Trip to the Azores – Part 2

DAY 5: Boat dive in Topo Island

On the second day of the trip Topo Island looked very promising, with big amberjack cruising around. This is also the place where a few years ago Ross, another club member, caught a big Wahoo. We therefore decided to dive it again and took all the “heavy artillery” with us. Mike in particular had his 1.2m blue water hunting gun, I had my 1.3m Supersten airgun, Kevin continued to use his lethal 1.3m Rob Allen and John his 1.2 Rob Allen with stainless steel line and double bands. Clive was unfortunately stuck at home with a bad chest infection.

On the day we split as usual in teams of 2 and dived at about 300m from each other. The weather was over clouded with some wind and rain. There was quite a strong current, particularly in the channel between the island and San George, but the visibility was good, well over 20m. We entered the water at 7am. After half an hour swimming against the current I finally reached a good drop-off. It was a very nice spot with a mix of big pinnacles rising from the deep and a drop-off falling from -18 to -50m and beyond.

As I approached the place, two BIG amberjack swam toward me in mid-water. They were at least 25kg… You can imagine the adrenaline in my blood… I dived very slowly toward them, trying to make no noise and as little movement as possible. They were initially intrigued but as I got within 8m of them they recognised the danger and veered off. Damn…During the rest of the day I did several agachons in deep water and saw the amberjack twice again. Despite the long agachons hiding in the drop-off the fish were however very spooky and didn’t want to come at shooting range. They obviously have been fished before. I still thoroughly enjoyed the day and ended up with a nice kingfish (4.3kg) and a few other species.

On the way back to the boat I found that Mike hit the jackpot. He landed a superb amberjack with a perfect shot (See story below). Kevin also continued his very strong performance and landed a beautiful 13.6 lbs kingfish, breaking another Club record (See story below). John was however very unlucky as his gun jammed when he shot a huge Kingfish feeding in a canyon (See story below).

We headed back for Urzelina at around 2pm, with our eyes still full of beautiful images from the day and a big tail sticking out of the fish box …

Clive… I just have to add that I had come down from my sick bed to meet the guys at the harbour. I could see them coming a way off, and from several hundred yards off shore I knew they had a good day. Mike had his arms in the ‘this big’ sign with a huge grin on his face… like a bunch of excitable school kits. I had to say I was also excited when Mike told his story……

Catch of the day:

Mike: 50 lbs Amberjack (22.7 kg), 10 lbs bonito

Kevin: 13.6 lbs kingfish

Paolo: 9.6 lbs kingfish (4.3 kg), 1 barracuda, 1 bonito, 1 shad and 1 bream

Mike’s Amberjack (Mike reports):

Having fished on the island before I was keen to catch one of the large fish that visit the hotspots at either end of the island. The previous year I had seen large fish but realised I needed to ignore the smaller fish in order to catch the big one. Small is relative in the Azores say under 15kg !!

Fully equipped with my blue water gun, breakaway line, drop head and heavy duty line and float I entered the water and swam uptide to some boulders in 15 mtrs, spent a few dives getting the old lungs to work and moved uptide again to the edge of the huge drop off that skirts the island . I noticed shoals of bait fish and large kingfish, grouper and bream circling a small area of the cliff face at about 20 mtrs just at a point where the sand bottom in 35mtrs gave way to a rock outcrop. I dived to 20mtrs and placed myself looking out and uptide into the current, a shoal of good sized kingfish approached and I could also see a large grouper just below me, out of the blue came a huge torpedo arrogantly coming straight towards me, at about 5 metres a superb amberjack turned side on to me. That moment is etched in my memory the realisation that I was in exactly the right position to pick my shot. Lateral line just back from the head BOOM!!

I finned towards the surface releasing the pin from the gun to enable me to play the fish from the bungee equipped float line. Maintaining pressure on the line the whole way to the top I gradually retrieved line and brought her closer and closer .Once she broke surface I grabbed the wrist near the tail and turned her upside down to calm the thrashing about. Quickly dispatching her with my knife I realised the huge dimensions of this fish and that drop heads are impossible to get out. I swam towards Kevin to ask for some help to take the spear out but he swam on not seeing the huge body just a few feet away. Minutes later Victor turned up and his mouth dropped open as he saw the size of the monster that I passed up to him in the boat. For the rest of the day all the fish I saw looked tiny and I still could not believe my luck . The amberjack was 50 lbs.

