Cape Verde: the South Islands
the usual summer expedition was again in Cape Verde islands, 600 km west
of Senegal, on the Atlantic Ocean. We were there last year for a short
time, just to taste and try the place. Beautiful wahoos, not huge ones,
maximum 25 kilos of handsome streamlined body.
our target are the Islands of the South, Fogo and Brava, where we were
told there are huge Almaco Jacks, massive wahoos and a fabled “baixo”, a
bank, far away, known only by the anglers where they took giant marlins
but never ever fished by a spearfisher. High hopes.
days of travel from Italy, because Brava, the last island, has not an
airport and can be reached only by a ferry. And this ferry timetable seems
to be a well guarded secret because when I asked about it to an “official”
character he told me, laughing as in a joke, that the only way I could be
sure of the timetable was… being there! OK, Africa way of life again.
surely an out-of-the-way little island. Too much in effect because,
arriving, it was impossible to find a pousada, a house, even some rooms to
rent in the harbour for our stay. To tell the truth we are still not
Portuguese speaking people so perhaps we asked the wrong chaps. We ended
on the other, far away, side of the island in a room packed full of biting
mosquitoes but finally we were there.
I lived a revolution: I left home my life-long beloved, powerful,
night-kissed air guns and took a definitive plunge in the arbalete world.
The reason was my growing awareness that air guns are of course compact
and powerful with their 9 mm spear but in the blue water they simply
cannot reach that elusive prey five or six meter away. That is, they COULD
reach it, but the charging exertion, all in a single effort, becomes way
too hard. And so I’m here with a brand new, sleek, beautiful 130 cm C4
carbon monocoque. And as if I dearly hope not to lose too many fish
without my old gun, I’m sure this one can really reach that elusive prey
five, six etc. But what I certainly hope for is not to hurt myself (not
too much, anyway), charging it!
land, constantly beaten by the Trade Winds, under a churning sky full of
grey clouds, finding a flat ocean and a sunny day is a difficult feat to
achieve. For our first fishing day in Brava therefore it’s not a surprise
to find choppy waves and stiff winds just after leaving the shelter of the
mountain defending this poor excuse for an harbour.
fisherman seems not too knowledgeable of the best spots because after some
jerky time in the little wooden boat stops her just where other fishermen
are. The remarkable thing is that there’s not a single protest, only
polite curious stares. Well, this is new and delightful!
is not too clean, almost 12-15 m of viso. A lot of drifting plankton,
above all fat Venus’ Girdles (Cestus veneris), so big and so elongated to
repeatedly distract for its likeliness to a wahoo shape for an instant the
continuous searching for a fish under us.
blue shape, fast. I dive and indifferently swim in a direction almost
parallel. He nuzzles the flasher, turns in my direction, a single flip of
the tail and the wahoo is here. Without looking him directly in the eyes I
extend the gun and fire. Totally missed! And what about taking some kind
of aim, please? Probably the excitation of the chase and surely old habits
with another gun took charge. But here I cannot lose a fish in so a
demented way! In any case, on the good side, the white shooting line
sailed well after the fish. OK, the hoped for distance is in the gun.
again, patiently, but there’s not much movement. Finally, a couple of
wahoos enter the arena. They arrive fast on the flasher and then seems to
lose interest but they return when I reach their depth. I close my eyes,
almost, because it’s right to hide our ferocious predator eyes but in blue
water fishing it’s not always a good idea lose contact with the
surrounding Ocean. I turn my head so to keep them on the upper corner of
the mask, and wait. I’m already in the falling zone, my lungs contracted
from the depth so I lose more and more floatation, but now they’re here.
Now I take my time, I point the gun muzzle toward the nearest fish,
thinking, this time, about what I’m doing, and squeeze gently the trigger.
The spear disappears from the gun and appears for an instant in the fish
side. Then wahoo and spear disappear in a cloud of bubbles.
resurface the red float is already vertical and streaming away in a double
foam wake. It’s combat time now. I tie the gun to the clip connected to
the float so to have free hands and try to haul the orange line from the
depth. Good news, the fish is there and I feel him struggling and bumping
against the bungee. Bad news, the fish is somewhat smaller of what I was
hoping for (pssst, people, there’s someone, somewhere, feeling differently
every time fights a fish?) so I can pull him almost easily.
short time I have my wahoo in my hands: I swiftly dispatch him and give
him to the fisherman. Alas, this was the only wahoo in that long day. A
couple of them showed themselves in the grey-blue under our fins but they
disappeared fast in the abyss.
obscuring mist of a language not understood the fisherman seems to say
that, far away, in the south-east of the island, there’s a “baixo demais
grande”, a bigger bank, with more fish.
is another day, here we are in that other “baixo”. As yesterday our
fisherman seems not so familiar with fishing grounds because, again, he
seems only to search and find the nearest anchored fishermen to drop us
just there. But, again, unbelievably, only white smiles and detached
water, hoping today for a better catch in a much cleaner water. However,
not a single fish shows his beauty apart little trevallies and a visiting
languidly soaring Mobula. Today we voice our protests and meekly our (now
we have really doubts) “fisherman” approach the thinnest of fishermen and,
in a storm of reciprocal milling of arms, seems to receive directions for
this to say in blue water fishing, and it’s that when someone point into
the water and says “here”, if you don’t have by chance a sounder up your
sleeve, you have to go and hope that “here” is actually associated with a
bank somewhere down. OK, we go.
in the water, a deep breath, and here I am, slowly floating down. And
immediately a wahoo appears. Not even the time to stare that a meter
behind his tail a shark follows. It’s not big, two meter, two meter and a
half of a Carcharinus of some kind, so I ignore him and try to concentrate
on the wahoo. That in the meantime promptly vanishes. Not so the shark.
