Sailfish Madagascar Style – Part I
Ian Du Plessis, a good friend and regular client who has been fishing with us since 2006, has been inviting me for a Sailfish Madagascar style trip for the last four years. Somehow it has not worked out, seeing by the times he gives me the dates I am either booked up at Bazaruto or going to Ascension, Cape Verde or somewhere else. Finally, this year and although I had Malcolm, a great guy booked for the dates at Baz, he was happy to have Morgan guide him, and fortunately, I managed to make it.
Ian regularly fishes’ Madagascar but mostly popping and although he had not put much time into seriously targeting them he said the numbers of sailfish he was seeing, especially off the banks between May and July, where really impressive. Thus, the reason he was keen for me to join him and have a proper go at it and see the real potential.
Ian fishes Madagascar so often that he keeps an impressive arsenal of tackle and gear there on a permanent basis. Still, we had a lot of work and shopping to be done in order to get all the gear ready to roll.
The dates where set for the 11th to the 22nd of July and I flew to JHB on the 10th where I spent the night at Ian´s house, getting rods ready followed by a delicious gargantuan braii generously complemented with some superb red. After some liquor duty-free shopping and a hearty airport breakfast, early morning the next day all five of us, Ian, Neil, Gideon, Jacques and myself, boarded the Nosy be bound plane in JHB and witty enough, a couple hours later, we were flying over the Bazaruto Archipelago!
Even though our Airlink flight was rather empty we were unlucky to arrive just after a massive Italian charter flight. Later I was to find out that four charter plane bring 1 200 Italian tourists to Nosy be on a weekly basis. Well, the timing was not the best and it meant extremely long queues at the airport, and let me tell you, this is no ordinary airport. I have been through some pretty shady one´s, especially in West Africa of which Luanda topped it off. But, the blunt corruption here was just overwhelming, and as you go through the VISA, then passport control, luggage control and eventually passport control again to exit the airport, every single official, and there´s a bunch of them at every stop, request some €uros and expect you to openly give it in front of everyone. Having done the trip many times Ian had warn me of it, but one is really taken aback with the bluntness of it all.
Fortunately, Jacques, the Malagasy that runs the Bossi Adventures operation on site, was soon at the airport to see us through hassle free and in record time. We had a 40-minute drive through the pirate town of Hellville, to the Bossi operation lodge, where we had a couple of cold THB beers, before boarding ADIVA, a Royal Cape Majestic 53ft, which would be our mothership for the next 11 nights. We sailed an hour north at sunset with JOZ JOZ, the 38ft Supercat which was to be our fishing platform for the trip, close behind.
We set anchor at Sakatie Island for the night.
Along the way I got acquainted with the Bossi Adventures 5-crew team,of all which are Malagasy and a superb bunch of guys that really complemented a great trip.
Mamadou, ADIVA´S Captain is one of the most enthusiast and passionate black sailors I have met. He frequently sails across the East Indian Ocean and to SA where he did his Yacht Master and frequent upgrades. The condition of the 10-year-old vessel was impressive and probably the best maintained charter Yacht I have been on. His cautious, safety first approach was reassuring and I was highly impressed with his shipman ship throughout the trip.
Maharojo, ADIVA´S deckie, is a happy, hard working, easy going and always ready to please guy and made sure all our needs where met. An excellent braii watcher and barman extraordinaire, as he coped with the flow of drinks that rightly happen after every fishing day every day while attending to many other cores – nothing was too much trouble
Guy, the shy, quiet Rasta chef was very passionate about his job and spent all his waking hours, with a few smoke breaks here and there, in the galley. We had fruit, omelet, pancakes, French toast etc every day before going fishing and the delicious dinners where always preceded by some delicious sushi or carpaccio of some kind and followed by some decadent desserts. Fresh fish was obviously abundant daily, we had brought a lot of meat from SA and Guy made some tasty meals with the local Zeebo meat as well.
On the fishing boat (Joz-Joz) we had Captain ´´papa´´ Jao, a really cool madala that certainly found the fish for us and despite quiet and with very rudimentary English was always with a big smile and very happy to have broken his most sailfish record day by more than double on this trip!
On the deck, we had Nono AKA “jangarata“, a pleasant kid that was a quick learner and after a couple of insane days I was very happy to delegate most of the non-stop bait rigging to him. He was fast and sharp and absorbed the way I was fishing, which was completely new to him very fast.
To say everyone was anxious to get going is an understatement and at 4am everyone was already awake but after a few teas & coffees and a hearty breakfast there was some time to kill as we waited for first light to head out to the banks. Finally, after a glorious sunrise we boarded Jozi Jozi for the long three-hour plus trip to the start of the Castor Banks to target sailfish.