Kevin’s kingfish (Kevin reports):

Diving on the same drop off as previously, I saw a large kingfish from the surface on a few occasions. I tried to dive down on it but each time it eluded me. I swam off the drop off and did a dive on some boulders. After a short wait, I saw the kingfish slowly approaching me from the mid water and I only had to wait till it was in range.

John’s Kingfish (John reports):

I had been looking for good ground as soon as I had got into the water – slowly drifting from Topo away along the Island. I noticed some pinnacles that either just broke the surface or were at 2-3m and dropped to about 18m in some places. Visibility was around 12m. Found a good spot and did dives to about 10m looking down over an overhang down to 18m. I was able to just put my gun and head over to have a look to see if there was in activity at 18m. After my 4th dive. I found a good sized Kingfish feeding on seaweed on a rock at about 16m. I took aim and fired…………… shot was short and the kingie came in to have a look at the Spear!!!! It looked about 7-8kg – it smiled at me and speed off into the depths! One Day!

DAY 6: Boat trip to the “Basac” North of San George

After another excellent dinner in good company (John is a great cook!) the following day we went to a spectacular diving spot North of the island. It’s a deep pinnacle (“basac” in Portuguese) that looks like a steep mountain, with the top at -18m, a first step suitable for agachons at -23m, a second step at -27m and then a fall into the very deep water down to -80m. It’s the ideal place to see big pelagic like tuna, amberjack, wahoo and kingfish. The current is however almost always very strong.

On the day we dived the weather wasn’t very good, with clouds and wind. The current was particularly strong and the visibility unusually dropped to less than 10m on the surface and less than 8m on the pinnacle. We struggled to find the basac and especially to stay on it. Kevin, Mike and I eventually did several deep agachons on the steps of the mountain and saw several big amberjack in the distance; they looked like ghosts in the darkness. The amberjack were however extremely spooky and the current was way too strong. After 40 minutes we gave up. Kevin however managed to shoot a big bonito that zoomed past the pinnacle in the current; it was a nice fish of 15.6 lbs (7 kg) and again a new club record. He hit the fish in the three quarter back but managed to land it after a long fight.

After the pinnacle we moved inshore and fished the point of San George island. The conditions weren’t good though. There were two currents meeting on the point, one warmer (19C) with lots of suspension on the surface, and one cooler (14C) on the bottom. For some reasons the fish didn’t like it and the area was very quite. After a few hours we decided to head back.

Catch of the day:

Kevin: 2 bonito (one of 15.6 lbs), 1 hogfish (8 lbs), 1 kingfish

Paolo: 1 kingfish

In the afternoon, we went for a tour of the island with the big van that we rented from the local football club. The van had the logo “Urzelina Futball Club” so we really couldn’t go unnoticed! We drove to Velas, the largest village on the island, and shopped around for groceries. It’s a nice village with a cosy harbour and white and blue houses. After Velas we drove to the North point of the island to the local lighthouse. There we had a spectacular view on the point and the steep cliffs. We then came back to our home base in Urzelina through the beautiful country lanes of San George, bordered with stunning blue Orthensia flowers…

DAY 7: Boat dive to the North of San George and the Basac

The following day we were up as usually at 5am and back on the boat at 6.00am. The sea was rough with some big waves crushing on the shore but the weather forecast expected an improvement. We planned to dive the deep basac again but decided to have a shore dive first to stretch our lungs. Mike, Kevin and I jumped in the water on the North point of the island, in the same place as the previous day except that this time THERE WERE FISH EVERYWHERE! As Mike jumped in the water between two large rocks breaking the surface he signalled that we should follow him as soon as possible. He was surrounded by a school of over 200 amberjack of around 2-4 kg… We dived immediately but the school spooked away after Mike shot the first fish. They are definitely not stupid!

