracing against the wind and chop. It’s a bone-chiller of a day with jackets and longs all-round, not exactly what you would expect from midday at the base of the Lebombo Mountain range in early September. But then, this fish didn’t seem to mind.

“I bet you it’s Owens,” Tim snickers, referring to Jonno Owens, one of his best mates and the guy who (with an eight pounder on the first session of the trip and good numbers since) had been the hot rod for most of the week. “Sounded like him.” I can see Tim, with whom I’d shared a boat for much of the week, was as chuffed and jealous of his mate as I was.
We motor around the corner. It’s not Owens, he’s not even on the boat, instead we’re met by an absolutely beaming crew. In the net rests as chunky a female tiger as you’d ever hope to see within South African borders. Not long, but girthy, colourful and healthy.

I’m fumbling with the camera and shoot a few shots with the long lens as we get closer. On board Rowan, Craig Smith (one of Mavungana’s oldest clients) and Neels Heyneke are all a-grin.

Neels and Craig have been fishing together for 30 years and it is Neels, the most unassuming guy on the trip with the biggest smile. Between the boats we quickly weigh her in the net using two different bogas. Rowan had called it, 14 pounds of beautiful mating female. She poses for a few frantic images before she powers off to make sure the fishery continues it’s cycle.

In the afterglow, the boys retell the story: Apparently Rowan had advised full trace and fly changes as they came into the spot. He’d just had that hunch. Neels had put a long cast out toward the mouth of the bay and went tight on the second strip, the fish running itself onto the reel almost immediately. A few blistering runs and a brace of jumps were followed by a nervy end-game just before the net.

Then that elation.

“I’m done,” says the banker from Johannesburg. It’s a special moment, even for someone who has caught notable fish all over the world, such as him. One of those you lock to memory, but don’t realise you did until you return to photos later.

READ THE FULL STORY (and a few others from our Pongola season) BY JAZZ KUSCHKE IN THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE MISSION FLY MAG, HERE.

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