The mako shark flag as used in Kenya is definitely the most brightly coloured fish flag but how many people know the story behind this flag? This story had a massive impact on my childhood and why I became so infatuated with big game fishing. Mako sharks have always been a very special species to catch, one that demands total respect.
It was back on the 4th of March 1964 that Bob Cronchey, Tony Clifford, and Liz Coverdale set out from the Pemba Channel Fishing Club aboard the club’s flagship, White Otter skippered by my father, Pat Hemphill. As was customary in those days, they began the day by fishing for baitfish on the ‘bait patch’ immediately outside Shimoni harbour. In those days nobody fished for marlin with artificial lures and there were very few lures even available on the market. These were mostly restricted to Japanese feather jigs and metal spoons of various sizes. Hence marlin fishing was entirely dependent on one catching sufficient fresh bait, which fortunately was usually available in those days.
By 9 o’clock they had caught sufficient bait and decided to head out into the deeper blue water. I do recall as a child that there was a very basic depth sounder on White Otter, but I am not sure when this was first fitted, but certainly it was there in the 1970’s. With the blue water close in to the drop off Pat decided to put baits out right away and troll slowly out. Since baits were usually rigged using the New Zealand ‘reverse rig’ technique trolling had to be very slow.
They had only just completed the set-up, the time was 9:15 am when there was an explosive strike on the soli (torpedo) trolled down the centre on the 130-lb rod. Bob, who was on strike leapt into the fighting chair full of excitement and the hook was set. The rod bent double, and the old Penn Senator screamed as the fish tore off in anger then rocketed out of the water to gasps from all around. Pat was the only one to have seen a mako before, and that was in a book.
The fight ensued with much sweat and effort; they were all still finding their feet with this big game fishing game. Pat, who had started this business only the year before, by his own admission knew very little about big game fishing. He would read every book available and practice rigging techniques and knot tying at home. After a few hours of hard graft, the swivel finally came within reach and the mate Nasiri grabbed it eagerly. He was a wonderful character with a badly pock-marked face from smallpox, great sense of humour and totally fearless. The other crewman of course was Kadi who was the helmsman of White Otter for around 35 years or more.
Pat rammed home the flying gaff and all hell broke loose, the mako shot out of the water over the transom trying to reach Bob in the fighting chair. Pat took a turn of the gaff rope around the stern cleat to prevent the shark from coming any further on board whilst Tony Clifford wielded the baseball bat trying to force the mako back overboard. Poor Bob with his ankles behind his ears was shouting, “Take it away, take it away!” Of course, I am omitting the inevitable expletives that may have accompanied these words.
The shark then slipped back overboard but now the gaff rope was not long enough for it to reach the water, so something had to give. When we say flying gaff, it was a pathetic example of one and not one that you would usually use on a fish of this size. But of course, they had never come across anything like this before. Inevitably the gaff straightened out and the shark raced off still attached to Bob who was now saying, “I don’t want this brute anymore!” But of course, the others were never going to let him give up on it and they kept up some friendly teasing and every now and again pouring buckets of cold seawater over him.
In the meantime, Pat together with Nasiri and Tony took the gaff down into the engine room where they wedged it in to the mountings and bent it back into a semblance of a gaff once more. After a further hour or more the fish was again brought alongside where Pat yet again slammed home the gaff. The mako shark predictably objected vehemently and the now slightly softer gaff straightened out yet again.
So, it was back down into the engine room with only two persons required this time to bend the gaff back into shape. Considering this very ineffective piece of essential equipment Pat called my mother on the radio for her to ask Dougie Hinde to bring out a spare gaff with his boat Membe II. Dougie was a deaf as a post so there was little point of calling him on the radio or trying to phone if indeed that even worked.
But before Dougie was able to reach them a now very exhausted Bob managed to bring the mako back within reach of the trace. They had been fighting this fish for 7½ hours by this point and it was approaching 5pm. Yet again Pat gaffed the shark and although it was definitely tiring it was also clear that the now rather softened gaff was not going to hold much longer, and Nasiri had had enough of these shenanigans. Before anybody could stop him, he had jumped overboard with a rope that he whipped around the shark’s tail and was back in the boat almost before anyone knew what had happened saying, “Bwana, there’s your fish.”
Nasiri did admit some years later that what he now knew about mako sharks he couldn’t believe he had actually done that.
At the time I was very young, but I remember the next phase of the story very clearly indeed. As they were returning to Shimoni discussion began as to what flag to fly for this incredible catch. As we all know a shark flag is yellow on a black background but everyone on board was adamant that a special flag was needed to celebrate such an incredible catch. Liz Coverdale had a very smart beach towel with her that had yellow, red, and blue stripes and everyone’s eyes lit up. Whether Liz had much choice in the matter is unclear but, in any case, it was ceremonially cut up and a yellow, red, and blue flag was hoisted proudly aloft. For many years we used that same flag and the remainder of the towel for mako shark flags.
