||And offshore it
was, a good forty miles south west of Africa's southernmost point,
the Cape of Good Hope.
It was our amazing good fortune to
have been able to book the best game boat in Southern Africa, the
staggeringly beautiful Sensation, captained by top Cape skipper, Uwe
Smidt. Uwe is regarded with some awe in the Cape area, where his
record of very big catches of all species is not seriously
challenged by any competitor. Wherever Uwe heads, a fleet of
would-be-successful boat skippers is likely to follow. A bluff man
of huge presence, I noticed within a minute or two that Uwe needed
to issue orders only once. Action was immediate.
At 3.45 am. Sensation, all 54ft of
her, headed south from Haut bay at a steady 25 knots, her two huge
diesels growling in unison. Sensation this boat is, both by name and
nature. Uwe demonstrated some of the extraordinary technology installed
on board to improve the chances of success. Most impressive was a
satellite weather monitoring system worthy of the Moon landing
astronaut's Houston Control. As the signal came in from the satellite,
the coast of South Africa was revealed. Yet more extraordinarily, bands
of colour on the display screen showed exactly where the warm waters of
the Agulhus current were pressing into the cold of the Atlantics
Benguala current. There, where great clouds of algae and fish food were
swept up by the clash of these two mighty oceans, would be the fish.
This transition moves from day to day, and it can be anything from
twenty to sixty miles offshore. Sensation's satellite ally very quickly
shows just where.
The boat fairly bristles with rods of
all classes. From serious marlin sticks to light spinning gear, it was
all here. I was keen to try the sporting outfit I'd brought along for
the smaller tuna, a Bruce and Walker Hexagraph spinning rod, equipped
with the latest ABU Mörrum 7700 reel (about which I have raved in a
separate review). The skipper was anxious that we should first boat some
fish using his tried and tested standard gear, and you have to meet Uwe
to understand that he's not the sort of chap you debate with. A rig like
Sensation is desperately expensive to maintain, and I realised that he
needed to get some fish into the ice-box.
So there we were. Five anglers with
five expensive rods trolling five Rapala saltwater lures at about six
knots. At seven o'clock all five rods were nodding gently to the action
of the Rapalas. At one minute past seven, five reels screamed as if
working to order, and on cue. Five anglers leapt to the bucking 30 lb.
outfits. "It's long fins man", shouted Uwe, over the howl of the reels
rachets. The long fin tuna is generally known around the world as the
albacore, a relatively small but very beautiful tuna with long
scimitar-like pectorals. A big one can be over 70 lbs., but these fish
were all much of a size, about 35 lbs. Even on the stout 30 lb. outfits
these fish were great sport. At the boats side, those huge fins beat the
water to a foam, before being gaffed aboard by the boats regular hand,
It's a strange business this fishing.
We set out to catch these beautiful creatures, to haul them from their
world into ours. Then we kill them, and we eat them. It was ever thus,
and ever thus it will be. But the sight of these fine fish in their last
moments of life moved me. So pure, their eyes still so bright, their
shape so perfect for its purpose. A man may fish though, and if there is
no waste, then he may make his peace with the God of the fish he kills.
On this day, the sea off the Cape of
Good Hope threw up its bounty. The long fins came in fours and fives. I
was even allowed to take one on my lovely little Hexagraph/ABU Mörrum
outfit, which performed with utter perfection. But my 12 lb. sporting
gear required all too much time, with the longfin 20 pounder twisting
and diving for more than fifteen minutes before coming to Patrick's
steady hand. I loved it, but the skipper needed the fish, so without
being told, I settled for my single glorious battle.
There was a lull in the proceedings,
and on a hunch Uwe moved closer to shore. Then two rods sprung into
action again. But these were not the 30 yard runs of the longfins. I was
unaware of who was attached to the second fish, because I was into
something that screamed the ratchet in a new and electrifying way. Even
allowing for the forward movement of the boat, the fish must have torn
off 80 yards of line within seconds of the big Rapala's hooks being set.
"That's a good yellowfin man", shouted Uwe from the flying bridge.
"He'll go deep man, then you'll have some sort of job. Don't use too
much drag". But the fish didn't just go deep, he went wide too.
"Anything he takes you've got to get back man", said someone from my
left. I was standing in the stern of the boat with just a simple butt
pad, and was wishing that I was in the fighting chair. This was very
heavy work. Again the fish tore off line, straight down, I think. The
line sang in the breeze, and then turn upon turn began to build on the
reel. We battled, that fish and I, and the result was none too certain.
"You're sweating man. Need some help?", asked another. But then the
trace appeared, and the line cut right as the fish saw the boat. Through
the sweat and the salt I glimpsed a magnificent flank, and then a great
shape was hauled on board by two big men. Slaps on back. "Well done
man". Aching arms. An overwhelming sense of relief, and unreality.
A yellow fin tuna it was too, and it
weighed 148 lbs. "Hold it up man". I couldn't, I just couldn't. But Uwe
came over, and gave a great heave as the cameras clicked away. I
confess, Uwe was taking almost all the weight, my arms and my knees had
disappeared from my list of body parts.
Offshore again in search of the fish.
Three more big yellowfins came - to the other rods, thank God. And then
the longfins found our lures again. Uwe declared a fair day.
We set for port at Haut Bay at about 3
o'clock, with a two hour run ahead. With a celebratory brandy inside me,
I nodded off to the beat of the engine, and the waves, and slept the
sleep of the just and the exhausted.
At the dock the fish were unloaded,
and laid out for the fish dealers approval. They looked different. Gone
the flash, gone the dash, staring now that once bright eye. No look of
unbelieving. The crowd on the dock knew nothing of their gallantry,
their speed, and their resistance to death. But I knew, and as we parted
from their corpses, dulling, ready for consumption in the expensive
restaurants of Tokyo, there was guilt in the air.
But would I go again? Oh yes. And
again and again, because this is a thrill beyond the ken of those who
hesitate in life. With a little daring it's there for anyone.
SAA are doing return tickets at
ridiculously low prices, and once you're there you get the feeling that
you are a millionaire, because its all so cheap. A good lunch or dinner
can be had for under £5. The South African Rand is on its backside at
the moment, fourteen to the Pound, so there's never been a better
time. But even so, boats like Sensation don't set to sea for peanuts, so
unless you have plenty of money to spend, this sort of day is probably
best attached to a varied fishing itinerary. Paul Coetzee has all the
details. Go for it. A dead mans shroud needs no pockets.
Next month I'll tell you about the
next leg of my African adventure. Not boring. Oh no, not boring.
South African Airways reservations :
Standard fare - London Capetown Expect to
pay around £600 return (thats a bargain)
Flights - Every day to Johannesburg and Capetown
Flight distance/time 6,000 miles/ 11 hours
Paul Coetzee - African Fishing Safaris
(Paul can arrange everything for you)
Visa requirements - None from UK. From
elsewhere, you should check.
Jabs - Check with your doctor. In the
north you should pop malaria pills, just to be certain.
Clothing - Generally lightweight. A
lightweight rain suit can occasionally be useful. I'll be writing
shortly on the clothing and tackle I used.