Super Fantasy Slam of Six Different Billfish – Almost
Avid angler, Morne Basson flew from RSA to the “Marlin Capital” of Kenya at the Pemba Channel Fishing Club (PCFC), Shimoni for a few days game fishing for bill-fish and other sport fish in the Indian Ocean. Tales of big fish caught and lost were exchanged over a few cold “Tuskers” at the bar and it was with lots of confidence that Morne set his early morning alarm at 0545 for the first of his three days planned fishing.
Day one was on Jasiri and with the boss of the PCFC, Peter Ruysenaars at the helm. Mornre had a good first day’s fishing catching not only essential bait in the form of Dorado but also managed a 70 lb Sailfish and a Blue Marlin that he tagged and released estimated at about 220 lb. The sea-state was a bit on the rough side and with a couple of days in hand the plan was to have a days rest between each fishing trip and hope that the Kaskazi wind (that blows hard from the north-east from mid-day onwards) would die down and the sea-state would calm down towards the end of the week.
The second day’s fishing (10th Jan 2009) was on the sister Bertram boat of PCFC, Shuwari captained by the ‘Guest Skipper’ Steve Davidson. The day started well with a Suli-suli (Sailfish) of 30 kg at 08.50 hours. With the sea looking perfect, cobalt-blue with a slight chop and with the swell from the north-east (as expected) at 10.05 hours a second Sailfish crept up behind the blue and white Island Sail lure with its strip of Dorado belly sewn to the 10/0 circle hook. This fish was ‘window-shopping’, the term by which we call a fish that is not really hungry, not ‘lit-up’, and not crash striking the bait. However, it was interested in our lures and followed the menu of the day that we were offering in our spread of baits for some five minutes or so. We ‘teased’ the fish by dropping the lure in free-spool behind the predator and then winding it fast past its nose before slowing it down again, jerking it erratically, like a wounded fish and eventually the Suli’s pectoral fins turned a neon-blue as it slashed at the bait.
Free-spool…. Pause.. longer pause and then as the fish grabbed the bait and turned its head through over 90 degrees, the lever drag was advanced to the ‘Strike’ position and the hook set in the jaws and the fight was on. With modern light tackle the fight after hook-up favours the fisherman provided the angler has enough line on the reel and doesn’t try to rush things, but this time there just happened to be a line of seaweed close by that had some significant chunks of floating ‘bubble-weed’ that was caught on the 10 kg line. With the fish a tad upset that it had a hook in its jaws and leaping in greyhound style across the ocean the drag of the weed became excessive. Morne tried reducing the reel setting to nearly free-spool but it was to no avail and unfortunately we lost the lure, exciter and fish when the line popped. With the weed around, I returned the rod to the rack in the cabin and replaced it with a heavier 24 kg outfit of a Shimano Tiagra 50 wide on a matching Shimano rod.
The action slowed for over an hour until the drone of the Caterpillar engines was shattered at 11.25 by a screaming ratchet of a Tiagra 50 as line was suddenly peeling off into the distance by a strong fish. We hadn’t seen the strike and although there were some splashes in the wake some 150 metres back no-one was confident of the species. The fish continued to take line for a minute or more as the other lines were wound in and the teasers pulled from the water before Shuwari was eventually put into neutral to give Morne a chance to gain some line. With the fish diving deep and giving the fisherman a good work-out, Shuwari was gently reversed towards the fish to reduce the stress on the fish and the angler. Even as the leader was about to be wrapped by the ‘Decky’ we were uncertain of the species, perhaps a HUGE Wahoo, a small marlin or big sailfish? Wrong, it was none of those. It was in-fact a very rarely caught (in Kenyan waters) pelagic species called the Short-billed Spearfish. 12 years previously, whilst fishing on board Shuwari, we had caught a pair of these fish but this one was nearly twice the size of these previous fish. Being so rare, we were certain that this fish was a record but with our dedication to conservation and sportsmanship we agreed to tag and release the fish but only after we had briefly lifted it on board for a couple of snap photographs for posterity. (As it happens the All Africa Record on 24 kg is VACANT for Short-billed Spearfish and the Kenyan record is 18.8 kg)
The action for the day was far from over as at 11.55 another Sailfish tried to get itself hooked but was missed and then a Wahoo had two attempts at our lures eventually cutting off a pink and white soft head that was causing a tempting bubble-tail behind the soft-bird exciter. As we headed back across the Pemba Channel towards Shimoni a Striped Marlin decided to examine our baits but unfortunately after knocking the long-line from the out-rigger clip, the marlin decided that it was not to its taste and disappeared into the depths of the choppy sea.
