THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA:
From the moment we had arrived on the island of Sao Vincente in the Cape Verde Islands the word on the dock had not been especially encouraging, more specifically, we had soon learned, very few marlin had either been seen or caught during the past few weeks. For months we had been looking forward to our trip to the undisputed blue marlin capital of the world, and to say our enthusiasm took a severe hit would be a huge understatement.
Located some 500km off the west coast of Africa, the one time Portuguese colony of Cape Verde became an independent republic in 1975. The ten main islands and eight smaller islets are all of volcanic origin, and have resulted in a rugged terrain consisting of barren mountains, steep cliffs and rocky headlands. In recent years the more easterly islands of Sal and Boa Vista have emerged on the European charter holiday scene, though unless you are content to spend your holidays soaking up the endless sunshine and cocktails at an all inclusive resort there really isn’t that much else to do here; that is unless you are a fisherman!
There is no disputing the fact that The Cape Verde Islands are the number one hotspot in the world to catch an Atlantic blue marlin. When the fish are running catches of several fish averaging between 300-600lb are common, with the optimum time to catch marlin from March through until June. The season extends until October and marlin are caught throughout, though not in big numbers. Huge yellowfin tuna and other blue water pelagic species make up most catches later in the season.
Based at the Mindelo on the island of Sao Vincente, which is reached via a short flight from Sal where most international charters arrive, we had five full days fishing booked aboard ‘Dimeu’, a 40ft Pace sports fisher skippered by Capt. Calu Banbosa. By the time we pulled back into our berth at the end of day one we had indeed confirmed the slow fishing. Following 9 hours trolling in the channel between Sao Vincente and the neighbouring island of Santo Antao, blue marlin alley when the fish are running, we returned to the dock having recorded just one strike that had produced a 50lb wahoo.
Our second days fishing, July 14th, again started off slowly and as we slowly trolled our way towards the western end of the island and the famed San Pedro Bank, once again we settled into the generally dull routine of sitting and watching our spread of lures working astern of us, always accompanied by the monotonous thump, thump, thump of a powerful diesel engine and the occasional whiff of acrid exhaust fumes.
A little after 0930 in the morning, just as Dimeu was starting to fish along the inner edge of the bank, a fish smashed the Black Bart Oz Prowler fishing off the port outrigger. The explosion of white water behind us could not have been more impressive had someone lobbed a hand grenade into the sea, and as the 80lb class started to scream manically as countless yards on line were ripped free against a hefty clutch setting, I leapt forward and repositioned the bent butt outfit from the gunwale to the fighting chair. There were four of us fishing and at the start of the day we had each chosen a rod in order of age. I was the youngest, something of a rarity these days, and purely by good fortune this was my designated rod!
That magnificent first run all but emptied the voluminous reel but eventually the fish slowed and I managed to gain some line. Such was the incredible speed of that run the crew thought that possibly I had foul hooked a small to medium size fish; at that stage in the battle nobody had had a good look of the fish other than enough neon blue to confirm she was indeed a blue marlin. Following her initial run she started to swim deep and as earlier we had seen a huge hammerhead swimming in the area I applied maximum drag and put everything I had into lifting her as soon as possible. Had I known at the time what I was connected to who knows what I would have done, other than to start panicking in case I lost her.
Steadily I started to gain some line and after about 25 minutes of applying as much pressure as I was physically capable of, the angle of the line started to change indicating the fish was coming up to the surface. This allowed me to quickly recover even more line, and this along with some skilful boat handling by Calu allowed wireman Mario Lopez to grab the leader.
It was at this point the fish showed herself properly for the first time. As if in slow motion the ocean opened up in front of us and she started to emerge through the inky blue water. First her enormous bill cut through the surface film, truly it was the size of a baseball bat, and this was followed by her immense blue shoulders, which in turn were followed by a monstrous great body that seemed to go on forever. She started to greyhound away from the boat forcing Mario to dump the leader to the cries of “Grander”, you could have driven a small car through the hole she left in the water!
I now knew that without a doubt I was attached to the fish of my dreams, truly the fish of a lifetime, and as once again the fish ripped a huge amount of line from the reel, silently I prayed I wouldn’t lose her. By now I was paying dearly for my earlier exertions and not pacing myself, and it was 10 long, painful minutes before Mario was able to reclaim the leader, yet once again the fish instantly tore free. It was only at the forth or maybe fifth attempt of grabbing the leader before finally he was able to turn her immense bulk and start to gain some control.
Sat in the chair I was unable to see exactly what was happening just a few feet away from me on the port side of the boat, I was totally and utterly exhausted. Apparently the lure was located deep inside the fishes mouth and she was bleeding badly. The consensus and opinion among the crew was she was extremely unlikely to survive if released, so Calu gave the order that she was to be boated.
I was at the same time both elated and devastated as even though I wanted to know her exact weight, never had I set out to kill such a magnificent fish. Over the years I have released well over 100 billfish, and ever since that day in the Cape Verde Islands whenever I think of that fish, which is often, my emotions go on a roller coaster ranging from elation to a deep sadness.
Back at the commercial fish dock on Sao Vincente we had to wait until a lorry with a crane could be found to lift my fish off the boat. Finally the crane arrived along with a German charter skipper who had brought a certificated set of electronic scales, which recorded her weight at 506kg, that’s all but 1,120lb at time of capture, and I was told she was one of the biggest marlin ever caught from Sao Vincente. Still beating myself up by the fact she had been killed, I was able to gain some satisfaction when I was told that marlin of this size are females that are beyond sexual maturity. Later I saw her delivered to the local fish market where she was distributed to the extremely grateful local community.
“He was an old man and who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish”. This is the opening sentence of the greatest fishing story ever told, Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Old Man And The Sea.” This book and film staring Spencer Tracy more than anything else first inspired me to fish for marlin, but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I would ever catch a fish as big, if not bigger, myself. Finally would have a fishing story to tell in which I could not possibly exaggerate the size of the fish I had caught!
For information on fishing in Cape Verde, ring Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717