As White Otter entered the harbour, I recall seeing the spray and thrashing behind the boat as she towed the shark in tail first. The only place that they could land it was at Dougie Hinde’s slipway but there was no way that the dinghy could tow the shark into the beach. So instead, Nasiri brought ashore a long rope and handed the end to the eager crowd waiting to set eyes on this monster with the other end attached to the shark. The entire community was there, nobody had seen anything like it before. With cries of “Harambee, Harambee, Harambee!” the crowd hauled the shark up onto the slipway. An old man from the village picked me up and sat me on the roof of my father’s Land Rover where I had a grandstand view. Once on land it continued to jump scattering people in all directions until it was finally subdued with an axe.
Of course, we had no scales to weigh a fish of that size, so it had to be put into the back of the long wheelbase Land Rover and taken into Mombasa where it was weighed at Bamburi Cement Factory. It had caused quite a stir on the Likoni Ferry, the coxswain refusing to move the ferry until he had had a good look at it himself. Once in Mombasa traffic police had to ask them to move along because they were causing a traffic jam whilst Dad was in the bank. Everyone, including the police it should be said were stopping to look at this amazing fish.
Well, that is the history of how the colours of the mako flag came to be and there is no right or wrong way up. And for many years to come mako sharks were always known as the ‘jumpy’ sharks.
Often it is the ones that get away that we remember the most, dreaming about how big it might have been, or what if's. And, on this particular occasion it was no different except that I don't think that any of us on board actually seriously thought that we were going to catch the fish. But all the same it was very memorable and extremely enjoyable and had everything that we love about marlin fishing.
This story comes from late February sometime in the early 1980's fishing aboard the legendary sport fishing boat White Otter with regular angler Stuart Allison and some friends from the UK. During that particular season there were so many schools of skipjack and juvenile yellowfin tunas all the way along from the Punguti ya Juu Island to Chale Point. The plan each morning was to reach the drop-off as quickly as possible, catch some I've baits and put them out. With so much bait around there were also plenty of black marlin and the occasional blue and striped marlins as well. Generally speaking if you could get live baits down before 10 am you were as good as guaranteed a black marlin. Then between 10 am and 2 pm you may well get strikes but very often the marlin were only interested in killing the live bait and not eating it. After 2 pm there was often another positive period with good strikes late on.
In order to best protect our marlin fishing reels we used old star drag reels such as Penn Senators and Ocean City (This one was an Ocean City), for bait catching. On this occasion we had reached the drop off where there was a big school of skipjack tuna and very quickly we had a multiple hookup. Since White Otter has a high freeboard I was half out of the boat with one leg on the transom spray rail just above the waterline, the other still in the boat and both hands free to grab my next live bait ready for rigging from underwater. I heard one of the old reels start to scream and somebody shouting "Marlin!"
I responded, "Hold on, I'l have this bait rigged in a jiffy."
"Too bloody late, he's already on!" I heard Stuart shout and this little reel was screaming. I looked up to see about a 100-kg black marlin going absolutely berserk behind the boat. Now, all very exciting but the reel didn't have more than about 150 - 200m of 50 lb line on it and there was no trace,, no double line, just 50 lb monofilament direct to the hook, which was a # 3 O'Shaughnessy stainless steel hook inside a 3 inch white plastic squid.
One of our other boats, Broadbill, fished that day by my late mother Maia, was also working the same school. The two crew were heads down in the cockpit rigging livies totally oblivious to what was happening elsewhere. Fortunately my mother was standing by the helm. She saw our black marlin coming straight for the back of Broadbill and realised if she didn't do something it was coming in the cockpit. She slammed the boat into gear and gunned the motors with an angry retort from Usama, the captain until he saw our marlin looking at him over the transom. They made it clear just in the nick of time.
Kadi, the great captain of White Otter on those days had to use every bit of horsepower and experience available to him to stay within 100m of that marlin, which jumped non stop for an hour. White Otter's old engines in those days were wonderful 2-stroke Foden diesels, which when you gunned them produced plenty of black smoke. It was really quite spectacular and all of us on board loved every minute as you can see from the picture (Photo by Stuart's buddy John), Finally after 1 hr 10 min, when the fish eventually got tired and stopped jumping the line parted close to the hook.
This was indeed a fish that none of us will ever forget, it wasn't the biggest fish but it was beautiful and finally broke free to live another day.
Welcome to my blog, which I hope you will enjoy reading. My blog articles fall under different topics covering the many niches that I have knowledge, experience and expertise in. The latest article will show up here but you can also check on the right hand-side under categories. Select the category that interests you and if you enjoy the articles or have any comments or questions please leave a comment or drop me a line Contact us
Firstly, who am I? My name is Simon Hemphill from Shimoni, Kenya where my family have lived since 1962. You can find out more about me here About Us but I have also added a few additional snippets here.
