Madagascar Sailfish Bonanza – Part 1
Last year July, we finally joined Ian Du Plessis, for a trip to the Castor Banks in Madagascar, which turned out to be an exceptional Sailfish Bonanza. We ended releasing 61 sailfish in 5 ½ days of fishing the banks. The rest of the trip was spent popping further south the coast.
Anyone interested in seeing last year´s reports and pictures can click on the links below;
This year, we were going for a two-week trip and the plan was, weather permitting, to stay at the banks all the time, with a short 1 ½ day trip back to land to refuel and re-stock in between.
Apart from myself and Ian, the rest of the group consisted of Gideon, Jacques (Doc) and Gareth Sims.
Easy “airport procedures“!
The flight from JHB to Nosy Be was a breeze and so where the procedures at the airport. Those who read last year´s report would remember the corruption mayhem we had. Well, with a new government in place, things have changed from night to day, and in no time at all we were being transferred to the beach. From there, and after a couple Three Horses Beer, we boarded ADIVA, the Royal Cape Majestic 53ft yacht, which would be our mothership for the next two weeks. Along with our game boat, the 38ft SuperCat, Joz-Joz, we moved into Krater Bay for the night.
It was nice to see all the crew once again, a real nice bunch of guys, that run a superb and nothing is too much effort operation.
Mamadou, ADIVA´S Captain, Sam, the deckie and Guy, albeit having cut his Rasta and looking very different, was still manning the kitchen. Then, there was papa Jao, Joz Joz´s Captian along with Nono AKA “jangarata“, his trusty deckhand.
All the chaotic bait and terminal rigging on the boat sort of spoiled it for me last year. Well, maybe that’s not putting it right, but honestly, with the fast pace I had little time to concentrate on the actual fishing!
This time, we were going to be as ready as possible, and it all started two days before we flew to Madagascar on the 30th June. Myself and Ian, first shopped, and then rigged for two days nonstop at his house in Pretoria, with the first whisky, religiously, only being poured after 5pm.
Teasers, rappies, daisy chains, lures, hookset´s and spooling the many spinning, popping and sailfish outfits. We use 40-pound braid as backing on our sailfish reels with a 120-meter, 30-pound mono top-shoot. We Pre-rigged 100 sailfish leaders, but would have to rig almost twice as much, during the trip. Although we used a few Mustad and BMK, our circle hook of choice is the Eagle Claw billfish in 8/0 or 9/0 for the larger baits. Our leaders are 3 meters of #100 pound Trilene or Double X mono. We have an extra 2 meters of leader from the short double to the swivel. Our ball bearing snap swivels are normally size #4 Centro´s, but this time, we could only get #4 AFW´s, which proved extremely unreliable once we had to use them.
The Program (Spread & Technique)
We tweak and change according to wind, sea conditions and fish behavior, but our program and spread is, invariably the same.
We run two, extra-long lines, run from the riggers on pre-distanced set, Dacron rigger loop´s. These are rigged with ¾ ounce chin weight, small to medium size swimming halfbeaks (ballyhoo). The right long, slightly shorter, where we sometimes run a strip bait. Rods are light to medium popping around 8ft with 20 000 Stella´s.
Our two short lines have short jigging rods with 14 000´s. The left, a 1-ounce chin weighted medium to big swim ballyhoo below the left teaser; a green moldcraft squid daisy chain trailing a Black / Purple Iland Express. The right, run very short, always with a skip bait, ideally a belly shine, just before our right teaser. A pink, Squidnation Flippy Floppy with a Blue / Pink express. Our teasers are run from #80 Tiagra´s, bracket mounted on the bridge, running through the rigger´s middle halyards.
The drags are set very light on these reels, which, have the bail arm open with a little wire tied to the reel seat and holding the line in place while trolling. The theory being that once we have a strike, the wire open´s and creates an automatic drop back. The angler then picks up the rod, counts to 4, closes the bail arm, winds slowly and VOILA…. the circle should, most times, set right in the corner of the mouth.
There are an additional two, stand by, pitching rods on Trinidad´s 20´s in the chair, ready to go with a strip bait. These are regularly used, mostly on the frequent pack attacks, where the fish follow the teasers right up to the boat and are then baited a few meters of the transom.
