Madagascar – Day 7
Theorb spiders here in Madagascar are about as big and impressive as any spider. We have a few outside our room. In the morning when you are the first to walk down any path or walkway, you better have your eyes open. If not, you’re likely to be wearing one of these frightening yet harmless spiders across your face!
We took off with George and his mate at 7 AM. The seas were calm so we went to where we wanted to go yesterday, a reef 25 miles out. The reef is 30 meters deep but surrounded by waters over 300 meters. George felt it would be a good place to sight cast tosailfish and marlin as well as dredge for a dogtooth tuna.
On the drive out, we stopped several times so I could strip my little tuna fly through schools of bait. I expected to catch moreskipjack tuna but instead I caught several leatherbacks. Leatherbacks are closely related to queenfish and even have the distinct black diamonds down their sides. Both can be found both inshore and out in the blue water. George wasn’t too high on these leatherbacks so we proceeded onward.
After about an hour, we reached Georges spot and in about the first minute we saw a sailfish. The sail was cruising with the outer ridge of his sail just breaking the surface. On this particular fish we didn’t have much of a chance to get a cast because we didn’t see him soon enough before he saw us. It was exciting though and I leaped up front with my Ross 12-weight and my line stripped out and was ready as we cruised along to look for more.
We must have slowly zigzagged George’s reef area from the 30 meters of depth to the 300 meter drop off hoping for another big fish to cast too for an hour but never saw one. George’s next move was to anchor up on the 30 meter hump so I could sink my fly very deep while he, his mate and Granny bottom fished with bait. I was anxious to see what they would pull up from the depths so I was thrilled with the idea.
While I dredged away aimlessly with flies, George and Granny were tearing up all kinds of unique fish from down deep. They must have caught eight or so cool species. The best was a green jobfish that Granny landed. I’ve always wanted to catch one of these elongated snapper like fish. I nearly did in Christmas Island once but the fish turned away from my fly at the last minute. Then, last November I saw a giant jobfish at the Zanzibar fish market. Granny’s however was the first one I could really observe alive and up close.
It was unbearably hot. I mean like 100°! Here we were 25 miles out to sea and there wasn’t even a breeze to help cool us. The water was so clear that I could see the flashes of my fly coming up through the water column at least 40 feet down. It could have easily been more. That fact that I could see so well into the water and not see a single fish did not give me much confidence in blind casting. Finally, I reeled in to rest.
Granny reeled in so many fish that she was ready for a break. Just reeling a heavy weight and a small fish up in such heat is exhausting. I took her rod and soon I caught my share of cool deep water fish consisting of snappers, emperor fish, baby grouper and even a couple different sharks. Then I thought I hooked bottom. George firmly told me to be careful and here I was stuck already. I simply fed my bait to bottom and attempted to reel up but I couldn’t. I braced myself to get some leverage to try to free my snag and then something felt weird. I was able to lift the weight slightly off the bottom. But it still felt like bottom because it wasn’t fighting yet it was definitely coming up. I know, that barely makes sense. Finally George saw me playing and asked me what the heck was going on.
“I don’t know George?” was about all I could say. “I’m stuck on something but it’s coming up like a carpet.” George watched closely. Then whatever I had started to give in. I cranked on this fish up and down for three minutes. Then, just as George screamed big grouper, the clutch in his ancient-worn reel let loose and the fish retreated to bottom leaving me with a backlash. I swore a few times as I fumbled too untangle the mess. George too helped dig away and by complete miracle we freed the line. I was certain the grouper would be lodged 100 meters below in his home. But I started pumping him back up. Things were looking good. Then, like before, the grouper came in sight. He was a huge leopard grouper appearing near 50lb! I couldn’t believe how spectacular this fish was! The colors! The size! It was unexplainable! Then like before, tragedy struck only this time the fish slowly retreated from sight swishing a massive tail and we were no longer connected. The hook broke! Are you kidding!!!!
At first, I was extremely disappointed. George and his mate were shocked as they glared at the snapped hook. But as crazy as this sounds, after only a few minutes, I was glad. My joy may sound stupid but I guarantee that gorgeous giant was seconds from seeing Georges gaff. No one releases a big grouper in Madagascar. You would be looking at a photo of me struggling to raise a bloody grouper, but instead I can tell you he got away. As I speak and hopefully for years to come, my monster grouper is alive and well and contributing to the health of his species.
Although the fly fishing has been slow the last two days and doggie dreams of last night have escaped me, the adventures with George continue to be entertaining. Being the fish species fanatic that I am, just seeing today’s bottom dwellers from deep under the sea was a kick. Now it’s time for some rest. Tomorrow is our last day with George.