Big game fishing Kenya
Having grown up in paradise always surrounded by great sport fishermen and women who visited the family fishing club, Pemba Channel Fishing Club and fished with my father, Pat there was no shortage of great stories. As a young boy I would soak up all these stories often re-enacting them with my toy boats in the garden. Later, after I had returned from my studies abroad I would skipper one of the three boats and also run the club bar in the evenings.
Once we had sold the fishing club and begun operating afresh under Sea Adventures Ltd, and more recently under Fishing Shimoni, I was skippering my very own boat, Kamara and later Kamara II. I also took over from my father, Pat Hemphill as the chairman of the Kenya Association of Sea Anglers in 2000.
Having attained a PhD in "The ecology and exploitation of yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacores in the Pemba Channel, Kenya" under the tutelage of Professor Tony Pitcher through the University of North Wales, Bangor I was appointed a board member to the Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute for a period of 6 years.
Here you can find regular newsletters on the current Shimoni sport fishing season but you can also locate older articles under Archives on the right. Please feel free to leave a comment.
From time to time I shall be writing short stories about marlin fishing from the ages, all of which will be true stories. Names of people will be changed to protect their identities but the overall story will be accurate.
The science of fishing
Ever since I returned from university in 1981 I began keeping a diary of events that occurred at sea, which usually involved making entries every hour when the radio call took place. Later, once I was running my own boat the entries became even more detailed. My passion for marlin fishing and especially using lures has led me to record great detail of every fish that was raised.
All of this detail is being input into 5 separate databases because the number of variables recorded is so wide. Using these databases we can finally ask questions, such as:
And, there are so many more questions for which we can finally seek answers to using this incredible data set. We are also able to test the effectiveness of different positions within the spread and monitor our overall hook-up rates.
From time to time I may also write on general fisheries topics from my local area.
Since 2010 I have also been involved in maritime training primarily through the Indian Ocean Maritime Training Centre where I am still the chief instructor for the Mombasa branch. Broadly speaking I teach people how to drive boats responsibly, concentrating largely on small power boats. But, I am also an instructor in other disciplines such as sea survival, radar and VHF radio.
My experiences have taken me to some beautiful parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and even to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stories will concentrate on the places and waterways rather than on the companies for whom I was training.
The Shimoni sport fishery has one of the most, if not the most detailed and extensive databases of any fishery in the world, let alone a sport fishery, covering just over 50 years. Adding value to this the databases have been recorded by only two people, Pat and Simon Hemphill.
My father, Pat Hemphill is a legend of the Kenya sport fishing scene having first opened the famous Pemba Channel Fishing Club in December 1962. As from July 1963 he maintained a very detailed logbook recording every day that was fished. Every fish, however big or small was documented providing numbers and weights. For the smaller species total numbers and weights were provided whilst individual weights of the billfish, sharks and tunas of more than 50 pounds were listed. Billfish catches made by visiting boats were also recorded.
Until the late 1980’s the fishery was basically a take fishery where every fish that was caught was landed and brought back to the club for weighing. Nothing was wasted though; every fish had a market and was sold through the local dealers. In those days the proceeds for any fish sold were credited against the client’s account so that in more than one occasion a client actually made a profit on his charter fee. This was a very unusual practise, and, in many cases, clients would actually put their fish proceeds to the local community project that was being supported by my parents.
Apart from the weights and numbers of all fish landed against the individual boats the names of the client along with weather/sea conditions and the sightings of anything unusual was also documented
In addition, Pat was also a great proponent of the rules of the fishery as provided by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). In Africa there is the regional body, the Game Fish Association of Africa (GFUA) and locally the Kenya Association of Sea Angling Clubs (KASAC) later to become the Kenya Association of Sea Anglers (KASA). These organizations maintain World, African and Kenyan angling records respectively. My father was one of the original founders and a long-term chairman of KASAC.
Ever since I was a small boy growing up, I couldn’t help but be addicted to the sport with a fascination for marlin. There was a large board in the clubhouse at Shimoni depicting all the angling records, which was largely kept up by myself. Upon my return from university in the UK in July 1981 where I received an honours degree in zoology with marine zoology, I joined the business. The scientist in me had so many questions that I wanted answers to and so I extended the database.
From July 1981 onwards I maintained a very detailed diary in which I recorded everything that happened out at sea, which was helped by the regular radio callups between the fleet. From the moment that VHF became available and before that CB radio my father had established a regular radio call up for all boats fishing within the Pemba Channel on the hour every hour and this practise continues to the present day.
That 1981 fishing season was a great season to start with, the tuna fishing was great and there were plenty of billfish of all species. With so many yellowfin tuna of different sizes I began to collect data recording the detailed morphological measurements, stomach contents and sexes of all yellowfin and billfishes. In response to a letter that I had written to Dr Tony Pitcher at Bangor University, later to become Professor of Fisheries at the University of British Columbia asking what I might do with all this data he replied write a PhD. And, that is exactly what I did looking into the ageing, feeding and sexual development of the yellowfin tuna along with the tuna fishery as part of a multispecies fishery.
