After doing some serious celebration involving copious amounts of champagne, a new car, the cottage on the coast and damage to a variety of stores and shops, your new glamorous girlfriend says ‘yes’ to the idea of some sun, and you start to think of something to do with yourself in between spending all the money - fishing. Fishing a la Zane Grey, Hemingway, Lee Marvin style. Big boat, a tower higher than the Eiffel, lots of bronze muscles, sweat, noise, bikinis, plenty of black smoke, a big fat fish and a big fat cigar. So, where are you going to go ?
Now, there are a variety of spots around the world where I could most assuredly tell you where not to go - in my personal opinion. Any operation in a harbour which has a kiosk, a gantry replete with severed fish-tails, a board covered with old photos and a dirty fish-cleaning tray would be high on my list of no-go’s. Likewise I personally wouldn’t choose to go to a variety of big-name destinations such as Mauritius, Hawaii, Kenya, the Bahamas, Cairns itself, the Bay of Plenty, Fiji, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas or even Madeira. For a variety of reasons all of these places have something wrong with them at present. My personal preference is for GUARANTEED fishing, with competent crews on well-maintained boats, preferably in exotic but safe locations. If I won the lottery and had a spare week, here is where I would go this year……………
BLUE MARLIN - the Cape Verdes is the best place in the world to catch large numbers of blue marlin - period. Unfortunately, few operations exist for charter and the weather is windy. Lots of shots with fish up to about 350lbs, some running bigger. In joint second place for me are Bermuda, Brazil’s Royal Charlotte Bank (big fish), Bom Bom (big fish), Venezuela (plenty of medium/small fish), and St. Thomas (great full moon fishery and a nice place to be - when you’re at sea). Madeira is deader than a Dodo, the Azores are going through a bad patch, La Gomera in the Canaries should be pleasant, but give me the money and I would either head for Vanuatu, mid-Pacific, or to Cabo Frio, Brazil. Relatively new to the scene, Vanuatu is a reliable French operation, with a chance at fish averaging about 500lbs and the possibility of a monster similar to the estimated 1800lb fish caught commercially several years ago. This is exotic scenery, and the chance to find some nice shells. October to May, connections through Sidney. Cabo Frio is the lesser-known cousin of the Royal Charlotte Bank and is a peninsular jutting out into the Atlantic 60 miles north of Rio Janeiro. As a locale which has produced two 1000lb fish in tournaments fished mainly by weekend anglers from nearby Rio, and where a sub-400lb fish is rare, it would certainly appear to have the credentials to be in the reckoning as a beckoning new hot-spot.
BLACK MARLIN - the Barrier Reef continues to delight, year after year, the fishing swinging from bad to good to bad. Last year was good. The unfortunate thing about the reef is price, the number of boats there now, the increased competition, the number of sharks, and monotony of being there when it is bad amongst what can be enormous seas. Diving and reef life are fun though, and crews and boats still among the best and most professional in the world. This is, still, the best place in the world for a chance at a 1000lb black. However, for fun and the variety, I’ll book a whole week on one of the Coiba Explorer’s small centre consoles, and fish stand-up for the prolific blacks on the Hannibal Reef off Panama’s west coast. They run up to 500lbs, with the chance of a monster, but you can also throw in the possibility of a blue, lots of wahoo, double-digit sailfish days, some slammer dolphin, nice 200lb yellowfin, and come home in a back-brace, sunburnt but happy. If you dislocate a disc early in the holiday, you can catch a variety of slightly smaller but equally belligerent fish from the comfort of your wheelchair on the mothership. The Coiba Explorer is a 115’ air-conditioned vessel moored right there, close to the bank. February thru April prime time, fly to Panama. An another interesting possibility is the reviving fishery off Mozambique, particularly around Bazaruto Island - one of the few other areas in the world where one could reasonably expect to catch a 1000lb black; Ecuador and Peru are (still) others. Surprisingly, a black of this size has also been taken in the Atlantic - from St. Helena. A location to watch is the developing fishery off Madagascar’s north coast at Nose Be. LOTS of small blacks here with some big girls thrown in, but facilities are sparse at present, although a good French operation is in place.
BLUEFIN TUNA - Nova Scotia for big fish, still. Think Prince Edward Island. Fishing over the past five years or so has improved and the average size of these bluefins is near to 900lbs. Several opportunities for chartering in a beautiful and safe country. Take a thick safety-line and some life-insurance as unlimited gear is the norm and at least two people have been killed here recently (!). The more adventurous could, possibly, take some waterskis. Bluefins roam throughout the Atlantic, and at any time may be somewhere specific and the fishing may be hot, such as happened in the Azores in ’97. Fish are still caught in the Bahamas, some nice ones appear every year in the Gulf of Mexico, and patches of fish appear in such strange locations as Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Algeria, Sardinia, Mauritania and Hatteras in mid-winter. Hatteras would be my second choice, but beware of the weather. Last time I was there I fished two days out of ten. There are still some fish to be caught in the Med, but local knowledge is very important.
