Somewhere Down the Crazy River

Published: 1992
Author: Paul Boote & Jeremy Wade
Reviewed by: Chris Plumb

The full title of this book is – “Somewhere Down the Crazy River: Journeys in Search of Giant Fish – Story of the Re-discovery of the Indian Mahseer and the Goliath Tigerfish of the Congo.” Well, that’s the book’s synopsis out of the way. Of course what the title SHOULD read is “Somewhere Down the Crazy River – You’ll Find a Couple of Crazy Anglers”. For, as you read some of the epic tales within, you may start to doubt the sanity of the authors.

I think the key word in the full title is the word “journeys” as this is as much, if not more, a travel book as an angling one. In fact, angling, at times comes a distant second to mere survival! As I read this book – particularly the second half, as the authors travelled into darkest Africa – I had to keep reminding my self that this was an angling tome! The privations that the authors, seemingly, were prepared to put up with in search of a fish were simply unbelievable.

Somewhere Down the Crazy RiverIn so in many ways the book is part detective novel, part epic adventure of the sort you’d expect a Victorian gentleman with a double-barrelled name to be undertaking – oh, and there’s a bit of fishing thrown in for good measure.

Paul Boote should probably be the one most credited with the re-discovery of the Indian Mahseer. His research firstly in dusty libraries and museums and then on the ground in 1978/79 has paved the way for many an angler ever since. The first half of the book tells the story of these early beginnings and of a later film expedition undertaken with John Bailey.

It is the second half of the book, the search for the Goliath Tigerfish that I found the most compulsive reading. The obstacles in simply getting into the right country, getting to the river, finding the right season and the right swims were formidable. And after all this when, eventually, they find their chosen quarry it becomes apparent that they are almost impossible to connect with and even harder to land. In the meantime just staying healthy and malaria free is problematic. It takes a compulsive addict to stick at it. More than once as I read I was left with the question – WHY are they bothering? However a couple of pictures of their awe-inspiring captures soon answers that. They are after fish that are equipped with a set of teeth that must give the local crocodiles an inferiority complex!

Boote and Wade write alternate chapters throughout the book. This gives the style a somewhat quirky feel – perhaps a little dis-jointed at times but it is enthralling, fascinating, even compelling reading. A book, once started, you may find hard to put down. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

“As I prepare a new bait, Jeremy’s rod goes. He’s on the point of hitting a hard running fish when it stops abruptly. Dark muttering is heard when he retrieves a bare hook. A few minutes later, with Jeremy’s new bait barely back in the water my rod goes again. I snatch the strike and miss dismally. The bait, a 6-ounce lump of mokobe, has gone. We drift down, tie up to the protruding branch of a sunken tree (one of only a few along this bank) and roll baits round the channel, to settle at the base of the submerged shelf that runs from the island shore. My reel screams; it’s ratchet burn-out stuff. I hit the run…and don’t feel a thing. I yell an obscenity that must be heard in the village, half a mile away. As I rebait, I watch Jeremy beside me grinding his teeth, and Armand suddenly all eyes for the mokobe shoal priming in front of him.

After a half hour wait, and with the sun nearing its zenith, my reel goes into a screaming fit. I’m up and crouched and about to strike, when it stops. I sit back, saying something (borrowed from the elegant pen of Roderick Haig-Brown) to the effect that these fish are sufficiently difficult to be interesting. What I really say, to the gods that look down from a boundless and enduring sky, is both crude and unimaginative.
After a couple of minutes my reel goes again, and I hit the run hard.
Seventy yards away, out in the channel, something silver flings itself 4 feet clear of the water, touches down and begins to run. I make the rod ferrule creak in an effort to stop it, and am soon pumping the fish back towards me. It resists well; Jeremy tells me it has leapt a second and a third time; I’m too busy applying murderous pressure to count. The fish plays deep for a time, close in. Then, on hearing my ‘Okay’, Jeremy slips in a gaff under the chin, lifts the fish aboard and brandishes it at me.
‘Caught the bastard. Boiled or Fried?’ I say, straight faced.”

First published 1992 by Sangha Books – expect to pay around 20 for a second-hand copy in good condition.
First published in Paperback in 1994 – You should be able to pick up a copy of this for under a tenner.
ISBN 0 340 60321 6

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