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Freediving N.32 - Jan / Mar 2003

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In English.

Published on International Freediver and Spearfishing News, n. 32, Jan / Mar 2003, pg. 24-25.      

Cape Verde Islands Wahoos

 

Sal, Cape Verde archipelago, 16.7º North, 23.0º West, almost midway between Cancer Tropic and Equator, 600 km from Africa Atlantic coast.

Barren island, covered by Sahara sands landing here pushed by the constant, omnipresent Trade Winds, the rare trees reduced to giant bonsais moulded by the fierce relentless winds.

 

We get here at night, after the swift tropical sunset at seven p.m.

First impressions, the keenest: no lights around from the taxi windows almost until Santa Maria, our destination, 20 km south of the airport. No much people there strolling around, everywhere grey ghosts of houses still in construction.

Morning, we have to find boat and fisherman for the long trip to the far away banks. It’s difficult, it seems. Nobody here looks to speak other than Portuguese or, worst, Creole, a mixed language between African dialects and Portuguese.

We find anyway a fisherman and we seem to reach an agreement for tomorrow morning, Monday: today is Sunday, nobody works. BUT, next day, at nine o’ clock sharp as planned, no one is there waiting for us. The day is clear and the omnipresent winds almost gone. At our queries other fishermen answer, puzzled, of course he’s not here, in a day like this, he’s out fishing!

Anyway, after long calming breaths, we find another fisherman and we can start for the banks, in the channel - 15 nm - between Sal and Boa Vista.

Some Portuguese friends fished here a couple of months before our arrival and gave us some useful local info: BIG Almaco jacks, but deep, under 25 m, Wahoos and dorados. So we’re here with my old faithful 130 cm airguns, with 8 and 9 mm shafts, equipped with both reel and trail line.

My brand new Rob Allen inflatable floats are a wonder: deflated they take almost no space but inflated they can have 11 or 35 litres of buoyancy. The have a sturdy bronze car valve and they can be pumped up to one or two atmosphere so to guarantee a safe buoyancy till the first critical ten meters. And, of course, I bought also his marvel flasher. It’ll prove invaluable, attracting well all kind of Bluewater fish (and the wandering occasional shark).

After a long voyage because of the slow 15 HP engine on the solid, heavy wood boat, we’re here. Sal is reduced to a slim dark strip far behind us. The Ocean is, as almost always here the fisherman assures us, crested and whipped by strong winds.

The viso is a good 20 m; the bottom is more than 40 m below us so it’s Blue Water hunting, all right.

The flasher is dangling in the water at 12-13 m and Checco and I, repeatedly, dive there, trying to hold the position, moving as less as possible. Powerful C4 carbon blades are ideal for this kind of tip-swimming. From the blue around us suddenly materializes a striped body, an instant later another one: Wahoos! They are middle size, around 15-20 kg but they’re beautiful, the predatory muzzle, the eyes that silently, it seems, hate you. We dive almost simultaneously, ten metres away from each other, intercepting the slowly surfacing fish. I’ve eyes only for the nearest Wahoo so I do not see what’s happening to Checco but until I do not hear the noise of the airgun discharged I’m sure that he has not fired. My fish circles warily, keeping the distance. I’m not able to reach a correct shooting distance. We dance in the blue, one attracted-repelled by this strange thing, the other in covert, casual-swimming pursuit till I’ve almost reached my bottom time limit. I’m compelled now to try something rasher: a couple of powerful kicks, and, for an instant, the Wahoo is at shooting distance but the body profile is wrong, the fish is going away, the head is almost concealed behind the tail: I do not fire.

For the first time (and it’ll not the be the last one) it dawns on me that my guns, for this kind of fish, are too short! VERY regrettably, in this exploratory trip I’ve not deemed necessary to bring with me my Alexander Tuna Gun…

Checco is already on the surface when I re-emerge. A swift shake of his head and a glance at his gun tells me the whole story: too far away also for him!

We have to invent some way to push up our probabilities, otherwise we can risk here to take no fish at all!

Dive follow dive, patiently. Some other Wahoos appear but the story repeats itself: too far away the head and the good shooting points with a fish so fast and with so tender a meat. We do not want to shoot a fish when we’re almost sure to lose it…

Other dives. Another, single, Wahoo appears. This time we’re almost 15 m from each other but again we dive at the same time and we converge slowly to the fish. He seems not aware of this double menace or perhaps it’s overconfident on its swimming capabilities compared to these awkward creatures. Almost simultaneously we reach the same conclusion: it’s at shooting distance! We kick strongly a couple of times, we extend our right arm, coordinated almost like in a ballet, we fire. The fish is caught by our shafts almost in the same place, behind the gills plate both from right and from left: stoned! We surface laughing so hard that the strong waves fill our masks with water and we have to start coughing, still laughing, just to regain our wind. The Wahoo remains dangling under our fins almost forgotten…

We do not have evidently very well impressed our fisherman because in the long trip back, in that linguistic mist that will remain there for all the stay, he tells us about a group of South Africans who fished with him, we really did not understand when, who, in his story, were almost supermen: in decreasing order of importance, they all never went wenching, they never got drunk and, all, they fished till 50 m, taking A LOT of big Jacks and Wahoos… We “almost” believed him.

