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Down to The Umdloti Beach with JP Bartholomew

Down to The Umdloti Beach

“Another incredible story and gallery of photos from our newest contributor, JP Batholomew…this time at Umdloti Beach, one opf JP’s favourite hangouts. Luckily JP advocates catch and release – luckily, or there would be far less fish left in the ocean!”

December, four days after Full Moon I hit Umdloti beach.The weather conditions were good and the sea was fairly calm and clean with the water temp at 19c – still nicely chilled. It was time to embark on My quest to catch those elusive Giant Blue Shad on fly. I was kitted out with my Xplorer 902 Pro Cast 8/9 Wt rod with an intermediate line and my favourite GT Deep Diver Flies in Pink, Orange, Chartreuse, tied on a 5/0 Mustard 34007 s/s hooks.

I started fishing my normal stretch around 04:45am on the incoming tide. I know from past experience that I have the best chance of catching these Giant Shad in the same spot at this time of the year. Making the longest casts as possible I began by probing the deeper channels and gullies, allowing the fly to sink for  about 10 seconds before I began a fast retrieve. I also tried casting the fly over rocky ledges where the waves break and create white water. The Shad love hunting in this water, using it as cover to ambush baitfish hiding behind or under structure.

Soon after I started, in the middle of a fast retrieve I went tight and I was into My first Blue Shad on an Orange GT fly. It put up a ferocious fight, jumping out of the water, trying to throw the hook. Big shad are fast ,powerful fish that will strip your line off your reel at an awesome pace and will fight to the very edge of its strength. I fished Umdloti Beach almost everyday that week and succeeded in catching and releasing four Gaint Shad  – two on fly and two on Rapala X-Raps.

The following week I returned to Umdloti again with my trusty 8/9Wt fly rod and this time tied a Pink GT Deep Diver. This time I started fishing as the sun started breaking through the clouds on the horizon. The water was still cold and sea conditions were still good.
On My third or fourth cast I managed to get good distance.  I started my retrieve and when the fly came into the shorebreak the line went tight. My line started peeling off my reel really fast and I used my hand to slow it down by holding in on the rim of the reel as I had no time to fiddle with the drag.
Eventually, I was able to start getting line back on my reel. I couldn’t get a good look at the fish, but it didn’t feel like a shad. I thought it might be a kingfish so I kept rod  up and applied  as much pressure on the line as I thought rather safe then sorry,retrieving line as quickly as possible and hoping not to get cut off on the rocks.
It was only when I got the fish closer and it broke the surface that I saw had hooked into a Dusky Kob – My first on fly. I have been fighting this area  stretch for seven years and I’ve never heard of a Kob coming out,never mind on fly at Umdloti. After a photo or two I successfully returned him back to the sea to fight another day.
That same week I flyfishing off Sensation Rock’s using a Flashy  Profile fly,I hooked into a Natal Stumpnose of about 1.3 kg which had  Me jumping and bouncing around on the rocks like a Penguin holding on for dear life. I was not ready to lose a Natal  Stumpnose on fly! The fish put a tremendous fight but I finally managed to bring it into the bay and beach it. I was so tired and sore from jumping all over the rocks but I had  landed My first Natal  Stumpnose on fly – what an adrenaline rush a beauty of a fish too.

I really enjoyed targeting the various species and loved it when all my planning – getting flies for specific Spiece’s, fishing the correct tides and area’s you know should hold the fish you are targeting – the success and results will follow. I always like to study tide’s, Moon phases and is always good to know your sea conditions of the stretch you going to be fishing. I prefer fishing early morning’s – long before most Anglers hit the waters. Your results are always worth it.

Tight line’s, practice catch and release remember let go let grow let your fish roam free…..

Cheers JP.

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Footloose fishing lessons

Footloose fishing lessons

Spending some time in The Big Smoke, working The Mydo distribution run…and being land locked presents a host of problems.

But there are always bass.

And so, a chunk of the Von Biljon family and I set out on Sunday, to Footloose Trout Farm. Which is not a trout farm. It was. Remnants remain from the bygone days when hatcheries and race tanks spawned gaggles of trout and anglers.

Now, the handful of well-kept dams are stocked with bass in the summer…and replaced by trout in the winter.