YELLOWFIN TUNA - the long-range fleet out of California return the greatest numbers of large yellowfin in the world, and there is probably no better bet for a 300 lb yellowfin than one of these boats and a trip to Clarion, Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida islands. The largest yellowfin recorded on rod&line, a 399lb fish, was caught off one of these boats. In general, there are more giant yellowfins in the Pacific than the Atlantic, where a 300lb fish is a rare occurrence. If I had to put money on a location to go and catch a large yellowfin in the Atlantic, I would probably head to the Royal Charlotte Bank off the coast of Bahia, Brazil, where it is rumoured huge yellowfin are caught over the bank by local handliners. The Pacific is a different story and large/giant yellowfin can turn up in a variety of locations. I know of a super-yacht 1600 miles from land that lost an estimated 400lb yellowfin in mid-Pacific, the crew on the trip being experienced sportfishermen. Huge schools of tuna, miles long, exist out there, and the captain of the mother-ship French Look once altered course in mid-ocean to investigate a radar target which looked like an unknown piece of land - it turned out to be a several square-mile school of tuna with millions of seabirds over it. It is no surprise that in this ocean the Asian fleets contest each other bitterly for the rights to fish in other countries’ waters. Big fish have been caught from all of the known angling areas, but it would seem that the area from Panama (and its Hannibal Bank) up to New Mexico and then Baja produce consistent numbers of 300lb plus fish. This may be due to angling pressure. Of course, included in this area are the long-range islands mentioned before !
STRIPED MARLIN - no surprises here. New Zealand. Bay of Islands, North Cape and the Three Kings - the latter area quite possibly being the icing on North Island’s considerable striped marlin cake. The Three Kings are a small group of uninhabited islands some 40 miles off North Cape, and some 72 miles from the nearest port. Subsequently, few boats fish the area on a regular basis, but those that do are regularly rewarded with double-digit days. This is where the Pacific meets the Tasman Sea, and as a result the upwellings draw all manner of fish here, including blues, blacks, yellowfins, and smaller gamefish such as trevallies and yellowtail. Following behind closely would be the Galapagos Islands, an Ecuadorian territory which changes its rules for visitors on a regular basis. Here there are plenty of stripies too, although of a slightly smaller size. Fishing for this species is actually good all along the west coast of the Americas, from Chile in the south as far north as the famed island of Catalina in California. Good numbers of stripies are also still caught off South Africa’s Natal coast and further north in Kenya.
SAILFISH - the commonest billfish, sails roam worldwide in blue water and as a result there are many locations where double digit or better days are available - normally with good crews aboard decent boats. The east central American coast can lay claim to being one of those locations, and it is here that groups of anglers regularly catch 100 or more sails in three days fishing with some of the great captains in the sport. Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica all have great fishing which varies from year to year. The biggest sails appear to come from the west African coastline, from Angola northwards thru Senegal, passing Bom Bom on the way, or from the mid-Pacific islands of Fuji, Tahiti and Tonga. Other areas are rapidly being developed - Dubai is rapidly becoming well-known for first-class onshore facilities, spotless boats and crew, calm water with a vast amount of bait, and shoals of sails. Nose Be in Madagascar also has the same amount of sails, but unfortunately, no five star hotels to date. Some five star tented camps maybe, but some people like it that way anyway. Thailand and the peninsular of Phuket is also attracting more anglers every year, and here the story is of an established infrastructure with lots of fish. And you cannot forget Florida - Islamorada and Fort Lauderdale are also right up there with the best. But, give me the word and the ticket and I’m off to Broome on the west coast of Australia and a very special spot - the Rowley Shoals. These three pear-shaped islands measure approximately 10miles by five, and are the most southern remnants of shelf-upheaval that runs along Australia’s west coast. Located some 18 hours west of Broome, the three islands have habitat that includes surf-pounded outer reefs, huge lagoons, internal coral reefs and sandbars. Trolling for sails, one rigger bait may be in 500 feet of water while the other is skipping over a 60’ depth. Sails here attack in such large numbers that one loses count and frequently loses sails embroiled in the surfline. The lagoons provide safe anchorages at the end of a day’s fishing, and one barely has time to finish breakfast in the morning the following day before the first wave of attacks begins. Blue and black marlin can also be caught here some distance further out to sea, but few anglers bother for them. Fly-fishing and record possibilities abound, and the diving is spectacular. Fishing here takes place December to March. This is nature at its rawest – sand, water and seabirds. Not a place to forget your batteries for the pacemaker and a trip to your dentist before you come here is recommended. You are a rather long way from anywhere.