Here it comes, with that perfect triangular shape of the dorsal and the
two pectoral fins framing the body of a shark aiming directly at you. But
deeper there’s another silhouette, no, two. Other sharks, but these are
strange, I do not see them clearly, the water is murky… then they come
near and they’re unmistakable: two hammerheads. The wahoo is nowhere to be
seen so I ascend. The Carcharinus and one of the hammerhead follow me to
the surface but after a while they bother me so I charge the first one,
moving deliberately a lot of water. Even if not fluent, my shark-language
achieves the effect. The pressure wave is correctly interpreted as a “stay
away” and the shark sinks with still fins (look, don’t dare to think I
feared you!). The hammerhead is still here, nervous, but I ignore him and
dive again, even now searching for my elusive wahoo. Nothing but the shark
that seems to think that deeper we are more courageous he is.
Shark-language again and he runs but not far away and soon stops to watch
my ascent, slowly moving his head. It’s fun, he behaves exactly like a
puppy following a piece of bread kept out of reach by a rising hand.
fish around so I call the boat to try to take a picture of this guy but,
predictably, the engine noise is too much for him and he sinks.
I do not
think it’s a good idea to remain in this island. Tomorrow the ferry leaves
at dawn and for three, four days, who knows, it’ll not be here again.
Moreover, Checco will arrive in Fogo, the nearest island, tomorrow.
the following day while sailing there, uneventful, apart flows of vomit
from capoverdian people around us, some of them reaching truly athletic
heights, but fortunately all is washed by the huge waves that bathe the
decks and, sometimes, ourselves.
we’re fishing in Fogo. Another typical capoverdian day, low grey clouds,
lot of wind.
meantime it’s disappeared any hope, in our remaining time, to go fishing
in that fabled and far away bank, known only by the anglers… etc.
we had a really hard day. After welcoming Checco we discovered someone
that not only knows very well that bank but took there by line twenty days
before a HUGE marlin of 600 kilos. I drooled over the pictures, it was an
unbelievable creature, a dinosaur of a fish. I can’t even imagine how it
was to see him underwater.
truly bad, news were that the weather, the winds, the moon phases and I
don’t know what else, perhaps even solar flares, were against us. It was
impossible to go there before at least ten days. Not to say about the huge
price he charged for the big boat.
here we are, in a windy and choppy morning in a possible beautiful place
but always with fresh in mind that galling thought: we could be there
instead of here. However, with that almost mind-blowing optimism of (almost)
all blue water spearfisher, not before long we all fish with concentration
even if not with peace.
We have a
new guide, Ghighinho, that they told us is the best spearfisher in Fogo.
He boasts huge fish, both underwater and by line. He seems to know almost
every bank, rocks and boulder underwater, he has his personal sounder in
the boat and soon firmly takes charge of our diving for the day. The
problem is that he knows nothing of blue water fishing so he guides us in
beautiful places but certainly not for blue water fish and not really
suitable for our gear with trail line and floats.
with long, very deep glides, we manage to take bulky Enforcados (Black
jack - Caranx lugubris) and some good trevally but nothing better.
another rock, deep in the water, with a steep incline from the top of
about 15 m to more than 35 m. I swim somewhat lazily, without that
sometimes ferocious concentration. A deep inspiration, the diaphragm down,
one fin high to the sky, I dive. I drop slowly towards the unseen bottom,
gliding easily, almost sleepily, the gun in both hands. I feel in the
handle the vibrations of the bungee transmitting me, here, the little
jumps and constraints of the float against the rough surface while being
towed downwards. I drift smoothly, slowly, down, concentrating not to move
any unnecessary muscle. Now, gradually, I can see something of the bottom,
deep under me. I’m already deep and well in the falling zone but I angle
my head down and try to descend faster. In the gloom I try to perceive
something other than the usual little trevallies when a roaring thunder
engulfs me, squeezes my heart, jolts every nerve and muscle of my body
like an electric shock, rises my hair stiff against the hood.
turn, sure to find here, almost to me, the monster fish that snapped its
huge tail. Nothing. The Ocean is empty. Jerk by jerk I search again, I
peer towards the luminous and far away surface but there’s nothing here.
Nevertheless I’m sure, it was a fish tail. I cant’ believe it was a bomb,
as I found in other places in the world. Not here. I resurface slowly,
still looking around.
emerges some meters away and excitedly takes out the snorkel and says:
“Have you see them? Have you seen what monsters they are? Unbelievable!
They are as big as trucks!”. And so I finally unravel the mystery. That
explosion really was a fish tail and the guilty was the notorious African
red snapper (Lutjanus agennes), strictly related to the Cuban Cubera. A
giant bottom fish reaching and sometimes surpassing sixty kilos. Checco
saw two of them, huge ones but distant, slowly strolling in the deepest
reaches of the bank. And their tail flick was that apocalypse of sound
that shocked me.
knows them very well but point to our guns and condemn them as “demais
fracos”, too weak. I contemplate doubtful this silky concentration of
power, with the double, strong, rubbers and, perhaps for the last time, I
regret the 9 mm thick spears of my homebound air gun.