Sam Edmonds

Watching a leerfish chase and smash a Fatso was awesome! 

What I love about fishing is that it can take you to some fantastic places. I’ve been lucky enough to have fished in 22 different countries now, many of those with my Dad, and each has been different in it’s own unique way, be it the culture, climate, food, wildlife, and fishing! 

Morocco had been on our radar for a while, for a number of different reasons. Inland there are huge largemouth bass, it’s a growing carp fishing destination, and as far as I know it’s the only African country where you find pike and zander. However, it’s the saltwater fishing that really caught our attention. My Dad and I have a bucket list of fish species that we’d love to catch, and Morocco has a number of them. One evening, I was reading a feature about leerfish, one of our bucket list fish, written by a guide called Karim Rhalid, who targets them in the south of the country. The fishing sounded really interesting and after noticing Karim’s clients were also catching African pompano (another of our bucket list species) we decided it was time to inquire about a trip. Karim advised us on some dates that would cover good tides, and before we knew it we were booking flights to the southern city of Dakhla. 

It was a very straightforward journey, and we spent just five and a half hours in the air, via a three hour stop at Casablanca, although the flight landed very late at 00:45. We met Karim outside the airport and he whisked us round to a nearby hotel, where we managed to fit in a few hours sleep before setting off for accommodation closer to where we’d be fishing - about an hour’s drive from Dakhla. 

As we drove away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the sun rose to reveal endless sand dunes as we headed in to the Sahara desert - a landscape resembling Mars. It quickly became apparent that this is a seriously harsh environment - not as sweltering hot as you’d imagine the Sahara to be, but I think that was because of the constant, strong wind that didn’t really dip below 20mph aside from at night. Amazingly, all the food and water is either shipped or driven in from northern Morocco, which apparently takes a couple of days!

We checked in to our accommodation, which was an eco lodge mainly for die-hard windsurfers. Karim was very keen to get us fishing as quickly as possible, as the best fishing is on the flood tide, and high tide was at around 2pm, and low tide had already passed. After arriving in our room we had literally minutes to get ready, pooling together whatever we thought would be best for targeting leerfish, and no less than 20 minutes after checking in, we were off for our first days fishing!

Dakhla is a popular location for die-hard windsurfers.

Once parked up, we embarked on a walk that would take us down steep sandstone cliffs. You need to be pretty fit to take on the descent and ascent to the shore, as in the heat, strong winds, and hiking on sand, it is quite demanding. 

We reached our first spot and set up for leerfish. The gear required to target the fish here is quite specialised, unlike anything we use for European freshwater predators, and requires rods of between 9ft (270cm) and 12ft (360cm) in length, that can cast 30g-100g lures. These were coupled with 4500 and 5000 sized reels, spooled with 0.20mm-0.25mm braid. Leaders consisted of metre long lengths of 0.50mm fluorocarbon.

It’s always good to be prepared for a bite right from the very first cast, especially when targeting tough saltwater brutes - and who’d have thought that on my very first cast, I’d hook up in to a leerfish! It wasn’t a small one either - it absolutely tore off! After getting it under control, I started to walk backwards, with the aim of beaching the fish, and then the fish turned and threw the hooks!  

Adrenaline runs high when fishing for leerfish in the surf!

Karim reckoned I’d just lost a pretty good leerfish, but there were more in the area so I didn’t dwell on it. A quick check to see if the hooks were still sharp and I cast straight back out, retrieved again and in less than a minute after losing that first fish, I was hooked up again! This time the fish was smaller, and I managed to land my first leerfish! What a start! 

The action came thick and fast after that. On some casts we were getting follows from two or three leerfish at a time, in a competition amongst themselves to reach the lure first. As high tide passed, the action very abruptly ended, and I now realised why Karim was in such a rush to get us fishing as quickly as possible. We ended the session with 15 leerfish between us, to around 5kg. It was time to take on the long walk back to the car, before spending the rest of the afternoon/evening getting ourselves better prepared for our second days fishing.

Dad about to land a hard fighting leerfish.

Hiking back up the sandstone cliffs, after a great days fishing.

