They say the years go by faster and faster as you age. That mantra then must make me very old, as it seems like only yesterday that we were wrapping up from the 2018 Murchison Falls Invitational Fishing Tournament. This year is actually the 19th time this annual event has been staged on the Nile in Murchison Falls, and that doesn’t seem possible either. But hey ho, less banging on about old age and let’s tell you all what came to pass this year.
For those of you who may never have heard about this event before, once a year a group of misfit fisher-men and -women (and some wannabe misfits masquerading as fisher-folk too) gather on the south bank of the river Nile in Murchison Falls, ready to fish for the magnificent Nile Perch (Lates niloticus). This 100% catch-and-release event is actually staged within the boundaries of the national park, so to be able to do so, with Uganda Wildlife Authority blessing, is a tremendous privilege. To ensure the event is as environmentally conscious as fishing can be, fish are now no longer even weighed through the mouth with dial scales or even in a weighing net. A quick measure with a soft fabric tape of its length and girth is then used in conjunction with a simple conversion table to estimate the weight of a catch before the fish is allowed to recover in the water next to the boat and then released back into the river.
This year 62 fishermen, between them, owning a total of 23 boats signed on the dotted lineThey were then duly parted from their cash for the extremely reasonable entry fee and subsequently made their way up to the park by car or light aircraft, ready for the Wednesday evening, pre-event briefing. Needless-to-say, the usual number of vehicle mechanical breakdowns happened en route, including seized wheel bearings and one completely blown up and destroyed engine. Well, it wouldn’t be MFIFT would it, if some unfortunate didn’t have a horrible drive up. And don’t think for a second that that’s where the mechanical woes ended, on the journey up, as boat mechanical dramas continued the tradition on the water for some too. UWA’s director of tourism, Steven Masaba, graciously agreed to open the event on the Wednesday night and at 7am on the Thursday morning, the car hooter was duly hooted and those who had got out of bed in time to beat the clock tore off up the river to bag their favourite baitfish spots. Those that didn’t presumably had another bacon sandwich. After months of planning, the traditional three days duration 2019 event was finally underway.
It should never be forgotten that the primary reason for this event is to allow people to indulge in an activity that they enjoy. That said, there are well-recognised add-ons that must also be acknowledged. This year as a direct result of sponsorship and entry fees, the MFIFT organisers are pleased to announce the following high-level statistics, these relating to that tetchy subject of filthy lucre and its onward redistribution.
The donated new patrol boat arrives from Kampala by truck at Paraa – Photo by-Jerry-&-Grainne-Burley
As a result of MFIFT generated funds, the following items were purchased and handed over to UWA in Murchison:
- New marine ranger patrol boat and 25hp outboard engine – (joint 2018/19 funds) – UGX 39,000,000
- New 100cc community development motorbike – (2019 proceeds) – UGX 4,500,000
- Scholastic materials for Paraa primary school – (2019) – UGX 4,500,000
- Scholarships (3 kids this time, for a full year) – (2019) – UGX 4,200,000
- UWA Park Entry and other related costs, so these being a direct cash contribution to the UWA Murchison bank account – (2019) – UGX 29,000,000
TOTAL: (conservatively) UGX 80,000,000 generated/donated (knocking on the door of USD25,000).
Not too shabby for a three-day event, thus leaving 362 other days in the year for this stretch of river to be enjoyed by others and to pay for itself and its protection. The marine patrol boat and engine donation (see the photo of the boat on its running-in shakedown test) resulted from a direct request from Chris Higginson at last years event, and who every year very generously hands over all the proceeds from his Murchison River Lodge accommodation invoices for the three days to this event, to support some form of river protection. It was a pleasure to be able to respond to this request and indeed why wouldn’t the event support this specific activity?
