Despite an optimistic start, with several local boats and Stewart Campbell’s Chunda catching some marlin in late May and throughout June, the fish disappeared almost totally on the eve of the tournament and not much has happened since. This is marlin fishing, and everyone who is still here knows it. It just happens to be unfortunate when you are the ones experiencing it ! On July 4th, some nine boats fished the tournament from La Gomera, but there was only one bite. The same happened in the Cape Verdes, the Azores, Madeira and Ghana. The east Atlantic failed to produce after a threatening previous week when Barky Garnsey and his crew on the Chunda released some five blues (three over 700 lbs) for their owner, multiple world record-holder Stewart Campbell. Local boats scored too, the Walhalla recording six captures in the same time frame.
We arrived on the Cepheus from Lanzarote on July 2nd, but did not fish the tournament since our angler and co-owner, John Gill, could not make it in time due to work commitments. The 240 mile voyage down to La Gomera through the other islands did not pass without incident. Taking a strange boat out for the first time is always nerve-wracking as one struggles to come to terms with a strange engine room and quirky boat systems. A three fuel-tank vessel with no written instructions about fuel consumption or transfer systems can cause headaches and one quickly arose when it became apparent that the fuel transfer pump had gone to the great pump-shop in the sky due to a submerging in the yard with backed up bilge water (no pumps are allowed to be switched on in the marina of Puerto Calero). Our stay there had started on a quirky note when a late flight from the UK led us to a locked gate on the evening of arrival ! Luckily I managed to run into the yard owner as he left and wrangled a key out of him in the gathering gloom. Gathering up our outsize amount of baggage, Jeff, Richard and I stumbled into the yard and found a ladder and set about discovering the interior of Cepheus, a 1973/1998 44’ Striker.
The next eight days passed in a blur of re-organization, repairs, alterations and stowage. We left Lanzarote with my credit-card hanging on a thread after payments for the yard, fuel and maintenance bills. The run to the south tip of Fuerta Ventura (translated as ‘strong winds’, and for good reason) went without incident, but the passage to Grand Canaria the next day developed into a hanging-on adventure as the wind acceleration zone between the islands meant a 20’beam sea threatened to break into the cockpit at times. Heady stuff indeed, but the arrival at the small isolated marina of Pasito Blanco and a welcome respite ashore for the night also turned into something of an ordeal. A jaunt to a ‘nearby’ beach restaurant for a late lunch turned an hour-long affair into a marathon five hour adventure involving a wait of two hours for a table in what was obviously a popular local eating hole. Coupled with a two hour wait for a taxi at the other end of the meal led to rather fretful nerves as we realised the stern-to mooring of Cepheus was now stretched tight by the spring tides. Tumbling out of the taxi back at the marina, it quickly became apparent that only one person could jump onto the boat to release the taut stern-lines - thankfully the use of a knife was not required !
The next morning we took the local advice offered by Manuel Ramirez on board the Hedonist and left at 5.00am to make the final leg up to La Gomera. Tip-toeing up the west coast of Grand Canaria in the dark, we felt our way out into the acceleration zone as dawn broke, and once free of the clutches of the land and its breezes experienced a relatively uneventful crossing to Tenerife. As we rounded the corner of the largest islands in the Canaries and headed up towards La Gomera, Peter Wright on the Dyfken called us and told us there was no wind between the two islands. Trusting Peter, we called off our intention to aim ‘high’, and took the direct route. He was right. At precisely midday we rounded the breakwater of San Sebastien without a drop of salt on the teak decking and commenced operations to make the boat ready for the tournament - which we didn’t fish !
Co-owner John Gill arrived late in the afternoon of 4th July, and high of hopes with all the fishing that had preceded our arrival, we took Cepheus out fishing on the 5th. To our disappointment, no one saw a blue, although a spearfish was briefly hooked amongst the continuing nine-boat fleet. The local tuna boats appeared to be picking at small yellowfins and skippies off the south point. In-fleet radio traffic indicated that the local commercials objected to our presence and a half-mile radius of any tuna-boat was mooted as a rule. Peter promptly slide-slipped closer to take a look at a tuna boat and a tirade of Spanish instructions and insults left him in no doubt as to what he was and with whom he had been doing it !
The fishing grounds of La Gomera appear to be confined to the southern inshore waters due to wind acceleration zones, and it got mighty confused at times with some fifteen boats in a small area over the next few days. Needless to say, Peter’s curiosity go the better of him again and this time the police were called and a visit to the marina by them resulted in an accusation that his boat was too loud (!!). The half-mile rule quickly became the norm. It also quickly became apparent that there was no welcome for whole fish landed in the marina due to the commercials’ connivance with the local constabulary and so Chunda’s procession of spearfish world-record attempts involved sly slides into the quay at the southern small port of Playa del Santiago, a jump ashore with a tripod and the scales, and then a hasty departure before anyone noticed what was happening. World records have to be weighed on terra firma.