Kevin and Mike fished the rocks on the open sea side while I stayed inshore and fished the white surf looking for big “anchova” (shad in Portuguese). I did my first agachon just below the surf in -4m. I anchored myself between two rocks to be more stable. There was a lot of swell but the fish were definitely around! On my first dive I saw big kingfish and bream silhouetting in the white water. I remained still and a big head appeared from the white water close to the rock. It was an anchova hunting around. I shot it in the head and stoned it. It was around 3kg. Just the time to reload my gun (a Cressy 1m with 16mm rubbers) and I was again lying on the bottom in the same spot. This time a huge school of sardines surrounded me and then precipitously disappeared as several big kingfish zoomed in. I shot the biggest and fought it on the reel for a few minutes before finally landing the fish. It was around 5kg…

Paolo’s shad (Part 1)

I continued to fish in the area and saw several barracuda, bream, kingfish and shad cruising around, hunting in the shallows. I tried to remain concentrated and found another promising spot: a patch of clearer water behind a point where the waves crushed. As I dived to do an agachon a BIG shad appeared on the distance, coming from the other side of the point. I continued my dive, doing as little movement as possible and at the same time aligned the gun on the fish. The shad saw me and hesitated for a second. I got just within shooting range and realised that the fish was about to swim off, so I squeezed the trigger. The spear hit the fish just behind the pectoral fin; the shad went ballistic and disappeared in the white water like a rocket. He took several metres of line from the reel and tried to get the spear off on the rocks. After almost ten minutes of struggle, which seemed an eternity, I finally pulled the line to about 4m from me and saw the fish again. I then realised with horror that the spear was almost out of the fish and was holding with only one barb in the guts. Damn! I needed help as soon as possible and called Kevin but unfortunately he didn’t hear me… Another few seconds and the fish tore off and swam slowly toward the open water…. You can imagine my disappointment…

I went back to the boat to join Mike, Kevin and John. They all had good mixed catches with kingfish and bonito. Clive, who still had a bad cold, got several fish line fishing from the boat. He landed a couple of nice kingfish and barracuda. Victor too had several fish on the line, so the fish-box was almost full at 9am.

We nevertheless decided to fish the pinnacle again. Mike, Kevin and I did several agachons hoping to shoot a big amberjack. We saw some huge ones but only very briefly in the first dives. They were extremely spooky and had no intention to come closer. Kevin also saw several bonito and eventually shot a big one of 18.9 lbs (8.6 kg), current Club record (See story below).

Paolo’s shad (Part 2):

After one hour at the basac we headed back for the spot we fished in the morning. I was very keen to see if I could find my big shad again. I knew he was seriously wounded and that after a ten minutes fight he didn’t have a lot more energy to swim. I therefore hoped to find him hiding in a crack or under a rock.

I went to the spot where I initially shot the fish and carefully searched the area for 40 minutes, looking for clues. Fortunately the sea had calmed down a bit and the visibility improved considerably. I checked the area carefully and suddenly, I saw it !!!!! The shad was lying at the bottom of a small canyon, in about -12m. He was hiding under the seaweed but as the swell came in the seaweed moved and I saw the whole silhouette. He was dead.

I finally grabbed it and made it to the surface. He was 14.7 lbs (6. 7 kg) and a new club record.

Catch of the day:

Kevin: 2 bonito (one of 18.9 lbs), 3 kingfish (3-5kg)

Mike: 1 amberjack (5 lbs), 2 mullet (8lbs each)

John: 1 kingfish

Paolo: 2 shad (one of 14.7 lbs and one 6.5 lbs), 1 kingfish (11 lbs), 1 bream (2.7 lbs)

Clive: 4 bream, 1 barracuda

Clive & Victor line fishing: 4-5 kingfish (around 3-4 kg), 6 barracuda, 3 bonito and other fish

DAY 8: Shore dive in Norte Grande

On this day we didn’t have Victor’s boat, so we decided to try a new shore-dive in Norte Grande, on the North East side of San George. Kevin and I found the place the previous day and it looked promising. We drove the van across the island, through the mountains and the amazing vegetation and within 45 minutes we reached the little village of Norte Grande. We then drove down in a steep narrow lane and eventually got to the sea, close to a natural harbour and a launching ramp.

