Mountain Trip 19-20 November 2008
(Fishingfundi - Guest Skipper)
Another dawn broke gently over a tranquil Shimoni. The Pemba Channel Fishing Club (PCFC) / Lodge boats swayed gently at their moorings as the four red flags and the T-flag were removed from the starboard outrigger of Jasiri where they had boasted yesterdays’ successful jaunt out to the rich, clear waters just north of the ‘mlango’ (entrance) to Shimoni culminating in four tagged and released Sailfish. A light breakfast was taken at a leisurely pace as I sat on the pool steps with Sandra and contemplated the trip ahead.
It was 12 years, two months and 13 days since I had last been on one of the exciting trips to the Shimoni Mountain (as I had named it in my GPS) that lies 54nm (approx. 100 km) east of PCFC. On that previous sea safari we caught two Shortbilled Spearfish, a large Striped Marlin and an even larger
Broadbill not to mention the numerous Dorado, Skipjacks and, when we arrived on the Mountain, lots of Big Eye Tuna. We had also “dropped” a couple of Sailfish and a big Black Marlin which, had we managed to tag them, would have been the first ever recorded Grand Slam of five Billfish in one trip. Would this trip live up to the last? What was the weather like out there in November? Would there be any problem with Somali Pirates? (Only joking but a super tanker was hi-jacked by Pirates just two days before from the Kenyan waters 450 miles off Mombasa.) How well would my satellite telephone work out at sea and more to the point, would it be required in anger?
My client for the next 33 hours was a pleasant young man from the Netherlands called Mario who had come out to Kenya not only with his mother but also with six new "bent-butt" 80 and 130 outfits matched with Penn International reels and a whole bag of brand new trolling lures that looked ideal for the days ahead. Mario’s desire was to catch a BIG fish (hence the heavy tackle) but he was also fisherman enough to know the fun of fighting a fish on lighter line and for this he had a seven foot Ken Thompson Steel Shaft Pro spinning rod and a Daiwa Boss fixed-spool spinning reel with 400m of 10kg line.
At 0645 hours the Caterpillar engines were gurgling away gently as we transferred from the dinghy to Jasiri, a ten metre sport fishing Bertram complete with flying bridge and 'Tuna Tower'. Captain Mohammed Baraza and crew, Cosmos and Hamadi had everything ship shape so with our arrival the mooring was slipped and we cruised serenely out to the crystal waters of the Indian Ocean. Our initial plan was to zigzag around the ‘bait patch’ area, pick up a few Bonito, (Kawa Kawa) and Yellow-fin Tuna and keep our eyes peeled for the packs of marauding Sailfish that had been active the day before. The plan came together as we first caught the Bonito and then out of the blue a Sail snatched at a tiny 3-inch lure with a small 4-0 O’Shaunassy hook that just happened to be on Mario’s spinning tackle. The Suli-suli (Sailfish) performed its aerial ballet, made a searing run into the deep but was eventually tamed after 20 minutes of patient persuasion and Cosmos carefully pricked in an African Billfish Foundation tag (ABF #31858) and after a brief period of revival the beautiful creature swam strongly away into the azure blue.
Small flocks of birds (Terns) diving at Sardines tempted us further and further out to sea and occasionally one of the reels would scream into life announcing the strike of another fish. A ‘smelly’ Barracuda was tempted, fought and released and occasionally the shout from the bridge was a ‘heads-up’ that a shoal of the turquoise green and yellow Falusi (Dorado) was about to crash through the spread of lures (normally at right angles to the direction of travel) which always raises the adrenaline and often causes a spider’s web of lines that need to be carefully juggles to separate the lines from ‘burning each other off’. After the frenetic pace of the fishing near the shore the long transit to the spot somewhere over the horizon seemed to slow the action and we had to really concentrate to keep our eyes scanning the pattern of lures for the dark shape of a bill-fish gliding up behind one of our lures. Hourly, we would get a call from base requesting the Habari (News of the fishing) and between 0900 hours and 1100 the reply was “Jasiri Negative”. This never tells the whole story because just before 1100 hours, the crew and myself had been embellishing tales of previous exploits as we watched the numbers tick down on the Navman GPS/Echo-sounder when Cosmos suddenly called, “Marlin!, Marlin!” He pointed into a roughish patch of water some 100 metres ahead of the boat in about the 10 o-clock position and sure enough we all saw the iridescent blue of the lit-up pectoral fins of a Striped Marlin as it banked in the water in preparation of an attack on our live bait Bonito and ‘plastic’ lures. The Stripy took a cursory glance at the plastic before focussing on the Oceanic Skipjack that was on the port outrigger line. It seemed to give the Skippy a gentle prod with its bill, sized up the meal and then, much to our immense disappointment, it sank slowly out of sight. We knew it was in the area and waited with baited breath to see if the Skippy on the down-rigger would be swallowed or perhaps it might enjoy scoffing the little Yellow-fin that was on the flat-line at the rear of the pattern? The eagle-eyed, Baraza spotted the dark form behind the long line and it was frustrating to see an excited fish following our lures for about five or six minutes without committing to a strike. However, eventually the marlin turned away and slipped back into the beautiful ‘Cobalt-blue’ waters much to everybody’s disappointment.
During the next few hours it was generally quiet, punctuated by solitary strikes by big, bull Falusi, one of which we eventually decided to keep for the pot and I immediately cleaned, filleted, skinned and portioned the “chicken-of-the-sea” placing the fillets in a cool box ready for a delicious hot meal, cooked in the galley later that afternoon.
About 1400 hours I left the bridge to explore the delights of the delicious fare that had been prepared by Sandra and her kitchen staff and having chosen a roll with various meats and pickles I filled a gap that had been rumbling in my stomach! I had been ‘below’ for only about 10 minutes but on returning to the bridge it seemed that we had entered a different ocean! The wind had risen by ten knots and the calm sea had suddenly sprouted white-caps and was forming into a north-easterly chop. At this time of year the Kaskazi starts to blow during the afternoon and heralds the arrival of the traditional, trading dhows from the Arabian gulf. This wind also normally brings good fishing, but to be honest, I was rather hoping that the sea would remain calm because night fishing in a smallish boat is hard enough trying to control a big fish without the added complication and discomfort of three metre waves rocking us and slapping the side of the hull, showering us in salt water when we get caught broadside.
Unusually, (drawing on the experienced Baraza’s knowledge) there were a significant number of large ships in the area. At any time we could count up to a dozen ships either on their way to or from Mombasa or just cruising to some other East African port. This knowledge gave us both comfort in that should we encounter a serious problem then help was just a Channel 16 radio call away but also slight concern that in the dead of night one of these ‘container-monsters’ might not spot us on their radar and spoil our day by either ramming us or ploughing through our spread of lines. We would all have to remain vigilant as it was going to be a very dark night until the quarter-moon showed above the eastern horizon about 0200 hours.
...... (to be continued!)