Author: Craig Thomassen (page 1 of 2)

Transkei Fishing Heaven

Those that know me, know that my favourite form of fishing is estuary fishing. If I had to be even more specific, then I would say Transkei estuary fishing.

In my experience there are few places as tranquil to fish, as a Transkei estuary. I value any time spent on these beautiful rivers, soaking up the peace, enjoying the sounds of bird calls, the magnificent scenery and of course hunting a variety of elusive, predatory fish.

I have fished many of the Transkei rivers over the years, both blind rivers and those that are open to the sea. These rivers are generally only navigable by boat for a relatively short stretch, before becoming too shallow to continue. The fish are also confined to a few kilometres of river, which can be explored with a small boat and a fishing rod. This means that you can explore the entire system quite easily over the course of a few days.

I have been seeing posts from Nqabara Eco River Lodge on social media over the last few years, and always pay attention, as this is one of the river systems that I have wanted to explore for some time. So when I was recently invited to come and stay at the lodge and check out the fishing potential, I didn’t hesitate to accept.

What makes Nqabara Eco River Lodge different to other Transkei destinations?

Firstly the lodge is a community project. The local community is a shareholder in the lodge, so it gets a share of profits, which go into a community trust account. What this means is that locals see the positives of lodge in the area, and are courteous and pleasant when encountering lodge guests on the beach or river.

Secondly, being an Eco lodge, it has a reduced carbon footprint. It is off the grid in that it makes use of solar power and gas. It collects its own rainwater, recycles its trash and it grows organic vegetables on the property.

What also excites me is the fact that the system has not one, but two rivers, which share a common mouth in front of the lodge. The two rivers are quite different, with the Nqabarana being small and intimate. A much shorter river, ideal for quick sessions, when time is short.
The Nqabara river is both longer, and larger than the Nqabarana in terms of water volume, with a big dropoff close to the mouth, some deep holes and a series of productive pools and channels in the upper reaches of the river.

A quick look on Google Earth shows the structure and form of the rivers, and gives a clear idea of the excellent fishing potential on offer. While I am going to concentrate on the river fishing in this article, it must be noted that the surf at the mouth and along the beach also has some excellent fishing on offer, including spinning for kob and casting baits for edible species such as bronze bream, blacktail, black and white musselcracker and pignose grunter.

When preparing for my visit I kept in contact with Pierre Swartz, who manages the lodge and guides there as well. He kept me informed of weather conditions, water temperatures and what the fishing was doing during the build up to our trip. This was helpful, and gave me peace of mind that conditions were looking good and we were going to have a decent chance at some classic estuary fishing.

It was an eight hour drive from Pennington on the KZN South Coast, going through Kokstad and Umtata, then turning off at Dutywa and making our way towards the coast. I really enjoy driving through the rural Transkei, the huts on the hills are familiar, though they now have Eskom lines and Jo-Jo tanks. The pigs, goats, sheep, donkeys and cattle love standing in the road. People live slowly and seem content, waving and smiling at strangers in passing cars.

The last 40km to the lodge, from Willowvale, took an hour as it is dirt. The road was in pretty good shape and, though we were travelling in a 4×4, would be easily passable in a normal sedan.

On our first morning we were up at 4am, and headed for the launch area before it started getting light. While we packed the boat we heard a lot of splashes on the surface, with numerous chases and smashes visible in the path of moonlight laid down upon the water. I started off casting a surface lure, a Berkley J-Walker, and retrieving it with a zig-zagging ‘walk the dog’ action. I had a fish smash at the lure, with a big splash, but sadly it did not connect. As the sky lightened, we were able to appreciate the amount of predator activity, seeing many mullet streaking along the surface, creating bow waves, as well as smashes, with mullet taking to the air in panicked flight.

I had a few follows on my lure, and a bump on my suspending stick bait, before hooking up a bartail gurnard over a shallow bank. Sadly the hook pulled before I could land the fish. The activity in the area started to taper off as the light brightened, so we decided to make our way upriver and check out the potential of the upper reaches.

Numerous startled mullet jumped high into the air behind the boat as we carved our way up the sweeping bends of the river. The surface was glassy and smooth and mangrove lined mud banks gave way to forests and high cliffs, where the water started to look darker and more mysterious. We started fishing just past an island, along some boulders. I started off casting a 7.2cm Sebile suspending Stick Shadd up close to the rocks and giving it some small twitches. I saw the muted flash as a river snapper rolled and inhaled my lure. I set the hook and the fish started running around, looking for something to cut me off on or wrap me up in. I was using very light tackle. The leader was 14lb fluoro, that I had put on for yellowfish on my previous trip, not really ideal for hard fighting snapper, but I pressured him as hard as I could, and despite him making an attempt to wrap the line up in some branches, I was lucky enough to get him out. A decent fish of around 1.5kg, and a great way to start the trip.

It was beautiful up there, with big cliffs and spectacular forests. The air was filled with the sounds of bird calls, amongst others; trumpeter hornbill, tambourine dove, black headed oriole, southern boubou. We saw some hamerkop nests, as well as a juvenile gymnogene, which called a lot and flew about, eventually landing on a nest in a big tree. A pair of lanner falcons took off from the cliff and flew around high above us, hassling a jackal buzzard. We also saw a stealthy finfoot, which crept under some bushes and out of the water when we got close. We flushed a white backed night heron from his hidden perch over the water. Half collared, mangrove, pied and giant kingfishers seemed to be everywhere as well as a number of pairs of fish eagles. There were lots of big cycads growing out of the kranzes, along with aloes and euphorbias.

We came back to the lodge and had a short break between 11am and 12.30am, then headed across the river to the north bank at the mouth, passing the obligatory cattle on the beach as we walked. There is a rock ledge on the north bank, where we stood and cast paddletails across the mouth, working them through the channel. The water looked good, with small waves and some sand churned up, but we had no bites.

We went back to the lodge and took another break, then headed out to the dropoff in the big river at around 5pm. We fished there until about 8pm. There was a lot of activity after the sun went down, with mullet and prawns being chased and smashed on the surface. Pierre landed a kob on his bucktail, probably around 2kg, and I lost a small one next to the boat on paddletail. The hook pulled before we could land him.

It was a beautiful evening, with plenty of stars and we could see the Southern Cross clearly. The sound of fiery necked nightjars calling came across the water, punctuated by splashes and gulps of feeding fish.