An all round cool spot with lovely grass and trees, jungle gyms, a kiosk and licensed and families everywhere.

Water moves down from the top dams trickling through sluits down through the bottom ones. And they are each nicely populated with fish.

The bass dams at the top are the most picturesque and popular. The ponds are just the right size and are well maintained. Benches and shady gazebos dot the fishing spots – it is all very cozy and good fun.

Even when it all goes bad.

Andrew von Biljon had brought the A- team. His sons Dustin and Tristan. Johnny von Biljon brought his girlfriend Ansie. And I was the sole outsider.

In preparation, I spooled my Okuma Ceymar 30 with 5kg braid, and attached it all to a Sensational Adventure stick – the lightest model. Very nice feeling rig. Leaders and all.

I was fishing Mydo Buck Shot #1. Pearl white. A deadly offering that looked so good on my rig.

My first cast bought a cackle on as I overshot the end of the dam and squared the bull rushes. Vas!
But this happens to me a lot and usually a few solid strikes drawn from slack line shocks the ultra sharp hook through the grass, and free.

Not today.

Snap, went my new braid. Guffaw, went the Von Biljons.


Being so supremely confident meant that was my only leader, never mind my Buck Shot. And there was no way I could fight my way over those particular bull rushes. Steep bank. Perfect bass spot.

I quickly tied on a #1 Mydo Luck Shot rigged with a 4 inch plastic. A few casts and I was feeling great. In with a shot as the Von Biljon team occupied an entire quadrant with floats and worms. Their previous visit had produced so many fish that the kids were super amped. So were the adults.

Then I hit the bullrushes again. Exactly same result. Phwaaaar! Went the Von Biljons.


Extremely embarrassed I was disclaiming with the ultra light braid (is there such a thing?). But I could bite through it so I took off all the used braid and started again all fresh. As I was threading the last eye, I saw the problem. The tip had been smashed, probably against the roof of the tackle shop I got it from. Half of the super hard tip eye insert, was a blade. And I only had to touch my new braid on it lightly to cut it clean through.

So, once again and for the umpteenth time, I had to bypass my tip eye. I went off in search of fishing solitaire.

When I got to the farthest dam, in stealth mode ace out, there was nobody around. Skirting the bank, polaroids on, I could very clearly make out some huge fish, in the next bay between the bullrushes. Very slowly I stalked in and soon clearly made out the shoal of carp. Maybe 10 of them. They were burrowing under the bank, rolling about, tailing…but not quite spawning, barely a metre from my face. They were big enough. 3 to 5kg’s. I flicked my lure out behind them, dragged it slowly across a dik carp’s nose, and woosh, they were all gone.

I threw the Buck Shot a few times but had to accept, especially with the featureless bottom contour, that this was a carp dam.

But set up this video shot of the shoal when they had reassembled, a few minutes after I spooked them.

So back on up to the “bass” dam zone, where soon the recent rain, floods really, took the blame for the no-bite. But being extra determined I finally ended up at the place I started. After a couple of casts I got some pressure back?! A tiny strike and I was elated to see both sets of lost braid tangled in my luck shot. What a luck. And this was still new braid, only broken because of the smashed tip eye. So together, I jerked hard a few times and bingo! Both my lures and all the braid retrieved!

Dustin and Tristan, chose to fish for barbel in a lower dam. Gillie Andrew was hard at work keeping it all under control, when team Von Biljon went two sticks away!

I had cashed out, stoked to have my two lures back, and arrived on the scene for some pics, as this went down. The only fish of the entire day, from everyone there.

Well done Dustin and Tristan!

Lessons from the day:

1. Rod eyes, tips especially, are clearly a weak link. Braid and it’s odd characteristics exacerbate it all. Check every time.
2. Weather plays an enormous role in fish activity. It was a complete different story last visit to Footloose. They were jumping on every bait – exact same dam(n)s.
3. Never give up! Fish your life away!

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Shipspotting with AIS

Shipspotting with AIS

If you are smart enough to run a smart phone, then you just can’t be dumb enough to get bored…ever again.

Take this ship for example…

Just buzz on over to, zone in on your carpark, and see the names and even missions, of all those hunks of metal cruising the horizons. Even yachts!

