By Ben Vorster
“BIG fish, big fish! Wind, wind, wind, bring in the teasers! Pitch, pitch, pitch!”shouted our skipper, Capt Ryan Williamson.
These phrases were the beginning of a life experience never to be forgotten.
Let me start from the beginning…
In February 2021 I saw Ryan entering his locker with his new boat, Pulsator, at Sodwana Bay, just two lockers from mine. I went to congratulate him on the new boat and get some first-hand information on how to pitch for marlin. Right there and then I decided to make a booking for Cape Verde with Ryan to learn how to pitch and try to tick one of my ultimate “bucket list” items — catching a 1 000 lb grander!
Ryan was fully booked for the next two years, but I got a date for July 2023. In May 2021, he phoned me and said he had a cancellation for May 2022. I was ecstatic and accepted immediately. This was great news and my fishing companions and I started planning our trip.
Getting there was an enormous hurdle, because Covid made it very difficult to book any flights from South Africa to the Cape Verde Islands. There weren’t a lot of options to fly to Portugal either, because Lisbon is the only connecting flight to Sâo Vicente Island. Eventually we managed to book flights, then the nightmare really started.
Portugal refused to give Shengen visas to South African residents and we couldn’t get an appointment with any other Shengen State to apply for a visa for the stopover in Lisbon.
Luckily the rules changed and there was another option available — flying via Luanda (Angola) into Lisbon with only four hours stopover, so we could stay in transit in Lisbon and didn’t need a visa. As we didn’t have any other choice, we booked new tickets; getting to our assignation with Ryan was most important.
Our fishing dates were 14 to 20 May 2022, and on 13 May we excitedly met Ryan at the floating Marina Bar. He was busy preparing for our week of fishing onboard Smoker with deckhands Martin Palmer from the USA and Papau Adilson Mendes Alves who is a local from the town of Mindelo.
Papau grew up on boats and has been fishing for the last 12 years. He knows exactly what a grander looks like. Our fishing team consisted of three — myself, my brother Gerhardt, and a good friend Dr Michiel Roos.
Ryan had asked me to take some of his Pulsator lures with me, and I knew they would be the secret to our success for the coming week.
On Saturday 14 May 2022 at 07h30 we left the port of Mindelo heading to the area of Monte Trigo on Santo Antâo island where we would be fishing for the next couple of days. We had to cross the channel between the two islands with a 28 knot northerly wind blowing, which caused heavy seas with huge swells breaking everywhere.
On the two-hour crossing we had our first lesson on making up pitch bait, carefully paying special attention to all the detail. I like “stealing with my eyes” and knew I would learn a lot from Captain Ryan, the marlin king.
There are four rods on the boat — two 50 lb Tiagras spooled with 100 lb line, and two 80 lb Tiagras spooled with 130 lb line. All fish up to 500 lb are fought stand-up style on the 50 lb rods and bigger fish are fought on the 80 lb rods from the chair.
It wasn’t long before we had our first introduction to pitch baiting, going 3–3 on the first day, with two 300 lb and a 450 lb fish, all released. What an awesome day to start with, learning from the best.
We went back to the island at around 18h00, heading for our new guesthouse situated on the beach of a massive volcanic mountain 6 500ft high. The small village is located on the foot of the mountain between somewhere and nowhere. The guesthouse had a rustic look to it, with no windows, no hot water and everything else very basic. However, they had wifi — at a certain spot — cold beer and good food, so we were happy.
We were thrilled about our first day’s fishing and I took my first Voltaren that same night! We were all stiff after fighting stand-up with a Black Magic harness — totally different from what we use in South Africa when catching marlin.
I’m captain of my own boat, Bullship, in South Africa, but I have never tried pitchbaiting before and that was one of the reasons I booked with Ryan — I wanted to learn more.
Sunday morning at 07h00, we had breakfast and caught our small “taxi” boat from the beach out to Smoker which was anchored not far from the shore. It was a beautiful day with no wind and crystal blue water. All three of us adjusted the harnesses to size and were ready for the day.
It wasn’t long before we had our first fish of around 200 lb. He was a real fighter, again caught on the pitch, and he was released after 15 minutes.
We caught three more fish, ranging between 300- and 450 lb, all on pitch bait. We also lost one fish which ate a kona but didn’t manage to hook up.
At around 17h00, on our way back to shore, Ryan shouted “Big fish!” and we saw that the fish had eaten the tube on the long centre. It was Michiel’s turn; he jumped into the fighting chair and started fighting the fish. After about an hour the fish was next to the boat, estimated around 850 lb. We took some photos, touched the bill and she was released.
What a day 5–6, with a big fish of 850 lb! I have never seen such a big marlin in real life. She gave a real fight and Michiel was exhausted. We were all in turbo mode after witnessing such a big fish jumping and tail walking for metres and metres.
Unbelievable 8–9 in two days! That evening we had a couple of beers to celebrate a very happy and successful day.
Monday morning — same time, same place with high expectations for what the day would deliver. The morning started off slow, with just a few boats calling in some fish. Gerhardt caught a 200 lb marlin late morning, which was a truly “wild” fish and almost jumped into the boat. The marlin gave him a hard time, refusing to come close to the boat, but after about 25 minutes he was released.