SWORDFISH - the great days of huge fish off Chile are gone, and the fisheries of Catalina and Sesimbra are but distant memories. Big fish are now rarer than ever due to commercial pressure, but there are still numbers of small fish to be caught and improved communications mean distant and remote locations can be revealed quickly. There are still 1000lb swords out there, but finding them is difficult. Small fish can be caught with regularity during the day off Venezuela’s Los Meros Bank by deep-dropping. Substantial night fisheries exist off South Africa’s Cape Point and Kenya’s offshore banks - the latter is proving to be THE place in the world to catch these elusive creatures on the fly. Mazatlan is also high on the broadbill list, being one of the few places on earth where one can catch a sword by traditional methods - trolling and casting to finning fish. California still produces the occasional daytime fish to trolled methods, as does the east coast of America. The Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Azores, Hawaii, Midway, and anywhere else where there is blue water can all produce fish. There are for me three places I would like to try in my week of fishing - Brazil is one. There are some huge fish off the coast and I have seen some photos from a long-liner’s records. The second place would be Madeira in April and May, daytime fishing for 400lb fish. The local fishery takes small fish only, and I have seen at least one fish there over 1000lbs. The last choice for me, and probably the first place for me to go to, would be New Zealand’s North Cape and Houhora Harbour. The stories coming out of this area seem to be too good to be true, and as long as NZ manages to control its waters, it would seem that this stock of relatively undisturbed fish could prove to be a great resource. At least one fish over the magic 1000lb has been taken here commercially.
SHARKS - last, but not least, we come to some of the largest fish to inhabit the waters of this planet. Make no mistake - makos, hammerheads, threshers, tigers, whites, whalers and six-gilled sharks all go over 1000lbs, and some of them with ease. The six-gilled shark is probably the largest and he can be caught at night on big baits lowered into 600’ water at a variety of locations around the world, the Azores being the current record holder. Although a lump of animated lard during the fight, I have it on good authority that you can make things more exciting at boatside by shining a bright light into their green eyes. This fish may well grow as big as a basking shark.
Makos are creatures of the open oceans, and 1000lb fish could be expected anywhere. Hawaii, the Canaries and Mauritius have all produced 1000lb fish, and they have also been seen off the east coast of the USA, throughout the Atlantic islands, off South Africa and Australia. The one shark of this size for which I would always carry a change of underwear.
The largest hammerheads in the world seem to live in the most mundane locations - the shallow waters of the Floridian and Bahamian cays seem to be a favorite, but this is also a species of the open ocean and I have seen some huge fish off the Atlantic islands.
Threshers are a relatively unknown species but they have been caught commercially to over 1200lbs, so the possibility exists for a royal scrap somewhere - I suspect a swordfisherman will get lucky one night !
I know of one place in the world I would go to tomorrow to break the world record for tigers, and that would be Midway. Anything that can bite a 6’ turtle cleanly in half is well worth addressing if you are into that sort of thing !
Whalers swim worldwide, but a good place to try for a big guy is going to be the Barrier Reef during black marlin season.
Finally, whites - South Africa, Australia and California are the top places for seeing these creatures, but regulations now exist in all these countries concerning their capture on rod and line, so you might just have to surprise everyone by catching a ‘nice’ one from the Med, and I kid you not. Plenty of 5m whites are seen regularly in the Mediterranean - Malta, the Adriatic and the north-west coast of Italy getting more than their fair share of sightings. For a truly monstrous white though, I would still go to sea with a whaling ship. Whites are creatures of habit and they know that whaling ships provide easy pickings.
Cape Verde: http://www.kapverdischeinseln.de/billfish-club/index.html
St. Thomas: http://www.marlinprince.com Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Barrier Reef: http://www.peterbwright.com Email:email@example.com or Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannibal Bank: http://www.coibaexplorer.com/
Nova Scotia: contact Canadian Tourism Office
Long-range yellowfins: http://home.flash.net/~ejnelson/
New Zealand: http://www.marlinfishing.co.nz Email:email@example.com
Rowley Shoals: Broome Tourism Office 061 891 922222, fax 061 891 922063
North Cape swordfish: contact Neil Page 064 9 408 1240, president Houhora BGFC
Kenya: either http://www.bigame.com Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
or Email:email@example.com or GAAC@form-net.com