Madagascar – April 2011

Writen by Grant Hall
Photos by Graeme Field of Liquid Horizon

The hookless teaser ducked, dived and bounced around like an excited, but very nervous bait fish behind the boat. We trolled along the drop off with the hope off teasing up another sailfish to throw a fly at. A purple and pink softhead trolling lure was the lure we had chosen with a bit of bonnito belly-shine strapped in its middle for some added flavour and attraction on the main teasing rod. A “bird” and various other hookless trolling lures were also put out to create some extra commotion and attraction. The team were ready to haul the bird and string of teasers from the water which would allow Graeme to get the sailie to follow the belly-shine teaser to the back of the boat and within casting range of a big, double hooked pink and purple fly. This was attached to a 14weight Sage fly rod and Shilton SL8 fly reel which was eventually connected to… Andrew. All were waiting in anticipation as we rolled on ...

Our first day had started leisurely with a good breakfast and a tackle up session followed by a very scenic voyage between the islands and out to sea. We spent most of the morning spinning, jigging and popping for GT’s and other reef fish. As the day went on we moved about and worked our way southwards along the reefs and drop offs, fishing hard as usual... some of us were grunting and moaning a little more than others while we worked our artificial lures trying to induce a strike, when out of the blue a sailfish popped up and had a go at a huge Roosta popper Andrew had been plugging away with. The hook, disappointingly, never set, but it certainly woke everyone on board! It was quite a surprise to raise sailfish in this fashion, very exciting, and shake inducing adrenaline rush. We had another strike from a sailfish on a bonnie feather which straitened the hook after falling into the “have to stop it now” trap and hastily tightening the drag.

The plan for the trip was to test the waters the first day and then work on from what we had learnt, found and caught. So, the sailie’s were loose! That would be part of the plan for the next few days, targeting sailfish on fly with a bit of “jig ama jig”, spinning and popping in between. The inner reefs seemed to be teeming with life as we could see shoals of fusilier, loads of chases on the surface, baby turtles swimming on the surface and a good number of territorial reefs species were being caught and released which is a generally a sign of a healthy reef that has not yet succumbed to over fishing and illegal netting or long lining.

The teasers were strung, the orders were given, all were in position… the wait was on for a super-hot sailfish to nail the teasers, be brave enough to follow the teaser in and Andrew, who had drawn the short stick for the first strike, not to bungle his fly line and get a good cast to present the fly behind the sailfish. And that’s exactly how it happened, A good size sailfish “billed” the belly shine teaser and grabbed it which flipped the “ON” switch for all the crew! The bird and string of teasers were hauled in and Graeme began the tricky retrieval of the belly shine teaser being careful not to let the sailie get too much of a taste, but just enough to keep him interested and not enough to pull the teaser out of reach. The command was given, “Switch!”, and Graeme pulled the teaser from the water, Andrew delivered his fly with a reasonable cast that was enough to get the fly to where it needed to be. The sailfish did not hesitate, it grabbed the fly with gusto, a few split seconds later Andrew struck with the line and the sailfish took off at a rate of knots!

Sailfish are officially the fastest fish in the ocean, reaching speeds of up to 68km’s/h! This was pretty obvious as the line rapidly disappeared from Andrews Shilton reel as the sailfish sped off with the occasional bit of aerial acrobatics. The initial run is quite exhausting and the sailfish tired pretty quickly, after all, it’s pretty tough pulling against Andrew! It’s wasn’t long and the Sailie was alongside the boat, was lifted for a quick snap or two and slipped back into the water. We idled along holding the majestic fish’s bill, allowing the oxygen rich water to flow over its gills enabling it to catch its breath and recover enough for its pecks to flex, its tail to give a few good kicks and off it lumbered into the depths of the reef. Sailfish on fly! One of the pinnacles of any fly-fishers career… when it’s your turn, make sure you reel like crazy when you need to and keep that line taught regardless of the hard turn to port, else you may not be as fortunate as Andrew and your sailfish may release itself 5m from the boat!

On every fishing trip, one needs an off day to recupe and rest no matter how finely tuned and physically fit you may be, whipping a jig up from the murky depths from a bobbing boat for a few days in a row takes its toll. Drifting about above a reef with a mask and fins sounded like a plan and fortunately for us, right in front of the lodge is a coral reef teeming with coral, anemone’s and tropical fish of all shapes and sizes. Being a saltwater aquarium enthusiast, I was in my element peering over the reef as life went on as usual below us, diving down about 2 to 3 meters we were right “in” the reef with stinging tentacles and huge plate corals populated by families of green and blue chromis all around us. Anemones abound, hosting skunk clowns and domino damsel’s like I would never have imagined. Moorish idols jetted away keeping a safe distance as we drifted along quietly without touching or disturbing any of the life on the very busy reef.

After our little wallow in the warm water in front of the lodge, we hopped on board the small lodge boat and headed over to Nosy Be, where we caught a taxi and headed for Hell-Ville, the main town on larger island. Hell-Ville, named after “Anne Chrétien Louis de Hell” who was a French admiral and governor in the 1700’s, is a rather interesting place loaded with shops, markets, street stall’s, restaurants and buzzing with taxis, bikes, cars and people. The people, who seem content and appear to just get on with life, are helpful and friendly, but trying to get by without speaking French or Malagasy is rather difficult. We walked the main street from the big diesel generators that supply power to the entire island to the harbour, popping into shops here and there and browsed the main fresh food market just to observe the daily lives of the locals and their surroundings. We stopped at a local Spanish pub, Nandipo, for lunch. The food and service was very good and the photo gallery of the Spanish civil war was pretty impressive. The fact that they offered free wireless internet access was quite a surprise indeed!

Castor bank is a submerged mountain range about 7 miles across and who knows how long as it seems to become part of Leven Bank, the two together are about 70 miles x 16 miles, now that’s a pretty huge area to explore! The ocean floor dropped from 20m to 60m, then 100m and finally 1000m as we sailed west from the islands on course for Castor Bank. Land had almost disappeared from sight when we started going over the first few mounds of the beginning of Castor Bank, which in places was only 20m deep on the pinnacles. The plan was to use vertical and bucktail jigs ranging from 60 to 300grams in search of the hard, dirty fighting and exceptionally strong dogtooth tuna. And jeepers creepers did we find them! Unfortunately there is not much photographic evidence as they were unstoppable. The heavier tackle we were using was loaded with 80 pound braid, 120pound floro-carbon leader and they were still biting us off after a very impressive run, pulling against 44pounds of drag resistance. Again Andrew got lucky and was able to hook a small doggie, which after a bunch of what only could have been described as erotic grunts he finally got to the boat for a quick photo session and another successful live release. In between the odd lost dogfight, many other species of fish were caught, landed and released. These included the ever hard fighting GT, green jobfish, the feisty rosy jobfish, coral grouper and electric bluefin kingfish. Graeme even managed to bring a large to the boat on his fly rod after a pretty long tussle from the bow.

All in all, the area has lots of good fishing to offer and after a bit of time spent getting propper marks and putting together a real plan it will be a very exciting destination for a very wide variety of fish species. The stay at at the lodge was very pleasant, the food was very well prepared by the helpful staff, the drinks were always cold and the accommodation comfortable and relaxing. Nosy Sakatia and surrounds is a good option not only for fishermen, but the average holiday maker looking for a relaxing time and fun activities for the whole family.

Our trip was booked through Liquid Horizon Fishing Adventure Travel (www.liquidhorizon.co.za) who are in the process of setting up a professional fishing operation in the area, based a a lodge which is the best situated in relation the fishing grounds.

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