We decided to split and agreed we would all be back by 5pm at latest. Kevin and I went on the Northern side of a point, while Mike, Clive and John dived the Southern part. The sea on the North side was still rough and there was quite a bit of swell inshore. The conditions were however ideal, with lots of sunshine and some big shed cruising around…

Kevin fished the deep pinnacles off the Head. In three hours he shot two beautiful “anchova” (shad) of around 4.5kg each, a big hogfish and one amberjack. I preferred to fish much closer to the rocks, in the middle of the surf, hoping to surprise a big shad hunting. I had lots of fun that day. The Head dropped steeply to -25m and had lots of points and canyons to check. I did a mix of agachons and Indian fishing in the surf. The shad were definitely around, and they were big. Unfortunately the swell was strong and it was very difficult to keep balance underwater and shoot accurately. I missed one big fish over 7kg and ripped-off another that I hit too low. It was however great fun. In the end I shot 3 nice kingfish of over 4kg each and 2 shad, up to 4.7kg (over 10lbs). I also saw lots of bream and mullet, they were everywhere!

An amazing cave:

After 3h fishing the point, I found an amazing cave. I saw a big shad entering a vertical hole in -10m. I let him go in and then followed silently. I approached the whole head-down and with the gun ready to shoot. As I looked inside I had an amazing view. The cave was very long and had a second horizontal entrance in about -20m. It was a sort of long L-shaped submarine tunnel with a sandy bottom. It was beautiful, but even more beautiful were the huge shad and mullet hanging in there. I counted over 5 big shad and probably more than a dozen big mullet over 10lbs. The fish didn’t see me nor hear me so I enjoyed the view for a while. In the end I aimed a big shad and shot it. I didn’t stone it as planned and he went ballistic, zooming up and down and trying to tear off the spear on the rocks. After a long fight I finally grabbed it. He was 4.7kg (over 10 lbs).

Mike, John and Clive weren’t as lucky however, as most of the fish concentrated on the Northern part of the point. Clive in particular went a long way South searching for good ground and struggled to come back swimming against a strong tide. At 5 pm he was nowhere to be seen and we were all very worried. Kevin and John went looking for him on the rocks while the others were making plans on how to launch a boat and search for him… In the end he eventually appeared on the distance! As a punishment he did the washing up for the rest of the holiday…!

Catch of the day:

Paolo: 2 shad (biggest 4.7 kg), 3 kingfish (all around 4kg)

Kevin: 2 shad (4.3 and 4.5kg), 1 hogfish, 1 amberjack

John: 1 amberjack (2kg)

Mike: 1 mullet

Clive: 1 shad, 1 bream, 1 pelagic

DAY 9: Boat dive in Graciosa

This was the last day with Victor’s boat and we all wanted to make it memorable. The weather had finally improved and after several postponements we finally could go to Graciosa, a beautiful island 40 miles east of San George. We left Velas at 6am and within less than 2h we reached Graciosa. On the way to the island Victor told us of a huge Marlin of over 300kg that he saw in the channel between the two islands a few years ago. Unfortunately the fish was very spooky and didn’t give him a chance to squeeze the trigger, but he nevertheless had a great dive. Victor also tried to shoot the fish straight from the boat but the gun jammed and the fish swam away unscathed.

Once in Graciosa, Victor took us to some deep pinnacles on the North East of the island. This time John and Clive got in the water first. We left them on the first pinnacle but there were no big fish around. We then moved to a second deep pinnacle. Mike and Kevin dived first and I followed shortly. The current was quite strong but the pinnacle was diveable. We could see the top from the surface, in about -10m. The bottom was much deeper, well below -35m. As I approached the pinnacle I saw Kevin fighting a big fish… He shot a nice amberjack and was now playing it from the surface. The fish was well alive and I was concerned it might tear off so I dived down and doubled it with my 1.30m Supersten airgun. I shot the fish as it was swimming away from me. The spear went in just before the dorsal thin and exited from the head by more than 1m. Not a bad gun! Kevin pulled the fish up and John soon joined us to take some video shots (See report below). On the same pinnacle Mike saw some other amberjack and possibly a Wahoo.

Kevin’s Amberjack (Kevin reports):

As I approached the pinnacle, I saw a group of amberjack in the distance at a depth of about 15m. I slowly swam down to their level and hung around in mid water waiting for the fish to swim in. They started swimming towards me and were almost in range when I heard the rattle of the boat being put in gear, immediately followed by the amberjack thundering off into the depths. I swam up cursing and breathed up then swam to the same level hoping that I would be given another chance. After a short wait, I turned to see a pair of amberjack trying to sneak behind me and managed to put a solid shot into one. The fish still put up a good fight and after a few minutes and some help from Paolo, we had the fish subdued.