We were up at 4am again the next morning and walked down to the boat, which was tied to a mangrove near the lodge. We went to the drop off and fished off the sand bank, with the boat anchored nearby. We had no touches, despite the fact that there was a lot of activity, especially early on, with mullet and shrimp getting smashed on the surface. Pierre had to leave us there, as he needed to go into Willowvale to get some supplies for the lodge.

I took the boat upriver, watching chases and smashes up ahead of us as we drove. The morning was calm and the water surface was like a mirror. We saw mullet streaking below the surface, pushing bow waves up ahead, the odd green turtle head breaking the surface to take a breath. There would be patches of white bubbles left on the smooth surface after a smash. We came to a stretch where there were a number of bubble patches, so I stopped the boat and had a few casts with a small popper. I had a fish try to eat the popper twice, without connecting.

We continued upriver, to the place where I had caught the snapper yesterday. We started working our way along the rocks and ledges, casting poppers and stickbaits (floating and suspending). I got a strong snapper of around 1kg, which gave me a great fight on a suspending Stick Shadd. A short while later I had a bump on the lure, just after I had pulled it past some rocks. I cast there again and had another bump, but no hookup. I considered changing lures, to show the fish something different, but I cast a third time and the lure got hit at the same spot, and this time it was vas. The fish fought hard and took a lot of line, with some strong runs. When I landed him we saw it was a nice GT of around 3kg’s. A beautiful fish!

We made our way even further upriver, and pulled the boat onto a bank, where we could walk and cast. I was throwing a popper at the cliffs opposite and bringing it back with a gurgling action, when I saw a fish follow it right to my feet, a good sized pickhandle barracuda. I made a couple more casts with the popper to try and get a bite, and had another follow, but no bite. I changed to the Sebile suspending Stick Shadd and worked that. I sped it up towards the end of the retrieve, with a quick jerky action and it was hit at my feet, with the fish almost launching itself on to the bank. It did some blistering runs, streaking around the pool, but I landed it in the end, a beauty, with nice dark markings.

There was some otter scat and fish bones on the ground, as well as a couple of shed prawn shells. There is a lot of life in these pools at the top of the river. I was interested to see that there were a few barnacles, oysters and reef worm on some of the boulders. Even this far up, the salt content is enough at times to support some of these marine filter feeders.

We got back on the boat and moved a bit further up, looking for a lure that I had snapped off in a tree and had fallen into the water. We retrieved the lure and I made a few casts nearby. A good size snapper (3kg plus) ate the sinking Stick Shadd on the surface close to the boat and screamed off, sadly cutting me off after a few seconds of hard running.

The South Westerly had got up strongly by then, so we decided to head back to the lodge for a break from the sun and get some refreshment.

So far the Sebile 7.2 cm Suspending Stick Shadd is proving to be the lure of the trip, getting more bites than anything else that we have tried. It is an excellent lure for this type of fishing, with the ability to remain in the zone for some time, while being made to look like a severely wounded baitfish.

The wind kept blowing hard, so we took a bit of a break in the afternoon, then went to the small river. We explored the river with the small boat, casting at ledges etc, but didn’t raise a single fish. Probably as a result of the low pressure system that moved in, I have no doubt that there were fish there.

One thing I noticed is that there is very little fishing pressure on these rivers. There don’t seem to be many locals fishing. In two days we have passed two guys fishing from the bank, one on each river. This afternoon we were drifting along quietly and I smelt the sweet smell of someone smoking a joint. We came around the corner and there were two fellas on the bank with handlines and a couple of dogs, enjoying the evening.

Up at 4 am again, the wind was light and there were no stars, so it looked like overcast conditions, and the air definitely felt cooler.
We headed to the drop off in the main river. Pierre stood on the bank and cast fly, while I drifted nearby with the boat. I cast a few surface lures and Stick Shadd, but had no action. I changed to a 5 inch Berkley Powerbait (pearl Blue Shad colour)jerk shad on a 3/8oz jig head. I bounced that off the bottom and ended up catching three kob in the space of about half an hour.

I noticed something big making a commotion in the water near the bank at the end of the drop off and then saw skate wings coming out of the water, as a big diamond ray hunted mullet against the side. He then swam straight towards us, right on the surface, so that we could watch his approach for around a 100m as he was pushing a big bow wave. He came right past us on the surface and I flicked a lure near him, to see if there was perhaps a GT swimming with him, but no such luck. There were also a few green turtles in the area, and we would see their heads pop up and hear the sigh each time they came up for air.
We picked Pierre up and headed upriver. I took him to the places where we had been catching fish over the last two days. We were drifting and I was working a 9cm sinking Sebile Stick Shadd, when I stopped retrieving to point out a hamerkop nest to Pierre. My stick bait got hit while it was resting, and I landed a small kob.

We continued up river, with Pierre getting a hit on a Rapala Twitchin’ Mullet by a river snapper, which didn’t hook up. We stopped at the same place as yesterday and got off the boat to walk the bank and spin a bit. I worked a small
¼ oz black bucktail along the bottom, bouncing it slowly, and had a knock. A couple of casts later I went tight and the fish came jumping out of the water, a beautiful skipjack, which commenced to take off and strip line at high speed. I landed it after a nice fight.

A short while later I had a couple of fish zig-zagging behind my bucktail as it came in, looking like small kingies, but they didn’t hit the lure.

I cast a small sinking jerkbait across the mouth of a small, shallow creek and was rewarded with a beautiful little sea pike, no more than 20cm long, with gorgeous dark chevron markings. Pierre had gone on ahead and he called that there was a pool with some river bream in it. I went to where he was and tried a variety of lures, but had no success, apart from something small which flashed at my tiny popper. Walking back I cast a brass Abu Droppen spinner into a real tiny pool, which was connected to the river via a narrow channel. I got hit and pulled in a little cape moony, smaller than the palm of my hand, but somehow hooked in the mouth.

As we approached the area where the boat was parked there were a bunch of smashes on the surface in the middle of the river and along the rock ledge at the bottom of the cliff opposite. I ran and made a cast with the Droppen spinner and went tight almost immediately. While I was fighting the fish I noticed another swimming with it and told Pierre to make a cast with his fly rod. He did so and went on immediately and we both landed respectable big eye kingfish.