Although the logbook initiated by my father continues to be maintained the diaries contain a raft of additional data. The weather and sea conditions have been recorded as they change throughout the day. Every billfish that has been sighted has been recorded and where possible for marlin their GPS coordinates. A complete list of factors recorded is provided below but at this point I am in the process of transferring the data into five different databases in Excel and have so far input from July 1992 to December 15, 1998. There is still a long way to go but so much interesting stuff that may be gleaned from this.
Database 1 – this is specifically for marlin caught aboard boats that have been skippered by me personally, Kamara, Kamara II and occasionally Broadbill where I can be certain of the authenticity of the data. Also, because I was the skipper information of what the fish was raised or caught on could be recorded. So that for every marlin that has been sighted we can record how it was first seen, including whether it was seen free jumping, tailing or just simply raised into the spread. What that fish was raised on, the size, type, colour and position of the bait or lure within the spread. What happened then and what did it finally take or not take.
Also recorded was the time of the sighting from which we can add tidal information plus the weather and sea conditions at that time have also been documented.
Database 2 – this is for the fleet overall, the daily sightings and catches of each boat with general weather and sea conditions. Sightings of the larger sharks, such as tiger, mako and hammerhead have also been listed. This database relies on the skipper of each boat reporting accurately and honestly on the radio what they saw and caught during the day.
Database 3 – records what each boat reported in terms of marlin or sailfish on the individual radio call ups during the day. From this we can look at the patterns throughout the day allied to lunar and tidal data.
Database 4 – this is a marlin database looking at each fish against the respective boat reporting the sighting, strike, loss or catch.
From the recorded data and these databases there are many questions that we can seek answers to, including:
These are just some of the questions that we may like to seek answers to but there are always going to be many more. Fishing to me has always been about science, understanding why something works, and even more importantly why sometimes we fail. On Kamara the relationship that I had with Hamisi who worked with me for more than 30 years was a very special one. Whenever we lost a fish, we would hold a debrief session to ascertain what may have been the reason and how can we protect against it happening again.
I shall be writing more notes in this section so please keep checking back.
Greetings to all our friends, family and anglers
The 2019/2020 fishing season has come to an abrupt end and we are entering a very worrying and uncertain time for all of us wherever we are located on this globe. This is unprecedented, usually disasters befall just a small portion of the world but this new one is affecting everyone ad none of us yet know to what extent. For the time being we can only urge one another to stay at home so that we reduce interactions with others. If you don't meet others you cannot catch or pass on this virus, simple really isn't it. Well not so simple because in the poorer parts of the world there are large numbers of people that cannot stockpile, if they make some money today they eat if they don't then they remain hungry.
Most importantly I hope that you and your loved ones will all remain safe throughout these testing times. Living here in Africa where there is such high amounts of poverty the situation is extremely concerning.
Here in Kenya, as with many other countries in Africa cases of Coronavirus are increasing but governments are doing what they can with limited resources to limit the spread. Hand sanitisers have been deployed at all shops so that you must first sanitise your hands prior to entering. At an increasing number of businesses you will have your temperature checked prior to admission. Either complete lockdowns or in Kenya's case night curfews have been introduced. Politicians are taking pay cuts, well the executive is but MP's are not so keen. There is an increased impetus towards mobile money and not using actual cash, and a lot of businesses will not accept cash now.
But, let's talk about fishing and boats now.........
The 2019/2020 season was very different in so many ways to what has been seen before. Business was very poor, the worst that I have ever known but there were fish out there. The species available were not the usual ones, Is this an impact of global warming?
Yellowfin tuna season
As most of you will know traditionally the Pemba Channel has been renowned for big yellowfin tuna during the SE-monsoon months. This was typically August through to mid-October but in fact the start is far earlier around May. But, the weather is often rather unfriendly for boating with very strong winds and heavy rain.
In 2019 a number of local boats, mostly small fibreglass open boats powered by a single outboard engine were crossing the channel to look for tuna off Pemba Island and finding plenty. There were lots of tuna in that area, some really big fish over 50-kg+ too all caught on hand lines.
these days there has been a shift from the traditional wooden craft to these fibreglass boats. Plus an increasing number of these are equipped with GPS as well. Even from Pemba Island you are seeing an increasing number of these boats fishing the plateau off the NW of the island where we have fished for years. Up in Watamu the situation has become so dire that it can be very difficult for the sport fishing boats to fish the banks because of the number of these fibreglass dinghies.
In September 2019 we were out fishing the Pemba area and there were so many tuna about, it was just like the old days. They were not easy to catch of course but they were everywhere. It was so good to see, really encouraging.
Indian Ocean Dipole
During 2019 a natural situation developed in the Indian Ocean known as an Indian Ocean Dipole. Basically, the is the Indian Ocean's equivalent to the El Nino in the Pacific. The water in the west becomes far warmer and cooler in the east bringing very heavy rains to Eastern Africa and drought to Australia.
