A “Lucky Blessing” and a dream come true – Theo Erasmus, Leon Fourie, Bloemfontein South Africa
(Version 1 = 3 Jan 2012)
It has always been a dream of mine to catch a marlin; actually it goes back much further than that. It has always been a dream of my father to catch a marlin. Unfortunately that dream never came true. My dad always used to talk about Bazaruto and that we should go there someday because he had heard it was so beautiful and of course, the water is full of marlin.
I have the privilege to travel the world for my work and have tried at many locations to catch marlin, all without success. In December 2010 my family and I went to Bazaruto for a week and stayed at the Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa. We had a wonderful time and although we caught no marlin, but a lot of game fish, I saw that the deep blue water (albeit fairly shallow) had a lot of promise. This year we decided that it was time again to give it a try, so we made our bookings and signed up with Duarte Rato for three days (5th-7th December) who runs his charter operation from September to January each year out of the Indigo Bay Resort. I travelled with my wife Charlene and our three children and was accompanied by Leon Fourie and his wife, Engela.
This article is written from a novice point of view (in both fishing and writing) and I am not by any means a professional and competitive fisherman, although I do love to fish if I get the opportunity. It is also not an instruction book on marlin fishing and might contain some bangers which could upset the purists. The idea of this article is to share myself and Leon’s fishing experience of a lifetime and encourage fellow fisherman to never let go of the dream of catching “the Big one” and the experience thereof.
With an uneventful and comfortable 2hr flight from Johannesburg to Vilankulos on Federal Air behind us, we stepped into the most beautiful new airport. Compared to the open shed we “transferred” through in 2010, this new airport was now world class. From the airport we boarded our Island transfers to Indigo Bay Resort. This flight from Vilankulos to Bazaruto is an experience unto its own, as the aircraft is basically an aluminum tube with an engine strapped to it and was built in the 1960’s. However, the maintenance records were stuck to cockpit door, showing that the planes are serviced regularly and I guess fulfill the aviation authority requirements, which creates some level of confidence. The fear of flying in small airplanes was quickly overcome by the “Oooh’s and Ahh’s” at the sight of the most beautiful ocean colours whilst flying over the bay towards Bazaruto.
Arriving at the resort we were quickly whisked off to our rooms to unpack and unwind. For the first few days the weather was rather miserable with a strong southeaster blowing, but we were shielded from it thanks to the location of the resort behind the huge dunes on the eastern part of the island. It allowed us the opportunity to spend some quality time with our families, to top-up our “brownie point” up with our wives and explore the island.
We spoke to Duarte on the Sunday evening (the 4th of December) and decided to go out later on Monday morning since according to all the different weather websites it seemed as if the weather was clearing up. As with many fisherman, at breakfast the next morning the “optimistic-bubbly-can’t-wait-
Day 1 (Monday 5 Dec):
The boat, Vamizi, a 31 foot walk around Gulf Craft with 2 x 175 hp Evinrudes was waiting for us when we arrived at the beach. Duarte and Alberto, the deckhand, were already on the boat busy getting everything ready for the trip. The wind was still blowing at give or takes 25 knots from a south easterly direction. Black clouds hanging low and moving rapidly across the island over the vast white sand dunes, the promise of a bad day’s fishing written all over them. The engines were fired up and of we went, slowly purring past the resort to get into deeper water.
Since Leon and I had never caught a marlin before, Duarte used the opportunity and coached us on the art. He took us though all the “do and don’ts” of marlin fishing, how to handle the rod (or rather how not to), how to clip the harness onto the reel, what happens when a fish strikes, what to do when the reel start running, where to point the rod’s tip, how to work the fighting chair, how to bring the fish in with your legs and lower back, what to do when the fish gets close to the boat and the role of every person on deck. The list goes on and on. Quite a lot to process for us Free State boys (a province in the middle of South Africa, with the closest ocean about 700 km’s away and where carp fishing is the “ultimate” experience). Since Leon and I are curious about many things, we don’t just want to sit and catch fish, we want to learn. This was an exceptional educational experience for us both. We have been on many charters and this was the first time that we were taken through the whole process in such great detail. It gave us the confidence that this guy really knows his stuff and this is no fly-by-night or Mickey Mouse operation. This is Real Professional. But after three days of fishing there were two laws of marlin fishing which stuck in my mind.