 

It’s twenty to four in the morning when the alarm clock buzzes. From today on we’ll go fishing with the fishermen timetable. Grunts and other less exquisite noises rise from the beds but soon we’re moving, with the heavy bags on the shoulders for the fifteen minutes trip to the other side of the village. The wind hums over our heads in the still full, humid night. After the last corner the pier is there, lighted with a single, harsh light, high on the tall central pole.

Silent shadows walk with us, pushing rusted wheelbarrows with the so-precious engines, well padded against scratches. Our steps’ sound change, we’re on the wood. The light reflects back from the white sand of the Ocean bottom and drenches every shape under the pier in shifting, crystalline turquoise radiance: the black faces of the fishermen, the oars soaked up in sapphire mist, the scratched keels of the boats floating in a cerulean void…

We wait, in an almost suspended trance, enveloped in the hushed unknown words of the fishermen greetings. Finally arrives our turn and we drop to the waiting boat. In an instant, it seems, we’re again in full night, navigating far from the light of the coast. The Ocean rushes along the boat, an occasional breaker drenches us, poorly dressed for this pre-dawn chill. After fifteen minutes we stop and the fishermen start taking in baitfish for the day. They use a multiple hook line and after few minutes there’s a lot of little fish thumping on the wood, dimly sparkling in the distant coast lights.

After half an hour we depart again and this time we head for the distant banks. In the meantime that steely dawn light creeps again all over the world and we start to see around other dark shapes, intermittently ringed with white foam: the other fishermen boats.

A long, slow, trip, with wind picking up constantly after leaving the shelter of the southeast arm of the bay. The Ocean surface is now distinctly rough, the sky grey with nothing, now, of the dawn light: the cloud ceiling is so near you can see tattered clouds rushing away. An occasional wind-swept rain splatter drenches us, if possible, even more than before (“it’s three years I do not see rain in Sal” – told us an old rod fisherman on the pier the first day – why it has to be ALWAYS three years… and always a lie?).

The fishermen, with swift, well-practiced movements, cast the anchor with an enormous amount of line, not less, we guess, than 80-100 m with a bottom of 60-70 m under us. And immediately after that they start fishing. They swiftly prepare a number of lines with BIG hooks and live bait and cast them, each with a handful of chopped fish. They explain that so they can caught tunas (Yellowfin tuna) till well over 100 kg. Checco start fishing with a lighter line and soon there’s plenty of flying fish thumping around the boat. They’re good for the Wahoos (here they call them “Serra”), they say. This morning they do not seem to have big luck, the only fish coming aboard are, one after another, a full school of Rainbow runner (Elagatis bipinnulata), around fifteen fish.

And now it’s our turn. We gear up, speedily. I’ll be in the water with a trail line, Checco instead with a 60 m reel. We break the surface together and almost immediately, still enshrouded in tiny air bubbles, under us appear three Wahoos. Checco is faster with his gear and dive in their path, swimming slowly away, disinterested. They follow him, almost overcome him when Checco suddenly turns and, in a single fast movement, kicks, extends his right arm and fires! Caught! For an instant from the surface I can see both flops opening on the other side of the fish, just before the Wahoo simply disappears, trailing the white line from the reel. Checco is swept away in a rush of white foam, but I can see that the reel is not already empty like almost always before. I swim as fast as I can with trail line and float, trying to follow him but he’s already slowing down. The moment I reach him he’s already pulling the line and the fish to the surface. The Wahoo is full grey now, without the previous beautiful black bands and it comes up with almost no struggle. Around him circles nervously a second shape, bigger.

It’s high time we start the second part of our Wahoo Plan. A nod to Checco who halts his pulling and I dive directly to the fish the moment it’s swimming just under me, a deed never before accomplished. A brief instant for the aiming and I shoot. Caught! A good shot, in the back, near the spine, but not a killing one. The flops have not reached the other side of the body but I’m not worried. I disengage the gun and follow the trail line rushing by me. I follow slowly the float, pulled vertical in the water, and try a couple of time to pull the orange line, fading down in the blue under me. Finally I can really pull and not be pulled. Slowly, confident in the bungee good work, I haul the line. The dark shape slowly materializes under my fins, the Wahoo is coming with his back to the surface, an easy pull, and it’s almost not struggling. The last meter I dive and abruptly I caught the spear, wrap my legs around it and insert a hand into the gills. A swift knife stroke and the fish shudders. It’s mine! On the surface I glimpse the boat already coming in my direction in the midst of white breakers, with a smiling Checco in the prow.

Very good! Two Wahoos in ten minutes. And mine, almost 25 kilos, will be the bigger one taken in Cape Verde.

Our fisherman will have, again, South African recollections in our back trip?

 

Riccardo A. Andreoli

 

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