In East Africa we recorded very heavy rains over a prolonged period but in May alone we measured 26.5 inches (about 675 mm - sorry my rain gauge is old and measures in inches). Luckily we have a nice tarmac road these days so getting in and out of the area was always possible. Sadly there were floods in a number of locations within the region resulting in a number of deaths and loss of property.
A further implication of this phenomenon is that the current reverses flowing south rather than north. For those of you who fished here during the 1997/98 season when the world was experiencing a massive El Nino will recall that is exactly what happened then. The seas are generally calm and the fishing pretty poor really.
As most of you will know typically it's the striped marlin that dominates the marlin season. Generally once the NE wind or Kaskazi as it is known locally starts to blow the striped marlin appear in big numbers. The onset of the monsoon may be anywhere from mid-November to mid-December or even Christmas. Back in the 1980's I recall that often there was a period of intense NE wind late November lasting for a week to ten days in which the fishing was really good. Then often the wind would revert to the doldrums with the wind switching direction constantly sometimes for about a fortnight after which the change would come properly.
In 2019 the monsoon never really set in and the seas were unusually calm but also the current was flowing in the wrong direction. As in the El Nino of 1997/98 the fishing was really poor and strangely there were virtually no striped marlin. Actually if you raised a marlin it was often a blue marlin.
Blue marlin was always a bit of a rarity back in the 1970's, 1980's and even 1990's and most often caught during the yellowfin tuna season of August to October when we used to catch some really good sized blue marlin. Even during the NE-monsoon we would catch blues but they were rare. But in more recent years they have become more and more common, sometimes as with this past season more common than striped marlin.
After mid-February when the dipole lost its impetus the fishing improved along the coast with quite a lot of blue marlin. Many of these were juveniles but there were some big fish around too.
The blue marlin is such an exciting fish to catch where skipper, crews and angler all need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Who could ever forget that amazing season of 1998/99 immediately following the El Nino of 1997/98? Crews and anglers who were fortunate enough to fish the Pemba Channel during that period will never forget that outrageous fishing experience. We were raising huge packs of striped marlin too many to count and multiple hookups were the order of the day. It was incredibly exciting and I can only wish that we shall once again be privileged to witness something like that again.
During that season White Otter was top boat with 113 marlin and Kamara was second with 104 marlin. Those of you that fished Kamara I will remember how slow she was yet she outfished most of the more powerful boats. As a skipper following that season I was the top skipper for marlin in Kenya for the following 4 or 5 years, initially with Kamara I and then with Kamara II.
That happened following an El Nino but could it happen following an Indian Ocean Dipole? Perhaps this 2020/21 season will be similar to the 1998/99 one and boy after this virus has passed us by we are going to need some good news.
Following some engine trouble with Kamara II we are having to rebuild one engine. I have already begun the process, the engine has been stripped of all the accessories and cylinder head with all parts taken to the workshop for servicing. Each individual part will be serviced and repainted..
For those of you that know the boat I am sure you are wondering how I might take the engine out of the boat. Initially I thought that I would have to strip out the cabin to cut the floor out but we have worked out that the block will be able to pass out through the door without need for too much structural change.
The outriggers have been removed for cleaning as well as to allow space for the lifting A-frames for removal of the engine block. Concern is now about getting the spare parts and doing the work amidst the current chaos. It may take a while but rest assured that the engine will be better than it was before. I plan on doing all the work myself apart from a few crucial stages when I shall seek professional input.
As well as carrying out essential maintenance I have also been enhancing our safety capacity. I have installed a SART (Search and Rescue Transponder) which may be used during an emergency. This device interrogates radars from ships or planes and directs the rescuers right on to you. Obviously it's something that you hope you will never have to use but good to have. I shall install EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) onto both boats once I can persuade the Communications authority of Kenya to issue sport fishing boats with MMSI numbers, essential for coding of the equipment.
I am preparing both boats for next season, I want them looking really good and we plan on fishing the full season once this dreadful pandemic is over. Please everyone remain in touch and stay safe.
GOOD HEALTH TO YOU ALL.
Since I took out my first charter in August 1974 with the late Paolo Gallmann, when I was just 14 years old virtually everything with regards to big game fishing has changed. Of course I was not really in charge of the boat, that was Kadi the helmsman on 'White Otter' ably assisted by Ngonga, the best wireman I have ever worked with. I remember that day very well because that was when I saw my first whale, a huge sperm whale that made me think of Moby Dick. It was longer than 'White Otter', which is 44-ft long and I recall how its massive would tail rose and fell in slow motion with its huge blunt head way clear of the water. Paolo wanted to foul hook it on 130 to see what would happen, which was so typical of the man.