During the event we were privileged to witness film evidence of another “first” on the river, this being the only time we are aware of that a Nile perch has been videoed on a rod from initial strike through to landing and weighing/releasing. From the air! Yes, we had Ndege Skies with us this year and this dramatic sequence was filmed from a fully stabilized UAV fitted with a state of the art, 4K (ultra HD for you non-teccies) image quality camera. Not only that, but the Falls are in the background too – how good is that? Look for this on Youtube – it’s a wonderful example of 21st century tech filming and some highly skilled piloting. A second “first” (excuse my Uglish) was a trial lunchtime barbeque on Nyamsika river mouth exit into the river, about half way up to the Falls from Paraa. To add something different to the event next year, this was tested with a few people and was a wonderful way to spend an hour with some folk off the boats, to bite into a well-marinated, freshly cooked pork rib and quaff an expertly-chilled ale. Please note we had armed UWA rangers with us for this – do not attempt this on your own anywhere in the park and certainly make sure you clean up 100% behind you if you do emulate us.
A photo that speaks for itself – by Steve Dunbar
It goes without saying that events of this size and complexity cannot run professionally without the support of sponsors. We would like to acknowledge the following supporters of this event and its knock-on, conservation benefits. Nile Breweries Limited, under their Nile Special brand, who also donated the 100cc community liaison motorbike this year. Wild Frontiers, Murchison River Lodge, Uganda Wildlife Authority (who again provided a boat with a UWA ranger team, who caught some very respectable fish this year), Mutoni Construction, Compuscan, Equator Catering, Classic Africa Safaris, Uganda Oxygen Ltd, Plascon, Bwana Tembo Lodge, TBWA, NEC, Pearl, and Ndege Skies.
Now to the top anglers (in descending order):
Archie Voorspuy, Gustaf Brew and Pete Baldwin (who, as event organizer, would have preferred to have been left off this list – it is our absolute pleasure to ignore this request)
Biggest fish: 80.1kg Pete Baldwin (would again prefer to be left out – same applies), 79.2kg – Archie Voorspuy (as stated the overall tournament winner too).
It would be remiss not to mention some other catch statistics too, so here is the spreadsheet in high-level summary format.
|Day Scores||Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||1160|
|Best Boat (top 2 anglers)||1||125.2kg||Team TZ||(Chris Rodgers)|
|3||113.4kg||Bang Bang Boogie|
|8||63.1kg||Wild Nile Specialists|
|Best Angler||1||107.4kg||Archie Voorspuy|
|Biggest Perch||1||88kg||Pete Baldwin|
Some workaholics at work – by Jerry & -Grainne-Burley
Bear in mind that the conditions this year were almost perfect, both for bait collection and the target fish competition. The river level was low, very clear (due to no recent rains washing soil in from tributaries), almost totally free of natural trash (no papyrus cutting going on further upstream) and devoid of any other significant outside influence that could be blamed for a poor catch. So, those who didn’t perform so well maybe need to get the fisherman’s mirror out at a suitable juncture – or as my school reports often used to say, to my fathers unbridled joy, “Must try harder, could do (much) better”. Such is the beauty of the Nile that its challenges are different every year, as are almost invariably the tournament winners. If anyone says they know how to fish this stretch of river with rod and line, treat that claim with some caution.
Intrepid explorers return at the end of Day 3. Photo by Jerry & Grainne Burley
Saturday evening saw the usual event wrap up formalities before Senior Park Warden (MFCA) and professional vet Eric Enyal was good enough to hand out some of the winners’ trophies and declare another very successful event closed. The next day on the long, inevitably anti-climactic drive home, I again pondered the pleasure and privilege of being allowed to sport fish along this magnificent stretch of river. Even removing the fishing component, the river and its vistas alone – wild Africa at its absolute finest – are reason enough to spend time in Murchison and trips there form some of my most treasured memories of my time spent in Uganda. As a bucket list item, if you haven’t done a Murchison River trip up to the Falls yet, you must.
You absolutely must, whether you take a fishing rod along with you or not and as I have found out over the years, my personal fish tally seems have little bearing on whether I take a rod with me or not.