You may get bored after a while and have to switch on over to some other entertainment stream, but you will definitely find your self loading up all this cool ship data again and again – especially in that carpark with an afternoon onshore and a quart in your hand.

Even some some ski-boats are equipped with AIS transponders, but for the most part, its mainly large vessels travelling trade routes that use the system to obviously avoid collisions. There is the pirate drawback, but you can turn the transponder off of you like, but for the most part it AIS has become a valuable all-round source of cool data.

Wikipedia is gonna be much better at explaining it than me, this morning…

“The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships…”

Check out the full story right here…

Marine Traffic ( even have a really cool App that you can get for free from the Play Store or equivalent, on your phone. Or just access through a browser – any browser will do!


Big news today is the launch of Offshore Africa Port St. Johns’ Web 3.0 website. Rob Nettleton and co’s IN YOUR FACE photography will get you checking that your wetsuit is hanging nicely, and ready for next year.

Click on over to and look around, like and share…

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Clive Barber African Vibrations

Clive Barber African Vibrations

The first time i heard of Clive Barber was in the Godfreys house in Seal Point- they have a poster from his surf film ‘African Vibrations’ on their wall, the film itself has been lost in the ether, the reels lying somewhere between here and Australia. I have since seen, and surfed Clive Barber shapes all over South Africa, during the Rolling Retro event in 2009 a wave presented itself to me and im still not sure what happened: check the photo in the gallery below by Winston Kletter for more of his work click here

I met Clive through Bruce Gold years later, he was fighting for his health, after a lifetime of surfboards and their associated health risks his body was packing in. He had a few surfboards left that he had made, Bruce described the one to me: he said it  was a surfboard- that looked nothing like one, and that i had to try ride it. I bought it on the spot and felt even better for it knowing the money was going toward hospital bills- but Clive was going to make it, originally it was going to remain unsurfed and hopefully on auction at a future Rolling Retro event. I was having all kinds of dreams like setting up a fund to help all the legends of South African surfing like Clive and Bruce Gold- to help look after their health needs after a lifetime dedicated to surfing and the lifestyle- wholly unrealistic but still a dream of mine none the less.

So i took the Barber for a ride…

…and she had so much glide- i cant help but keep riding on her…

When Clive finally ‘dropped his body’ as Bruce loves to say, The Barber had ridden all kinds of waves, and  even become a quad. His son Craig approached me online about buying it when i was in Norway a month ago. The sweetest irony being it now is actually the only board i have to ride!  There’s a lesson here somewhere but back to the story: Clive Barber not only made one of South Africa’s first surf movies, he was also an intrepid photographer and traveller who documented his journey around Australia as can be seen in the gallery below there are many iconic images from Byron bay to Mauritius, and all over South Africa my favorites are the one’s of old Seal Point and Jeffreys bay…

A few weeks ago i saw Angie Knight posted on Clive’s Facebook page  some notes she had printed out that were from a blog i wrote that has been since deleted- from my first surf on The Barber check it out below with a bunch of other images that tell their stories for themselves…

also check out Garth Robinson’s work Surf Art Jeffreys bay for more iconic imagery

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The most dangerous drive in the world

The most dangerous drive in the world

Driving down the coast from Durban on the southern freeway is a delight. It really must be one of the most beautiful drives on the planet as it skirts the coastline and weaves through indigenous thickets and over a stream of rivers and estuaries. And then it all ends. Abruptly. Just after Port Edward. The most dangerous road in my world unfolds as a snakes and ladders affair with huge potholes vying for attention with huge trucks and busses coming the other way. Pull this all together and you survive, but one mistake can cost you dearly. Add into the equation the overpopulated roads filled with kids, adults, dogs, goats, cows, sheep, horses, donkeys and mules! And then they even got the cheek to throw cops at you, with road blocks and all!

Basically, hit two or three of those potholes properly, and you lose one or two tyres. Every time!

Advice – embrace the situation, don’t overtake or get overtaken unnecessarily, give plenty space in front of you so you have a chance to see the potholes coming, and just take it easy up and through the hills of Bizana, Flagstaff and Lusikisiki, because the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is just a few clicks away. The descent into the lush fruit bowl of the Wild Coast brings it altogether again as the now awesome stretch of road takes you down into the super cool town of Port St. Johns.

