Ascension Island, South Atlantic – March 2004
Unless you’re an historian specialising in Napoleon Bonaparte or a VERY keen Marlin angler it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of Ascension Island.
Ascension, a tiny volcanic island, is situated on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, equidistant and 2000 kilometres from Northern Brazil and Angola, and some 800 kilometres south of the Equator. Uninhabited, it was discovered by a Portuguese mariner at the beginning of the 16th century. But it appeared to lack a water supply and was never colonised. That was until, in 1815, when the British garrisoned a company of Marines there, in support of a squadron of warships, to prevent the French attempting to rescue Napoleon, who had been exiled on a even more remote island – St Helena, some 1300 kilometres to the south-west.
The island retained it strategic military importance and, towards the end of World War 2, the Americans constructed a 4000 metre runway on the island. I first heard of the island’s angling potential immediately after the Falklands War, between Britain and Argentina. It was then being used as a staging post, and soldiers returning from the conflict were catching huge numbers of Yellowfin Tuna, from little more than military landing craft, less than 400 metres offshore. But it remained a ‘closed’ military base with no tourist access. That was until the summer of 2002 when limited access was finally permitted and a German angler, Jorge-Dieter Haselhorst, moved three of his boats from Ghana and the Azores down there.
Dieter took a number of friends down for what was literally just a 4 day exploratory trip. And what a trip! They hooked big Marlin – although it wasn’t, according to military sources, the Marlin season – together with numbers of Yellowfin Tuna, Broadbill Swordfish and huge Six Gill Sharks. Also, fishing from the beach with fly rods, they landed Rainbow Runner well in excess of the current world records. So it potential was well and truly identified!
And in mid-November they started chartering. They, and an American mother-craft operation – God’s Favor/God’s Will, started to encounter enormous Blue Marlin, the largest a fish of 1337lbs. In addition they established a number of All-Tackle World records for Six Gill Shark.
The fishing continued in this vein with numbers of even larger Marlin being fought and lost. It has tremendous potential! The largest Marlin our Club – Sportfishing Club of the British Isles – members have released was conservatively estimated at in excess of 900lbs. Any rate you can view some of the details, together with photographs, on the Club’s web site – www.scbi.org.uk. Contact details for the two charter companies are also recorded.
The following report though describes a trip for six members of the Club – Dick Clack, Peter Gurd, Derek O’Donnell, Charles Reaves, Andy Sale and myself, Dave West – who fished there for a week in mid-March, on Shy 3 and Harmattan. This is at a time when normally the smaller males are encountered. In total we released 12 Blue Marlin, all with the exception of one fishing Bait ‘n’ Switch. The singleton was taken on a lure, trolling on the first day out. Most of the fish were around the 250lbs mark, with Dick releasing the largest estimated at 400. Although I did hook into a bigger fish on 50 – the hook hold failed after 20 minutes with the fish deep and several hundred metres away from the boat. And, on the last day, we spotted a monster tailing. That looked to be easily in the 1000lb range.
We also had the usual backup species – an 80lb Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna taken chunking at anchor to 70lbs, Dorado to 30lbs – including a 25 pounder on the fly, Wahoo to 35lbs and, inshore, the ubiquitous Black Jacks up to 20lbs.
So they’re the bald facts. What lays behind them?
Firstly on Shy 3. Well Derek, on his first Marlin fishing trip, released three – the best a 250 pounder on 30. Also both Andy and Charles released fish on 30s – Charles’ the best at an estimated 300lbs, a 10–1 capture. Then Derek had a ‘dustbin lid’ sized Black Jack – evidentially the largest Olaf (the skipper) has seen to-date.