We boarded the boat and started making our way back down river. As we approached the first bend there was a commotion ahead of us, as a shoal of big eye kingies hit bait in the channel ahead of us with splashy smashes. I drove us onto them as Pierre prepared to cast. He made his cast, then cursed, as he had a faulty fly on that he needed to change. He told me to quickly cast while he sorted out his admin, and I did so with a suspending Stick Shadd. I gave it quick jerky twitches and it was hit within seconds of landing and I got another feisty bigeye kingfish.

We drifted a bit further down and made a few casts at various good looking spots. We jumped off the boat and walked a small gravel bank, where we could cast across towards some boulders in the river on the other side. We saw a giant mud crab (Scylla serata) in the clear, shallow water. He was swimming along the bottom, he was a bit shy of us and picked up some speed and disappeared into the deeper water when we got too close.
Pierre got a GT of around 2kg’s on his Rapala Twitchin’ mullet, which gave him a good pull, and he was very stoked. By then it was already afternoon, so we decided to head back to the lodge for a bit of a break and some refreshement.

While we were travelling back downriver I saw a raptor coming towards us, it came over us fairly low and landed in a tree, giving us a pretty good look. It was a pale phase booted eagle, a great sighting of a magnificent bird.

We headed out the next morning at first light, stopping at the dropoff area and making a few casts, I landed a kob on a 5’ jerkshad. I stuck my finger into its mouth to get the lure out and he bit down, hard, and wouldn’t release, which was pretty painful, eventually he let go and I could withdraw my bleeding, throbbing fingertip. We continued upriver and stopped for a few casts at some rocks in the water at the mouth of a small inlet. I worked a Berkley Bullet Popper around the rocks slowly, and was rewarded with a thornfish, not big, but another species nonetheless.

We continued on to the top of the river, making casts at all the good looking spots, but had no other touches along the way. We pulled the boat up at the bank and got off to walk the top pools and cast lures. I was looking for a river bream specifically, to add to the species count. I saw a few bream and had some follows on my lures, but they refused to eat.

The tide eventually turned and with the drop, the fish started moving. Pierre and I each got a barracuda in the top pool, I went off looking for a river bream in the pools above, Pierre stayed where he was and landed a skipjack on fly while we were away. Again I failed to get a bream to eat, something is holding these tricky feeders back.

We left the top at around 5pm, after a long day. We had to make our way back to the lodge to start a braai and pack up our tackle. I was happy with our return from four days of fishing. I had managed to catch eight species of fish on lure in the river. Nqabara had lived up to its potential and I am happy to report that it is a real gem. There are only a handful of Transkei rivers that have accommodation available for the public, and Nqabara rates right up there with the very best of them.

Nottingham Estate

We were recently invited to go and fish on a private game and citrus farm in Southern Zimbabwe, not far from the town of Beit Bridge, called Nottingham estate. The farm covers 20 000 hectares of mostly wild bush, with plenty of wildlife, including elephants, hyena and leopard. The dam that we went to fish in is called Mashilichokwe, and is around 7km long.

The fishing retreat is a peaceful lodge, built amongst some big trees on the water’s edge. They have a sheltered jetty area, and a number of boats for use on the dam. The dam has plenty of structure in the form of rock outcrops and sunken timber. Some world class large mouth bass have been caught in the dam, including the current farm record of a fish weighing 7.8kg’s.

We were there during the post spawn period, which made it a bit difficult to locate big fish, but had quality fishing anyway, with a number of good size fish being landed.

The fish were in excellent condition, and fought very hard. We also had some good fun targeting Niloticus bream on small spinners and light tackle, and managed to catch a few quality specimens.

In the evenings we were treated to dinners at the lodge, or at the fly camp, where low grade oranges from the citrus farm are dumped to feed the elephants. There were plenty of herds of these huge beasts, as well as eland, warthog and baboons which all came to feast on the fruit. The view from the escarpment looked like a scene from “The Lion King”, with electric lights lighting the area up at night.

This trip was something really different for us, with some amazing bird watching, great game viewing and excellent bass fishing. Nottingham Estate is one of those special destinations which should be on any keen bass fisherman and outdoorsman’s agenda to visit.

Catsonova Cruises

The Bazaruto archipelago must be one of the most spectacular pieces of marine shoreline along the east African coast. It consists of four main islands; Margaruque, Benguerra, Bazaruto and Paradise islands, strung out in a pretty chain just offshore of the Mozambican mainland town of Vilanculos.

I have fished the archipelago many times over the years, and count it amongst my favourite fishing destinations. It covers a large area and recently I got the opportunity to explore the entire archipelago in a single trip, which I have never done before. Making this possible was the new Catsonova live aboard operation, which is based out of Vilanculos.

Catsonova is a forty-four foot motor yacht, which has been recently refurbished and is used as a houseboat type setup in the area. She is crewed by a helpful and friendly staff; Jose’, her skipper, Zef, the cook, Roberto another skipper and deck hand and Dean Taylor, a young Zimbabwean, who is the operations manager, host and fishing guide.

This enthusiastic team put all of their efforts into making each trip aboard Catsonova as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Dean is a qualified chef, so the meals on board are top class, he is also a keen and passionate fisherman. He has had a few years experience in the area, working out of Benguerra lodge as a fishing guide in the past, so is perfectly placed to put his guests onto good fish.

The Bazaruto archipelago is within a marine national park, so there is plenty of marine wildlife to enjoy in the area, and the fishing is world class.

Catsonova was our base, and she moved around to different moorings each day, allowing us to fish different areas. We fished from a ski boat that accompanied Catsonova, and met up with her each afternoon at her new anchorage. This allowed us an opportunity to fish the entire archipelago over the course of a week, something not normally possible when land based.

We had two amazing sightings of dugong, as well as manta rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins and of course some fantastic sunsets and sunrises. We also managed to get in some snorkeling on beautiful reefs, and of course we fished until our arms were ready to drop off.

The Bazaruto archipelago is home to a diverse range of fish species, including a wide variety of predators and game fish. We caught nine species of kingfish, along with many other species of predators. We fished everything from light tackle to the heaviest of popping gear, and all that is in between. Poppers, bucktail jigs, stickbaits and soft plastics all did a lot of duty and all produced fish. We chased down shoals of busting fish on the surface, with birds diving overhead, and got into tuna and king mackerel. We threw poppers and stickbaits at good looking water and landed GTs, and we drifted over reefs, working small jigs and spoons to catch a variety of predators and colourful bottom species.

