Madagascar has been a destination that I have dreamed of visiting ever since I was a child. It is a truly mystical place that has many of its own unique species of fauna and flora. It’s been somewhere that has always caught my attention, having watched many documentaries on it, yet I had never got around to making the short flight across the Mozambique channel to explore this intriguing place.
With all of these things in my mind, it didn’t take much thought when Dave Bird from Admiral Charters invited us over for a seven-day trip on the Admiral Explorer to cruise and fish the southern tip of Madagascar. As luck would have it, Wesley Rapson was back from the Seychelles, where he had been on holiday, and Madagascar was a place he was also keen to visit. From the time that he mailed us to the time we left was a matter of weeks till we were sitting in the Air Madagascar lounge at OR Tambo, drinking rum and looking forward to the days ahead in Madagascar, at last.
It’s a short flight across the channel to Nosi Be, but it’s amazing what a short flight can do – from the bright lights of Egoli to a truly third-world Nosi Be in a matter of a few hours. But third world isn’t all that bad – no crime, friendly people and paradise surroundings.
When we arrived, it was pitch dark with no moon. We collected our bags, made our way quickly through the small airport and packed our things into the minibus. Then we followed a short drive through huge overhead forests, but in the pitch darkness all you could see was what the headlights lit up. We got down to the water’s edge and ferried our belongings across to the Admiral Explorer, a 51-foot catamaran that would be our home for the next seven days.
We woke early the next morning to see our surroundings for the first time – magnificent trees coming right down
to the water’s edge of the beautiful bay we were moored in. The sun was just rising over the hills and Duncan and Brod were already in full swing, capturing all the moments on film, so Wes and I didn’t waste a moment – we got right on to rigging the tackle and getting it ready for the adventures ahead.
That morning, we had the pleasure of meeting Frederick – also known as ‘Cookie’. Well, he became our hero over the next week by delivering the best meals time after time. Once all our supplies were loaded, we weighed anchor and headed out of the bay and up south towards the Mitsio Islands.
Our voyage had begun. Basically, our trip consisted of three trips in one – the inshore fishing up into the Mitsio islands, the offshore fishing to the intermediate and caster banks, and the estuary fishing.
This was the first three days of our trip. Basically, you head south from Nosi Be up into the Mitsio Islands. En route,
we ran a few Halcos and Islander lures out from the back of the yacht.
Our average speed was around 7kn – this is the ideal speed at which to pull these lures. On the way up, we caught some good-sized king mackerel and raised a few sailfish that we didn’t manage to hook up. The first area we fished with the spinning tackle was The Brothers – a number of steep, narrow rock-fingers that stick directly out of the water off the coast and are a part of the Mitsios. The water around each Brother was generally about 25m deep with sheer rock walls falling directly down to the sea floor, which is littered with coral. At slack tide, you can throw at the edges of the Brothers till your arms fall off and you won’t get a bite, but as soon as the tide pushes
or pulls, the Brothers come alive.
We caught many GTs around them, all between about 8kg and 18kg; in addition to the GTs, we caught a few other species like rock salmon and groupers.
In between the Brothers, there was a shallow area that rose from 35m up to 6m. When the tide pushed over this shallow bank, the fusiliers came together and we had plenty of action – GTs, couta and yellowfin tuna all on topwater lures.
Further up into the Mitsios there is an area called Submarine Rock where you can stand on a rock in the sea and spin into 40m of water. We didn’t have time to spin off the rock because we wanted to head up further north to Lighthouse Island to spin off the shore up there.
We did, however, catch some good GTs and bottom-fish species around the area of Submarine Rock. It looked like an area that, on its day, would be as good as any fishing spot I have ever seen. The day we headed up to Lighthouse Island, the local easterly wind was blowing about thirty knots, so we tucked the Admiral Explorer in tight behind the small island and took the tender to shore, where we had great fun spinning off the shore.
We hooked some good bluefin kingies, a few good-sized cutthroat emperors and a magnificent speckled snapper – all on stickbaits with some spectacular action.
