Bill Fishing in Africa – A Member’s Tale
The main Bill Fish season in Africa runs from November to mid/late March and this year has been an interesting year for the sport fishing boats operating off the Kenya coast who are chasing the normally huge migration of Bill fish – Blue ,Black and Striped Marlin and Sail fish with the numbers of fish not arriving as expected and those being raised not actually hooking up properly .
All of these fish can and have been taken on a fly and are unbelievable sport for the Fly-Fisherman wanting to try a new experience . Heavy fly rods and reels which allolots and lots of backing are available on the market but I know people who have used the same rods and kit as they would for Salmon.
The real key to success on the fly is having a phenomenal crew on the boat , rather than fishing with conventional methods where multiple lines and lures are trawled out the back of the boat ,the fly fishing boats only use the outriggers to trawl hook less lures and when the fish has been “teased” up with the fish up on the surface and actively trying to grab them they are very quickly bought in allowing the angler to cast a fly to the excited fish and if all goes according to plan the fish grabbing the fly and then the fun commences .
It’s an incredibly visual style of fishing and locating , teasing ,hooking ,playing and eventually landing these huge oceanic predators is a once in a lifetime experience .
So much can go wrong ,rods get broken , reels emptied , anglers get exhausted !
Fish however were being caught when I arrived at the Hemmingway’s resort in Watamu on the Kenyan coast but it was apparently incredibly hard work and most skippers seemed to be scratching their heads to the reasons for this with atmospheric conditions being blamed from water temperature to deep water Tsunamis !
On arrival there this February my brother had told me to look out for a Captain he had fished with the previous year called Adam Ogden , a Yorkshire Man who had gone native after serving in the British Army , settled and now ran a fabulous boat called Black Widow privately out of Hemmingway’s .
Every afternoon the boats come in around 4 o clock and the bar becomes a hive of activity with Captains , anglers , wives and girlfriends gathering to discuss the day’s highs and lows , tackle , boats, etc .
It’s quite a scene and as there are as many as 30 boats fishing from the bases of the two hotels on the beach , Hemmingway’s and Ocean sports which is right next door then there is always a healthy amount of competition between the boats and anglers .
I located Adam and we got talking over a beer and after chewing the cud and discussing all the usual things that fishermen discuss he mentioned that at some stage during the week he was going to go on an experimental outing to try and catch a Broadbill in the day, that this would be a first for the hotel and his boat and was probably highly unlikely but since things were so tough for the usual game fish and inspired by an article in a US fishing magazine that he had read , would I be interested in joining him ?
Off course I jumped at the chance and sure enough three days later we set off on this mission at sunrise .
Broadbill Swordfish (Xiphias Gladius) are a type of Bill fish that are normally only caught at night , this is because in the day they stay in the very deep dark water where not much is known about their behavior.
They have very large eyes to aid them in low light situations and a huge bill which can be up to a third of the length of their body . They are usually caught at night as their usual prey, Squid ascend from the depths to the warmer water to feed and this is simulated by trawling artificial phosphorescent lights with either lures or dead baits .
We were one of 4 boats heading out that morning trying to be the first to coax one up from the depths and after running out along way to sea the depth finder started reading depths of 1000 feet plus , most of the modern boats now plot where and what they have caught on their onboard GPS systems and it wasn’t long before we were on top of a mark showing where a previous angler had hooked a fish in the dark of night .
The depth showed 1800 feet .
To give this a bit of perspective the Empire State building is 1250 feet high , so imagine dropping a line off the side of that and some !
The crew had the tackle ready and this was no fly fishing , the weights resembled concrete bollards(see attached pictures) and were roughly the same size , the squid was attached to a breaking line which was 30lb line and two phosphorescent lights were attached before the whole ensemble was lowered over board very gingerly , a tangle here would have sent any of the team straight to the bottom of the ocean .As this was new territory for the team nobody really knew what was going on below and there was much debate about which way the currents could be moving etc , eventually though after what seemed like a life time of spooling out line we felt a very small bump and knew we had hit the bottom .
I was told by the skipper that if we got a take even though these fish can grow to be huge and are very aggressive then it would only be a little twitch up where we were due to the fact that we were so far from the action down below us .
Sure enough after about half an hour , our twitch happened and then all seemed quiet , after about 10 minutes we decided to start retrieving the rig to see if this had just been a tangle or we had touched a crop of rock or something similar , after about 5 minutes of continuous winding the rod went completely taught and it felt like we had snagged . The crew then started getting very excited and it was confirmed that we had a fish on .
The depth finder read 1400 feet .
To all of our surprise as quick as I could wind the line started to come and within a few minutes we saw this leviathan coming up under the boat ,it was trying to keep in the boats shadow but up it came and there was much celebration on board . However the fish soon realized what was going on and just as quickly as it had appeared it disappeared , nose down and to the continuous screaming of the reel .
These fish are known as the Gladiators of the sea and pound for pound are the strongest fighters , after 20 minutes I was making no head way and I have never felt a weight like this on a line , after much barracking from the Captain and the crew I quickly realized why I had been invited on this wonderful expedition and that was to be the winding man , after 30 minutes I was close to tears a sweaty mess and every inch of my body was aching ,the crew were trying to keep me cool by pouring freezing cold water over my head from the icebox and I was wishing I hadn’t turned down breakfast .
I was also seriously nervous about letting it drop off and ruining this moment for everyone .
After 45 minutes we managed to get the fish up to the boat and it was tagged and released almost as quickly as it had surfaced , I was an absolute mess with knees like jelly , dribbling and having serious heart palpations , I managed to grab my camera take a very wonky snap of the brute before it descended silently into the deep .
It was estimated at 60 kilos .
On board there was much jubilation , the opening of cold beers and I could tell from the crews excited Swahili chit chat that they were going to be the ones with bragging rights back at the bar that night .
We made for port ,managed to catch a Sailfish on the way back trawling again, as said angler was proverbially knackered and got back to a full bar at Hemmingway’s where the great and the good had gathered to see us in .
It wasn’t until then and after several photos by the deck that Captain Adam told me that a member of his crew had actually touched the leader on the fish’s first ascent and that had made the catch official , the rest of the fight he said was just to get his money’s worth from me and for his own personal amusement .
Its not every day that one gets in the record books for such a place and Captain , crew and very tired angler were all absolutely delighted .