The Catsonova experience is something quite different to staying in a land based lodge, and offers great opportunities to explore further afield within the archipelago. It gave us a whole new perspective on the islands and allowed us to fish areas that have previously been unavailable to us for fishing the prime times.

We thoroughly enjoyed our week, which was made even more special by the really dedicated efforts of Dean and his team. They could not do enough to make our trip great, and were always ready and willing to do whatever it took to make us happy. The Catsonova experience is one that I would recommend to anybody who wants to get a full, tropical blue water fishing experience in waters that are easy to access and full of fish. The Airlink flight from Johannesburg to Vilanculos takes less than an hour and a half, making it a quick and painless trip, and you can be fishing within a few hours of leaving home.

Fishing Report – Sardine Run 2018

The Sardine run has started with a bang!

Normally the Sardine Run begins with lots of gannet activity, then tons of dolphins and whale, sightings before the arrival of the silver fish. This year has been the opposite way around. The sardines arrived before the birds, dolphins and whales. Perhaps that is because this year’s run is shaping up to be a bumper one, and while the birds, dolphins and whales accompany the bulk of the sardines, still holding off the wild coast, the pilot shoals have stolen the limelight on the South coast.

Sharks have accompanied some of the shoals, with plenty of large fins being seen right in the shore break at times. Shark anglers have had a ball tossing baits to these monsters, and then buckling up for the fight of their lives. While some beauties have been landed, there are also many tales of broken tackle and wrecked egos.

While the shad have been their usual elusive selves, appearing at times, then disappearing again, they have been around enough to head up the menu in many households already this season. Game fish such as Garrick, kingfish and queen mackerel have also been caught along with the sardines, by those faithful who work the water with spoons and plugs from the beaches and rocks.

The offshore game fish have been predictably difficult to catch, with so much natural food on offer. Ski boat anglers at this time of year make amends by enjoying the arrival of geelbek and Dagga Salmon.



With such a bumper run in the offing, the Inside Angling crew has been racing up and down the coast, along with the beach sein netters, and the rest of the population, trying to experience the full impact of the frenzy that the annual run brings.

Situ Island Resort

With all the traveling we get to do in the course of filming the Inside Angling TV series, we visit a lot of lodges, hotels and resorts around Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Every now and then we come across a rare little gem, a place that is different and has something special going for it. Recently, we enjoyed a direct flight from Johannesburg to Pemba on Airlink and visited Situ Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago in Northern Mozambique, which we found it to be exactly one of these little gems.

Our first impression on arrival was of a hidden private place, set right on the beach. The sandstone outcrops in the water in front of and around the lodge provide for beautiful scenery, and the buildings blend in with the vegetation of the island.

We were welcomed into the main building, where we encountered a relaxed atmosphere and simple, yet comfortable furnishings. The floor is beach sand, so you take off your sandals and don’t use them again until you leave. The ultimate in barefoot luxury.

The bar is a ‘help yourself’ honesty version, where you pour your own drinks and write down what you’ve taken in a book. There is an iced water machine in the lounge, where you are able to help yourself to as much chilled water as you like, something that’s unusual in the tropics! There is a small staff compliment and the whole place has an intimate feel, very different to most commercial lodges.

Situ is run by Craig and Tessa Macdonald, a South African couple from East London, who are passionate about Situ Island and its surrounds. Craig skippered us on our fishing excursions, and kept us entertained with his quirky sense of humour, then got straight into the kitchen whenever we arrived back at the lodge and started putting together delicious meals. He is a chef of note and as passionate about good food as he is about the island. Tessa runs the diving, snorkeling, kayak paddling and other activities and is very involved with, and knowledgeable about the environment and creatures of Situ. One of the more remarkable things she does is hand feed the Moray Eels on the reef in front of the lodge on the low tide, where they come swarming out and surround her as she hands out tasty tit bits.

Everything about Situ is relaxing. The staff keep a low profile, but are never far away if you need them. Craig and Tessa were helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them, they were very happy for us to set the pace and customize our own schedule each day, their flexibility made it easy for us to relax and appreciate this piece of paradise.

Meals at Situ were nothing short of outstanding. They buy seafood fresh from the locals and we were served delicious fresh seafood daily, complimented by loads of fresh salads, homemade sauces, pickled fish and of course the most finger licking good Mozambican chicken. In fact the food alone is enough of a reason to visit Situ!

There are plenty of reefs in the area and one doesn’t need to travel very far to get to fishing spots. Species that we came across included Gt’s, Bluefin Kingfish, Bigeye Kingfish, Amberjack, Dogtooth Tuna, King Mackerel, Green Jobfish and Pickhandle Barracuda. There were also plenty of Yellowfin Tuna about and we saw Sailfish jumping, though we didn’t target those species. Broadbill Swordfish are also targeted at night near Situ, so the fishing potential is excellent.

What really excited me was the form of the reefs. There is incredible structure, with some huge steps, ledges and walls under the water. The potential for fishing amongst such structure is exceptional.

I have tucked Situ Island Resort into my personal portfolio of places I would love to get back to again soon.

Just hope it isn’t too long before I do.

Inside Angling was invited by Rico Sakko to fish in Morocco for white marlin in August 2017. Rico is an old friend who we have fished with in Angola many times, he had fished Morocco last year for white marlin and had an amazing experience. This year he was bringing his son, Vincent, who is 12 years old, and hoping to break the junior world record for white marlin. He also invited Henry Gradwell, an 85 year old fishing legend from my home town, to come and catch his first white marlin and tick his last box in terms of marlin species.

We flew Emirates direct from Durban to Dubai, leaving Durban at 7.30pm and landed in Dubai at 05.30am. (their time) after an 8 and a half hour flight. We flew from Dubai at 7.30am and landed in Casablanca at 12.45 Moroccan time. We watched movies on the flights, including ‘Casablanca’ the old black and white film made in the 1940’s starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. We were exhausted when we arrived, as we hadn’t got much sleep at all, with a family with three noisy, seat kicker kids behind us on the second flight.

We were collected at the airport by our skipper, John Huntington, from California USA, and his deckhand Ousman. Ousman is a Senegalese, who fishes fro the Senegal national team back home. They drove us to Mohammedia, which took just over half an hour of interesting driving. The Moroccans drive fast and use the whole road.

