Dave Huckle on Guinea Bissau

On July 25th, 2013, posted in: Guinea Bissau by Comments Off on Dave Huckle on Guinea Bissau

“Cast cast cast! Get a lure in the water!”

 

I’d love to, but I’m staring in disbelief at the ocean’s surface as it erupts with Jack Crevalle crashing into baitfish. On the far side of the disturbance three dolphin get in on the action, launching themselves into the air as they hit the feeding Jacks.

 

I’m torn between throwing a popper into the melee or retrieving my camera from the cubby hole and recording the extraordinary sight. I finally snap out of it and cast into the hunt (the local term for a shoal of Jacks corralling baitfish on the surface). The popper lands amongst the Jacks and I rip it back over the surface. There’s an eruption behind the popper and the rod is wrenched over, I’m expecting a good tug but this time I’m nearly pulled over the side. I finally manage to regain my footing and get the Jack under control and onto the boat. A quick picture and then it’s released, my best Jack so far, some 25lbs. Nick, my boat partner and Richard, our guide, are both into good Jacks too, carefully working around each other as the two fish circle the boat.

 

I cast again as the hunt is still going on, although less frenetic now. Once again the lure is crashed by a feeding fish but this time the fight is a little different, with the fish circling less but still taking line as though the heavy drag isn’t even set. The spotted flanks of a Leerfish finally come to the side of the boat. It seems as though the Jacks have woken up all the local predators…

 

We’re fishing the Bijagos archipelago some 40 miles off the coast of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. The journey from UK was a long one; flying to The Gambia from Gatwick, then a race for the Senegalese border before it closes for the night, overnight in a small town near the Senegal – Guinea-Bissau border and then a morning negotiating border posts, customs posts, security checkpoints and plain old shakedowns, small “gifts” of a few CFAs easing the way each time we’re stopped. Finally, around 33 hours after I left home, we complete the two and a half hour speedboat transfer to the islands.

 

The Bijagos Archipelago is a haven for marine life, with sandbars and reefs making it inaccessible to the foreign fishing fleets that are plundering the fish stocks along so much of the West African coast. The islands are also a UNESCO reserve, home to saltwater hippos, manatees and sea turtles. Fishing pressure from the islands’ inhabitants is very light. We are staying on one of the outermost islands of the group, close to a number of wrecks and other good fishing marks. Our guide Richard Sheard has spent years exploring the islands for the best fishing locations and techniques.

 

We’d started the day fishing a wreck known as “the Chimneys” (the twin smokestacks of an old grain ship stick up from the ocean’s surface) about 45 kms from the camp. The journey took around an hour and a half in the 9 metre centre console, the twin 100hp engines making light work of the journey. The chimneys are a strange sight, two tall stacks poking out from the otherwise featureless ocean. We clipped on big 8” poppers and cast them as we drifted over the wreck, ripping them over the surface in order to create a disturbance that would bring curious predators up from the depths. After ten minutes with no reaction we take a break and move on to plan B. We rig the jigging rods with livebait caught on the way to the mark, small Yabouys and Bonefish, yes Bonefish, but only small ones… (I can see my name going on various SWFF hit lists for this!) and drop the baits down over the wreck. This rapidly produces a mixed bag of Snappers (many hooked, few landed), Cassava, Barracuda and Cobia. I’m kicking myself for not bringing a fly rod today as the hooked Cobia are invariably coming to the surface with a curious friend in tow.

 

We stop for lunch but this is interrupted by Max the skipper yelling “Hunt!” and gunning the engine towards the feeding Jacks. Once the action is over and the surface is calm again we try and return to lunch but, as soon as we pick up the plates, the sea erupts again and the boat charges over to the edge of the disturbance. This time we’re rewarded with more Jacks and I catch a gleaming Pompano as a bonus.

 

Part of the appeal of the Bijagos is the sheer diversity of fish species and habitats as well as the variety of fishing methods. Popping, jigging, beachcasting, fly fishing, trolling and bait fishing will all produce results, with popping being the most popular method. There are dozens of different species to be caught, including several types of Jack, five species of Barracuda, twenty species of shark, various types of snapper, Cobia and the world’s largest Tarpon, running to almost 300 lbs.

 

After dinner that evening we put out the beach rods. All you need to do is walk down to the water’s edge from the bar and cast a line out. I’ve never really done any beach fishing (as proven by my awful casting) but even I manage to catch a variety of weird and wonderful fish. The biggest fish from the camp shore was a guitar fish of around 20lbs.

 

The following day sees us heading to some closer marks, a group of rocks and sandbars. If one spot isn’t producing to his expectations Max the skipper quickly decides on a new mark to try. We have had good popper fishing on the sandbars, plenty of Jacks and a variety of other fish, but Max decides we need some exercise. We head to a feature known as the washing machine, a rocky outcrop where the current swirls round trapping all sorts of nutrients and baitfish. We cast some deadbaits into the turning water and, within seconds, line is tearing off the reels. The first two fish are Cassava { Kob , Mullaway, Meagrefish } , a long silver and black fish with sharp teeth. More Cassava follow, plus the odd snapper, each bait that hits the water has about 20 seconds of liberty before being eaten. We’re well into double figures on the Cassava when my bait is taken by something far more substantial. A bronze flank finally shows next to the boat and I get a brief glimpse of a leadered Nurse Shark before the heavy nylon succumbs to the shark’s teeth. Max estimates the fish at 130lbs, small compared to some of the shark in these waters. We finish the day exploring a wreck that was beached during the war in the ‘60s. Small lures produce some spectacular aerobatics from a fish the locals call “Elops”, a small fish that reminds me of a Tigerfish both in body shape and its tendency to go airborne when hooked { I believe it’s the same as the fish the American call Lady fish } .

