WORDS & PICS: ARNO DAMES
During July 2010, I stumbled upon an article on a local fishing blog discussing a remote island 60 miles off the coast of Madagascar where fishing is wild and untouched.
I immediately made contact with the writer of the article to gather all possible info so that I could start planning the trip of a lifetime. The perfect time appeared to be after the windy monsoon season on a spring tide, so the month of May was decided on.
ARRANGEMENTS AND TRAVELLING
Looking at the website of the French company that does the fishing tours, ‘Tropical-Fishing’, it was clear that it should be a group of six – three anglers per boat – that I had to source to make this journey with me.
Robbie Smit (Protea Rock and Surf angler) did a trip with me to Angola a few years ago and I was on the phone to Rob immediately. Without hesitating, he confirmed his spot in the group and assured me that filling the other available places would not be a problem. Long story short – within two weeks we had a group of six anglers ready leave tomorrow! The group consisted of a shoal of Eastern Cape boys, all with the passion required to make this trip a great success – Robbie Smit, Tertius Dames, Steve Wilson, Dale Brink, Bruce Schenk and myself.
Unfortunately, it was only July and we had 10 months to kill before boarding the plane to Nose Be. Months of planning, tackle sourcing and dreaming of that BIG GT lay ahead.
Somehow, time passed. Fortunately for us, April 2011 went by quickly with all the public holidays and before we knew it, it was time to go. We met at Johannesburg international airport with tackle packed and rods tubbed. After a few thirst quenchers at the local airport pub to get the mood set, we were ready.
One thing we were warned about on numerous emails from Tropical Fishing (more about them later) was to ‘bring enough jigs’ – so, needless to say, we were all over the weight limit of 30kg per person allowed by Air Madagascar.
We got to Nose Be with all our tackle safely – and checked into the hotel before meeting up with the guys from Tropical Fishing – Alain Soulette and Ludovic. We started talking fishing and more fishing, and this led to an evening of laughter, questions and more laughter as the guides entertained us in true French style. (I recall the one statement that Alain made three days into our trip: ‘You South Africans are incredible crazy beer drinkers.’)
The next morning we got up nice and early (some of us) to start preparing the tackle, binding leaders and sharpening hooks. Alain and Ludovic joined us for breakfast and after a short bite we were set to go. A logistics boat filled with all our luggage travelled directly to Mitsio Island with us boarding the two 25ft fishing vessels (three anglers per vessel) only with rods and tackle. Must compliment ‘Tropical- Fishing’ on these fishing boats – they are built to fish.
After a run of approximately one-and-a-half hours, we made our first stop at one of the many waypoints that Alain has on his GPS. First drop-down with the jigs and we had two hook-ups – a nice GT and an emperor made their appearance. This was the start of one of the most amazing fishing trips that I have ever experienced!
We fished for six days, starting at 07h30 in the mornings and getting back to camp just before dark.
Ninety percent of the fishing is done by vertical jigging so, needless to say, the guys were all fairly tired by the time supper was served, the day’s fishing discussed and a round of ‘Pétanque’ (iron boules) was played in the old French traditional way.
It took a day or two for some of us to get into the rhythm of jigging, but before we knew it, we were all pros and jigging like specialists.
Tropical Fishing had two ways of getting us onto fish every day.
First method: We would fish the reefs and areas that Tropical Fishing had previously identified as optimal waypoints. On arrival at the waypoints, we would have a quick look on the echo for any fish and if the showings were positive we would start dropping down. GTs, bluefin, silver trevally, greenspot, yellowspot, bigeyes, bludgers, groupers, emperors, king mackerel, giant barracudas – to mention but a few – were on the menu. Pulling fish for three to four hours non-stop was what we had to endure while being urged on by the French accent of the skipper, keeping an eye on the echo and screaming: ‘Fish, fish, fish; go, go, go!’
Second method: We would travel and search for birds indicating shoals of bonnies, which were usually concentrated over a reef or pinnacle structure. We would drift through the bonnies, jigging the water column below them. This proved to be the best method for catching the much bigger GTs.
Another style of fishing, (that was done on the sideline while jigging) was to catch bonnies on light spinning gear and fish live bait on our popping rods. A few nice GTs and groupers and a beautiful Napoleon wrasse were caught by using this method.
While having lunch on the boat the one afternoon, we had a live bonnie out. Within 10 minutes, the rod was bending and engines growling to set the hook into a giant black marlin. It was my turn on the live bait rod and I had to swallow quickly while grabbing onto the 8ft popping rod and left-handed Stella 20000 rigged with 80lb braid, to settle into what ended up being an epic battle of more than four-and-a-half hours.
The fight lasted into the dark and, after drifting after this fish for more than 12 miles, we had to make a call as we had no light on board and still had to travel back to camp (25-odd miles). The decision was made to try and lift the fish, which was sitting at approximately 12 to 15 metres below the boat, by going forward away from the fish very slowly with a tight drag and pulling and stopping repeatedly. This worked for a short while until the 80lb braid snapped. Well, what an experience and I’ll be back for that one! The fish was estimated at between 300kg and 350kg!
Another brilliant experience was Robbie getting a bite on a live bonnie that ended up stealing the bonnie from the hook. While Robbie was retrieving the empty hook, another bonnie latched onto the bear hook. Realising that he had hooked a bonnie, he decided to free-spool and swim the bonnie as live bait. Well, within five minutes Robbie had another bite and this time he made no mistake. A 40kg sailfish was boated 20 minutes later and released after a photo session.
There is a treasure chest full of stories of fish that were caught and fish that got away in this absolute paradise of untouched fishing heaven.
An interesting fact of our trip was that we were the first South African group that had the privilege of fishing with Tropical Fishing – truly amazing if you think of the number of fish-crazy anglers there are in South Africa.
The average size of fish that was caught was in the range of 7kg to 9kg. We caught more than 400 fish, not counting the bonnies and skippies that were used for bait, and a total of 28 species.
The most outstanding catches were the 12 or so GTs weighing over 30kg. The biggest GT recorded on our trip, landed by Bruce on 50lb jigging tackle, weighed in at 45kg. Further highlights include the dorado’s that were caught on poppers, the 40kg grouper caught on jig, the Napoleon wrasse that Steve caught, the sailfish Robbie caught, the marlin that got away and the grouper of more than 100kg that Tertius fought for more than half-an-hour before been reefed.
Talking to Alain – in the five days of fishing, we only scratched the surface on exploring the potential of this magic, untouched fishing ground.
Not having fished 20 percent of the waypoints that Tropical Fishing have on their GPSs, not being able to get out to the drop-offs (morning wind) to target dogtooth and amberjack, not fishing for billfish and not exploring the popping and stickbait potential of this island, we will be back late next year to give this place another hard South African go.
Mitsio Archipelago is part of a group of smaller islands about 45 miles to the northwest of Nose Be. The island is remote, with only a few locals fishing and farming for existence.
The company Tropical Fishing established their service on the island approximately two-and-a-half years ago and offer some of the best extreme fishing you can imagine. Fishing is done with two ski boats, using the camp in one of Mitsio island bays as base. The camp consists of six bungalows and a lounge area where meals and drinks are served.
For more information, contact Alain on www.tropical-fishing.com (use Google to get the page translated to English) or myself on email@example.com.