We checked in to the Mohammedia Avanti hotel, which is four star and is considered the best option in town. Rates are around $100 per night for a room and breakfast, not bad value.
The rooms weren’t ready yet when we arrived , so we got some beers at the bar just off reception. Three Casablanca beers and a coke cost us 280 Dirhams, around R390.
We won’t be doing too much of that then!

We had a shower, then walked along the beach front promenade looking for a place to eat. It is lined with little al fresco type café’s, and it is a long weekend, so the beach was very busy as are the promenade and the café’s. There were fun rides, slides, a big pool with paddle boats, ponies and horses to ride, vendors selling nuts, sweets, donuts etc. Nobody bothered us at all. The beach was very clean, with plenty of people and umbrellas. It only gets dark here after 8.30pm.
The promenade smelt quite strongly of urine, which wasn’t too pleasant, but you kind of get used to it after a bit.
We ate at a little spot called ‘Lips Snacks’ . Pam had a Pizza and I ordered a Tagine, very excited to taste the local food. My tagine arrived and had cooking oil and a fried egg in it and a nice plateful of chunks of crusty bread. Hmm not quite what I had planned for dinner. Pam’s pizza was nice. I had an apple juice, which tasted much like vanilla, but obviously had grated apple in it, not bad, Pam had mango juice which was very good.

A guy dropped off a few nuts on our table, which we ate, they were salted and delicious. We asked him for some, which he sold us, and put four quarter sheets of yellow pages telephone book on the table, one with almonds, one with peanuts and one with pumpkin seeds, all salted. We chewed away merrily on them all, enjoying the salt, I was commenting on how the pumpkin seeds were giving us plenty of roughage when we noticed that the locals were peeling theirs and piling the empty shells on the fourth piece of paper, by now we had already eaten quite a few…

The meal was cheap, in total 137 Dirhams. We headed back to the hotel, as we had to meet Rico and the owner of the boat, ‘7 Days’, Mohammed Filali at 8pm. We met with them and chatted a bit, before heading for bed at around 8.30, exhausted.

We slept till 5.30, then got up, showered and headed for breakfast on the first floor of the nightclub at the hotel. The breakfast was pretty disorganized, I think we were too early and 6.30 is their actual opening time.
We left the hotel at around 7.30, stopped at a bakery on the way to the harbor for some fresh baguettes, croissants etc. and headed for the boat. 7 Days is a lovely 43 foot Egg Harbour sports fisher.

She was moored next to Gladius, another charter sportfisher, that had an aussie skipper, Jonno, and South African skipper Stuart Simpson was on board as well. They were trying to get a record white marlin for the boat owner fishing on fly with 4lb tippet. Apparently this is a very frustrating challenge, with the fly even breaking off on the cast sometimes.

We headed out and discovered that there was quite a big swell running and we all started feeling queasy on the way out. I chundered, so did Pam, Shaun looked pale, so Pam gave him a pill. Vincent was feeling crap and Rico was sweating and feeling terrible, we blamed the sausages that he had at breakfast, they smelt suspect to me, and none of the rest of us had any.

We headed out and stopped not too far out in about 40m of water and jigged for mackerel with sabiki jigs, collecting about 30 or so.

It was a 20 mile run out to the fishing grounds. The fish were in around 150m of water, so that is where we started.

We hadn’t been pulling the teasers long when I glanced down and saw the electric blue of a pair of lit up pecs and a tail below and behind one of the teasers. We all cast whatever we had handy and the fish didn’t stick around or eat anything. Not long after that a pack of three fish came in on the teasers and Rico hooked one on a live mackerel that he had cast at one of the fish.
He handed the rod to Vincent, who fought and landed a white marlin of around 25 kg’s. It was the first white marlin that I had ever seen, a very acrobatic and aerobatic fish, jumping a lot. Next fish up, Vincent hooked himself on a live mackerel and circle hook, and he fought this one longer, it was a bigger fish. He was using a Talica 12 with 30lb mono and a light trolling rod.
I jumped into the water with the go pro when the fish was near the boat and filmed it being landed and released, it was very tired, a good fish, not far off the junior record of 102lbs.

The next fish that was hooked was handed to Pam, who did a good job and landed her first Marlin, a fish of around 35kg’s. All the while I was now casting plugs, and soft plastics rigged on circle hooks and trying to get one for myself. The fish did come in to my lures and came close to eating, but none actually bit.

The teasing setup is not ideal, with two teasers being run off electric reels above the skipper’s head and two dredge lines in the water with daisy chains on them. All teasers were still in the water when the fish had come in, and the boat kept stopping and starting, never really lying still. The fish were locking on to one teaser, coming in hot, but totally focused on the teaser, they liked green a lot. With two livebaits also being thrown into the water each time, my poppers and plastics were just one of many options, and unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a fish.

Rico hooked and landed another fish, the 4th for the boat for the day. Not bad, we raised about 10 fish in total. Rico pulled his fish harder and he got it in quicker than the others. I jumped in and got some footage of the fish a bit more lit up, as well as seeing and filming a free swimmer that was nearby. The water was stunningly clean and it was such a pleasure to cool off for a few minutes.

After that we raised another fish, which the boat owner threw a live mackerel at, but lost when he tightened up too early, pulling the circle hook out of the fish’s mouth.

We had a chat on the way back, and decided to change things up a bit tomorrow and try to get the crew all doing their jobs better and less chaos, we will see how tomorrow goes. There is plenty of potential, and plenty of fish, so it should be good!

We started heading back at 4.30pm, and hit the docks in good daylight and spent a bit of time setting up more tackle for tomorrow. Then we headed back to the hotel, had a shower and the four of us, Pam, Rico, Vincent and myself went for Pizzas on the promenade. Came home at around 9.30, well tired again and ready for a good night sleep.

Tomorrow we will only fish one person at a time for each fish we raise, and hopefully do better. Rico will handle the teaser, John just drive the boat, and Pam can act as a spotter. We will see how it goes.

Day 2:

Breakfast at 6.30am, more organized this time. We were picked up at 7am, and taken to the boat. We stopped for mackerel again on the yozuri’s, and caught a bunch of them near a channel marker bouy.