Back then in 1974 there were three boats in the Pemba Channel Fishing Club fleet including White Otter, Pingusi and Broadbill. Broadbill at that stage was still owned by Ted Holmes but he used to fish through the club. Then during January and February many of the boats from further north would relocate to Shimoni including White Bear owned by the late Lady Diana Delamare, Sea Swallow, and Ndundu owned and run by the late Robin Giffard. Others that used to come down included Lallie Lee, Blue Fin, Enter Nous and Yellowfin. Local private boats included Dougie Hind's Membe, always so hard to beat and Dick Jessop's Maverick.
Since that time almost everything has changed except that Broadbill, now owned by my family since 1976 and White Otter, now owned by Peter Ruysenaars since 1990 are both still in operation. Lever drag fishing reels were still a bit of a novelty and some boats were still using Penn Senator and Ocean City star drag fishing reels. We still used these for catching bait throughout the 1980's but the Penn International and Everol reels had taken their place for the more serious fishing. It was not until the late 1980's, early 1990's that the Shimano Tiagra really took over, and what a difference that made.
The fishing rods and lines have also changed so much since those days when it was not that uncommon for a rod to break during a fight. Some of the rods were simply awful, I recall a few of our German clients arriving with rods made by DAM, which were so stiff that even if you swung off the tip you were unable to put a bend into it. Others like the Harnel went too far the other way and an 80-lb rod was not really suitable for anything more than 50-lb line.
The lines were either Dacron or Nylon but the qualities were nothing like they are now. The Dacron line was nice in some respects because you got plenty of feel for the fish since there was no stretch but it was very susceptible to rot. Some of the nylons were like elastic bands and the breaking strength was unpredictable. Throughout the 1980's we used an excellent dark blue line Amilan S that was favoured on the Great Barrier Reef by the marlin boats there..
There was also not the range of lures that are available nowadays and fishermen tended to be rather skeptical as to the effectiveness of lures. After all how could you expect a marlin to take a piece of plastic? Whenever I asked my father or one of the other skippers why marlin take lures invariably they would answer either, "Because the lure makes them angry" or "Because they are playing!" Nobody ever responded that perhaps the marlin was trying to eat it, that just wasn't conceivable. But, even as a child I had a fascination for lures and loved fishing with them.
But, up until the 1990's fresh bait was the preferred option when fishing for marlin. Lures were used to get you out to where you wanted to fish and to get you home again but fresh bait were also largely plentiful in those days. Pre-1973 the New Zealand reverse rig was the preferred method for rigging dead baits but these meant trolling very slowly and allowing the fish sufficient time to swallow the bait. And, you only got one shot at the fish because once the bait reversed you had to quickly replace it with another.
A lot of changes came about post 1973 when my parents and some friends returned from a 10-day fishing safari on the Great Barrier Reef fishing aboard the Teddy Too with the late Charlie Powell. At the end of that season Peter B Wright visited Shimoni on his way back to Florida and carried out some coaching sessions. Following this we adopted new rigging techniques, began trolling much faster and learnt how to use and handle piano wire. On Ngonga, Peter said that if he could get past Australian immigration he would find a job on Peter's boat since he was a natural.
Pre-1969 lures were restricted to rubber squid or octopus, Japanese feather jigs and metal spoons. In March 1969 my father was introduced to Hawaiian konahead lures by a Hawaiian Bob Reece. Mr Reece had fished up off Malindi but was politely told to take his fish frighteners away. He rang my father to ask if he had a boat free to which my father answered in the affirmative. Mr Reece warned my father that he would like to use his lures and would my father have any objection. My father was always ready to try new techniques especially at a time when the fishing was really rather bad. The seas were very calm and very few marlin had been seen for a number of days. Fishing aboard Pingusi they landed a mako shark and a sailfish on the first day, and a striped marlin on the following day. Funnily enough some of the skippers who had refused to fish Mr Reece and his lures were fishing out of Shimoni at the same time.
Following that a couple of Kenyans began making excellent konahead lures, Roger Jessop and Jenny Slater. Their lures accounted for a very large number of marlin and sailfish over the next 20 years or more. But gradually we began to use more lures until they began to dominate the charter boat's arsenal. Through the 1980's lures became used far more alongside bait and switch techniques to great effect.
Another major change came about in the late 1980's when conservation began to be introduced in Kenya. At Shimoni we began tagging in around 1987 but it was an uphill battle persuading anglers to release their catch. It was, of course doing the complete opposite to what they had become accustomed to and initially anglers would only agree to release very small marlin or sailfish.
But, perhaps the change that has had the greatest influence on the development of big game fishing is that of electronic technology, especially GPS. Even back in the 1970's we had echo sounders but they were very basic and didn't have the depth range of modern sounders. With modern technology we can see what the sea bottom looks like, find drop offs, schools of bait fish and with the GPS fish a location with great accuracy. But, there is something to be said for growing up fishing without this technology having to read the visual signs and navigate using basic skills. I wonder how many of the modern day skippers could fish offshore without any electronics at all?