Port St. Johns is a most spectacular visit. There is just so much in and around that treasure trove that is the Umzimvubu River valley and it’s beaches. (c)

There is so much to do in Port St. Johns you could get lost for weeks exploring its treasures. Leaving there south takes you basically along the coast but about 20kms inland. From this easily passable dirt road there are more dirt roads that lead to the many beaches, points and bays of the Wild Coast. Use a GPS and choose your spot. Keep heading south to find New Road that connects to Coffee Bay. In the old days we used to have to drive all the way up to Umtata and then back down to Coffee Bay, so this new connection really opens this stretch of coastline up. The GPS recognizes new road and navigates remarkably well out in the sticks.

But the road is torrid, the heaving rains washed away the dirt in between the rocks so it’s like driving on a pebble highway. Tyres get hammered and this road is where we started our troubles. We had decided to head up to Ngcwanguba Store for supplies and on the way back we got our first flat. Spare tyre out, and a speedy tyre change gets us back on the road. It’s dark, raining and 10kms from home, the next tyre goes?! No choice but to drive very slowly on the rim through the dirt, mud, puddles and dongas to our fleeting home at Mdumbi. Thank goodness for good people and the next day Warren from Cool Banana Spaza Shop at Mdumbi (they sell everything including fishing tackle), took it upon himself to drive the 50kms to Coffee Bay and repair our one reparable tyre. He was so considerate – made us breakfast and insisted that we spend the day walking to Umtata Mouth and back. We grabbed our rods and dogs and for a few hours, once again, got completely wrapped up and lost in the magic of the Kei. Thank you Warren and Noli!

The road up to Umtata…is slightly better than what you will have been accustomed to. You just get a few new ingredients to throw into the mix. The roads were not built with cambers in mind. No, they were just slapped down onto the hills willy nilly so cornering is best done very carefully. The goats and horses pose the next risk, the taxis not to be forgotten, potholes still vex…

Umtata to East London…is a pleasure, after what we have just been through. We got a new tyre in a small town on the way to Viedgesville, where we turned south again. Wide roads mean more time to avoid obstacles like cows and sheep, and the odd darting bush cat.

Having done our business in the Cape, heading home through Umtata, we left Spargs Superspar in Beacon Bay, at 11am. Except for the usual hazards, the trip was uneventful until…

30kms Outside Kokstad, a cop comes screaming up behind me, light and sirens blazing and blaring. I thought he was after me, so pulled over but he just sped on past, really fast. 2kms Further and there he is, stopping all traffic?!

A kilometer ahead are about 30 taxis, a huge crowd, a battalion of police officers. Turns out the taxi operators in the area wanted to put a stop to some impending competition, and as the luckless trio came round the bend ahead, the taxi operators opened fire with 9mm weapons and shot the three to death. Their car careened off the road and the crime scene allowed absolutely no traffic through. Either way.

After an hour, somebody in our queue researched and found a dirt track around the problem. That took an hour of sweat droplets each time we went over a sharp stone or through a pothole. The road was narrow and in places only one car at a time could navigate through. So into Kokstad for some much needed coffee and sustenance, back on the road, and safely home at 7:30pm. 2 Hours late?!

Eish! 2 Hours – the whole main road through the country is stopped in it’s tyre tracks! (c)




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St. Patricks Day in Indonesia

St. Patricks Day in Indonesia

Two Irish. Two Saffer. Two Ozzie. Six kids from the Channel Islands. A few more scragglers. And a girl.
Lucky, the agent.

Indonesia. Hankering to get to Desert Point…winter, 2003.

“$250 Get’s you Desert Point…one week on beeeg boat. All foood. All driiink.”, goes Lucky. “Whoohoo!”, go me and Roosta.

Jam into tiny vans, millions of boards and the crew grows to full strength of 16, by the time we reach the harbour, where a big dhow will take us to our even bigger dhow – an hour away. So much stuff. So much heat. So much noise. Then peace as we set sail on towards our new home. And there it is. Three storeys of colour and grace. Just beautiful. Huge. Wooden. Home…

By now, Bintang’s are out, ice cold. Chickens are roaming the deck unexpectantly. Food cooking. Music playing. Even surf videos on a tv in the huge dorm like cabin. Bunks. Smells. Just amazingly what we expected.