We headed out to the same area as yesterday with a different approach in mind. We only put out one teaser, on a rod, flatline from the starboard side, with Rico handling that. We rigged a green kona, their favourite from yesterday, with a ballyhoo in the middle, sewn firmly onto a mono loop with floss.

On the port corner we put out a dredge bar with a shoal of reflective tape fish off it and a dive weight to keep it down.

I rigged one rod with a popper and assist, and the other rod with an 8 inch soft plastic jerkbait rigged on a wire pigtail, on an 8/0 vmc tournament circle hook. I stowed them both in the holders on the back of the fighting chair. One Trevala 6’6” MH with a Spheros 6000 and 50lb power pro max cuatro line, with a 60lb fluorocarbon leader. The other a Terez 40lb 7’ stick with a Stella 8000 reel and 50lb Max Cuatro.

Within ten minutes of putting the teaser out we had a fish up. Rico cranked the teaser in, bringing the fish in close while I made my cast. The fish was not overly interested in my soft plastic that I cast at it, and it disappeared after e few seconds. We trolled around again, then picked up the same fish again on the teaser going over the same spot. I sent the plastic in again and wiggled it around enticingly and the fish came and made a swipe, missing. It turned, came back and ate the plastic, sinking down to where I could barely see it. It didn’t turn or move off, just kind of hung down there, looking like it was chewing the plastic. I had to do a slow count to six, praying that it wouldn’t spit the lure before I started tightening up the drag. I was fishing with the drag as loose as I could while still managing to retrieve the lure. As the line went tight the fish started to take off, it was spectacular. It leapt straight out of the water and was incredibly aerial, racing along, jumping, twisting, turning. There was very little line drag in the water and the speed and power was awesome to behold. The braid being so direct was a little disconcerting and I would definitely use a mono topshot next time, as you don’t need to cast far, and some stretch would be nice to take the shock. With all of that jumping and twisting that fish managed to change the shape of the circle hook, as I was fighting it pretty hard, landing it in around ten minutes or so. I was actually impressed at how little the hook bent after the amount of pressure I put on the fish.

It was one of my most spectacular catches ever. That fish coming in, lit up, with those neon blue pecs glowing in the purple water, and the shimmering blue tail sweeping behind. Watching its reactions and movements as it was so visible, it came in right beneath me, and ate the plastic no more than 5 metres from the back of the boat. The stamina and energy to then sustain a fight with spectacular jumps, some high, some long, but repeated again and again, showing off his spectacular body was simply amazing.

I was elated, stoked, absolutely thrilled to experience it and my trip to Morocco was already made, right there.

After that I decided to try with fly. The fish however, seemed less keen to play that game. I had shots at five fish on fly, and most of them came in, had a good look and refused to eat. The last one came up from beneath and ate the fly side on, perfectly, and taking me by surprise. It ate the fly between strips with my stripping hand off the line and I couldn’t get my hand onto the line quickly enough before it had spat the fly again. Good to get aneat, but sad that it didn’t hang on a mite longer. It gives me hope for tomorrow though.

We came back at the same time as yesterday and arrived at the hotel, to find Henno in the lobby. We had a beer together in the pub, then a quick shower and headed back to the promenade for dinner again. This time I had spaghetti bolognaise, while Pam had chicken fillet with mushroom sauce, chips and salad, it looked great too. We had banana juice with our meals, the fresh fruit juices here are excellent.

The people are so relaxed, there is no begging, nobody pressuring you to buy anything. The poor people seem to be very uneducated, there is a big class gap. But everybody seems to be very pleasant.

Our tally today was eight fish raised for the day and two landed, as Rico hooked one on a livebait after it had refused the fly, and Vincent landed it. Sadly it had got gut hooked and regurgitated its stomach. Anyhow, Rico cut the line and released it, so hopefully it will swallow its stomach and be ok.

Day 3:
We headed out with Henno this morning, Pam stayed at the hotel, tired. We went west this time, towards Casablanca, where Rico had enjoyed all of his success last year fishing with Trevor Hansen.

We stopped at a channel marker bouy to get mackerel, got a bunch and moved on. It was very overcast and actually quite cool when the boat was moving.

We ran for about an hour and a half, then put out teasers, with both teasers running off the two electric reels above the skipper, and Rico’s dredge bar on a line off the back. We worked around some long line and gill netting boats, small ones, and their nets or lines. Nothing, no birds, just a few dolphins which came and swam briefly in front of the boat, but lost interest quite quickly, they were big and dark with a hooked fin, almost pilot whale size.

We had no action at all until after 1pm. The sun started to come out and a fish came onto the teasers. Rico cast a live mackerel out and hooked the fish, then handed the rod to Henno. I took some pics from above with my still camera of the fish coming charging in, with its fins all lit up. Then I went downstairs and put on mask, snorkel and fins and jumped in. I swam along the line until it disappeared into the misty blue depths. After a bit I saw something white, which materialized into remoras, hanging onto the sides of the marlin. Then the fish became visible, blue from directly above and I swam above it as it slowly rose up to the surface, beautiful. Shaun in the meantime flew the drone and got some cool footage from above of the fish jumping etc.

The line got wrapped around the keel and the prop of the boat and I swam over and untangled it, so that Henno could continue fighting his fish. Rico leadered it, then it jumped and he let go, then he leadered it again, but it took off, and the line wrapped around the tip of the rod and broke off. A landed fish for Henno, but sadly no photo.

We carried on trolling teasers in the nice bright sunshine, but there was no sign of anymore fish. The baitballs on the sounder were all deep, around 100m, we were working a depth of around 140m, as that is where the best action had been the last few days.

We pulled lines up at 4.30pm and headed in. The other charter boats had very little action too, with only one other white being landed. Just a really quiet day. The barometer was sitting at 1015.26 not too sure how that is here, I will have to check tomorrow.

Came back to the hotel, showered, cleaned my mask with toothpaste, and waited for Pam, who arrived after 7pm. She had been out and about in Mohammedia, checking out street vendors and shops. She bought a couple of small Tagines to take home.