- Law no I: “Do not touch or pull the rod, keep your left hand on the reel”
- Law no II: “Never Ever touch the drag unless you are told to do so ….”
I will discuss these laws more in depth later..
And then it started raining and we got soaked …… and the BIG question on everybody’s mind: Do we turn around or push on? Unanimously we voted for the latter, because after all if thou have no line in the water with bait, thou shall catch no fish!
Soon we were in the open blue waters and this is what makes Bazaruto so amazing. Within 30 minutes of leaving the resort you start trolling in open water, so you have more time for fishing.
Less than ten minutes after we started trolling, the starboard rod on the long outrigger clip snapped and the 80W ratchet started moaning and groaning with the line peeling off. Leon got into the chair and the rod was handed to him by Alberto, the always smiling, and well trained deckhand, as well as Duarte’s right-hand man. Leon, visibly nervous, carefully followed the instructions. Clipping the Tiagra onto to the harness and allowing the fish to take as much line as it wanted. At that moment the black marlin jumped, it danced and showed off its brilliant colours, desperately trying to rid itself of the deep blue & orange lure stuck in its mouth and the something pulling it in a direction it doesn’t want to go. Leon started fighting the fish, his first marlin and my first experience seeing one … Under Duarte’s care and guidance Leon started bringing the fish in and learning how to use the big reel (Remember: “left hand on top on the reel not on the rod!” was announced a few time), the harness, the drag, the rod holder and eventually the fish was next to the boat. What a sight! Firstly, to see the fish and secondly, seeing a man’s face after he caught his first marlin! High fives! Celebration! But deep inside I have to admit I was a bit jealous. Where’s mine? Will I also have the privilege of catching one? The fish was measured, tagged, the hook removed and released. And then I understood why Duarte calls the boat his office, he loves life and loves catching marlin.
It was my turn on the rods and I was eagerly waiting. I had seen the evidence that there are marlin in the water, it is no longer a myth, it’s true! Shortly after Leon caught his fish, it was all hands on deck. The Tiagra’s ratchet with its low pitch screaming had me in the chair in a flash. Carefully doing as shown by Duarte, whilst the ratchet was on and the reel still running, the fish jumped. Interestingly, my rod was pointing towards the back of the boat and the fish jumped behind me over my left shoulder. I was surely not expecting the fish to jump there and then realized that the amount of line in the water and drag the water put on the line must be enormous. It was a nice large fish. Duarte maneuvered the boat and carefully followed the fish to allow me to get some line back, since at this stage the big reel was already well out of the monofilament top-shoot and into the Dacron backing.
Back to me and fighting the fish. To say it was comfortable would be an understatement; the fish was incredibly heavy and strong. It was a whole new concept one needs to get accustomed to. Slowly but surely I learned how to use the new fishing system and process to my advantage under Duarte’s guidance. The fish was really running wild and jumping and dancing on the water and before I could help myself I was hanging onto the rod and pulling it with my hands. After multiple warnings from Duarte, I did it again and he slapped my hand. There was an eerie and stunned silence on boat and I was about to say, “Hey, the last time my mom did that I was 10 years old!” But then I realized that if I want to bring this fish in I had to do what he says. The response was a muffled “sorry, old habits day hard”. And it was me and the fish again … my glasses fell off, my hat sat askew on my head, my legs were numb from the strain, the fish heavy on my lower back. Slowly but surely the line was coming in and I was back on the monofilament. Just then the fish started to run again and took me back on the Dacron again and again. Under Duarte’s careful guidance I was instructed to adjust the drag and move the gear ratio from 2:1 to 1:1. “Go to low gear and bring your drag up an inch while the fish is sitting deep”. “Reel in fast now the fish is swimming toward us”. “It is going to jump keep the line tight”. He maneuvered the boat into the right position. I do not recall how long it took to bring the fish in, but after a while the fish was close enough to the boat for Alberto to grab the leader. I got My Marlin! This must have been the biggest “kick” in my life, intensified by being able to touch a magnificent creature like this. The cherry on top was when we released it; Duarte estimated it as a 500lbs fish.
Back at the resort everybody was eager to know how the day went. Two marlin flags flying off Vamizi´s starboard rigger. As the sun sets over the bay behind Mozambique mainland he tells the story. Leon and I were both very quiet not actually sure how to share experience and feelings of the day. It was kind of sacred, we had to open a bottle of Pongratz that evening, two dreams had become true.