After a couple of hours diving the pinnacles we moved to the Southern point of Graciosa, on a nice ground with big boulders and pinnacles. The fish were scarce but we saw a couple of beautiful grouper. Kevin found a big school of barracuda and landed a couple well over 8kg (17.6 lbs). We spent another hour there and then moved to a spectacular series of pinnacles on the outer point of the island. I fished for 1h on a beautiful spot: a pinnacle that fell steeply from -8m to more than 40m, and had two steps at -18 and -25m which were ideal for agachons. I saw a lot of fish activity and a huge school of barracuda near the surface. There was however a bit of current and the visibility wasn’t great, less than 8m. I dived several times hoping to find the amberjack but they were not around. Then as I looked over a steep wall in -20m, I saw three nice kingfish laying in the current. I shot the biggest who zoomed off like a rocket. After several minutes I eventually pooled it to the surface. It was a nice 6.1kg (13 lbs).

Kevin continued to land some good size fish, including another barracuda of 19.5lbs (9.75kg), current Club record. Mike shot a good size kingfish and Clive a mix of bream, kingfish, barracuda and triggerfish. We ended the day on the West side of the island and a spectacular ground with deep boulders. Mike saw three huge amberjack but again they were unapproachable.

Catch of the day:

Kevin: 1 Amberjack (15kg – 33 lbs), 3 barracuda (including one of 9.75kg – 19.5 lbs), one shad.

Mike: 1 kingfish

Paolo: 2 kingfish (including one of 6.1 kg – 13lbs), 1 barracuda (4kg), 1 bream

Clive: 2 bream, 1 kingfish, 1 barracuda, 2 triggerfish

DAY 10: Shore dive in Topo Island

This was the last diving day of the holiday and we agreed we would spend it in Topo. After 1h driving through the island of San George we arrived at the lighthouse on the far end South of the island, and from there we went for a shore dive to Topo Island. Mike and Kevin swam a long way to fish the outer reefs in search for the amberjack we saw in the previous days. The fish were around but they were very shy and unapproachable. Toward the end of the dive Kevin shot two big anchova of over 10 lbs, one hogfish, one small amberjack (3kg) and a kingfish. Clive fished in the shallow waters an landed 3 shad, a beautiful bream of 2.9 lbs and a small pelagic.

I fished a group of rocks in the channel between San George and Topo Island. There was a lot of current and some surf, but the visibility was perfect. As I checked the outer rocks I found a huge school of sardines. The school was so thick I could hardly see through it. The fish were very excited and swung from left to right. There were obviously some predators around… I did my first agachon at the bottom of the point, just behind a rock. Within seconds the sardines surrounded me. A few seconds later the school opened and three big shad appeared in the middle of the hole. I shot the biggest just behind the gills and landed it without difficulty. It was 4.8 kg (11 lbs). I repeated several agauchons in the area and saw an amazing amount of fish. Bream, mullet, big shad, kingfish, amberjack, bonito, barracuda, grouper were all over the place! The school of sardines had obviously attracted a lot of attention! I had great fun and landed another shad, 1 bonito over 5kg, and 2 kingfish of 4.5kg each. At one point I laid on the bottom of the reef, tummy up, and admired the amazing school of sardines all over me. They looked like tiny waves from the bottom. What a great sight!

Catch of the day:

Kevin: 1 hogfish, 2 shad (over 10 lbs), 1 kingfish, 1 amberjack (3kg)

Clive: 3 anchova (shad), 1 bream (2.9 lbs) and 1 pelagic

Paolo: 2 kingfish (up to 4.5kg), 1 bonito (5kg), 2 shad (max 4.8kg)

DAY 11-12: A long way back

We sadly left San George on Wednesday 23rd July after 10 days that seemed to us like 10 minutes. As usually the local airline messed up everything. Our flight had so much delay that when we arrived in Lisbon our plane for London had already left! There were no other flights available so we stayed overnight in Lisbon. Fortunately, the airline paid for the accommodation and dinner in a five star hotel. We ended up having a great dinner in good company and a magnificent view over the city.

The holiday had been very good, with great company, good diving and big fish. We all look forward to doing it again soon and thank Victor for his help and the Azores for their generosity.