We went to a street side restaurant near the Kasbah ( old Arabian market place with arches and a roof) for dinner. The restaurant was on the edge of a village square, with a big fountain in the middle, opposite the arched entrance to the Kasbah. There were lots of people walking around and some sitting on the edge of the fountain chatting. There were street vendors with fruits such as plums, peaches, bananas, prickly pears, figs, dates etc on carts and tables. For dinner we had cows head, bread and bean, chick pea and noodle soup, called Harira. We also had rotis, orange juice and sweet mint tea with little blocks of sugar to add. The whole meal for six people came to 280 durhams. Had a bit of a walk around the Kasbah afterwards, checking out the stalls and street food. Plan to go there tomorrow night and just eat streetfood snacks, maybe some nice kebabs and things.

There were stalls with olives in all sorts of states, stuffed, pipless, with pips, pickled, marinated in chili etc.
There were also stalls with spices, garlic, ginger, cumin, dhania seeds, chili, saffron, turmeric etc.

The cows head had the consistency of pulled pork and had some soft, fatty bits. It was flavoured with cumin, and not much salt, but there was salt on the table and bowls of chili sauce, which actually made it spicy and delicious.

The people are very courteous, not ever approaching or hassling us, and not making much eye contact, but if you engage them they are really friendly and pleasant. They walk slowly, eat slowly, talk and have a lot of family time, I guess the no booze thing helps. They seem indifferent to pics being taken, though I try not to be obvious. =There are very few women wearing burkas, but they are mostly Muslims. We hear the muezzin calling the people to prayer from the mosques at the appropriate prayer times.

We saw few, if any tourists. The Kasbah and streets were humming with local people, especially at night. From children to teens, adults and oldies, everybody seems to wander the streets at night and socialize out there.

Very few people seem to be able to speak or understand English. The google translator app is a great idea! They are very keen to try and make themselves understood though, and have lots of patience and courtesy.

We are only going out at 8am tomorrow as the low tide will be at around 10 am and we need it to start pushing before the fish come on.

Day 4:
We got up at 6.30am, went to breakfast at 7.30am and were collected by John at 8am. He told us that another boat, “One More”, which is the top boat in the area, had gone up to fish around Rabat yesterday, around 35 miles East of Mohammedia. They raised 18 fish and landed 11. Yoh, on a day when we only saw one fish!

Obviously our plan then changed and we unanimously decided to head off towards Rabat and look for those fish ourselves.
We ran for a couple of hours, arriving in the area at 11am. We started trolling our teasers, with no interest shown by any fish until after 1.30pm. The first fish to come up followed a teaser in, but the captain didn’t take the boat out of gear, or the teasers out of the water. I shouted at him to stop the boat, he said it was stopped, but there was boiling propwash coming out from below the boat and my livebait was skipping on the top, beating itself to death. In fact when I pulled it in, it was stone dead. We had a bit of a chin wag about what it was that we were trying to do, and the importance of getting the teasers out of the water and the boat to stop, then continued. That fish had not even lit up, we only could see the dorsal out of the water behind the teaser, twitching and shivering the way they do.

About half an hour or so later another fish made a brief appearance, the dorsal fin showing for a second behind the teaser, then disappearing. We dropped livebaits back and it came up onto the surface and sniffed around the livies, then disappeared for good.
We trolled for almost an hour, then another fish came in on the teasers, this one was lit up a bit, but still not a hot fish. We dropped mackerel back and the fish ate one. I held the rod and let the line go tight and the circle hook find its mark. The fish was very lazy, not running at all, just hanging around the back of the boat, not jumping, just lifting its head from the water a couple of times and shaking it. I pulled it in very quickly. Ousman grabbed the leader, then the bill, the hook fell out and he somehow lost his grip on the bill, so the fish was gone, but counts as a landed fish, just no photo’s.
It was very frustrating, all of that time and effort put in for a fish that gave less of a pull than a 5kg grouper.

I took a look at the Barometer, it had dropped quite sharply from 1012hpa to 1010hpa in the space of ten minutes, then it started to go back up, the bite came on the drop. The barometer has been steadily dropping over the last 4 days, maybe this is part of the reason why the fish have gotten harder to catch. The water temp has been a steady 23.5 degrees and is clean and deep indigo. It was very overcast again today, with the sun making some appearances during the afternoon, but never for very long. None of this explains why we had no fish, as well as all of the other boats yesterday in the area off Mohammedia and Casablanca, and yet One More, had raised 18 and landed 11 yesterday, how localized is the barometric pressure? They were 35 miles east of us, could they have been experiencing different pressure? Or was it something else? There did seem to be more birds around the Rabat area, but mostly gulls and shearwater, no terns at all. There were mainly groups of them floating on the water, not a great sign.

We have decided to take our off day tomorrow and use the day to take the train to Casablanca and go and explore the market there and do some filming of local sights, culture etc.

Went out to the restaurant next to the Kasbah again. I got to have my first proper Tagine! It was a delicious one with chicken and raisins, which I ate with flat bread. Pam and I ended up sharing it, as there was a lot of food. We also had sweet mint tea, poured from silver teapots into small glasses. Pam ordered couscous, which never arrived, but we were happy, as we had plenty to eat. The food at this place is ridiculously cheap, Henno’s salad cost less than R15 and would be enough for four people as a good salad.
After dinner Pam and I took a walk around the Kasbah, with me taking pics of the stalls, people and scenes. I was trying to get natural, unposed pics, I had to be a bit sneaky, and got shouted at by some dude, and finger waggled by some old lady. I am just starting to learn and enjoy street photography.
Pam and I walked back to the hotel, then carried on for a little bit along the promenade. There were still plenty of people around, kids still riding ponies and paddling the little paddleboats in the inflatable pool at the beach, even though it was around 11.15pm. The Moroccans are real night owls!

Day 5

We had a much needed sleep in, only meeting for breakfast at 9.30am. We then caught a taxi, which we went and found ourselves after asking reception to call some. Service is not a big priority around here, but the people are good and honest. We left Henno at the hotel, as we were going to walk a lot, and it would have been too much for him.
The taxis took us to the Gare (Station), where we bought 2nd class tickets to Casablanca, a 25minute train ride away. We jumped on the train and enjoyed the aircon and comfort of a nice ride, going past slums, and all sorts of buildings, one thing that stood out to me was satellite dishes everywhere. These guys are big on Satelite TV. They are not that big on painting the exteriors of their buildings though, those are generally pretty decrepit.

