The islands of Príncipe and São Tomé lie off the coast of Gabon and feature some spectacularly beautiful shorelines as well as great fishing.
Gabon was one of four French territories that made up French Equatorial Africa. In 1960, Gabon became independent and joined the United Nations. Gabon is known for its safety and beautiful national parks, marine parks and excellent game management to protect against poachers, not something that typically comes to mind when people talk about oil-producing countries in west Africa.
Most of the fishing attention is focused 100 miles offshore, off the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, better known to billfishermen as Bom Bom. The mainland of Gabon and Port Gentil offer the traveling angler a wonderful stopover (and some incredible billfishing) en route to the new lodge and offshore leg of the trip. The visiting angler heading to Bom Bom should really set aside a few days on either end and experience what Port Gentil has to offer.
Bouchard’s headquarters are in Port Gentil, where Oil Integrated Services and Makaira Holdings (his oil-supply business) are located. It offers full in-house service; once you have landed in the capital city of Libreville, an agent will pick up your party and put you on a 35-minute internal flight to Port Gentil, where an agent awaits anglers and their luggage and takes them to Makaira Residence. These are private accommodations on the beach, with fishing boats in the marina right at the front door.
The fishing grounds are a short run, and you can have lines in half a mile from the marina, targeting sailfish and schoolie yellowfin tuna. At 18 to 20 nautical miles offshore, you are in deep water where blue marlin can show up in impressive numbers. Port Gentil is unique because you can sample a broad spectrum of fishing, chasing blues and other pelagics in the morning, with a deep-drop jigging session in the afternoon and surface poppers on fish-aggregating devices in late afternoon. Bouchard and his crew have been setting submerged FADs all winter, and these private gold mines are now becoming laden with growth and really starting to produce.
Bouchard has placed FADs in close and off the edge, so you never know what you are going to encounter. One could be loaded up with mahimahi and the next one will have a wolf pack of sails, and the offshore ones seem to always have blues hanging around. The inshore fishing cannot be overlooked either; the geographic area is well-positioned for world-class tarpon fishing, and Bouchard offers inshore boats well adapted for chasing them, whether within the estuaries or in open water. If you’re interested, a South Africa-style camping trip can be organized to chase tarpon and other inshore species, such as cobia, snapper, jacks and other game fish. Word is getting out about this fishery, and Gabon is now a known top-ranked destination for South Africans.
Because this is Africa, you might think that you’re going to be fishing off a South African-made catamaran or some center-console rig, but Bouchard owns a fleet of game boats. His 41-foot G&S game boat, Deceiver, has been overseas now for the past three years and has racked up mind-blowing blue marlin numbers. A second G&S, the 43-foot Destin, Florida-based Hebe, is also in service.
Both G&S boats are powered by C-series Cummins diesels, and even the 31 has a pair of B-series. For tackle, Bouchard combines the best marlin boats on the water with the Shimano Tiagras of your chosen weight class; light tackle and fly gear to 130-pound chair rods, your choice. The offshore lodge is only a hundred miles away, so the opportunity to fish the same boats in both destinations is a pretty neat feature, especially when we are talking about a pair of G&S’s.
Being on the equator, the water is also perfect for diving, and making an underwater visit to the FADs is a pretty cool adventure.
On land, you will need to make time for at least one overnight trip and let Bouchard take you on a wild excursion. G&S shipped him four diesel-powered all-terrain vehicles, two Polaris side-by-sides and two quad Arctic Cats, so you can go into the backcountry safely and with the best equipment in Africa. Combine the quads with shallow-water boats and you can explore just what Wilbur Smith describes in his novels.
Gabon was not what I expected. My time spent in Nigeria, Angola and Cameroon hardened me, but this country is beautiful, and the local waters are special. It is very unlike its African neighbors and well worth a visit.
No trip to Gabon would be complete without a side trip to view wildlife in its natural element. From Iguela National Park to vast shallow-water estuaries and game-filled savannas, there’s a great deal of diverse territory to be explored. Bouchard can arrange the complete package for you, from viewing leatherback turtles on the beach to monkeys and surfing hippos.
See photos of the on-land things to discover below.