Maximising your Chances…
Now, this set up, as opposed to only pitching for them when they show on the teasers maximizes your opportunities. One is ready with more baits on a miss, a single angler can easily hookup two fish in one pack attack and, when they come in short everyone can have a go at them. But, mostly, one tends to pick up, a lot of lonely or double cruising fish on the long´s, that would have most likely, otherwise, not shown up. The downfall of this system, especially on the Castor Banks where the razor gang (barracuda´s, wahoo, dogtooth tuna, etc) are wild, is that one goes through a lot of gear and more importantly, our most important commodity, bait. We rigged and went through 60 to 90 baits a day.
Bait is Paramount
Last year, we were caught with our pants down, and our bait supply of 50 half rotten tiny halfbeaks only lasted to the second day. For the rest of the trip we had to catch bonnies for bellyshine, and could not keep up with the bait demand. We resorted to lures and J´s on our long´s and our strike to release ratio suffered immensely. We also had to catch all those doggies, wahoo and especially barracudas which were extremely time consuming. This year we had 180, again, half rotten, stiff, burn frozen halfbeaks for the first week. Not nearly as enough as we would need. For the second week we got perfect size, fresh one´s that at 320, with the help of many additional, freshly caught belly shine’s, just made it.
We constantly run a short rod with a weighted small pulsator daisy chain to keep up with bait supply and fresh belly shine’s. We released one, but lost countless sailfish we pulled on this outfit that would simply not hookup, or break the light leader, open the tiny hooks or simply come undone. But it proved to be an awesome teaser and alarm before they showed up. We will in future rig this ourselves and make it work for bait & sailies.
The need for speed…
It’s a numbers game and the need for speed is vital to optimize the biting times. With a few exceptions, on the banks the fish turn on and off twice every given day. As a general rule, they seem to lull around the tide changes and be at their hottest in between. A well-organized boat is paramount to have it flowing swiftly. Bait, traces, needles, chin weights, skirts, wax threat, gloves, pliers, knifes and all else needs to have a strict, rational place on the cockpit. When one, two or more fish are hooked, new traces should be rigged while we fighting and ready to go as soon as the last fish is released.
This kind of fishing is all about team work. A minimum of three, but preferably 4 to 5 anglers is ideal to optimize your chances. With a 16ft beam, the 38ft Supercat provides a great wide platform to operate from. More than anything, the numbers come up when you make the best of your chances, especially when you get a pack attack. If you want to rack them up (and enjoy the absolute chaos it provides, which along with the visual aspect is the most thrilling), achieving multiple hookup´s when they come in thick is crucial. The Captain needs to work the teasers in quickly, and at the same time work the wheel around the first hookup to provide ample time for others. Each angler and deckhands should know what to do. Some watching the long´s, others ready to throw the pitch bait and ideally two, already holding the shorts ready to drop when the bite comes. The deckhands, over watching it all, helping where necessary, and making sure lines are not crossed when multiple hookup´s occur. And, while anglers are fighting getting all ready to set up quickly after the releases.
First week Daily reports…
So, after a nice sleep at Krater Bay we were ready to roll.
Here´s a day to day report of the first week….
01/07 – Half day 15-13–8–6
Our first day started with a stiff wind from the E, so we left late for the long ride to the banks. It was disheartening to find green water as we started trolling at the intermediate banks before noon.
It took a long time to raise one, but eventually we got two up in the green water and Doc released our first sailfish for the trip. The water slightly improved as we moved closer to the banks and some fish started showing, albeit lazy and sluggish. We released another and at half past two had a pack attack and hooked three. Gideon´s come off but we released the other two.
The sea started to settle in the afternoon and we finished with two singles, both converted and released and, happy to have released 6 on our first half day, were back on Adiva for afternoon ´´refreshments´´ at half past four.
But, for me, the best of the day for me was yet to come.
At sunset, I picked up my Scotch, an Aerocast with a stella 5000, rigged with a 1 ½ once GT ice cream and went to the bow.