Later in the day, we spotted some bait balls scattered around the small island. Each one held something different – some held GTs, others an angry mob of jobfish and others had couta and yellowspot kingies – all round this amazing area.
inshore spinning/ dropshot tackle
I would recommend a Saltiga 4500 with a 7’ 6” medium popping rod and 55lb to 70lb braid. In most of the areas where you will be throwing stickbaits and poppers, you don’t need any of the really heavy tackle. As well as this, I would suggest taking a similar 30lb set-up, with a Daiwa Caldia 4000 with a GrandWave 7’ medium spinning rod with 30lb Triple Fish 8-weave braid. You can also use this set-up to throw dropshot as well as the small and medium stickbaits.
For some reason, we had the majority of our success on stickbaits – the Wild Dog range as well as the Maria loaded stick baits, and the Sebile Stick Shadds were deadly.
After an amazing few days, we headed 100km offshore to the intermediate bank – an area renowned for supersized GTs and dog-toothed tuna. Unfortunately, we just got there on a bad day, but the potential was there as clear as day to see. So after a few hours in the area, we headed out to the caster bank, travelling overnight and arriving the next morning. The water was filled with schools of bonito and bird action – a sure sign that there would be a few inquiriesin the area. We caught a few bonito, then headed off to the jigging areas.
Wes was first down with a live bonnie. Even before hitting the bottom, he came skidding past me down the side of the deck and managed to get a good position at the back of the yacht. With 20kg of drag and his glove pressed hard into the spool, there was no stopping this first beast.
It made it to the reef and broke the 300lb leader. Welcome to the caster bank, Wes.
I went down next and the same thing happened – I went straight on. Bent into the scoop at the back of the yacht and literally hanging on for my life, 20 minutes later I landed a whitetip reef shark in the region of 150kg. This has got to be the single most gruelling duel I have ever had with a fish in my life – a good one to win. After that, we landed some good doggies and GTs before heading across the banks with some lures to target a sailfish.
As with most things in Madagascar, we didn’t have to wait long. We went on with a magnificent GT, followed by a double with sailfish – wow, this place is genuinely the real deal. With some weather closing in, we put our rods down and started our 120km trip back towards the coast where we would head down to the mangroves.
For jigging and live-bait fishing, there is no compromising here – Saltiga GT 6000 with 120lb Saltiga boat braid. The rod – a Saltiga 5’ 6” Hiramasa heavy jigging. For the trolling, we used Saltist Big Game two-speed reels filled with 600m of 80lb braid backing and 200m Triple Fish 50lb topshot, paired with the Daiwa Oceania 30-50 Stand-up rod.
Next we entered the wide mouth of the estuary south of Nosie Be. From bank to bank, the mouth must have stretched at lease 300m. The water was 15m deep and we sailed the yacht up to the first bend where the mangroves started – about 2km from the mouth.
At first glance, we were slightly optimistic that we might get a few bites here; with the tide being slack that evening, we didn’t have too many expectations and headed out in the tender for a quick throw.
Armed with light tackle sticks and topwater lures, we headed to the closest mangroves and tried our luck: first cast and bang – I got smashed by a rock salmon. But unfortunately it came off.
Then Wes was on. And so it went until the darkness crept in and we headed back to the yacht for another
of Frederick’s 5-star meals. That night we were treated to some of the local rum, and the evening only ended at
2am the next morning.
Two short hours later, Wes barely conscious, me struggling to string three words together, Duncan out of focus and Brod man down, we headed to the closest point as the tide was pushing over it. First throw – and the glassy water erupted as a huge greenspot kingfish pounced on my StrikePro Skitter Pop. Wes threw and had the same result.
This turned into possibly the most memorable estuary-fishing experience we had ever had, producing barracuda, queenfish, different kingfish species, rock salmon and many others. We left later that day with sore heads, tired eyes and smiles that were hard to contain.
You will need just a basic 7’ spinning rod, a Daiwa 7’ Exceler medium heavy with a Daiwa Exceler Z3000 filled with 30lb Daiwa tournament braid. This was more than enough, and great fun. We used a variety of topwater lures, with the best being the StrikePro and Yo-Zuri stickbaits as well as the small Halco Roosta popper.
After this epic fishing experience, we spent the last afternoon visiting an island with lemurs and all sorts of other strange creatures. Unfortunately it was time up – time to return to reality and leave my new favorite destination behind, hopefullyto return in the near future.
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