This technology coupled with much faster boats has enabled the fleet to explore area much further offshore and to fish an area for longer. With improved communication skills are being shared across the globe making boats more efficient. That more fish are being released is excellent for the longevity of the sport as we cherish the beauty of these magnificent creatures.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this story and will keep checking back as I shall be writing Storie from the past to maintain a record of the Shimoni / Pemba Channel fishery.
It has been a long time since last I posted anything and I promise to make amends from now on. I had been concentrating more on the maritime training but now the reality is that there is not so much work in that department locally. There are plenty of people that need and even want training but are not willing to pay for it.
So, I am making a more concerted effort to get the fishing back up and running. The boats have been lovingly maintained throughout but are now getting greater attention. New electronics have been ordered for Kamara II and we just await their clearance from customs.
In September we had some charters and found that there were plenty of good sized yellowfin tuna in the Pemba Channel. It was like the old days with fish jumping all around the boat, mostly in the 20 - 30 kg bracket. There was plenty of rain too, which is perfect for tuna. The best conditions for tuna are typically when the rain is heavy and steady without too much wind. And, of course this year has been one of the wettest on record so far with more than 13 inches (330 mm) this month alone. Back in May we had 29 inches (736mm) which was the second wettest May on record.
The tuna are still there from the reports that I am receiving and when the tunas are running there are always big predators following the schools. Back in the 1980's and 90's when the tunas were last so prolific we used to regularly hit anything up to five big blue marlin in a day. And, sorry Aussies but the blue marlin is the ultimate so spectacular and fast. I love it that they fight so much on the surface with powerful runs and plenty of acrobatics. There have not been so many charters but I am sure that they are there.
The dynamics have changed with the local fishers shifting from dugout canoes to fibreglass dinghies also equipped with electronics. They are accessing areas previously out of range and catching plenty of fish so we are getting good feedback.
I am really excited about the marlin season, I love the kaskazi (NE monsoon) and marlin are by way my favourite fish. With the NE wind the sea changes in colour to that deep blue and with the marlin come those beautiful flying fish. We still have plenty of space available so why not come and fish with us and let's enjoy the wonders of the Pemba Channel together.
There are accommodation options in Shimoni with the Shimoni Reef Lodge and the Wasini View, formerly known as Betty's Camp. Otherwise there are plenty of options at Diani Beach with conventional hotels, beautiful boutique hotels and lots of cottages to lease. The road to Shimoni is now a beautiful tarmac road so you no longer have to pass over that dreadful dirt track.
Shimoni is changing fast also with a port scheduled to be built, although details ofd exactly what is intended is still scanty. My information is that the port area will be to the west of us beginning the other side of the Kenya Navy. Already a fish processing plant has been built by Chinese contractors but is not yet operational nor is it clear from where they will get their supply of fish. Also planned is a ship breaking yard and steel rolling mill all claimed to be to international standards and they claim that all waste will have to be accounted for but they are still to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment, which is the next step.
But, in addition to all of that I was informed the other day that they also plan on building a cruise ship berth and marina but we shall have to wait and see what actually transpires.
Please get in touch with me and if you have some free time and cash come enjoy some fishing together with us. If you have never tried big game fishing before don't worry you don't need to be an expert as we love sharing our knowledge and helping you to learn the sport. I promise that I shall try to write up my blog much more regularly from now on.
For those of us living in Kenya 2017 was a difficult year with the politicians dominating the news for all the wrong reasons. Elections were held in August, which we all had hoped would be the end of it but for a landmark ruling by the Supreme court that annulled the results and called for a rerun. Fresh elections were held in October but these were boycotted by the opposition with a poisonous war of words passing between the two camps. But, it says something for our young democracy that it was largely only words and it is still a wonderful country to live in.
Naturally tourists have been reluctant to visit Kenya with the fear that the war of words may lead to something much worse, but this is Kenya and no, that will not happen. The Kenyan people are tired of the shenanigans and want to get their lives back on track, building their businesses. There is a very bright future for this country and I truly believe that 2018 will provide the springboard that we all so desperately crave.
Since mid-2017 I was busy with training, which took me to some beautiful spots around Eastern Africa including the Virunga National Park in the DRC, Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Entebbe in Uganda. But, there has also been time for some fishing too.
The "Kaskazi" or NE-wind so important for the marlin began to blow in late November and has not stopped. The marlin have been there and anyone prepared to venture out into the Pemba Channel has been rewarded. In early December I took my niece, Kate from Australia out on Kamara II. We had a few strikes that were very likely marlin but didn't stay hooked. However, finally on the way home her patience was rewarded with a nice striped marlin on 50lb line.
On a separate trip soon after Christmas I took Chris, my son and his wife Leanne out on Kamara II. We rose 3 striped marlin and Chris managed to tag them all. A couple days later young Liam Keshavjee aged 12 fishing with his father, Tarek caught a striped marlin on 50lb line. It was a really plucky effort because the fish was foul hooked under the throat but the young man never faltered or complained as to how tough it was.