Three engines, Yamaha Enduros. 40hp Each. 80ft Boat. And a skiff, and off we go. Gently humming along to music and waves. Soon enough though, the first of our problems. One engine splutters to a standstill. A third of our power gone. Not enough speed to get to Deserts. Pull over and parallel park at an enchanting island in the middle of the ocean.

One engine loaded onto skiff, the other tied to the back, and off they go. Getting engine repaired. Hours go by. We snorkel. Talk shit. Swim. I swim to the island. There are people. I rent a bike, and discover that the island is loaded with Arak wine. I buy 5 litres altogether and swim back out to the boat, where the Irish and the Ozzies and us annihilate the 5 litres, ok, over another hour.

Skiff returns, the music is blaring. Engines attached back onto big boat. Skipper says he doesn’t want to cross the deep channel this late, we might not make it by dark. We refuse to accept this prognosis and vehemently demand weighing of anchor and immediate departure.
16 Of us win the argument and next thing we are sailing across this hugely deep channel. A sailfish pops up next to us, fin and all. What kind of omen could that be, I wonder. The Irish brothers proclaim that it’s St. Patrick’s Day and we all join in for a Bintang and a dance on the open deck as the sun bids farewell…

It gets dark.

The boat slows to almost nothing as the crew makes out the headland in front of us. Somebody return flashes a torch, we must be there!

All of a sudden. Lightning and thunder comes out of the blackness. And a torrential downpour hits us, whiting us out completely – cannot see a thing. Just spray. 10 Minutes drifting, the sea getting a bit more interested in us by now. The only girl on the trip has proclaimed lesbianism but I don’t believe her and am on the third floor extolling to her the benefits of male anatomy when out of the corner of my eye, I see…a wave. A breaking wave coming up behind us at 45 degrees. It hardly moves the “ship” as it first strikes, but as it moves along the hull, it picks us up completely and propels us forward and sideways – straight down smack bang onto the very reef that is Desert Point. The outriggers are built from huge logs and are about a half metre by a half metre. They just snapped like matches as they impacted – lurching the huge ship around as we bounced ashore.

Chaos. “Save yourselves! Save yourselves!”, is the cry from the stricken crew.

In a moment of clarity, we all don reef shoes. It’s all we can do as wave after wave batters us further an further onto the reef. The tide is coming in. The chickens are going out! The TV topples out of the window, and then a huge pot of chicken curry leaves the kitchen for a swim. Roosta and stay on the boat as the rest of the gang spread out to make a human chain with which to scuttle the ship. Waves keep coming. Roosta and I got into the cabin to get whatever we could, especially looking for pasports to hand up and off to safety. A big wave breaks, we grab the masts and hold tight as possible to no avail – the power of the impact throws us both around like rag dolls. Get most of the stuff out. Now the petrol. About 20 drums on the stinky stuff that we did not want to allow near the pristine reef.

After midnight, we have formed a laager with the fuel, water, supplies, boards all around us. Small fires are going and no-one is really having fun. The locals had come out in their droves and with no regard for personal space, literally sat on our laps as they pored though our belongings with that envious curiosity so prevalent in these lost outer island communities. Roosta stayed awake and on guard as the adrenalin wore off and peeps collapsed all around. I was almost out when something crawled over my face. And again. My neck. my feet. I grabbed one. Crabs! Millions of crabs made sure I never slept much either.

The dawn broke red and more beautiful than ever. We were shipwrecked. For real. No cellphone signal. No nothing.

May aswell go surfing as the last of the swell enticed us into her arms. Desert Point is a perfect wave, it was much smaller by now, but it is a perfect wave, and has been called the most perfect wave in the world, a few times, before.
Whilst we were surfing, the two Ozzie captains and an Irishman had set off for help, and came back at lunch time with a 4wd truck, that could load us all, and take us through Dengue infested forests on a four day journey, to a port, where we would have to pay more dollars, to get all the way back to Bali! We had no choice, and started loading.

