George Balbino – Cape Verde

Hi all,
As promised before, please see below a summary of my last spearfishing trip to Cape Verde Islands.
Some French friends had been to Cape Verde last year and came back with some amazing pictures and reports of fantastic fishing there, and as they were keen to go back there again this year, I put my name forward for the trip and hoped I could get a place.
I left London on 31st July for Paris. I arrived in Paris and found my friends busy organising their tree-trunk guns for this trip. Even at that early stage I realised that my modest Rob Allen 1.3 and 1.4m guns might prove rather underpowered for the kind of fishing we were going to come across.
We left Paris on 1st August on a direct flight to Cape Verde, after more than four hours delay and not really being told very much by the airline. As our
flight was scheduled to arrive there mid-afternoon, we had planned to go for a shore dive to sort out our gear and then use the rest of the day to make the necessary arrangements for the start of our spearing in the following morning. As our flight only got there in the evening, we had no time to make any arrangements for the diving and ended up wasting our first day there trying to find a local fisherman, boat, etc.
On our arrival we realised that the wind was rather strong and feared that the sea conditions would prove a challenge. We woke up nice and early to still more wind and partially overcast skies, but undaunted by the prospects of rough seas we made our way to the harbour area in search of the same fisherman with whom the guys had dived last year. On arriving at the harbour we learnt that he was already out at sea, so without much else to do we went about organising our food supplies for the two weeks ahead, exchanging some money into the local currency, Escudos, and just chilling out around town.
Cape Verde is not a cheap destination by any means, and I found that most things cost more there than in Europe. The Escudo is pegged to the Euro, so it is overvalued and buys very little. The economy of the island where we stayed is geared towards tourism, so everything is priced in Euros and most islanders will speak at least some Italian, who form the majority of those visiting the island.
In the afternoon we headed back to the harbour in search of our man, and whilst we waited we could see the catches being brought in by the other fishermen. There was an abundance of yellow fin tunas and wahoos, as well as other smaller species. I was impressed with the haste that the fish were being processed once landed. As soon as the fish hit the harbour the harbour hands would chop their heads off and gut them with such skill and speed that is was a show in itself. When our contact finally arrived we were greeted with the good news that sea conditions were not as bad, and that the wind was dropping.
Arrangements were quickly made for a mid-morning start. We went for a shore dive in the afternoon, right outside our accommodation. The visibility was quite poor and fish life over that patch of reef was scarce, but it was as good an opportunity as any to sort out our gear and weights.
On our first day out at sea we saw plenty of fish activity, mainly wahoo. I missed several fish by shooting from too far and watching the spear drop in the distance. The other guys landed one fish each on this first day.
On the second day, and now aware that if I was to stand a chance of landing any fish I would have to try and get closer to the fish. The change of tactics soon paid off and I was a happy bunny! We were drift diving in waters 65-90m deep, so we just drifted down current diving around the flashers, with bit of fish being constantly dropped into the water by those on the boat. We drifter over a particularly quiet patch and after several dives seeing no fish I was getting ready to retrieve the flasher and call the boat, but all that changed when I looked down at the flasher and saw a huge shape approach it.
I
thought I was seeing things and when the picture finally registered in my brain I realised that it was a huge sailfish. I dived down slowly and approached the large fish from the side. The fish seemed to be taken by the flasher and was in no hurry to leave, so I just lined up the shot behind the gill plate and just above the lateral fin and let the spear fly. The spear hit home and I made my way to the surface in readiness for the mother of all tows. The fish started pulling hard, but it was not going ballistic. I held on tight to the float line so as not to allow it to pick up speed. The fish was going around in large circles and allowed me a little respite to call the boat. I tried to approach the fish, but every time it saw me it went mad – I think it may have been the colour of my suit of the funny yellow fins I use. So off we went for another slow tow in the blue yonder, and when the boat finally arrived I handed the line to the skipper and went down to inspect how well placed the spear was. The shot had been a good one and the spear was doing a good job.
The
flesh had not lacerated and the spear would hold as long as there was no slack in the float line to allow the flopper to close. I jumped on the boat for some rest, picked up another gun and went down for a second shot on the fish.
The second spear hit the fish from above, just behind the head and must have hit a vital part of the fish as blood started spurting out through the wound and gill plates, but the fish had not yet given up. I went back on the boat and helped the skipped pull up the fish. Once we managed to pull the fish was alongside the boat the skipper dispatched it with some almighty blows to the head, and we were soon hauling the large fish onto the boat. On seeing the fish out of the water, and realising how big it was, that made me feel quite proud of my efforts and of my trusted Rob Allen 1.3m railgun. The skipper picked up the other guys for another drift and they were also all impressed with the fish. I tried to lift the fish for the compulsory pictures, but just could not lift it high enough, so that gave me an idea of the weight of fish, which I put at about 37-40 kgs, and not too bad for my first fish of the trip!
