Fighting Cape Verde's monsters on their turf

(Published in the January 2018 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)

By Piet Nel; photos by Stuart Simpson

BEING a marlin addict, the desire to fish around the Cape Verde islands had been in the back of my mind for a while before I decided to book our trip. My interest was fuelled by consistent reports of incredible catches of blue marlin, both in numbers and size, on social media and previous publications of SKI-BOAT magazine.
Eventually my obsession got the upper hand and I made contact with Stuart Simpson of West2East Marlin Charters the beginning of 2017 and booked a six day package from 24 to 29 July. Stuart was almost fully booked and that was the only available week left due to a cancellation.
Once the date was set a close friend, Gavin Heale, came on board. Together we shared the excitement and anticipation at getting the opportunity to land a big one. Stuart would skip and Ryan Williamson would run the deck on Nha Cretcheu, a 33-foot Bertram sportfisher whose name means “my darling” in Creole. We were excited to fish with Stuart and Ryan, two of SA’s own top marlin anglers. If nothing else they would certainly understand the desire to kick start a day with a “Free State cappuccino” (Captain Morgan and Coke in a coffee mug).
Cape Verde is an archipelago made up of ten volcanic islands situated in the central Atlantic Ocean, rougly to the west of Senegal, North West Africa. To get there one can either fly to Lisbon in Portugal or Dakar, and get a connecting flight to Cape Verde. I opted for the Lisbon option and eventually arrived on São Vicente, one of the Cape Verde islands, after two days of travel.
I arrived on the Friday and our turn on Nha Cretcheu only commenced on the Monday. It was probably the longest weekend of my life; I could not wait to get on board. On the previous Thursday Stuart and Ryan landed an estimated 971 lb big blue, lost another equally big fish and released a 750 lb blue marlin — all in one day. Reports of such catches fuelled my impatience.
Due to his work schedule, Gavin had to fly in on a series of connecting flights all the way from the USA. Frustratingly his Sunday flight from one of the Cape Verde islands, Praia, to São Vicente was cancelled and he only landed at 9am on the Monday morning. No time was wasted, though, and at 9.30am we boarded Nha Cretcheu. Plans had changed somewhat and Stuart had to return to SA due to visa requirements for his following Morocco season which left us with the trusted hands of Ryan at the helm.
Nha Cretcheu is renowned for raising big blue marlin and for good reason — the tackle was top class and the simplicity of the spread and method would soon prove its effectiveness. The spread consisted of two teasers (hookless konas) on the short pulled from teaser reels, two rigged konas on the longs and a dredge to assist in raising the fish. An additional two rods on the deck — 130 lb and a stand-up 50 lb rod spooled with 80 lb top shot — were both rigged and ready with pitch baits (the “big pitch” and the “small pitch”). Depending on the size of the marlin coming in on the teasers, the captain would instruct us to pitch with either the small or the big pitch.
Having received a crash course in pitching technique, our journey started. It was agreed that Gavin would take the first strike and I would follow, a sequence which we stuck to throughout the week.
Conditions and water colour were not great near São Vicente, with other boats reporting very few fish marked, raised and landed, so Ryan suggested that we travel north to the island of Santo Antao, roughly a five hour trip by boat. The fish move constantly between the islands and one must be prepared to look for them.
On Tuesday we travelled north. The Norweste Banks, 16 nautical miles from a remote bay, Montrigo, on Santo Antao consists of structure from 2 000 metres to approximately 70 metres below the surface. The local fishermen from Monte Trigo travel there in small boats to catch tuna on hand lines. It was clear that this area offers excellent tuna grounds as well. Ryan reported that tuna of 70- to 100kg, as well as an amberjack of 90kg had been caught in the area.
We worked an area close to the Norweste Banks on Wednesday. The sea was alive with plenty of bait, tuna and bird action. Soon Gavin hooked up on a solid 700 lb blue marlin which grabbed a Pulsator tube on the left long. Not long after releasing Gavin’s fish, I hooked up on a feisty 200 lb blue which gave us an impressive acrobatic display before it was released. Cape Verde has an unofficial rule not to kill and boat a fish unless it is estimated to be a grander, a policy I firmly support.
The next morning the conditions changed for the worse up north and we returned to the São Vicente area on Thursday where Gavin caught and released a sailfish.
While the conditions were somewhat unfavourable and fishing was slow, I used the opportunity to learn how to rig skip baits and make knots from our capable deck hand, Sammy.
Friday started out slow with Ryan marking just a couple of fish in the São Vicente area. Around 2.30pm he marked a big fish 90 metres below the surface. I knew this was the one. Ryan worked the area and approximately half an hour later we heard a big smack on the Big John Pulsator teaser. Nobody saw the fish coming into the spread, but as it was my turn, I grabbed the small pitch rod and pitched. A solid 900 lb blue marlin engulfed the pitch bait in a flash. Following Ryan’s instructions I tightened up approximately eight seconds later.
Soon a “submarine” broke the surface and took off; three quarters of the spool was quickly emptied. I was on with the biggest blue marlin of my life on 50 lb gear in a stand-up harness.
A furious battle ensued and, with great skill and teamwork from Ryan and the crew, the swivel tipped the rod with Sammy hanging on to the leader for dear life. I could rightfully claim my first 900 lb blue marlin on 80 lb IGFA rated line.
Little did I know that the fight had only started.
Attempts were made to get her closer to the boat to effect a safe release, but she had other plans and the battle shifted to the next level. After two or three more attempts on the leader, she decided to sound and Ryan instructed me to push the drag to sunset to prevent the fish from dying down below. Line was still rolling off the spool at an incredible speed. The pre-set of the reel was cranked up to its maximum, and the drag lever returned to sunset. I also held on to the spool as tight as possible. She eventually stopped. By that stage the rod, line, leader and stand-up harness were all pushed beyond their limits — not to mention yours truly. Something had to break, but thankfully the rod, line, leader and knots held.
I managed to lift her with half and quarter turns on the reel, all the while anticipating a serious rod smack in the face. Ryan constantly shouted to hold the rod in case of a break off. A gruelling 40 minutes later she was approximately two metres below the boat when the circle hook literally straightened. The marlin still had plenty of stamina and fighting spirit and graciously disappeared into the blue. This was a fight and experience of a lifetime and the highlight of our trip.
Despite the unfavourable conditions and slow bite, we both caught two big ones, a small blue and a sailfish, not to mention two tuna of 17- and 25kg. We are grateful to the Na Cretcheu and her crew — Ryan, Sammy and Jah.
Cape Verde is a must for any adventurous angler with a burning desire to land a big blue marlin. Renowned skippers and anglers travel from all over the world to catch these blue marlin and I suspect that keen tuna anglers and jigging enthusiasts will soon discover Cape Verde’s gamefishing potential and flock there too.

• For further information on fishing Cape Verde contact Stuart Simpson <capeverde.bluemarlin@gmail.com>.

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