All of a sudden, around the headland, came the apparition representing a three masted yacht of absolute beauty. It happened to be the dude who used to captain the boat used in The Crossing, sea testing his own brand new second hand sailing beauty! Seeing our wrecked vessel he sent a skiff ashore to check things out and then offered to rescue us for $5 each!

The skiff spent an hour loading and off loading kit and surfboards, and by the end of it we were sweating buckets and so decided to swim out to the anchored yacht a few hundred meters off shore. And so we swam. And swam. And were soon whisked away into the deep by the infamous Desert Point current carrying billions of tonnes of water and thousands of tiger sharks through one of the deepest gulfs on the globe!

Only a handful of the group that attempted the swim made, I wasn’t one of them – swimming with a hat on…but the skiff rounded us all up and soon we were drinking ice cold bintangs…

…and sailing away from our shipwrecked crew on Desert Point, Lombok Island, Indonesia.

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The most dangerous cops in the world

The most dangerous cops in the world

Are those that are in it for the money. And here in good old Mozam, that’s how it all works. Not to say that everyone in the force in 3rd world fascist Mozam is corrupt. But just get on the wrong side of our boys in grey or green or blue or purple, and see what happens.
A few examples…
All of a sudden, without warning, the main road into the market and the beach area at Praia do Tofo, became a one way – out. And so, trusting their GPS’s or experience of coming to Tofo before, many an unsuspecting tourist or expat came off their ultra long journey – only to be stopped by police, for coming down the centuries old main drag – the wrong way. So the force approach with a certain amount of  vehemence at the outset (the aggression comes later). The fine is nominal, usually starting at about 10 000 Mets (R3500), and if you keep your wits about you and play along, you can get away with 1000 mets or so. Straight into the pockets of the diligent law enforcers. But if you argue without serious substance behind your argument…it’s a short walk to Casa de Branco (Jail), until you pay. Try it.

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Angola fish stories

Angola fish stories

As this report in from Marc Lange demonstrates, the fishing in Angola is WILD…

“Basically you fish with very thick hand line and for the rainbow runner and rockcod you got to chum when the vessel does crew change with the Billy Pew ( big basket ) or doing back loading which is when they load drill strings and containers onto the vessel.  These fish live around the rig and we see them when doing the work diving.

For the tuna you use jigs, they are big eye and the one diver Shaun Swanevelder got one of about 40kg. We catch so many we hate them after awhile. They not as kiff as the dorado for eating.

Angola fish stories…Marc Lange hoists a bull of a Dorado.

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The real fishermen…of Tofo

The real fishermen…of Tofo

Tools of the trade...
Tools of the trade…deep in the 3rd world (c) Shonalanga

We got out, through the mouth of the Inhambane Estuary, and aimed straight into the 30 knot southerly. Charter for the day – Guy and his two sons were so keen, they chose to launch this rough day. 2m Swells left 2m holes and as we got to the first reef, the lighties were looking decidedly green.
Anyway, as we slowed to set lines, I noticed a local pair of fishermen, also braving the conditions. But what actually was getting my attention was their demeanour and activity in today’s crazy ocean.
One guy was standing and fighting a fish – on a handline. The other was bailing and assisting with the loose line on the deck and all around the anglers feet.
You got to remember now, that although the sun was shining bright and the water a deep 28 degree blue, the sea was definitely inclement, with breaking sections along the chopped up swell.
So I circled the show at a distance, but close enough at times – like when the fish was on the other side of the boat and clearly visible. Tailwalking!
Around we went, strangely silent – the two youngsters made their dad proud and endured their seasickness and wild seas – waves breaking into the boat at times.
The two fishermen were also completely silent, working with the grace of a butterfly and the effiiency of a machine. Multitasking under severe pressure, they fought and won and lost every inch of line they were dealing with..for an hour now. The sea getting worse.
But he wasn’t a great marlin by the measure, 80kgs was the report I got the next day. But lets do some maths. In a country with poverty so built in, that getting protein is a major problem.
Normally when I see the locals hook up with bills around me, I am always wiling a thrown hook or something that gives it back it’s freedom…but today, being so up close and almost part of this scenario…and couldfeel and sense the urgency and emotion that these guys were feeling.
This fish, at 80kg’s, at 150mets each, generates 12000 mets. 3 months the salary of a policeman. The upliftment to them and their family is akin to winning a lottery prize. Or closing a really big corporate deal.
So when the fish gave them a chance, and presented itself longer that the rowboat alongside – out came the gaff. Hardly. A broken rod with a 9/0 Kendall round fastened on with wire?!
The angler on the line did the gaffing. His first shot was perfect but the rusted hook would not penetrate through the marlins tough skin. He got it around te other side of the skiff…bang…nothing. But now the matlin was angry and exploded all around them. Unbelievable! It felt like we were right in the scene, such vivid detail in everything going on around us.
Then he finally worked the tiring fish aft, and with the bill in one hand facing his chest, he put the gaff down it’s throat! Vas!
Now the marlins head is lying on top of the dudes body. It is still quite strong and bashing around on the boat. He grabs a knife and starts stabbing it. His mate grabs a knobkierrie and beats it on the head.
We all explode in cheers. Not at the demise of the wonderful fish…but at the success of the two anglers…fighting the stacked odds…and succeeding.
Funny thing was though, once the fish was subdued and secured, the angler immediately got the hooks out, rebaited and chucked out his handline. Then he finally spoke – in broken English – “You want to buy Sierra?”
They tried to sell us one of the four couta they had in the boat, before they caught the marlin!