Day 2: (Tuesday 6 Dec)
On Tuesday I was up at 4am, I could barely sleep that night due to all excitement of the previous day, I was “re-catching” that fish every 5 minutes in my dreams. At 5:15am with the sun already peeping over the sand dunes, Leon and I were walking down the beach towards the 31 ft Vamizi, a perfect morning, a light breeze, and the bay very calm.
Secured to the fighting chair, the four 80W reels shimmered like gold in the early morning sun. Each rod and reel color-coded and always in the same position on the boat. Data was collected on each rod and reel to form a history of how much it has worked, when line needs to be replaced and so on. Every Tiagra reel had a calibrated “drag index” (16lbs, 25lbs, 35 lbs etc) glued to the side to show exactly how much drag the reel is set to, nothing is left to chance when that fish is hooked. Precision and excellence seems to be the norm (remember to never touch the drag unless Duarte tells you so!) One can see these rods and reels work hard, but they are lovingly cared for, pretty much like a farmer with his stud cattle or his prized John Deere tractor …. Duarte refers to them as “she” or “her”….. his other “girlfriends”.
The kona lures, with their funny names, proudly displayed on the back of the boat on a crisp white towel. There are tubes, chuggers, slants, and straight runners, each head shape to use on a certain position and under different sea conditions. The heavy 650lbs monofilament leaders neatly rolled into a circle and secured with rubber bands. The sharp hooks cunningly peeping through the blue, red, black and yellow skirts. A focused Captain and an ever-smiling Deckhand. Let’s go fishing! Always upbeat and positive.
What a wonderful, crazy and wild day at sea. From my notes I believe we caught and released about 13 yellow fin tuna, of which Leon caught a nice 22kg specimen. We had such a good laugh when we wanted to take a photo; the tuna took Leon for a “tuna waltz”. 6 Wahoo, a couple of dorado’s, skipjack, bonnies and a few other game fish as well. We had a couple Marlin strikes on lures and pulled hooks on one but the most interesting part of the day was to unfold as follows:
Duarte decided to put some live bait out after Leon and I caught a smallish yellow fin tuna and a skipjack respectively. Out came the needle with huge circle hook traces and with the speed and precision of a brain surgeon the live bait was rigged and released back into the water. Fast, focused, methodical, a man working with a plan comes to mind. A loop behind the boat with a rubber band secured to the line, and Alberto with his finger on the rubber band. It was kind of “primitive” and made me think how I caught “platannas” in our cement reservoir whilst still living on a farm. An earthworm on a hook with a piece of line and I used my finger to feel for any bites. We were slowly idling at 2.5 knots. It felt like stalking a buffalo in the bush, all eyes fixed on the rubber bands, anticipation, very little talking, mostly whispering, nervous, staring into the deep blue water …. Amazing, we were catching marlin by hand.
Duarte also used a downrigger to put the other bait much deeper into the water column (what an interesting device with the biggest sinker I have even seen).
Suddenly, Alberto called out that the bait fish was getting very agitated and I could see the rubber band stretching and releasing, stretching and releasing. Suddenly the rubber band started to stretch uncontrollably and snapped with a “tick” sound and immediately the Tiagra started running. Everybody was so fixated on the first rod and all the action that nobody noticed the rubber band on the downrigger also snap. We just heard the other Tiagra also start with its low pitched Grrrrrr. Action as you cannot imagine! A double hook-up, both on live baits! And then they both jumped and danced in tandem. What a sight. Unfortunately I lost mine, but Leon brought his in, at a healthy 300 lbs. Wow! Another unforgettable day. This guy knows how to catch marlin.
Day 3: (Wednesday 7 Dec)
5:15am, similar conditions as the previous day, but even quieter. I lived my dream. I caught a marlin. I could not ask for more. Could it get any better? When we reached the blue water, conditions were very quiet and there was virtually no activity on the surface. The sea was flat, very little wind. The only interesting observation was the Plankton Rivers which we frequently trolled through or paralleled next to …. Nothing … the birds were aimlessly flying around looking for something to eat …. Suddenly the water started boiling behind the boat and we were under attack by a school of Dorado. What an interesting experience. They were attacking the lures from all angles, all 6 reels running, we landed 3. Ten minutes later a 200-pound marlin comes charging on the long right tube lure and on the third charge it hooks up, but unfortunately after a 10 second sprint it spits the hooks.