The rest of the day was quiet, with Capt Ryan hunting all around, looking for the marlin shoals. At around 16h00 in a sea with huge swells, we had a double-up. It was amazing to see how the crew operated keeping our fish apart and our minds strong. I have to confess, a couple of swear words passed between us, but eventually both fish were released. After that fish I really hoped that we wouldn’t get more to bite that day. Another 3–3; pitch bait is definitely the way to go!
That evening it was a full moon, and we had a discussion on whether the moon has any effect on the fishing. Despite all the theories being thrown around, there was no definite conclusion one way or the other.
The next two days were quieter, with one fish every day, although they were called 400- and 450 lb, both on the pitch and stand-up.
On the evening of 18 May, I asked Ryan if he didn’t think we should move to another island. “We caught a lot of young boys in this area, the big mamma must be here!” he responded. He’s the captain, so we all agreed to stay in the area. “Tomorrow we go earlier,” he announced; Ryan said he had a good feeling about the Thursday.
In high spirits, we set out the teasers at 07h10. I went to the cooler box where we had a bigeye tuna of around 6 lb on the ice. I kissed it, because that was the pitch bait for the big mamma we were all waiting for.
At 07h16 a loud shout came from Ryan: “BIG FISH! BIG FISH! Wind, wind, wind!” We all saw a monster coming up behind the Pulsator tube on the centre line. Everyone was in super charged mode, pulling in the teasers and tube. The one and only big pitch bait was in the water within seconds, while the big fish chased the tube with her mouth wide open, trying to engulf the lure. When the pitch bait skipped on the water for the second time, she saw the bait and rushed to eat the tuna.
The whole world went into slow-motion.
It happened right in front of us, ten metres behind Smoker. With a wide-open mouth, bill in the air, she ate the tuna and the Tiagra started screaming. I jumped into the fighting chair, connected the harness to the reel and that was when my life changed!
The marlin dived like a submarine, taking line at the speed of light. The situation was tense; we all saw the size of the fish and wanted to make sure everything was done right.
“More drag, more drag!” came the shouts from the top as Smoker was already reversing very fast. We were in 300 metres of water, so the fish had enough depth to give us a hard time. I fought with everything in me at 45 lb of drag for around 35 minutes. When deckhand Martin grabbed the leader, it was the first time that we saw the full size and length of the fish. It was a MONSTER!
She still had a lot of fight in her and made another dive. By now Captain Ryan was manoeuvring Smoker like I manoeuvre my offroad motorbike.
With the size and length of this female we knew it could definitely be a grander. Top of my bucket list had been to catch a grander, and here I was, busy fighting an enormous fish.
After another 15 minutes of hard fighting, the Tiagra was getting hot; I even battled to wind in low range! At last I saw the double line coming up, then the leader and Martin grabbed it again. This time he managed to pull her right up next to the boat; in that moment I knew I’d won the fight!
It was unreal; I couldn’t believe we’d done it. Everyone was ecstatic about our catch and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the experience given to me.
Then the work started. Six strong, grown men couldn’t load the fish into Smoker. We used ropes to tie her alongside and pulled her back to the island to get more men to assist. It took ten men to load her, and when she was loaded, we all shouted and jumped for joy.
My body went into light shock, with both of my arms and shoulders shivering.
Still in disbelief, we took measurements of this monster fish. Comparing the measurements with the Billfish Formula Table, our size wasn’t even on the table with the biggest figure weighing 1 100 lb (500kg)!
I was astonished with the size of this great catch. Rubbing both hands through my hair, I still couldn’t believe what I had caught.
Ryan made some phone calls back to Mindelo to start organising a crane and scale so that we could get the true weight of the marlin.
Around two hours later we arrived at the port where the crane — and a huge crowd of people — was already waiting for us. We offloaded the fish and parked Smoker on the mooring.
By now everyone was phoning and guessing the weight. We couldn’t get to the fish fast enough. With the rope secured around the tail, the crane started lifting the fish. Ryan and I stared at the scale — 800, 900, 1 000, 1 100, 1 200, 1 300 … eventually it settled on on 1 370 lb!
Holy smoke, this was more than a grander — it was the second biggest Atlantic blue marlin in the world and the biggest blue marlin ever caught at Cape Verde. At that moment I knew I had been greatly blessed with a fish thousands of fishermen dreamed of; I felt humbled and very thankful.
We took photos of this once in a lifetime fish which was almost five metres in length and had a girth of 79.8 inches — just over two metres.
This magnificent fish was really something special, and we decided to give it to a local church which has a feeding scheme, where she would be used to feed many people in need. I felt satisfied that nothing would be wasted.
All I can say is thank you to a great team, under Capt Ryan Williamson, who made this unbelievable experience possible, thank you to my family who believed in me and allowed me to make my dream come true, and most importantly thank you to our Heavenly Father who gave me this incredible experience.
That evening we had a lot to celebrate! My advice to all avid marlin fishermen is to make a plan to fish with Capt Ryan Williamson in Cape Verde. Perhaps you too will catch the fish of a lifetime and have your dreams come true.