Pulling together every day. Braving huge seas and dangerous currents, these guys have to have each other’s backs…and they do.
The fleet on the beach at Praia do Tofo, Southern Mozambique.
Processed in it’s entirety, the head going home to be cooked up into delicious Sopa de Peixe (Fish Soup) that will knock your socks off…


Pressure on the fish stocks in and around Inhambane is increasing dramatically as more and more people migrate in and join the ever growing workforce teased here by the tourist dollar. Some reefs and grounds are out of reach of the small boats that the artisinal fishermen are limited to here, but wherever it’s easy to get to, it’s been cleaned.

The deduction is straight forward…the concept of “eco-tourism”, is patently flawed in the 3rd world. Increase human population anywhere, and the environment takes a rapid dive, due to the dated and ineffective conservation measures in place, that are not enforced anyway.

There is also the greed factor that stems from increasing populations, easily spotted, as unmarked freezer trucks from SA haul tonnes of couta out, whenever the fish run hard enough to warrant the profits. In fact, even these poor artisinal fishers have competition from big walletted SA farmer types who catch fish to sell every day, even though they are stinking rich to start with?!

It’s a lose, lose situation for the environment in Tofo. The only thing we can do is concentrate on not becoming part of the system that will eventually annihilate the place. Any ideas anyone? 

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A Lucky Blessing…

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-any-more” feeling got hold of me and I went looking for Duarte and asked him whether we couldn’t go out a bit earlier since the wind has died down slightly. He looked at the weather and had that “customer-service-rule” frown on his forehead. “Rule 1: The customer is always right, Rule 2: if the customer is wrong please see rule nr 1”, but he casually said: “See you on the boat in 30 minutes …..”

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 ”.

A quote from Duarte’s facebook (MarlinMoz Sportfishing) posting on the 7th of December: “Great day in flat calm weather. We had 6 strikes from Black Marlin, hooked 5 and released 4. Fish went 200, 180, 350 and 600 lbs…That´s 13 raised, 11 bites, 10 hookup´s and 7 releases on two and a half days for Leon & Theo…”
Duarte told me “Theo you would not understand”, but I think I do …. Hopefully this article tells the whole story and how deep and almost a religious this experience was. I am deeply grateful and thankful for Duarte and Alberto for creating the opportunity for us and even more grateful that I was able to share this with Leon, my mentor and partner in various endeavors.
An experience like this makes all the days without catching a fish, all the stress and drama of work, all the sacrifices we make for our customers, our families and our colleagues worthwhile. So I decided to call this a Blessing, and give the credit where it belongs: “Thank you Lord”. Leon and I were blessed and I do not know why. I certainly believe that there is an element of luck and being in the right place at the right time. So I have to called it a “lucky blessing” for the lack of a better phrase. I think this is why we fish, for this type of experience, now for the grander, a 1000 pound marlin. Keep dreaming, position yourself to be lucky, be a blessing to other people, work hard and the opportunity to have a fishing experience of a lifetime will come.