It was Sunday 10th Feb 2013, this was no ordinary Sunday, there would be no boerie braaing or beer drinking today !
Today the team on Beluga would run the 62 nautical miles from the mooring in Hout Bay to Gansbaai harbour which would be the first Port of call for the "2013 CTFC Marlin Expedition"! Every year at about this time for a period of a month or so the 23 degree indigo-blue Mozambique and Agulhas currents merge and slide within ski-boat distance of the Southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas .
This is the water that holds the “Big Blacks“ and the “Stripeys“, dump that water on top of the Alphard banks and the 12 mile bank and it makes up a Marlin fishery arguably as good as anywhere else in the world !
Beluga had been prepped the day before so after a leisurely morning the arrangement had been made to meet up with my two sons Ben and Joe Potter with the intention of throwing mooring lines off at 10h30, a time I would describe as a sensible time to go fishing !
The days preceding the Sunday were taken up constantly checking and re-checking the weather forecast , the route south is a fairly straight forward run which coincides very nicely with the buoy weather “ weather buoys” so a very accurate picture could be painted as to what kind of weather could be expected south of Cape Point.
The correct weather and sea conditions to fish for Marlin off Cape Agulhas only present once or twice each year so when the window opens for 4 or 5 days back to back the boys have got to be ready to run , and we were !
A light Norwester of about 8 – 10 knots greeted us outside the bay, this was forecast and it was a perfect little tail breeze which would make for a very pleasant run south.
The intention was to fish our way over rocky bank, this is a shallow pinnacle just south of Cape Point which is known for holding the Snoek and the Yellowtail when they are around, Rocky Bank didn’t disappoint and we soon had some “padkos“ in the box .
At 17h00 hours we were safely tied up alongside the dock in Gansbaai harbour doing final tackle tweaks for the days that lay ahead (the truth is the tackle had been tweaked and re-tweaked many, many times prior to leaving Hout Bay but when the boys are talking fishing and thirst quenching somehow it just feels right to be crimping leaders and setting drags !)
Monday morning at 05h00 Beluga slipped her mooring in Gansbaai and started the 40 mile run to the 12 mile bank, still in darkness the first hour or so was more of a brisk walk rather than a run but when the sun came up the 2 x 150 hp Yamaha 4-strokes were opened up and just before 08h00 the boys were choosing a pattern of lures that would send those “ Blacks “ into a frenzy never witnessed before aboard Beluga !
The lines were in and the pre-set line hangers were spaced perfectly for the conditions at hand, a four lure spread made up the pattern and the Konas were poppin and streamin like torpedoes from a naval battleship !
The water was blue, blue, blue and reading 22.7 degrees on the temperature gauge, a slight ripple on the water made for absolutely perfect Marlin fishing conditions.
The straws had been drawn and the pecking order established, Ben had the long straw which meant he was on strike , Dad had the middle straw which put me where I am most comfortable, on the helm and Joe with the short straw meant he was upstairs combing the ocean with young eyes looking for any signs or awkward movements on the surface of the ocean. The order would rotate every 30 mins until lines up is called later in the day.
The strange phenomenon about this kind of fishing is that so long as the conditions are good and the lures are swimming nicely, which they were , there is an unspoken etiquette that exists amongst Marlin fisherman and that is ...... we all understand that we might not get a strike today .... or tomorrow.... or even the next day for that matter and that is just fine and accepted (a very different mindset to Tuna fishing).
Just over an hour had passed when Ben yelled out from his vantage point on top “ Short rigger , Short rigger “, immediately followed by the sound which all Marlin fisherman are addicted too, the sound that entices fishermen the world over to spend millions and millions of dollars, pounds, rands in every corner of the globe ......... the sound of 80lb line being ripped from that golden spool at a rate of knots that cannot be witnessed anywhere but on a Black Marlin strike !
The frenzy had begun, the fish was grey hounding across the surface of the ocean, each and every jump was followed by a huge splash of white water as the massive shoulders and torso of the fish would re-enter the now turbulent water.
We on !
Then........ silence ! She didn’t stick !
Disbelief and disappointment was quickly replaced with further shouts from the cockpit , “ Short corner , Short corner", she had come back, but this time the explosion was close, very close, only meters behind the boat she had come in tight and trashed No. 1 position, the largest lure in the spread the black and purple MoldCraft . Again she jumped, aggressively shaking her massive head and bill from side to side, she was luminous, her body was glowing in colours that only marlin fishermen understand. The reel was once again screaming, as I laid line down in the water, lots of line .
Then ...... silence ! She didn’t stick !
This Black Marlin came back a third time and smashed a third lure and performed in the same way as the two previous attacks except during her third visit we thought she had stuck , Joe who was on strike had ample time to get strapped into the black magic stand-up harness and settle things down before she came loose ! ! ! !
It was an amazing encounter with a magnificent fish !
The next six or so hours of trolling were interrupted only once by a young Yellowfin Tuna which was swimming amongst a super pod of hundreds of dolphins.
The afternoon weather was a little breezy with 12 – 15 knots of South Easterly, once again exactly to forecast, the run back to Gansbaai was pleasant and full of creative discussion.