On the first cast, I see a movement behind the lure and a sailfish follows it up right to the boat. Cast again and this time, and after three attempts I hook up. Unfortunately, the fish pulled the hook after some severe head shakes but, amazing anyway!
Just before dinner of freshly caught dorado, and in the dark, we had some great entertainment with a bunch of emperor and speckled snappers of the back, on the light tackle. Something which would be repeated night after night….one just had to drop down and they were on….super fun!
02/07 – 13 -9 -7-1
How about this for a wakeup call!
Get out of bed just before sunrise, get to the transom of Adiva and while having the morning piss drop down a drop shot. As it hit´s bottom hookup to a real decent snapper which gave me a real cool morning stretch…how´s that for Deep Sea Yoga!
But that was as good as the day got.
The sea was choppy, the water repulsive green, the fish lazy and everything just went horribly wrong. Despite not doing so bad on the hookup with these lazy bites, we only released one out of 7 hookups’, by far, the worst day of the trip.
We had two fish jump next to each other after the bite, tangle and break off, then run over a fish when we lost our starboard engine, a leader chaffed and had two fish mysteriously come undone, after being hooked up for a while, which is pretty uncommon on the circles. However, this year we had that happen regularly and, could only think it was the slothful way they were most times picking at the baits. If one thing completely differed from last year was how much placid they behaved as opposed to the ruthless and forceful mood they were snapping last year.
But, it was far from a slow day with over 50 bites, mostly of the razor gang that clipped us endlessly. We did release 5 dorado, a bunch of bonnies and some other odds and ends.
Back at the Yacht we, once again, had a laugh catching plenty fish on the light tackle.
Amongst the many speckled, emperor´s, sweet lips and other snapper´s, also released a nice Titan triggerfish (first for me) that put up a real scrap and Ian a nice Bohar snapper on a small red kind of snapper live bait.
03/07 – 10 – 8 – 6 – 4
It was nice to finally wake up to flat seas and slightly better looking water.
We had breakfast and then, ten minutes after setting them out, switched one from the left green daisy chain teaser and, got the first sail of the day.
Gareth jumps in the water to get some cool release shoots.
15 minutes later we get 4 fish coming HOT on the teasers.
Awesome stuff as they chased the teasers right to the boat not wanting to switch.
But, eventually they did and we got four bites and hooked three, all pretty close.
One pulled after a while, but we release the other two.
Then it went quiet except for a bunch of clip offs from the usual pests (barracudas), a few Wahoo’s, caught a couple dorado and missed a sailfish.
We went in search mode, but only got a few bites once back to where we saw them in the morning. Released one and lost another close to the boat.
Spent the rest of the afternoon trying for doggies on the stick baits but it was slow as we could not get proper live bait!
04/07 – 18-13-10-8
Started working outside the mooring where we saw the fish yesterday but, after an hour with some cut offs and a rainbow runner for dinner, decided to go explore far and wide.
Pick up and run for 1 ½ hours to the Leven Bank.
It looked good when we got there with lots of bait and birds hovering around.
Set them up, and shortly raised one on a penny (small 5-spotted queenfish) Gareth had rigged as a teaser.
That one did not switch but minutes later had one of the Flippy Floppy which did switch and which we released.
Had loads of doggies smashing the teasers and caught a few bonnies and dorado.
Then around midday a pack attack, with 3 bites and two releases.
Raised another one a tad later but no bite.
Pick up and another 1 ½ run back to the area where we found a good afternoon bite.
Set the baits and within a few minutes raised 3, 2 bites and one release.
30 minutes later pack attack, at least 5 or 6 fish, got 4 bites and released 3.
Put the baits out and within minutes hooked three and released 2 for a great afternoon…
05/07 – 25-17-13-11
Everyone was excited after yesterday´s afternoon session right by our mooring and, despite rainy and breezy conditions in the morning, we could not have a better start to the day.
We still putting the teasers, when the long right gets bitten and we release the first for the day.
An hour and many cut offs later we get this real hot fish come on the flippy floppy. It followed it right to the transom, beauty to see, as it inhaled Ian´s bait right there, all lit up. Released that one.