The adrenalin was still pumping, so we all dropped into the water again and soon came across yet more fish. On my very first next dive in the middle of a very large school of jacks I spotted a shape, which I believed to be a shark, but on close inspection I realised that it was in fact a yellow fin tuna.
The
skipper had been systematically dropping bait in the water around the flashers, so there was plenty of small fish activity, and I guess the tuna had come to inspect what the commotion was about. On seeing that the fish would not be obliging, I gave chase from above and fired, trying to aim for the head, but the fish was swimming so fast that the best I managed was to hit it just below the large yellow dorsal fin. The fish went like a rocked and managed, just at that first sprint, to do what the much larger sailfish had not managed to do over a very long tow, i.e. bend the spear! I made a beeline for the float
just in time. The fish was pulling like mad, but I knew it was only a question of time before it kept the sailfish company on the boat, as the spear had gone through and the barb had opened nicely on the other side. I managed to pull up the fish to about 15 metres and our local friend placed another shot into it in order to guarantee the sashimi that night. Once back on the boat and with the fish now safely cradled on my lap I had a green that went from one ear to the other. Again our estimates put the fish at about 25 kgs.
On that same drift Angelo had managed to land a nice amberjack of about 8 kgs, so I was surprised when I dropped again into the water, and on my first dive, and saw a similar fish come up from the middle of the jacks. I wasted no time and it was soon on the boat with his other mates. The day was not going too badly and I still managed to land two wahoos of around 13-15 kgs each.
The day ended on a positive note and we were looking forward to our next day’s diving. During the day we had all seen quite a few yellow fin tunas, some quite large, but they were either too deep or far for a proper shot, even with the bazookas the other guys were diving with. Also during the day we had seen a large pod of some sort of large stump nose porpoises. They stayed around for a while and were then gone. What a nice sight!
I believe that the French guys must have held a secret crisis meeting during the night because on our next foray they did pretty well, with Angelo and Bernard each landing one sailfish each, and, wait, on the same dive! The report was that two large sailfish came in to inspect the flasher that they were diving around and Angelo was the first one to shoot. A big battle ensued and Angelo was towed for what appeared to be an eternity. I was on the boat when this happened, so we gave chase and arrived to help Angelo, but then another shout came from the distance. I jumped in the water and gave Angelo’s fish a second shot. In the meantime the boat had gone to help Bernard, who was now panicking because the dude on the boat did not speak a work or English or French, and Bernard needed some urgent help. When the boat returned Bernard was all smiles and punching the air, as he too had landed his sailfish. Their fish were slightly smaller than the one I had shot on the previous day, but the way the fish presented themselves to them and the way they were both caught deserve a proper report, which I am sure Angelo will have published in the next issue of Apnea magazine. We still landed some more wahoos and ended the day having a few caipirinhas at one of the local bars.
The diving was very similar over the next days. However, there was a particular day when the fisherman put us on a hot spot, where the wahoo were thick and wild. I set a personal best of 10 wahoos, Angelo came a close second with
8 fish, Bernard landed 4 fish, and Jean Noel drilled 2 fish. Again the issue of gun power came to trouble me. Despite having landed quite a few fish, I also lost quite a few due to long shots and the fact that I was not using a slip tip. On four occasions I had the fish in my hands only to see them swim away to fight another day. We ended up the day with about 300 kgs of fish on the boat. The skipper was all smiles and we were happy for him. Fish fetches quite a good price in Cape Verde, if compared to other far-flung destinations, but shooting and selling your own fish is a big no-no there. Several spearos have been arrested over the last few years, and quite a few more have had their gear confiscated by the authorities, so selling fish there is out of the question.
During our two weeks there we saw enough fish activity to make the most seasoned spearo smile. Apart from the three sailfish landed three more were seen.
Very large dorados were landed, as were amberjacks and tuna. Tuna are quite abundant in those waters, but they are not easy to shoot. Some very large tuna, of at least 80+ kgs were seen, but those are even more difficult to approach.
After about one week after diving my left ear was a bit sore, but not wanting to miss on the good fishing I pushed on regardless. Well, the result is a sad one, i.e. my eardrum decided that it had had enough of that and caved in.
So I was out of action from that point on, but I still made it out to sea a couple more times in order to help on the boat and not to miss playing a small part in all the action. On a few days the water was considerably colder, and that coincided with much smaller catches, so I believe the water temperature around the islands does play an important role in the abundance of fish or lack thereof.
During the two weeks that we spent in Cape Verde a few sharks were seen, but they never represented any danger or came after our fish.
For my next trip to the islands, which I am already planning, I will take a considerably more powerful gun and slip tips. Another piece of advice from me is that if you have a Rob Allen gun with the black thinner monofilament line on, please change it to better quality, thicker line. I had to replace the line on all the spears I had in some cases after shooting just one fish.
I have already sent out some of the pictures taken during the trip. I am now
waiting for the arrival of the ones taken on slide or print, which I will then scan and send out in due course.
Safe spearing to all,
George Balbino