Tuesday 12th Feb was forecast to be a “ blow out “ day and it was !
After Beluga had been refuelled and washed down the remainder of the day was spent exploring Gansbaai and relaxing with the locals !
Wednesday, 13th Feb, the South Easter from the previous day had dropped off to a light breeze, which made for smooth seas and a small swell, by first light we were once again ” pulling plastic “ on the 100 meter contour line 5 miles south west of the 12 mile bank.
The conditions were once again perfect and the well rested crew were ready for anything that “Neppy “ was prepared to offer !
Lunch time was fast approaching and the reels remained quiet, we had moved down the contour line and across to the pinnacle of the 12 mile bank where we were greeted by a whole fleet of boats, commercial boats, recreational boats , even luxury sport fishing boats fully rigged for marlin fishing , they were all drifting across the shallow pinnacle of the 12 mile bank picking off the yellowtail at each and every pass.
The Yellowtail in this area are not like the 3 – 6 kg average fish we get off Cape Point , these fish are much bigger fish , fish averaging 7 – 10kgs with the odd specimen up to 15kgs and often even bigger, in other words they are GREAT fish and a lot of fun to catch on well matched tackle.
Aboard Beluga we had the appropriate tackle to do battle with these fish but that would have meant an interruption to our M.O, it would have meant a disruption to our spread, so after working the area briefly and pretending to ignore the flashing bodies of the Seriola Lalandi as they were pulled over the gunwhales of the nearby fishing boats we headed away and maintained focus to the job at hand ..... raising billfish !
The next two hours remained quiet with one quick little buzzzzz from the long rigger, it may have been a shark , it may have been a yellowtail, it could even have been a marlin but after inspecting the lure we had no conclusive evidence to confirm either so as far the Boyz on Beluga are concerned it was just a little buzzzzz from the long rigger !
14h00 hrs had arrived far too soon , “ Lines up “ was called and the 100 mile run back to the mooring in Hout Bay would take close to five hours, arriving back into the bay just before sunset.
In the world of fishing and boating things don’t always go to plan and for many, many different reasons ETA’s have a habit of changing, sometimes the reason for change are good and sometimes the reason for change are not so good !
This time, fortunately it was the former and not the latter !
As we ran past Danger point it was clear we had left the 23 degree blue water in our wake, we were running a steady 20 knots in greenish almost brackish water that was no more than 18 degrees temperature at best , it almost gives a satisfying feeling that the expedition had come and gone and the colder water signifies our return home back to familiar waters .
It was as we were crossing the mouth of false bay that the water started to increase in temperature again , not slightly but significantly, in fact in the space of 1 nautical mile the water temp had jumped from 18 degrees to an unprecedented 23 degrees , this clearly meant only one thing and that was that a piece of water had broken off the main Agulhas current and had been trapped close to Cape Point by the colder Benguela current.
Not only was that amazing to witness, it was alive, absolutely alive, the birds were crashing the surface of the water against the backdrop of the sinking sun, the water was boiling with fish, big fish, small fish, bait fish ..... it was just alive .
Needless to say the throttles were pulled back and the Tuna gear was quickly set out , within seconds we were vas , full house Longfin Tuna strike . This happened again only moments after resetting the pattern then an interesting thing happened ....... Joseph my youngest son took it on himself to clear all the lines and drop the outriggers and proceeded to set up a Marlin spread, he hadn’t got more than one line in the water before the 80lb Tiagra started that aggressive noise again, then Ben whom incidentally was fast asleep only 5 minutes earlier also started to shout .....
Marlin, Marlin, Marlin on the Japanese .........
There was no mistaking the stature of the bill, head and shoulders, a silhouette that appeared to be suspended in the vertical position, once again shaking aggressively from side to side.
There were NO other lines to clear , one lure in the water and one marlin hooked up, a “ Big Black “ that had now disappeared beneath the surface of the dark grey ocean.
There was no time to dispute which of the two boys were on strike , Joe made his intentions very clear as he prised the bent rod from the stainless rod holder in the trolling board, he was on strike and he was about to enter into the fight of his life !
Ten minutes on and the fish had settled, now there was to be a battle of muscle and mind which could last minutes or it could last hours, dragging the boys on Beluga into darkness !
Forty five minutes on and the bimini was at the rod tip, the Marlin was now only a little over 9 meters away, the fight was at a crucial stage, we all knew our jobs and very little was said, the tasks were carried out faultlessly .
Ben was now on the helm as I reached out to grab the leader, one wrap in and the fish was barely visible in the little daylight that remained , two wraps in and the fish lit up like the Christmas lights on Adderley Street , it was then the huge fish made its final dash for freedom , every muscle in my body and soul reacted and the fish sprang back out from under the chime ! Two more wraps were made and the fish was alongside ready to have the hooks removed before release ...... but all was not well !
The fish had picked up some prop rash during the last skirmish and he was not going to recover, now a quick decision had to be taken . . . . ...
Do we let the fish sink or do we load ?
With the cockpit lights now glowing the fish was loaded, it was a magnificent Black Marlin of 552lbs – Joe’s first billfish !
JOE'S 552 LB BLACK MARLIN