Season Recap - April 2013 – January 2014

A look back at Madagascar Fishing Adventures 2013 season
By James McCafferty (Head Guide)

After establishing itself as the foremost South African fishing operator in Madagascar in the last couple of years, Madagascar Fishing Adventures moved from strength to strength in 2013. A major development was the relocation of operations to the well established and highly professional Sakatia Lodge, situated in the pristine south-western corner of Sakatia Island. The new base is ideal, providing comfortable accommodation, great food and cold beers next to a long stretch of beach and tropical forest. Our new fishing centre (complete with tackle shop and deck overlooking the water) allows our guests to enjoy a sundowner and restock after the doggies have had a field day with their jigs.

The fishing centre boasts extensive rod racks and wash down areas (cement trough, hose and showers). At the end of each day’s fishing, tackle is offloaded and rinsed, so that guests can focus on more important things like cracking a cold Three Horse Beer and reliving the events of the day at the lodge bar. Each morning our guests can literally wake up, enjoy a coffee on the deck / beach and step onto the boat safe in the knowledge that all their tackle will be clean and loaded onto King Julien, ready for battle.

The lodge also offers a host of other activities including (great diving and snorkeling right on its doorstep), so the lodge is perfect for non-fishing guests.

Looking back at the 2013 season, there are so many highlights that stick out for me. Our first group of clients included well-known former Springbok and rugby personality Bob Skinstad and Justin Kemp, a former Protea cricketer and captain of the Cape Cobras. Bob and co. got the season off to a flyer with some excellent fish including a sailfish on a stickbait for Justin (which he sightcasted to), and a good number of GT's and bluefin trevally on the surface.

A notable feature of this season was the incredible number of BIG doggies hooked and lost. Anyone who has fished for dogtooth tuna will know how uncompromising these fish are and 2013 proved no different. While many doggies in the medium size range were boated, it was a case of reaching for another jig time and again as the big fish made a mockery of our best efforts!

British TV actor and angler Robson Green found this out the hard way when the Discovery Channel came to film an episode of his new TV show “Extreme Fishing with Robson Green” with Madagascar Fishing Adventures in December 2013. Doggies were the target species and Castor Banks the destination. A very well travelled and experienced angler, Robson was completely dumbstruck by the brute power and speed of the big doggies which smoked him, proclaiming them “the strongest fighting fish that I have ever hooked”! That being said, I believe it is only a matter of time before a truly big doggie is boated. Madagascar is well known for its topwater action. GT's, as well as good-sized bluefin kingfish (trevally), are often found crusing underneath large "patches" of fusiliers, a brightly-coloured baitfish found on the surface above shallow underwater pinnacles. Poppers and stickbaits worked around these baitfish were very productive, often resulting in incredible surface takes as the lure was engulfed in a shower of water!

One week stands out in particular, fishing with brothers Gareth and Sean Tanner and two of their friends. The guys couldn't do anything wrong, smashing the fish all week on surface poppers (as well as a great doggie on stickbait for Gareth). Couta and bohar snapper were also taken in good numbers on the surface over the course of the season with the occassional doggie in the mix. As is often the story, many of the big GT's this season were lost to coral breakoffs and missed strikes, although several good fish up to 35kg were landed.

Another personal highlight was a great sailfish for Larry Class at Castor Banks. Having had a busy morning jigging and picking up several wahoo and doggies, the guys took a break from the jigs and opted to do some searching with poppers and stickbaits around the 30-40m mark. I had spotted some baitfish in the area and it wasnt long before two big black shapes materialised behind Larry's popper. On closer inspection, I recognised the black shapes as a sailey and a shark, with the sailey outmaneuvering the shark and attempting to engulf the popper! I shouted out "SAILEY, SAILEY, cast again!" A disbelieving Larry pitched out the popper perfectly about five metres off the starboard side, and the sailey slowly porpoised on the lure as confident as you like. The fish put up an epic struggle, and the tension was heightened by the constant attention of the taxman! Thankfully, Larry prevailed in the end and landed a superb sailfish, a hugely rewarding experience for both of us.

The 2013 season was also spent exploring the inshore fishing potential that this area is blessed with. These areas are often overlooked in favour of offshore areas but they have a lot to offer, particularly for the light tackle enthusiast. We have focussed on certain bays, lagoons and estuaries that are lined with mangroves where we have had great success picking up tonnes of greenspot kingies, GT’s, river snapper and other species on plastics and spoons.

The river snapper fishing in these inshore areas has been excellent and we took some great fish this year. One occasion sticks out in particular. Having spent the night on a live-aboard in one of the lagoons, myself, John, and Peter Wilson had the luxury of an early start and a two minute ride to the mouth of the bay early that morning. After spotting a large school of baitfish nervously milling at the surface, Peter and John threw surface lures as the sun came up. After being smashed up by and losing a big GT, Peter quickly made amends by landing a trio of good sized river snapper. John soon followed suit, landing a massive snapper that crunched his popper right next to the boat!

The estuaries have produced some fantastic light tackle fishing and the action can be frenetic. On some mornings big groups of greenspot kingies can be seen busting in the river and will smash a spoon thrown into the melee, providing awesome sport on a light spinning rod. I believe we have only scratched the surface of the inshore potential that these areas have to offer. Mike Visser only served to confirm this when he fished with us in the last week of 2013. Mike took two big GT's, including a fish of 25kg+, on consecutive days from a point only a few minutes cruise from Sakatia Lodge. Needless to say, it was a very festive New Years Eve at the lodge!

The last year also provided some truly magical wildlife experiences. Highlights included a pod of killer whales (Orcas) that we encountered on the ride out to Castor. These magnificent animals are rarely associated with the tropics but are thought to move into the area to prey on juvenile Bryde's and Humpback whales. Humpback whales were particularly plentiful, especially in September/October when large numbers move into the area with their calves, and multiple sightings are almost guaranteed every day. Another special highlight was the large number of whale sharks which we encountered from September onwards. Fishing inshore around schools of bonnies produced numerous sightings of these massive fish, and many guests took the opportunity to jump in and snorkel with these gentle giants (after they had picked up a couple of bonnies or skipjack tuna on a spoon of course!). All of this and I haven't even mentioned the huge pods of spinner dolphins or the pilot whales...

We also managed to do some exploratory trips in 2013 to investigate the fishing potential in areas further afield, in particular an area we have subsequently dubbed "Madagonia". Reminiscent of Patagonia combined with the tropics, this area is characterised by rugged, windswept "savannah" type vegetation which is quite different to the usual tropical forests. The area is dotted with several coral atolls with flats and fringing reef and large islands. It has a huge amount of fantastic fishing potential.

We explored a few of these atolls on foot, wading the flats and sandbars and caught some fantastic GT's, bluefins and greenspots off the beach. We haven't even begun to explore the area properly with King Julien but the potential for some amazing popping and jigging is certainly there. We are hoping to organise further exploratory trips to this area in 2014 and I certainly can't wait to get back!

All in all, 2013 was a great year for Madagascar Fishing Adventures and it was a privilege and pleasure to be out on the water. 2014 promises to be an even better season and I hope to see you at Sakatia soon.

Cheers
James

 

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