Cape Verde tactics unveiled in detail

(Originally published in the January 2020 issue of Ski-Boat)
By Ryan Williamson

CAPE Verde has got to be one of the most exciting marlin fisheries in the world. This is due to a number of factors — the large number of blue marlin in the area, the size of them and the whole aspect of switch baiting. The last season was fantastic, with great numbers and large fish. In this article I’ll share some of the experiences I’ve had and the successful techniques I have learnt from fishing there over the past few years.

This season we ran a very simple spread because Cape Verde is generally windy with a prevailing short chop, and a complicated spread with too many lines can get tangled up. The other reason for the simple spread was to allow our clients the opportunity to pitch baits at super-fast, unpredictable blue marlin. In many instances this was a first for them, and with an unbalanced platform to work on at times, extra lines just complicate things.
To start with we set a Pulsator Tube 13-inch lure on the long rigger with a single 10/0 hook. The Pulsator Tube, being slender with a heavy keel weight, is perfectly suited to the Cape Verde conditions. Our drag was set on 35 lb on strike, and once the fish started peeling line off the reel, we backed off to 17 lb drag. During the season 33 blue marlin fell victim to this lure.
On the left short we had the Pulsator Monster Dominator which was run as a teaser 4- to 5 metres behind the Pulsator Dredge that was running on the right side. This combo was run closest to the transom of the boat approximately 10- to 12 metres off our stern. This rig got over 100 marlin bites this season!
The right teaser — a Pusator Tube — was set six metres further back than the left teaser. The Pulsator Tube raised some big girls which we teased in and jammed on the pitch, but the majority of the marlin came in on the left short teaser.
Once a fish is sighted we immediately start clearing the dredge and start a slow turn towards the side the fish is on. This allows the teaser to run in clearer water. The pitch bait is deployed as soon as possible and also lands in the clear water where it’s more visible for the fish to sight and switch onto. The fish is teased in by the captain, and once the bait is correctly positioned in line with the incoming teaser we quickly jerk the teaser out of the water and the fish switches onto the pitch bait. The fish thinks it’s Christmas, engulfing the bait most times.
All the pitch baits had Pulsator ultra-soft chuggers in front of them, creating a smoke trail which assists the fish in locating the bait. We found that sometimes the fish following the teaser in, focus on the smoke trail of the teaser. In some cases if the pitch bait is purely skipping it is not the same action as what the fish was following in, and that’s why we put the chugger infront of the bait.

Without a doubt the dredge was the major calling card in the spread. It adds a lot of body and mass to the size of the spread, and with it swimming subsurface it lures fish up from the depths. They are intrigued by this dark yet sometimes shining contrast of what appears to be shoaling fish. When seen from below, the dredge stands out well against the white wash from the boat.
In most cases the fish come up behind the teaser lure trailing the dredge. We had the dredge running on a solid electric reel so that the dredge could be cleared rapidly once a fish was spotted.
At this point the fish is all fired up and has no choice but to hone-in on the closest teaser.
By staggering the spread over different distances we ensure that the fish doesn’t get easily confused and doesn’t have more than one lure to target at a time. If you overwhelm them, “shy” fish can disappear from the teaser behind the dredge. For that reason we have the Pulsator Tube on the long line with a hook in. We find that 80% of the timid fish will fall back and have a shot behind the long.

This is by far the hardest part of the exercise. If someone could do this flawlessly, they would be super wealthy, winning every million-dollar tournament. However that’s simply not possible and adds to the challenge of the sport. Modern-day large sportfishers have an arsenal of electronic aid on the bridge to detect bait, marlin and just about anything swimming or flying “around” the boat. Captains are able to mark fish say at 2 o’clock, it’s 100m away and 34m deep! However this technology costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is for a selected few at this stage. At the moment no boats in Cape Verde are loaded with that kind of equipment. No need to despair though — a regular sounder with a 1kw transducer and knowledgeable operator will still catch you plenty of fish. That is the setup I had at my disposal. My sounder is set up to look at the top 150m.
On a ski-boat where you’re standing at almost sea level it’s harder to spot the tell tail signs of birds, current lines, colour changes, jumping fish etc. Thus being tuned into your sounder is even more important than if you’re on a sportfisher with a bridge.
Would you throw anchor on a reef with no showing? It’s the same with marlin fishing; locating life on the screen and following its movements is the key to success. Marlin usually show up as an arch in close proximity to the bait showing.
This season was a bit different to last in that I caught many fish in 2000+ metres of water in the middle of nowhere. This happened about five times on various occasions where we caught a number of blue marlin in extremely deep water. The reason for this success is that we were monitoring the sonar and we marked a fair amount of bait in certain areas in deep waters and started trolling there. We would literally work an area of 2- to 3 nautical miles square, and there were periods during which we consistently raised fish. Perhaps there was an upwelling there that concentrated the bait, but whatever the reason, we caught a substantial number of fish in deep water.

On one occasion we had a four-day booking and we decided to head to another island because the previous week we had some good fishing in deep water. This tactic paid off, and over those four days we had some amazing fishing, catching 19 blue marlin off 21 hooked, and raising another eight fish. Once again I worked an area of deep water that was three nautical miles square, and the marlin were congregated there around the bait.

We recently had a client from the UK who had a dream to catch blue marlin. He had fished at many destinations around the world but had had no luck. He was scheduled to fish with us for three days. On the first day we did not see a fish and the client felt very despondent at the thought of another fruitless fishing trip. That feeling didn’t last for long though because on his second day with us we went thrree for three! The client was over the moon because he had finally caught his elusive first marlin.
On his third day with us I spotted a fish on the Pulsator Tube, but it was sitting pretty deep under the teaser, so judging the size of the fish was very difficult. I instructed the crew to throw the normal size pitch rod — a 50 Tiagra with 80 lb line on stand up. It has the usual 400 lb leader to a 12/0 circle which is what we would normally pitch to fish under 700 lb.
The pitch bait was in position and I started teasing the fish in. Suddenly she showed herself by coming up and giving a bite on the teaser — she was huge! By that stage it was too late to get the big pitch rod in the water and she exploded on the bait. We fought the fish for about an hour and a half, eventually getting to the leader. We tried to nurse her up, but it’s very difficult to lift such a big fish on normal 400 lb leader.
Eventually after backing down on her with the boys on the leader for 15 minutes, we cracked the leader on the snell. I called her 950 lb, but if you don’t weigh it, you can’t say it! She was the biggest fish I have ever seen in Cape Verde. The client came up to me afterwards and told me he didn’t want to kill her and he was over the moon to have fought her, especially on that tackle. Big smiles and happy clients is what we like to see, with the good mojo aboard we jammed another 450-pounder on our homeward stretch.
Cape Verde truly is an amazing destination, not only for the numbers of blue marlin, but also the sizes. As with any top fishing destination in the world there are a number of factors that come into play, including weather, right water patches, currents, bait in areas etc. When all of these factors come into alignment it means the difference between a successful fishing holiday and an unsuccessful fishing holiday.
To time this in terms of dates is very difficult — almost impossible. However, in saying that, when you get everything to line up, Cape Verde is one of the top destinations in the world for big blue marlin.

For further details on fishing this spectacular fishery and the aspect of pitch baiting to blue marlin, contact Ryan Williamson on 082 490 7622.

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