Alburquerue, New Mexico-based angler, Alan Wright returned to the Pemba Channel Fishing Club (PCFC) in Shimoni, Kenya for the fourth time in search of some more superb fishing but with Broadbill Swordfish his top priority. Chatting in the bar on Saturday night with fellow angling visitors to Kenya, Richard & Lee (reminding us of a popular song-writing duo of Peters & Lee – but what was their greatest hit?) it took almost no persuading to get the three guys to book two boats for the exciting 33-hour, overnight trips to the under-sea, Shimoni Sea Mountain that lies some 55 nm (100km) east of the mainland of East Africa. on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 January 2009.
The marlin fishing in the Pemba Channel had turned slightly sluggish over the past couple of days with just a couple of Striped Marlin and a Blue Marlin being tagged and some fine Dorado and the odd Wahoo adding to the tally. However, one major bonus was that the wind had swung around to blow erratically from the south and the sea was almost flat calm which, if it maintained its direction would make the slow trolling or drifting far more comfortable than the usual, late January sea state normally allows. All three visitors to the PCFC had read the various articles posted on the web-site www.pembachannel.com and were interested not only in meeting the “Guest Skipper” but seeing whether my reports bore any relation to the actual facts! Well here goes for another epistle from the good ship Shuwari – with news of partners-in-crime on the twin-ship Jasiri.
With Richard & Lee on the sister ship Jasiri, I joined Alan together with Baraza Mohamed, Cosmos and Rama as crew on Shuwari, a ten metre Bertram sport fishing boat with flying bridge and tuna tower for the 33-hour trip in search of more big fish. We left the moorings in the tranquil waters of Shimoni at 06.30 loaded with three cold boxes each containing food, drinks and bait as well as the last remaining 16 chemical light sticks available from Captain Andy’s fishing tackle. The wake of Shuwari soon had small jigs darting along and the home-made, “champali-exciters” were fluttering along providing the required splatter of water to imitate the panic fleeing of a small flying fish. The sun rose above the line of grey cumulus clouds that threatened precipitation but probably only at sea. I actually I quite enjoy fishing in rain showers as I often find that the ‘noise’ it produces on the surface can raise fish and enhance the chance of a strike.
At the first radio call-up at 08.00 the fishing was dour with only PCFC’s White Otter having action with a big Wahoo that became a long-line-release at the trace when it managed to bite through the leader. However, at 08.20 the first small Blue Marlin was tagged on 30lb line (and another lost) and a small Striped Marlin had also been tagged by a couple of other boats in the area, so there were some fish around. Our first fish was a small (4kg) Dorado that was welcome action and gave Alan a short warm-up and to hone his ‘Stand-up’ technique. With the promising news of bill-fish, we decided to persevere in the mid-channel for Marlin and Sailfish for at least a couple of hours before heading over the horizon to the sea-mountain.
The water looked ideal, cobalt-blue with a slight chop but almost zero swell and no wave action that enabled us to easily identify the slight ‘rips’ that developed during the day. However, after a couple of fruitless hours during which we saw almost no birds, weed-lines or fins showing, we decided that at 11.00 we would head east if we hadn’t raised any bill-fish by then.
Sure enough at 11.00, although we witnessed a Striped Marlin leaping behind a boat about one kilometre from us we headed east again, following the GPS heading demands. There was a strong current that had been supplemented by the southerly winds and was now running at about three knots from the southeast, parallel to the coastline and we had to bear about ten degrees right to counter its vector and make our track more direct. Good signs started to appear (12 miles to the Sea-mount), nice rips, flocks of Terns and Sea Gulls and areas of sea that boiled with large shoals of bait fish. We quickly changed a couple of the strip baits for smaller Bonito jigs and almost immediately hooked up with a couple of Frigate Mackerel. One fell off but the other was boated and would make a perfect bait for later on as we were trolling far to fast to live-bait at that time.
Another good two Dorado were caught and released as we had enough strip baits for the day and there were beams of joy over the crew’s faces as flocks of birds and splashes of Bonito and Tuna greeted us on the arrival near the Sea-mount GPS position at South 04 degrees 37.94 minutes East 40 degrees 15.19 minutes. Again the little jigs did their stuff and soon we had two Skipjack/Oceanic Bonito bridle-rigged and swimming along as live-bait. One was about 100 feet below the surface on the down-rigger and the other was about 200 metres behind the boat on the 80 lb class rod in the ‘shot-gun’ position. The anglers on Jasiri caught a couple of similar fish and chased around the pinnacle location searching for bill-fish at trolling speed whilst I headed south with one engine in neutral and the other at idle. This would normally give the boat a ground-speed of about three knots but directly into the current we held station with perhaps a 0.2 knot ground-speed! At least we knew we were over the “Mlima”. The down-rigged bait swam around without any sigh of distress but just at dusk, at 19.05 the top-rod ratchet buzzed for a few seconds. Baraza was at the helm and he lifted the rod to feel exactly what was happening. “Samaki na cheza” (the fish is playing) but then … nothing. Eventually, as we had the fresh squid baits ready with the light-sticks the long-line was retrieved and the still lively fish examined. Sure enough it showed signs of a bill-fish scrape along its flanks where a Broadbill had tried to eat it but probably found it too large and had to reject it. Surprisingly both the Skippys were still fine and, after removing the bridles they were released and swam away strongly!
It was going to be a dark night lit only by star-light as the new-moon had yet to be sighted. The sea sparkled with phosphorescence in the wake and the light-sticks glowed like eerie green sea-monsters, occasionally breaking the surface and shining brightly and were almost hypnotic in the way they seemed to drift left, right, apart and closer as the boat gently weaved into the southerly current. About 20.00 hours we saw the spot-lights of Jasiri light up the area about half a kilometre away and after they extinguished about 20 minutes later we heard over the radio that Lee had just tagged and released a small Broadbill Swordfish of about 60 lbs. We continued hovering over a position just east of the GPS position but without any strikes and again noticed the lights come on Jasiri about 22.10 hours. This time they were on a little longer and we were delighted to hear that Richard had also caught his first Broadbill Swordfish and this had been estimated about 120 lbs by Hamadi, the quiet Captain of Jasiri before being tagged and released.
Cosmos and I had shared the helm up until about 23.00 hours and then Eagle-eyes Baraza Mohamed took over for the midnight watch. I heard the phfizz of the odd Red-Bull can being popped as I tried to get some shut-eye but by 01.00 I decided it was only fair that I gave Baraza a break. We sat together chatting about fishing and the Raytheon GPS, and why couldn’t I get it to dim further than zero? Baraza was half way through trying to change the screen to red-light from the too-bright green, when the line snapped out of the port out-rigger. The ratchet started its music and immediately Baraza nudged the starboard engine forward to help set the hook. Alan had been dozing but was still wearing the waist-belt of his “Smitty Belt” and he snapped into action, quickly clipped on the drop-down rod plate and adjusted the clips to hold the reel at a comfortable distance from his waist. The engines returned to idle and the remaining three lines were quickly reeled in and stored away in the cabin whilst the fight ensued.