Since the fishing occurs in what are relatively sheltered waters, our pattern of lures quickly became a daily routine and early in the morning of the 7th we had our first visitation by a blue after three days of quiet action amongst all the boats. The fish slid up behind a Black Bart Marlin Candy on the short rigger and whacked it out of the clip, only to let it go after a dozen yards of line. John quietly reeled the lure back up and before it broke surface the fish ate it again and started to leave the premise at high speed. It didn't seem a big fish, maybe about 250lbs, and with steady pressure and uneventful boat handling we had the fish at the back of the boat, straight up and down with 20’ of line out within a few minutes. At this point it became dis-entangled with the leader and left us, the double line tantilizingly close. Shame………of course.
The day ended with a blind strike on the long corner, a pink and purple Andromeda from Legend Lures which disappeared with speed. With the line angling downwards within 30 seconds I called it for a yellowfin or bigeye and told Richard to get his gloves out with the gaff and standby to gaff his first blue-water fish - a far cry from blue sharks ! The guess proved correct and within two minutes a 60 lb yellowfin was out off the side of the boat and it quickly came aboard. Jeff went to work and the fish was bled, gutted, headed and on the ice within another five minutes. It all seemed so good and maybe the fish were back………….hmm.
John and James Barber joined us as guests of John Gill at this stage and it quickly became apparent that James had the luck and John didn’t as the two of them fished the boat alone - John Gill having returned to his hectic business commitments. Over the course of the next week we caught James two spearfish of 35 and 50lbs as the marlin remained elusive. Two blues were caught, a 500lb fish for Dorado ( a charter-boat from Tenerife which disappeared at the end of the week) and a 400lb fish for the Hedonist. Small returns indeed for the amount of effort put in. Chunda also caught another world-record spear during the same time-frame on 6lb test. With the 20, 12 and 8 lb records also under Stewart’s belt, Chunda’s line-up in the morning changed to 4 and 16lb line. Tasty stuff indeed.
Over the next few days most of the other boats disappeared and on the morning of the 15th, I called for the gear to be pulled in and some skippy lures to be run out in the hopes of catching a livebait as some birds started to work nearby. With just Chunda and Dyfken in the vicinity we promptly ran over an 800 lb blue just under the surface in 400’ of water. ‘A thousand *$@ks’, I said promptly and yelled down to the cockpit for a live mackerel. No joy, even though we plugged the area for another two hours.
Two days later and the other owner of Cepheus was on board. Nigel and Jenny Gibbs are experienced to the rigours of blue-water trolling. With some spears about we decided to try and find one for either Jenny on a pitchbait on 16lb, or one of any size for Nigel to tackle with the fly. Two teasers, one rigger and one solitary black and purple Andromeda with hooks up short, just in case, of course. We pulled off a nice spear for Jenny on day one on the bite (a live mackerel), but the second day produced a nice surprise shortly after Barky called in from the Chunda that he had been ambushed by a pack of 200 lb plus big-eye on his teasers. In a welter of spray a blue marlin crashed the Andromeda from the side at 4.10 in the midst of the fleet and sizzled away from us. Waltzing away from the clutch of commercial boats we chased her down hungrily. One commercial boat noticed our progress and became far too intense though. Sidling over and past us, he promptly sat on top of the fish as we backed down towards him. 15 tons of aluminium went slightly faster as I decided we were bigger than him and aimed directly amidships. Thankfully he got the message and moved away as he started to hear the shouted insults from the cockpit and bridge! A long run down into the backing followed and it became apparent that something was wrong with the fish as we could not shift her. Jeff had called her 400 from the bite but I became convinced the fish was bigger. Fearing the fish was wrapped somehow, we told Nigel to turn up the heat and within 20 minutes we had the fish alongside the boat, tail-wrapped. Thankfully she still had some colour and after five minutes of resuscitation alongside the boat she swam off slowly. The first marlin of the year went down in the book at 750 lbs. A long fish with a huge head but no weight after the dorsal.
Anywhere I fish in the world in blue water has always meant cetaceans, and I quickly started to recognise some familiar faces amongst the waves as the days passed. It became apparent that a group of Cuvier’s beaked-whales (also known as goose-beaked) were established in the area and we started to see them regularly. One large specimen, almost white in colour, almost became a daily visitor. Bottlenose dolphins were obviously having a fine summer eating the inshore mackerel and we saw them regularly. Other sightings included three of either a pygmy or a dwarf sperm-whale (both rarities) and a mature sperm whale far out to sea one day. Short-finned pilot whales made an appearance on the 25th, along with a few large green turtles and a solitary loggerhead.
After 19 days without a marlin sighting, Chunda left for Madeira on the 25th. The fishing there is also spotty but Stewart has a house and a social life to enjoy compared to the relative backwater of La Gomera. Peter is still here with us although he has not fished for 10 days.
Status quo as follows for the 27th July - water 75 degrees at warmest. Mackerel inshore on the plateau together with some considerable quantities of large pilchards. Skippies seem to be rallying in numbers and the odd tuna boat is still out there playing with them. No other sport-boats fishing. We have seen nothing for nine days. Fishing elsewhere seems to be slow too. Will we go to Madiera ?
FIND OUT IN THE NEXT ISSUE !