18 – 13 – 12 – 9
The three-hour ride to Castor Banks gave me ample time to rig the halyard’s, teasers, traces, baits and all else beforehand, but after 8 minutes of setting the lines out I understood I had highly underestimated what was to come and that much more pre-preparation was needed.
Yeah, we set them out and within 8 minutes we had a sailfish pack attack, hooked three and released 2.
Luckily, I had gotten some halfbeaks, but only about 10 per day, nowhere near the 50 plus baits we had to rig every day and so, we heavily relied on catching bonnies for strip baits. Never was I so frustrated with the lack and quality of the bait and most of all having to rig them throughout the day instead on fully concentrating on the fishing and getting everyone tuned into the programme.
By the third day Nono was right there, rigging them up like a pro, which helped to get things flowing more freely.
It was a learning curve for everyone seeing no one had fished the style of sailfishing I favor, with a few twitches for the local conditions and lack of pre-rigged bait.
This was basically trolling 3 circle hooked rigged baits plus an additional two pitch baits ready to go and, depending on conditions, one or two teasers, a blue daisy chain and a squidnation electric pink flippy floppy, which was our number one sail raiser!
In addition, and which somehow reduced our conversion ratio, we had two long, non-baited (bait was to precious) lures, for sailfish but also the various by-catch species one has on the bank, primarily dogtooth tuna and wahoo, but also YFT, dorado, rainbow runners, bonnies and great barracudas, which where a real nuisance and time user.
After that initial pack attack we released another two before noon.
Then it went slow on the sailfish but we started getting game fish and much desired baits.
Then, about mid-afternoon we had two hours of great action and Jacques released our 9th and final sailfish for the ¾ day just before 5pm.
In the end, we raised 18 Sailfish Madagascar, with 13 bites that converted to 12 hookups’ and 9 releases.
I was extremely impressed how aggressive those sailies where, but that did change considerably over the next few days.
Neil had decided to take it easy and slow cruise on the yacht out to the bank. Of course, he put a couple rods out the back, mostly rappies and stick baits and raised and missed a bunch of sailfish, at the end hooking two and releasing one aboard ADIVA.
25 – 17 – 11 –
It was slow for the first hour but from 9h30 they started to come up but unlike the previous day they were shy and many fish did not switch and our conversion dropped abysmally. But what a great day in beautiful weather conditions, seeing 25 fish or more fish which was giving the guys ample opportunities to practice the pitch and routines involved.
Great fun in very nice weather conditions.
We ended up raising at least 25 had 17 bites, hooked 11 and released 8.
We also released at least a dozen or more game fish, not counting the bait stealing, time stealer pestilent great barracuda´s!
That night we had a delicious dinner with some wahoo carpaccio with avo salad and a couple of picanha´s on the braii to round it off.
A few dopes where flowing but everyone was early to bed not believing we had just released 17 sailfish on the first 2 fishing days.
16 – 11 – 9 – 7
We woke up to a bit of wind and waited for it to settle so had a rather late start to the day.
A we got out it was chaos on the game fish making me fuming seeing we quickly lost most of our pre-rigged bait.
At least the YFT, dorado, wahoo and bonnies gave us plenty strip bait supply for the rest of the day. Also, released three good then caught dogtooth tuna´s to about 18 kilos, some rainbow runner and the usual pest barracudas throughout the day.
Finally, the game fish slowed down as we moved away from the first pinnacle and as we got to the second area and the wind subsided we found them good Albright once again quite lazy on the switch but we made up for it on the conversion, besides Ian and Neil who had done it any times before, the rest of the guys where definitely getting the hang of it.
First, we had a pack attack and hooked 3, the fourth fish followed our trap mouse long lure to the boat and we still tried to switch it to no avail. All three-fish run in different directions which seeing we had lost a lot of line (on the small Stella 14 000 spinning reels we were using) on the pitching process made it hectic as those hooked up asked Jao to follow their fish. As he so likes to do J, risking being spooled, Ian come up on the drag and instead of parting the line the 8/0 circle broke off. We released the other two fish!
Literally 5 minutes later we hookup on a lonely fish and released it.
We set the lines and 10 minutes later we raised 3, had two bites and hooked one which we released.
It went quiet for 40 minutes but at noon all hell broke loose once again.
We had one fish hooked up on the long bait and next thing there where sailies all over the transom as we pulled the teaser in.
We got 4 bites and hooked three, one (strangely happen five times on the trip) chaffed the #100 leader but we released the other two.
