Trip to the Azores – Part 1

Azores Trip – Part A

London International Club

Trip to the Azores – July 2003

by Paolo de Michelis

Divers: John Costa, Mike Bradshaw, Kevin Daly, Clive Thomas and Paolo de Michelis

DAY 1: A long journey to San George

After days spent fishing in the cold and murky English waters, we were all dreaming to dive in the Azores, with great visibility and big fish.

We finally left from London Gatwick airport in the early morning of Sunday 13th July but our journey wasn’t going to be easy. We flew to Lisbon and then to the island of San Miguel before eventually landing on our final destination, the Island of San George.

As usually the local airline lost all our luggage (this is the third time it happens) so we all ended up with nothing but our clothes. We were however very happy to be finally in the Azores and pleased to catch up again with Victor, our local contact and friend. He picked us up at the airport and took us to our accommodation, a very nice house a few yards from the sea. After eating some delicious prawns at the local restaurant we were all ready for a good night sleep. The only problem was that both Mike and Clive snored so loudly that we were concerned they would scare all the fish!

DAY 2: Afternoon dive in the North of the island

The following day we obtained the fishing licences from the local port authorities and in the afternoon collected our luggage at the airport. At 5pm we assembled our equipment in record time and went for a boat dive in the North of San George, until the sunset at 10 pm.

Catch of the day:

Kevin: 9lbs bonito

Clive: 2 bream, 1 triggerfish, one 8 lbs mullet, 1 pelagic and a parrot fish

Mike: 1 amberjack (2kg)

Paolo: 9 lbs bonito, 3 bream and one 7 lbs mullet

A bonito in the darkness:

It was getting dark and the visibility was dropping very quickly. I had a few fish on my stringer but hoped to catch something bigger. I dived again on a drop-off and did an agachon behind a big boulder, in -16m of depth. I faced the open water and was looking against the light coming from the sunset when a big nose appeared on the distance. It got bigger and bigger as it approached and finally arrived at the end of the shooting range of my Cressy 1m arbalete. As soon as the fish turned I recognised a big bonito and squeezed the trigger, knowing however that it would be a long shot. The spear hit the fish on the spine but unfortunately didn’t go through the whole meat and the barbs didn’t open. Damn! The bonito swam faster and in a few painful seconds tore off the spear and disappeared in the darkness… I was very disappointed but noticed that the fish was seriously injured and thought that I should give it another try. I therefore continued to fish in the area, doing long dives in mid water hoping to see the fish. I was about to give up when I saw a flash and recognised the bonito lying on his side in a crack. I aimed, shot again and got it to the surface. It was a nice 9lbs bonito and a good revenge on all the other bonito that I missed in my previous trip to the Azores.

The one that got away.(Clive reports)


Having spent ages travelling, and then waiting for our kit to arrive I was glad to be out on the boat looking forward to our first evening dive. There was a swell coming in, which on reflection had brought the fish in I think. Victor agreed to give us some easy diving for our first dive so we could get our bearings etc. Mike got dropped off first with Kevin, Victor took the boat a further 100yrds away along the cliff and dropped me in the water. My first look around me found me in about 10mts of clear water full of fish. I had no idea what these fish where, but they looked a little like grey Wrasse, so decided these would not be great to shoot. The boat had now disappeared to drop Paolo and John off. I pulled my gun onto my chest to load it up. As I did so I had this strange feeling I was being watched. Without moving my head, I looked out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, not 8 feet from me, I was being watched! A massive Barracuda! I’d never seen a Cuda above, maybe 8 or 9lbs before, but this thing was huge! My heart started to pump. I’d only been in the water 30 seconds and already was faced with a monster. I slowly pulled my gun round in the swell. However, trying to keep my 115 Beuchat on a fish that was just so still when the swell was moving my gun about so much was not easy. I wasn’t sure how the fish was going to react. Would it stay still enough for me to get a perfect shot, or disappear before I pull the trigger. I decided to hit it next time the swell took my gun past it’s head. Whack! I had hit it high and behind it’s dorsal fin, bad shot Thomas! It took off so fast that I didn’t see it go. All I knew was my float line was tearing through my hands. My float soon arrived, and I grabbed it and went off skiing! Eventually after what seemed an age, but was only about 30 seconds, all went slack. I pulled my gun in to find nothing but a scale on my spear. Then I looked down….. nothing but lots and lots of blue water under me, just a tad unnerving to find I was in such deep water. I guess the fish was in the 40lb+ mark. When I got back on the boat I told Paolo of my adventure. He grinned and said I really ought to try and shoot Barracuda and kill them outright as they have a habit of turning and biting you, umm nice! However, this turned out to be the only fish I lost this holiday (I missed a couple, but never had any more get off!)