Exactly an hour later we raise 3, have 2 bites and hookup on both, unluckily one open the circle hook and we released the other. Then raise two, had a lazy bite that did not connect.
Up to now all the fish where hot and aggressive as yesterday afternoon, but it all changed for the next rush hour…
12h50 – Raised a lazy one that come on the left teaser, disappeared then on the right teaser, into a short bait but no bite.
13h20 – Raise 3, two lazy bites, hooked one that chewed through the leader a few meters from the boat. 10 minutes later another lazy one on the right teaser but no switch.
14h00 – Hookup on the long swim bait, hookup and release.
14h40 – Another lazy one on the flippy floppy, then come on the left daisy chain and faded.
Then, as if a switch was turned ON, all of a sudden, they completely changed behavior and started coming in hot!!!
15h14 – PACK ATTACK!!!!! Pandemonium, this is what we come here for. The first real serious pack attack with, at least 7 fish on the spread. We had 5 bites, hooked and released 4! Very cool….
15h58 – Three up and it went like clockwork, 3 bites, hookup and three releases!
So, after a day when they were sluggish, it just turned on in the afternoon and we hooked and released 7 from 9 bites. To make it even a better end to the day, we get 2 GT´s on the teasers in 35 meters of water as we making our way back to ADIVA. Pitched the sailfish baits and both circles on the corner and released at around 10-14 kilos.
We caught some bonnies, barracudas and had plenty cut offs during the day, but, where disappointed not to have boated a nice tasty fish for dinner. Get back on the Yacht and we resigned to catching a snapper to braii. First time down and Doc hooks and lands a nice Emperor. While we debating if we gonna braii it, I go down and immediately hook to a nice fish. Jokingly Doc says it must be a jobfish, a species we have not yet seen and are desperate to catch for their tastiness. Right on the money….Jobfish for dinner it is!!!!
Then, after a lovely dinner, the big eye trevallies started smashing the tiny bait round the yacht and myself and doc, the only ones still awake, had some great action on the light tackle. Those guys learned fast and we hooked a couple on spoon then nada. Changed around, then they would be eating the small stick baits. They learned fast and nada. Changed around and eventually we would be getting them on the minnows….challenging and great fun!
6/07 – Half Day – 26-19-15-12
With much better water conditions, fishing had been definitely picking up the last three days, especially the afternoon bite…
Today we only had a half day as we had to get back to Nosy Be to drop Gazza, pick up Neil and stock up on supplies…
It started early, think while everyone was still half asleep….
6h40 – 4 up for three bites, two hookups’ and one release.
6h57 – Bite on the long and release second fish.
Went quiet until just after 8 when two fish come up. We got one bite and hookup and while fighting it see another fish behind the boat, Ian pitched and hooked up as well and we released both.
An hour later hookup on the long and Doc brought the fish to the boat for a release but it spat the hook right by the boat. Once again very strange how many fish pulling hooks on the circles!
20 minutes later one hit the small daisy chain we have out to catch bonnies for fresh strip baits. Then it hit the long swim bait and while we fighting it we raised another but no bite. We released the first fish.
11h11 – Again a serious PACK ATTACK! At least 5 fish on the teasers and one come right by the side off the boat trying to eat the Flippy floppy dangling from the rigger. Turned back and bite the switch right by the transom. We ended up having four bites and hooking three. Unluckily one chafed through the leader and we released the other 2.
11h34 – Pack Attack AGAIN….four or five fish up we get three bites and release all three!!!
We release those and start heading to ADIVA for the trip back. Real difficult to leave such a good bite, especially when you know they biting even better in the afternoon.
On the way to ADIVA we still have another PACK ATTACK, at least 4 fish there, we get three bites and release two.
Amazing morning with 12 fish released.
We get on the Yacht, pour some drinks and enjoy a cool, relaxing trip back to land.
Some more pictures from the first week…
To be continued…
Duarte A. M. Rato
Sportfishing Charters @ Vilankulos & Bazaruto Archipelago
FB: MarlinMoz Sportfishing & fishbazaruto.com
Phone: 00 258 84 639 0466 or 00 258 82 805 7160