The reason there were good numbers of leerfish in the area were because they were taking advantage of the huge shoals of mullet, which they would chase up the beach. There were lots of injured or dead mullet laying along the shore, that had been attacked by leerfish. One of the lures that we took along that we thought could work well were the 10cm Salmo Fatsos, and after catching quite a few leerfish on the lures Karim had recommended, we decided to experiment and try the Fatsos. Fishing them either on a straight retrieve or pulling the rod tip to the side and catching up with the slack, the leerfish seemed to really like the rolling action of the Fatso, and they perfectly resembled an injured or fleeing mullet.

The black band in this photo is a huge shoal of mullet. 

A leerfish caught on a 10cm Fatso in Holo Smelt.

It’s useful to know that the larger Salmo lures are all wired through, so if you wish to use them for tropical saltwater fishing, they are more than up to the job - only the treble hooks will need changing to saltwater hooks. We rigged the 10cm Fatsos up with a size 1 saltwater treble at the front, and a 4/0 saltwater single at the back.

The two most successful Fatso colours - Holo Smelt and Phantom Perch.  

The view from our room, looking out across the Sahara and sea at sunset.  

The next day we fished another spot, in the hope of some larger leerfish. There weren't as many leerfish in the area as the day before, but the average size of the fish was bigger, and we caught 5 up to around 8kg.

My best leerfish of the trip. 

The further you cast, the greater chance of a take from a leerfish.

On the third day we spent most of our time targeting African pompano. Although we’d be able to use the same rods, reels, line and leader, a change of lures would be required. Pompano are demersal fish, living close to the sea bed, as their main prey consists of razor clams. Karim recommended we used metal casting jigs between 40g and 60g, to achieve a greater distance. The retrieve to mimic a swimming razor clam involved letting the jigs fall to the bottom, before gently twitching the rod tip 5-6 times, catching up with the slack, then repeating this sequence a few more times. Every now and then we’d let the jig fall back to the bottom, to ensure the lure kept close to the sea bed. The jigs we used were mostly pink and silver, to resemble the razor clams.

Dad fishing for African pompano. 

The Fox Camo Bait Belt was great for carrying used lures and other tools. 

We were told that these were going to be the harder of the species to target, but within an hour of fishing for them, I found myself hooked up to a small pompano, which had taken the jig at very long range. African pompano can grow to as large as 50lbs, but the four fish we caught over the last couple of days of the trip were only small. They still fought incredibly hard for their size - I can’t imagine what a fish over 30lbs must fight like! They’re a stunning looking fish - I love their diamond shaped bodies and the iridescent mix of colours. The juvenile pompano also have extremely long dorsal and anal fins, which shorten as they grow older.

It's not surprising that African pompano fight extremely hard, as they're part of the jack family. 

A very unusual but very cool looking fish. 

We also took along some lighter rods with us in the hope of catching some smaller species. Using small metal casting jigs between 15g and 30g, I managed to add meagre, golden grey mullet, and vadigo to my species list. One of the smaller species present in the Dakhla area that we were particularly interested in catching were spotted sea bass. These are the smaller cousins of the European sea bass - they don’t grow anywhere near the size, but they’re a very cool looking fish and we were both keen to try and catch one!

We spent a few hours on each of the last few days targeting them with lighter tackle similar to what we use for fishing for bass in the UK - a 9’10” Ti Pro Sea Trout Spin 10g-30g, coupled with a 4000 sized reel and 0.12mm braid. Karim suggested we had a two pronged attack - one used a small metal jig, and the other used a long leader with a running weight of around 30g, and a small soft bait such as a Micro Tiddler Fast or the smallest Slick Shad on the end, rigged on an Aberdeen style hook.

The spotted sea bass proved to be elusive, and unfortunately on our fourth day Dad lost two right at the shore line. On the last day of our trip, Karim took us to another location. All was quiet for the first hour and then I lost two in two casts. With just an hour and a half left before the best fishing time would pass, time was running out.Thankfully though, another shoal came through and we were finally able to admire the spotted sea bass in the flesh!

The spotted sea bass - another species ticked off the list!

After a couple more hours targeting pompano on the last day and adding two more to our tally, it was time to return to Dakhla. 

One of the added bonuses of the trip was the Moroccan food. I was looking forward to the cuisine before heading out there, having watched various cooking programmes on TV, and the dishes were delicious. On our last night of the trip when we were back in Dakhla, Karim took us to the equivalent of a fast food restaurant, to have a Moroccan style burger that he promised would be the best we’ve ever had. He wasn’t wrong! Coupled with a cup of Moroccan tea, it was a fantastic way to end our trip! 

I wish we had leerfish to target back at home!