And, on one particular evening, they elected to fish the mooring for school Tuna. Very quickly, chunking, they had a school boiling at the back of the boat. Well the Tuna definitely won! Both Andy and Charles elected to fish using heavy fly tackle, 20lb tippets, with white-bodied Snook flies – Doug’s Flys (Doug’s spelling, not mine). Charles had two hook-ups, both of which popped tippets. He also managed to foul hook a Manta Ray that appeared in the chum trail. Then Andy had a 2 hour battle with an estimated 50 pounder. Unfortunately the crew went for a gaff shot with the fish holding deep. The shot was ineffective and the fish made off for the depths again! With the prospect of a further two hours looming Andy pulled for a break. Not to be outdone whilst all this was happening – they’d also had several other YFT on conventional gear – Derek fished a set of 16lb stand-up. He had a battle that lasted an hour before the rod tip, closely followed by the line, broke!
Now to Harmattan, skippered by Matthias. And we were accompanied throughout by Gerard Aulong, the French video photographer.
Let’s start with what I suppose was the most eventful day – the 21st, Mothering Sunday. Broken rods – TWO! And it wasn’t the most auspicious of starts! We started off messing around inshore on the Black Jacks, with both Peter and I fishing 10 weight fly rods. Inexplicably, with his first fish played out and close to the boat, the second section of the ‘Thomas and Thomas’ broke. It wasn’t as if he was doing anything wrong – he wasn’t ‘high sticking’, the pressure was very much on the butt – and it was a clean break, two inches up from the butt section. (Normally, if the rod’s been previously damaged, you’ll get a ‘greenstick’ fracture.) So in deference to Gerard – ‘C’est la vie’!
Then we raised Dick’s 400lb Marlin, and got a tail wrap. We were backing into a big sea with the fish on the surface when Riako (the deckhand) took the leader. Given the fact that it was likely to pull away strongly, which it did, Riako started with two thumb and palm pinches. Unfortunately Dick didn’t back the drag quickly enough and ‘ping’ – that was the tip of Peter’s pristine 50lb custom-built rod broken. I say pristine because – although Dick had had that Marlin on it, I’d had a 20 minute battle with one, and both Dick and I had caught Tuna on it – Peter had failed to have even a hook-up in its short eventful life! Oh dear, bother or something equally eloquent! And developing my multi-lingual skills I remarked to Gerard ‘Jamais deux sans trois’. How true though – it was later that evening that we learned of Derek’s mishap!
Then one evening we tried to emanate Shy’s good fortune on the mooring. The tuna were fewer in numbers and whilst I stoically persevered with the legitimate fly outfit I noticed a chunk of skipjack ‘sweetened’ Peter’s fly. The cad! He got a good hook-up on what proved to be a 40 pounder, although part way through the fight the handle of his 4.5” Abel came adrift. We managed to find the locking nut, and he beat the fish in 20 minutes on a 20lb tippet. A creditable achievement on the long rod.
One observation on technique that might be of interest, with the fish circling just sub surface, Peter was leading the tuna – holding on whilst it circled away from the boat and recovering line as it circled in. It finally surfaced, and made no attempt to dive. That was the point at which we gaffed it, but making sure not to hold it against the transom until Peter was able to slacken his fly line.
I also that evening had an abortive strike on a Skipjack deadbait. Judging by the marking we’re fairly convinced that that was from a Broadbill.
There’s something else that you might find of interest. Bait ‘n’ Switch involves intense concentration on behalf of the skipper and crew, with normally Matthias on the tuna tower spotting the fish long before us. You really don’t want the fish grabbing the teaser. Any rate, on a couple of days, Gerard was towing an underwater camera. And on one occasion watching the monitor he, before Matthias, spotted a Sailfish come deep into the pattern under the left-hand teaser. It was impressive, on playback, to watch – seeing it banking on its pectorals, and raising its sail.
With the camera running sub-surface Gerard, whilst having had a number of strikes in the past from Wahoo and Barracuda, has never had a billfish attack the housing. They appear totally disinterested in it.
Should you be interested there’s great underwater footage of Marlin tracking baits and lures on Gerard’s earlier videos featuring Blues from Ghana and Blacks from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Copies may be obtained from Gerard – his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honorary Chairman – Sportfishing Club of the British Isles