 

Our final day of fishing is focused on a tarpon mark about an hour from the camp. We spend the morning catching bait and get into position by lunchtime. The Tarpon along this stretch of the West African coast are the World’s largest, with the Bijagos producing the IGFA All Tackle record fish of 286lbs. Very few Tarpon caught in the Bijagos are below 150lbs, but the downside of this is that their numbers are not prolific. The water at the Tarpon marks is very coloured, so the most effective method is livebaiting. Richard uses heavy tackle so that the big Tarpon are subdued and released quickly, thus ensuring their survival.

 

The tide is due to start turning in a couple of hours so we kill time by throwing big poppers onto the edge of the channel. There are some big Jacks here and the fight is even harder when they turn their slab-sided bodies against the current. Max amuses himself with a handline catching a small Moray eel, a prized delicacy. As the tide begins to run we float livebaits out suspended beneath balloons. We catch a number of big Jacks but the one suspected Tarpon run results in a dropped bait. The Tarpon will have to wait until next year…

 

 

 

Guinea-Bissau Fact File

 

Getting there:

The journey from UK is much easier now that a new route is possible; with anglers flying to Lisbon and then transferring to a direct flight to Bissau. Arriving at around one in the morning, the anglers make the 30 minute road trip to the coast and sleep at a lodge, departing the mainland after breakfast. This will be far less tiring than a two day road trip. Note that a Guinea-Bissau visa is required before departure (Richard can arrange this). Remember that this is a very remote part of West Africa and travellers are frequently beset by all kinds of hold ups and problems…. Patience is a virtue!. For trip details and prices Richard@worldsportfishing.com or call 01480 403293

 

Health and Personal Safety:

The BijagosIslands are a haven of peace and tranquillity compared to mainland West Africa but they are extremely remote. Comprehensive travel insurance is a must, as are the appropriate vaccinations and anti-malarials. A Yellow Fever certificate is required. The insurer should confirm that they have casevac facilities and that sea fishing is an activity included on the policy. The nearest shops are about 100 miles away, so take all the medicines and sun lotion you may need.

 

Accommodation:

The camp consists of six brick built twin bedded huts with thatched roofs and brackish water showers. There is a large bar/dining area with plenty of covered space to store tackle and relax in the evening. A generator provides light and power (via 220 volt European plugs) until around midnight.

 

Food and Drink:

As the camp is in such a remote location fish is frequently on the menu, but the catering staff do an excellent job of producing varied and appetising meals. Lunch is often freshly caught sashimi eaten on the boat.

 

The bar is well stocked with beers, soft drinks and basic wines and spirits, with bar tabs settled in Euros.

 

Tackle:

Tackle packs can be hired but if you’re taking your own kit I’d suggest bringing only the most robust gear. Fixed spool reels such as Stellas and Saltigas are built to take the kind of extreme punishment doled out by tropical species. Specialist popping and jigging rods make these tiring techniques easier in the tropical heat. This kind of tackle is extremely expensive but it will last a lifetime and won’t fail at a critical moment. Spending several thousand pounds on a fishing trip and relying on a forty quid reel is going to result in tears…..

 

Popping:

 

  • Reels. Daiwa Catalina 4500LG, Daiwa Saltiga Z6500HDF (aka the      Dogfight), Shimano Stella 10000SW, or 18000SW. All these reels have a high      retrieve ratio (5.7:1 and above) which makes popping much less tiring.      They are also built tough enough to give smooth but powerful drag settings      and withstand the prolonged high pressure fights that destroy “normal”      reels.
  • An economy reel that has been proven to survive tropical fishing is      the Daiwa Black Gold series. Richard rents out the BG60 and rarely has      problems with this cheap but robust reel.
  • Rods. The Daiwa Tournament Global is a long rod (9’ 4”) that is      very strong and yet lightweight. It also breaks down into two even      sections for ease of transport. It compares very favourably to the more      expensive Japanese popping rods. Richard rents these rods out and has only      ever seen two broken, both by anglers trying to dead lift heavy fish out      of the water….. I also took a Smith KGS 70MH 7’ spinning rod. This lighter      rod was a pleasure to use with a 4500 Catalina and was more than capable      of subduing the average jack.
  • Lures: 6” poppers will be the mainstay lure, small enough to cast      and retrieve for prolonged periods but capable of attracting fish. For the      big wrecks 8” poppers make plenty of disturbance to bring the fish up from      the depths but they are very tiring to retrieve. Pencil lures can be      effective and are less tiring. Whatever lures you take, the hooks and      split rings will need upgrading. Hooks such as the Owner ST66 and      good quality split rings (Owner Hyperwire for example) are a must. The      ultimate test of hardware is when two Jacks are hooked on the same lure,      the results can be spectacular!

 

Jigging / General Trolling:

 

  • Reels: A good heavy duty multiplier such as the Daiwa Saltist STT40 loaded with 80lb braid is tough enough for the job. A more expensive option is a heavy duty fixed spool reel with a lower ratio (Stella 20000SW or Saltiga Z6000).
  • Rods: A 6’ Jigging rod rated for 200 – 300 gram jigs will cover jigging and trolling.
  • Lures: 200 – 300 gram jigs with quality assist hooks and strong trolling plugs capable of resisting Barracuda teeth.
  • Diving lures . Storm Deep thunder DT15 , Manns Stretch 25 , Bomber 25 . Super Shad rap SSR14

 

Fly:

10 weight is probably the minimum spec for this destination, with 12 being more suited to Jacks and even heavier if considering Tarpon (note that the water around the tarpon marks is extremely coloured, so fly fishing would be a matter of pure luck). Again, high quality reels and rods are a must. TempleFork saltwater rods are a very reasonably priced option.