DAY 3: Boat dive to Topo Island

We left the house at 6am and met with Victor in Velas, the nearby harbour. We were all quite tired from the late afternoon dive in the previous day but couldn’t resist the temptation of another dive. After 1h of navigation we finally reached the small island of Topo, one of the best places around San George. The sun was just rising and the conditions seemed perfect for a dive. (Just a note from Clive to the guys, who had remembered that today was my birthday and had got me a card and a lobster net, I was very impressed with this! Turned out to be a great day in the water as well. I had seen a huge fish from the surface and took me 8 dives in about 50ft of water to get it out of it’s hole. It was 11kg…)

Catch of the day:

Mike: one 11 lbs bonito

Clive: one amberjack (5lbs), one kingfish

Kevin: 1 bonito (8lbs) and lost a huge amberjack

Paolo: 3 bonitos (5-8 lbs)

Amberjacks! (Kevin reports)

I was diving the drop off on the northern side of Topo Island. It is quite a spectacular drop off which reaches about 12m in places and drops straight down to about 24m then gradually deepens from there. There were lots of bonito early on around the high spots and we were holding off from shooting them in the hope that something larger would be around. After an hour or two on the drop off, I was lying on a flat rock near the base looking outwards. Towards the end of my dive, I saw a shoal of about 30 huge fish. They slowly came in towards me, the fish in front being about 1 and a half times the size of the others. The shoal spooked as I moved my gun with all the smaller fish heading out to sea. The large fish however went the other way up the pinnacle. I managed to turn around and get a shot somewhere in the middle and saw the spear go straight through. I tried to keep it off the reef while swimming up but it was very strong and I could see it hitting the reef. The floatline was also wrapped around my weights behind my back which I luckily managed to unhitch in the process of being dragged back down. I fought the fish hard from the surface for a few minutes trying to keep it out of the reef. The shot was very solid so I thought there was no chance of it tearing out the side. After a while, I was convinced that the fish was mine when it went for another run and I saw the spear was now lying flat against its body (the spear tip was just under the skin!). I knew it would pull out on the next run and this is what happened. With the hard fighting and the soft flesh of the fish, the spear had pulled straight through. Cant say how big it really was but it was well over 30kg.



DAY 4: Boat dive in Pico Island

The following day Victor agreed to take us to the nearby island of Pico. After a few days of grey clouds and wind, the weather finally improved with lighter north-westerly winds. Again we left in the very early morning and reached a group of deep pinnacles at the sunrise. Unfortunately there was very little current and the whole area seemed very quite. I personally didn’t see any major fish apart from a few barracuda and small kingfish. During the day I was however fortunate to dive on a big rock in -20m of water and see a BIG grouper (16kg +) laying in the gentle current. I dived very slowly towards him, trying not to look at him straight in the eyes. I managed to get at very close range but didn’t press the trigger… It was such a beautiful sight!

Overall we didn’t see too much fish during the day. Only Kevin kept the flag high and managed to land a beautiful Hogfish (current Club record) of over 10 lbs and another big bonito well over 10 lbs. We however all enjoyed diving with two huge stingrays flying elegantly in the water (Note from Clive, and when Paolo say they where big… they were well over the 100lb mark, what a sight!) and, on the way back to San George, saw a school of Common Dolphins racing off the boat.

We spent the rest of the day back in San George, recovering from 3 days of heavy diving, visiting the village where we stayed (Urzelina) and cooking fresh fish.


Catch of the day:

Mike: 5.5lbs amberjack

Kevin: 10lbs Hogfish (Club record), 3 bonito (one 10.4 lbs)

Clive: one amberjack

Paolo: one kingfish

A paddle floating on the surface…

On the way back to Victor’s boat I saw a paddle floating on the surface. I thought Victor might need it for the dingy he uses in the harbour to get to his boat, so I took it. You can imagine Victor’s surprise when he recognised that this was the paddle he lost three days before in San George, some 35 miles away, during a storm that capsized his dingy!