Then again nothing …absolutely nothing for almost an hour!
Decision time, Duarte suggested that we go to an area south, called the canyon. We would use more fuel and it may be kind of risky, but could also be rewarding and we agreed with the approach. On the way there I saw the fish finder for the first time going into 3 digits. We were trolling in 100m water, a first for the last two days. Suddenly one of the bait rods with a deep running Halco, started to scream for its life and everybody had the what-is-that look on their faces and then it jumped! ‘Marlin” – came the surprised shout from Alberto, smiling as usual. Leon was struggling with the small rod and the TLD 25 lbs tackle and was heading for the fighting chair, but was stopped abruptly after a firm instruction from Duarte, “No, you stand up”. Content with the fact that he had a huge challenge at hand he fought the fish like and old focused pro. The fish had multiple runs, dived deep, jumped and tried every trick in the book to shake off the small trebles.
And when Duarte saw that Leon had moved the drag (without permission of course) he heard it, “Law number one has been has been contravened and the price will be paid”. Thanks goodness Leon was too far from Duarte, so no finger slapping, but till this day he denies ever touching the drag. But at least this story has a good ending.
After a good 40 minutes the fish was close enough to allow Alberto to grab the leader, and as instructed by Duarte he did not let go, the fish then nearly leapt into the boat and with one lunge opened the small hooks and was off in a dash. Things were heating up. Leon 3 : Theo 1 (only 1 !). Then the fun started. It was as if the marlin were all over the area, like cattle in a paddock. I saw a marlin launching itself like an arrow from a bow from about 30 meters out onto the lure and taking it without ceremony. The clip snapped and the fish was on, like a well versed symphony orchestra. Everything just worked with perfect timing under the leadership of “conductor” Duarte. This time I was in the chair and hooked up to a marlin about 180 pounds and gracefully brought it in, to be released for another day when it doubled or tripled it’s size. During the fight we saw another marlin below the boat following the one that was hooked.
Leon and I are becoming pro’s now, we are not touching the drags without instruction or putting our hands on the rods anymore. We are slowly but surely making the transition from carp to marlin. We are becoming pro marlin fisherman now. Working the rod with our legs and lower back, using the wave motion to bring the fish up and having the time of our lives.
Suddenly the Tiagra started moaning and groaning again. The magnificent fish jumped twice, thrice, four times and we could see the blue lure flying through the air and then the Tiagra fell silent. “Damn, a nose job” Duarte commented. “Let’s get the lures back in the water”.
We work back to the top end of II mile where we had most of the action the previous two days and after an hour without any action (which seems like an eternity) a nice fish crash strikes the shortest lure and Leon jumps in the chair. This is becoming easy and within 30 minutes we release our third Marlin off the day, this one at about 350 lbs.
We were about to head back to the resort. Duarte does not want to fish past 3pm, since the risk of spending the night at sea with a big fish is all too high. I think he is just bragging, but he is such a modest individual. It was about 2:30 pm and it was my turn on the marlin rods. I was savoring my experiences of the last 3 days with closed eyes, when suddenly the all the familiar Grrrrr, Grrrrr sound of the reel nearly made me fall off my chair. Again I was the carp fisherman, fingers became thumbs, and in the sheepish haze I did not know what to do. The Tiagra was protesting like never before and as soon as I got myself in marlin-mode I was in the chair, clipping in the reel and getting myself ready for the fight, and it was the fight of a lifetime. This fish was huge and as strong and heavy as a truck. Anytime the fish was down deep, Duarte kept telling me to push the drag up – you can’t mess around with these big girls or they will take you for a long walk, he kept saying with a grin. After about 45 minutes, and after multiple runs (strangely enough it only jumped once, a long way off) the fish was next to the boat and it looked like a submarine. Duarte estimated it to be about 600lbs. What an experience! The fish was tagged, pictures taken, the hooked removed and the fish revived. Alberto released the bill and it lazily swam down into the deep blue ocean. I don’t think it could get better than this.
At sunset, back at the resort, Vamizi lay moored in Indigo Bay, with four marlin flags upside down hoisted high and proud on the outrigger. The locals say they are not aware of any boat that has achieved this in recent history in Bazaruto. Out came the Pongratz once again and my wife Charlene asked me with a husky voice whether I loved marlin fishing more than her now and my response was, “Hunny, just for today ”.