My friend and fishing companion Dr. Charles Reaves had graciously consented to be my "Medical Advisor" on this incredible fishing trip to what I truly believe must be close to the edge of the civilised world. This was frontier fishing - and how!
I had read of these waters and their fabulous fishing in books and magazines. Even Wilber Smith, my favourite author had woven some of his magical storytelling of swashbuckling adventure around this part of the world. This was a sunshine adventure which had been a long time in the making. It is true to say that to experience sea fishing of this quality, it is necessary to go to places which are far off the beaten track and this is where we were…. a long way off the beaten track in a place where only a few anglers visit each year, guided and mentored by ace international angler John Peluffo who manages the Nosy Be fishing camp on behalf of GP-Chasse et Peche, a French company which specialises in taking anglers to some of the most exotic fishing destinations around the world.
"Tipaul" was the name of the 22 foot, South African built catamaran. It backed itself up to the beach so that we could wade out up to our knees and step aboard, the water over the fine sand of the lagoon at a tepid temperature we can only dream about in UK waters. Bucking the ground swell over the low reef guarding the lagoon entrance, the Tipaul was soon giving us an exhilarating ride over the wide and deeply spaced rollers of the Indian Ocean, the twin 85 Yamaha outboards pushing us twenty miles out into the Mozambique Channel in a remarkably short space of time.
The conditions were perfect for "Sailies" (Sailfish to you and me) said John Peluffo "but first we must find some Bonito so we can make up some baits". Scanning around the horizon it didn’t take long to spot a flock of tern-like seabirds working a disturbed patch of water where the Bonito chased and harried a school of baitfish. This was just like home, I thought, ‘gulls working over a shoal of sandeels as the Bass force the eels to the surface'. One thing that is not similar is the incredible speed with which the school of Bonito moved out of range. The Tipaul trolled through the shoal with small skirted lures and took a few, then, spinning rods out, we cast 1oz Tobies to the Bonito. Some might have considered the half hour we spent spinning for the Bonito a waste of time when we could have been fishing for Sailfish, but then they do not know how much I enjoy catching these incredibly powerful little fish. After taking some stick from all aboard for apparently taking my time, I landed a Bonito which we guestimated to weigh about 6lbs. That was an incredible fight on a spinning rod. Next time I'll use a fly rod and I don’t care how long it takes!! It does not take much to make me happy.
John Peluffo was driving the boat today, but we were fortunate that crewing for him was the regular skipper of the Tipaul, Douda who was soon busy teaching me how to rig what they call a "belly-shine" bait. This consists of the silvered belly strip from the bonito stitched and sewn onto the hook so that it swims through the water without twisting - and it gives off an entirely natural scent. In the ensuing days these bellyshine baits proved the equal, if not better than, some of the large expensive plugs and hardhead skirted lures which are trolled up to seventy metres behind the boats at speeds of five to eight knots.
What I found was so incredible was the life in this part of the ocean. Everywhere you looked there were either birds working or pods of hunting fish breaking the surface. High above, forked tailed Frigate birds watched and awaited their chance. Apart from a suspected hit early on we had settled into a watching routine. We talked and talked about fish and fishing, while we watched and waited.
"Lets eat now" said John "the tide will be changing soon and that’s when the sailies will start to show"….. you know the rest. As soon as the food was unwrapped, up popped a sailie's beak behind one of the lures. Another went racing across the wash of the boat, it's sail and sickle shaped tail leaving no doubt as to its identity. The food was soon forgotten as the action started.
The tide had perceptibly slackened and the surface of the sea settled from a small chop to an oily slick in which virtually every subsurface movement for yards around the boat could be seen though our polarised sunglasses. There were sailfish showing all around the boat, not just ones and twos but small pods of half a dozen fish at a time, their iridescent sails seeming to refract the light into every colour of the spectrum. One of those lucent times when words and pictures are hardly adequate to describe an experience that only a fellow fisherman’s soul could even begin to comprehend.
An almost subdued rattle electrified everyone on board, the hairs stood up on my arms as the rod on the port side came to life. Charles was nearer to the rod than me; picking up the rod he quickly showed that this was not the first time he had done this. Moving the drag lever to strike position, the line cut the surface till it was clear that the sailfish had enthusiastically taken the belly-shine lure. He struck the fish several times, whilst we cleared the other lines as quickly as we could. All this time the sailfish was taking line at an astonishing rate, jumping clear of the water, silhouetted in the strong Indian Ocean light like a miniature figurine, way away in the distance. This was not just exciting, this was the meaning of life!
Fifteen minutes later the fish was alongside. This was when the experience and teamwork of John and Douda really started to show; one on the leader, the other holding the rapier-like bill, the hook was cleanly released. A few seconds whilst I worked with the camera, and the fish was being towed alongside the boat to draw water over its gills. With a shake of it's head it went away to fight another day. Resetting the lures, it didn’t seem more than a minute or two before the same rod went off again. The usual tale, I was busy changing a roll of film; it might have been my turn but life is like that.
Within a few seconds I have got to say that I was just a little glad that Charles had this one because this was not a sailfish, this was a black marlin. It cleared the water once before sounding deep at an incredible rate of knots. By this time Charles was sat on the deck, legs braced against the transom as the Tipaul was raced forward to take up the slack line and set the hook, this back wrenching work is the way it is done on such a small boat. But it was not to be, with a greyhound leap a hundred yards off the stern, the marlin threw enough slack line to shake the hook. These were incredibly intense moments, because marlin such as that fish are a highlight for these small boat crews and the sense of disappointment at its loss was palpable. But that didn’t last long…. the sailfish soon had us hopping around again and yes yes yes! I did catch my first sailfish!
Symons strikes again. A 100 pound sailfish standup, from a dead boat on 8 kilo line… I was beside myself with glee. Whilst I was playing this fish Charles had hooked up another sailfish on a spinning outfit. It was all go here today!
My fish was in and photographed whilst Charles did his best to keep his fish clear, a little less than an hour later I did the honours with the camera for him as well. That was it for the day, the dark falls very quickly during the Southern hemisphere's winter, so we raced the dark back to Nosy Be, to a superb supper and a few bottles of amber nectar to celebrate.
This is not the end of the story because we still had five days to go and the giant trevally, caught on monster popping plugs, gave me some of the most exciting fishing of my life.
Episode 2 next month.
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Contact details for GP – Chasse et Peche.
GP – Chasse et Peche.
12, rue de Saussure,
Tel 0033 47 64 47 47
Fax 0033 47 64 47 48