Morne’s next day was taken up with a trip to the Kisiti Marine Park in a traditional dhow where dolphin were spotted and a wonderful days snorkelling was enjoyed albeit with scant regard for the ferocity of the African equatorial sun and so some Nivea Aftersun was required on back muscles that were starting to ‘tighten-up’.
12 Jan 09. It was another trip with Morne on Shuwari, with a very early strike at 06.45 in the green water by a ‘toothy critter’ that cut off a little rusty-brown tuna lure. At 08.11 a little three kg Falusi (Dorado/Mahi mahi, Dolphin fish etc) was winched in on 24 kg line that would make good fresh strip baits and could also be used as a dead bait for a shark or big marlin. Morne’s good fortune continued with a really great 42 kg Sailfish giving an excellent fight on 24 kg line at position South 4 degrees 35.5 mins, East 039 degrees 36.4 mins (for those of you who want to plot where we were fishing!)
At 11.00 we had a Sailfish come window shopping and at 11.20 a Stripy also came looking but both were not hooked up. Action quietened for a while until we fished a likely looking rip and were rewarded with a double strike of Sailfish. Line was peeling from both reels but unexplainably but dropped off within seconds of each other! A second Dorado, just a little larger than the first became our bar-bitings for the eve when it was caught at 13.40 (after being filleted, chilled and put on ice in preparation for the Soy sauce, lemon juice and Wasabi paste) but the real excitement flowed when a marlin grabbed a bait on the long line behind the port out-rigger at 14.15 hours. This was a feisty fish that leapt all over the place, trying to get slack line by charging towards the boat and then diving deep and using the strength of the current to make the fight more exhausting for the angler!
After about 25 minutes of well co-ordinated team-work the fish approached the boat and again decided to perform for the camera. (Unfortunately the action was only caught on an Mpeg file on Morne’s camera but some photos of the play-back are included snapped on a mobile phone camera.) As the fish struggled to get free we realised that our initial impression that we had hooked a Blue Marlin was incorrect as the dorsal fin was quite short and the pectoral fins were permanently stiff out from the side of the body. These attributes are certain identification features that proved that we had caught and tagged a nice Black Marlin (estimated at 140 kg) and were only two types away from catching all six billfish available in the East African waters. What we needed now was the relatively common Striped Marlin and the ‘Gladiator of the dark’ a Broadbill Swordfish.
Morne was due to return to Pemba Island but with his enthusiasm and optimism infectious he was easily persuaded to take an extra couple of trips to possibly achieve in a week what many anglers never manage in a life-time and that is the Super Fantasy Slam (albeit not in one day). The wind continued to blow hard for the next couple of days and for a while Morne was anxious that he might return to the mooring without even a solitary flag to indicate the catch of a bill-fish. However, his positive thinking paid dividends and in the final hour of his first extra day he caught, tagged and released another good, aerobatic Sailfish that was also captured on video. A very large Hammerhead shark was also followed, offered one of our tasty Dorados as an Hors D’oeuvre but it wanted a bloodier morsel and swept its way majestically towards boiling areas of Bonito that were feeding on Whitebait and we were finding impossible to catch.
Broadbill Swordfish are generally caught on dark nights with either drifted squid baits or slowly trolled soft baits with chemical light-sticks to help attract the fish. The sea state dictated that drifting was out of the question and so it was decided to try a day-into-night trip of trolling baits, hoping to catch both a Striped Marlin and a Swordfish before the moon got up too high. Amazingly the first part was achieved when at about 14.00 hours a great 220 lb Stripy duly played its role in the drama before being tagged and released but, as the afternoon wore on the sea-state was against the crew and angler and following an uncomfortable night bouncing from one wave to the next and getting the odd sea-shower from rouge waves the sixth billfish was to be left to a future date… but what an introduction to the variety and diversity of the waters off the Kenyan coast at Shimoni. Sailfish, Black, Blue and Striped Marlin and a Short-billed Spearfish - in the words of Arnold, “I’ll be back”.