At the station in Casablanca we used the bathroom, as there was not likely to be another easy spot, then headed out. We caught taxis, red ones here in Casablanca, as opposed to the turquoise ones in Mohammedia. Also much more costly. The ride from the Avanti Hotel in Mohammedia had been 13 Durhams and was further. The cost in Casblanca the short way to the market was 50 Durhams.

We went in to the fish market first, I wanted to see what sea life they were harvesting and eating in the area. It was very clean and hygienic, I would say the cleanest and best fish market I have been to in Africa. The smell was not strong or offensive, there was lots of crushed ice, most of the things like oysters, crabs, mussels, some sort of pencil bait, lobsters etc were still alive. All products were well presented and neat, and everyone was very friendly and happy to chat and take pics with us. They loved Pam (of course) and all wanted pics with her, she thought it was her blonde hair, but it turns out that is her blue eyes. The Moroccans are big on eyes, and a lot of their art depicts a woman’s eyes.

We then went down the road to the old medina, where we walked through narrow alleys and stalls of everything from leather work, spices, argan oil, lots of jewelry stands, European football shirts, Louis Vitton bags, honey, Calvin Klein boxers, you name it. Lots of lovely fresh fruit and veg, not like woolies, the real deal.
Then we went and sat at a street side café’ and had tagines and bread. One with veg and a bit of meat in the middle, and the other fish balls in a tasty gravy, both very nice. When the time came for people to go to prayers, they up and left, and just then a couple of people came around asking for leftovers, basically beggars, but not a hassle. We did have two or three women with babies and scarves covering their faces and hair, tapping on a shoulder and saying please, then pointing at the baby and making eating signals. Casablanca is different to Mohammedia, Much bigger, and more people. A b it like comparing Vilanculos to Inhassoro in Mozambique.

We chatted to the honey seller lady, a really nice woman, about the hand with the eye trinkets and symbols we had been seeing at various places. She explained that it was to ward off envious or evil eyes. She had a cool stand with lots of old pots and things and bee hives and even a full bee keeping suit and a smoker.

We walked back to the station, checking out stalls along the outside of the medina. We bought a cover for our bed, a lovely blue cloth. We also stopped and had delicious ice cold, freshly squeezed orange juice for 10 durhams a cup. The peeled oranges are kept in a cooler box of ice, and when you order then he cuts them in half and puts each half into the squeezer, like a big garlic crusher. About three oranges make a cup of juice.

We bought second class tickets to go back to Mohammedia, and got booted out of first class by the conductor, we suspected that we may have got it wrong, the seats were nicer and the aircon so cool…

We took a taxi back to the hotel and had a short nap, then met the others in the lobby. Shaun has also booked in now, as the landlord at the place he was staying (skipper’s apartment) has found out that he was there and said no ways, he must move out.

We went along the promenade to the pizza place, Corsica, and had dinner. Pam and I wanted shwarma’s and the waiter rode his bike to the Kasbah to fetch some for us. Rico had pasta, Vincent had chicken steak with mushroom sauce, Henno Mexican Pizza and me, Pam and Shaun had shwarmas.

Day 6

We were picked up at 6am by John and went to the harbor. We struggled for bait in foggy conditions, but eventually got enough. We headed out, and as we came out of the fog bank, there was a super pod of spinner dolphins in front of us, and plenty of shearwaters paddling around on the surface. We stuck with them for a bit, with Shaun standing in the bows with his go pro, filming. We then moved on to the 140m area and put teasers out, one daisy chain of squids on each side off the electric reels above the skipper. One pink and one green, each with a chugger on the end pulling a smoke trail.

We had no hits for a few hours, with other boats also raising no fish. Finally a fish came up on the teasers, glowing pecs and tail, excited and hot. He got stuck to the green daisy chain, and followed it right past the stern, to the side, where the teaser left the water. He started scouting around, and I dropped my live mackerel back a bit and he picked it up. I watched the line speed up off the spool of the reel with the bail arm open, then clicked over and let it tighten up, fish on!

This was a smallish fish, but full of energy. It did lots of spectacular jumps, close to the boat, as I kept the drag fairly tight. I was using one of Rico’s Terez rods, with an 8000 size reel, with a 30lb mono topshot, not very long, connected to braid beneath. A good setup for these fish.

I enjoyed the fight and landed him pretty quickly, with Rico leadering it and Ousman grabbing the bill. We brought it on board for a present, then back overboard for a quick revival and release.

This turned out to be the only fish for the day, the rest of the day we trolled and trolled, but couldn’t raise a fish.

This evening we had a shwarma that Shaun fetched us from the margane, where burrito girl was making amazing ‘burritos’ according to our skipper. It was an excellent wrap type thing filled with spicy mince, chips and I don’t know what else, but mighty tasty! Not a pita bread as we know it, more of a wrapped bundle of food, much like a burrito.

We had a couple of beers with Stuart and Jonno from Gladius at the hotel and heard some cool stories about fishing for blue marlin at Cape Verde.

Jonno was telling us that next week the locals here in Morocco would be killing sheep on a day called Eid El-Kebir, apparently every family in the country would kill a sheep on this day and dress up in their beat clothes and feast. A celebration and re enactment of Abraham’s sacrifice to God. Apparently the flies would be wild and there would be skins piled up on the sides of the roads, with nobody wanting them. This festival was happening a week after we left Morocco, and sheep were beginning to be stockpiled in various places.

He also told us that he had been doing seasons in Morocco for 6 years and a lot had changed socially and culturally, with rules being relaxed. Morocco is at the western edge of the Middle East, the gateway to Africa and the Middle East from Europe. It is therefore, more influenced by European culture than some other Muslim countries are.

Tomorrow we start our journey home, which is going to be long, via Dubai again. It has been an amazing week. I have thoroughly enjoyed the white marlin, the people and the sights, tastes and experiences of Morocco. I would definitely come here again. The fishing for white marlin is amazing. They are so visual, so exciting! Rico is planning on chartering a boat for the full season next year, and then put groups together to fill it. I think he will do well, it is an amazing trip and an incredible experience.

The white marlin are in the same sort of size and power category as sailfish. Pretty much any tackle that is good for sails will be perfect for white marlin. They are even more visually exciting than sailfish, in that they have that electric blue glow on their fins when lit up, and they are as aerial or more so than sailfish. Teasing them in and then flicking live baits, lures or flies at them is very exciting. They can be finicky about feeding at times, but that seems to be the nature of these fish, a little unpredictable, but tons of fun!

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