The afternoon was disappointing as it slowed down on the sailie side and once again open up the game fish gates, releasing more of the usual culprits.
We only saw and released one last sailfish on the pitch in the afternoon, making it 7 for the day.
Back on the mothership Jacques `´Doc´´ , who is one of the most passionate anglers I have met, obviously did not have enough fishing for the day and started dropping some bait of the back of the yacht at night. Well, it was VAS every down as he released a few jobfish, speckled snappers and other snapper kind of fish I did not know the name too.
Then, half an hour into it he hooked into something totally different that was pretty much unstoppable and considerable bigger. The head shakes and eventually being reefed just before being spooled seem to be a very big GT. We got a few a few nights later, but not of that caliber. Doc was defeated and joined us for dinner and a few whiskies´s before everyone turned in.
With 9, 8 and 7 releases over the last three days we were on a downward spiral but still pretty happy with our results so far which were well above everyone´s expectations.
42 – 35 – 30 – 22
The weather Gods had been kind to us so far, but our fourth day was the best yet with flat calm seas and sunny skies.
We started later than planned and had a very frustrating start to the day (to top off my usual worries with the lack of bait we had at hand!)
As we were setting the spread a sailfish pack attack got us completely off guard. The first fish come in aggressively on the short bait, unfortunately the spinning reel´s bail arm was still closed so sanchoco. Then, three other sailies moved in of which we only got one bite that hooked up but, strangely, it again chafed through the #100-pound leader after a couple of minutes.
Luckily, albeit losing sailfishing time, our daisy chain bait rod kept us busy and a steady supply of bonito strip baits to keep us going throughout the day.
One thing I had been struggling with and which started to make a big difference was for Papa Joe to understand how important it was, once we hooked to the first fish, to keep the boat going circling the first fish and until we hooked all other possible fish. On a fishery like this it´s all about being fast on your set up and making the most of your opportunities.
Finally, he seemed to understand and it just made all the difference and we started capitalizing on every time we got a pack up.
Of course, everyone´s pitching confidence on the rise made it all come together!
So here it goes…
7h15 – Pack attack, missed one fish, lost one fish and another two did not switch.
7h55 – Hooked one on the pitch which we released.
09h05 – Pack attack, 4 bites and hooked all 4, unluckily two fish jumped next to each other tangling the lines which parted, we released the other 2.
9h25 – Another pack attack with 4 bites and three hook up´s all of which we released.
10h10 – Hook one on a lure that pulled the hooks close to boat.
11h10 – Hooked one then carried on and another two come on the teaser of which we got one bite and we released both fish.
Then we had the first lull for the day for just over an hour but myself and Ian had a quiet word saying we might get 10 for the day!!!
12h14 – Pack attack, hooked first fish and then saw at least four on the teaser. We had 5 bites, missed one but hooked and released the other 4.
13h04 – Hooked one on the long bait which we released.
13h24 – Pack attack, had three bites and hooked all of them, one was on the daisy chain that we had out for bonnies and the small hook open up, but we released the other two.
Now we had the second hour lull for the day but with still a lot of fishing time and everyone getting into it we even tough that maybe, just maybe we could get 20 fish for the day…
14h24 – Had another pack attack with at least 6 to 7 fish on the spread, we got 5 bites and hooked them all. Two lines got tangled and one parted, released three and where unlucky to have the fourth fish come undone with the leader a couple of meters away.
14h48 – raised one on teaser no switch
15h10 – raised one on teaser no switch
15h30 – Hooked a double on the pitch and very strangely, both fish come off the circle hooks, one right by the boat.
15h48 – Pack Attack, got 3 bites, hooked and released them all.
16h24 – Pack attack with three bites and hookup´s, one fish fell off on a lure but released the other two fish on the pitch.
It was a pity that we had to refuel Joz-Joz that afternoon and thus could not fish the last hour and make the most out of this ludicrous bite…but everyone was elated after an action-packed day, with over 40 Sailfish on the spread and 22 releases not to mention the 15 odd bonnies we got, the usual pest of great barracudas, YFT, rainbow runner´s and a couple of dogtooth tuna!
No night fishing, a few dopes, some YFT sashimi, finish it off with some lamb chops, all washed down with a delicious red and early to bed seeing the idea was to start fishing at first light the next day to get the turn of the tide.
Duarte A. M. Rato
Sportfishing Charters @ Vilankulos & Bazaruto Archipelago
FB: fishbazaruto & MarlinMoz Sportfishing
Phone: + 258 82 805 7160 / + 258 84 639 0466