Recording Sherbro Island April ’92 in Sierra Leone

In April 1992, Sierra Leone was in the beginning stages of what would become a decade-long civil war. With the aid of then-president of Liberia Charles Taylor (who is currently serving a 50-year sentence in the United Kingdom for various war crimes committed during that war), rebels in eastern Sierra Leone rose up against President Joseph Momoh, firing the opening volleys of what would eventually become one of the most brutal civil wars in African history.

But that April, the war that would come to be known for blood diamonds and child soldiers hadn’t yet metastasized into full-blown conflict throughout the country. Freetown, the capital located on the western coast, was a sort of “Club Med” for European tourists, according to Pierre Affre, champion fly caster, angler and filmmaker. Affre had fished for tarpon in Sierra Leone the previous spring after being tipped off to the massive fish found there; in 1992 he returned with a few record chasers, namely Billy Pate and Tom Gibson (a conventional angler), and a young photographer from the Pacific Northwest named Brian O’Keefe. Ironically, given the record-setting pedigree of the assembled group and their deep roots in the Florida tarpon fishing scene, it would be O’Keefe who would leave Sierra Leone with his name in the record books…

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The Flyfish Journal Volume 12 Issue 3 Feature Recording Sherbro Island

above G.E. (Ged) Fleming with some Sherbro Island locals and the 242-pound, world-record tarpon he caught in 1992; it was the largest tarpon landed on the trip, but probably not the largest hooked. The locals, after seeing this fish, estimated that they had seen 300-pounders. The man with a semiautomatic rifle was hired for protection.

Photo: Brian O’Keefe


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