The Svendsen family visiting Shimoni all the way from Tennessee took a half day's fishing on Broadbill skippered by Usama. They each tagged a sailfish, no marlin but still good fishing for a half day, plus they took a nice dorado back to the hotel for their dinner. On New Year's day Robin Stuart, the son of Andy Stuart who built my first boat Kamara came fishing with his girlfriend Anthea Mada. It was another good day with Robin catching a striped marlin and a sailfish and Anthea 2 sailfish.
The conditions are looking good so we hope for some more good fishing, but then you cannot catch unless you put your lines in the water. Both boats are available for charter and where possible I will be skippering the boat. However, in the case where I am not able to be here my wonderful team led by Usama, who has more than 45 years experience fishing the Pemba Channel and well supported by the two Suleimanis.
Tight lines and a very happy 2018 wherever you are.
It was not until November 2016 that I made the decision to return to fishing. Many of you will recall that I had stopped fishing around two years ago to concentrate on my maritime training but that business has yet to realise it's full potential. I have not stopped doing the training so hopefully can find a way to combine both businesses. Both boats will continue to be up for sale but until such time as a buyer can be found the boats will be available for hire. Even, should one of the boats be sold any charters already booked will be honoured.
The Pemba Channel produced some excellent fishing and encouraged boats from further north to venture south where the water was blue and the marlin were in better numbers. We began the new year fishing the Diani Samaki Classic fished by neighbour Harm Lutjeboer of the Pilli Pippa Dhow Safaris, Simon Engelfield and a couple of the youngsters. We were lucky enough to win that tournament with a sailfish and a mixed bag.
There were plenty of sailfish out in the channel as well as the marlin along with dorado and wahoo throughout January and February. There were some great days throughout January and February and no bad fishing periods, which was very encouraging. The best week was from 4th to 8th February when both boats were fished by a party from the UK led by Julian Gostling. The two boats totalled out with 16 marlin and 12 sailfish over the 5 days.
Broadbill had a couple of grand slams, the first being at the end of January with Charlie McCrow and Lindsay Brown who caught a broadbill, a striped marlin and 3 sailfish along with 7 dorado and a skipjack. We also lost a nice yellowfin tuna of about 30kg when the trace broke; I think there was too much premature talk of sashimi for dinner! Then on 5th February fished by Julian Gostling and Roger Martin she tagged a black marlin, 3 striped marlin and 2 sailfish. Kamara II had 3 striped marlin the following day and both boats had 3 striped marlin and a sailfish the day after. It was really exciting fishing and the marlin were really quite aggressive, which made it even more exciting.
The fishing continued to be good later into February with Broadbill taking 6 marlin in 3 days for Gianni de Marpillero, his daughter Paola and her son Amedeo. There was another grand slam on 25th February with a blue marlin, a striped ,marlin and a sailfish.
Other news: The jetty has been refurbished with a new gate at the top with much smaller steps so that those with bad knees you should be able to get up and down a little more easily now we hope.
The Shimoni Reef Lodge has been refurbished too and really looks very nice; the front veranda looks very good and many of the rooms have received new roofs.
We look forward to seeing many of you in Shimoni this coming season. but in the meantime we hope that you have a wonderful and prosperous year ahead.
Welcome to my blog and I hope that you will enjoy reading my articles, which are on a variety of maritime related topics. I intend writing on a number of fishing and fisheries related topics separated into the following categories:
Not only have I been fishing these waters for more than 30 years as a full time professional but I grew up at a fishing club where sport fishing, especially marlin fishing was the standard topic of conversation at the bar. As soon as I was old enough to hold a fishing rod I was introduced to the sport, and like many other youngsters who grow up in similar circumstances I had an insatiable thirst for any fishing story. One Easter, when I was around 7 years old, my parents gave me my first fishing rod, a 30-lb outfit with Penn senator reel. There after a large proportion of my pocket money went on fishing tackle and I caught my first sailfish at 10 years old, on that rod and my first marlin when I was just 14 years old.
As soon as I was considered old enough to go out on the boats I was allowed out with selected clients, usually on White Otter with the fantastic team of Kadi and Ngonga. In truth Kadi was the skipper and I had to do as I was told including scrubbing the decks. I learnt so much from both of them and together we caught some great fish. Later I would also fish on Broadbill and Pingusi, a 30-ft catamaran each very different but great boats. Incidentally Usama is still the captain on Broadbill having started with Ted Holmes in around 1969 on his catamaran "Isurus".
My fishing stories have been recorded in my notebooks from right back to when I started, and from time to time I shall share some of these with you.
These will provide a record of the most recent fishing activity in Shimoni or elsewhere if we happen to be fishing away from Shimoni.
Scientific analysis of the Shimoni sport fishery
It was probably fairly inevitable that I should study some sort of maritime related subject when I went to university, in my case marine zoology at the University of North Wales, Bangor where I attained a BSc (Hons.) degree. A few years later I began studying for a PhD under the expert tutelage of Professor Tony Pitcher. The subject of my thesis was "The ecology and exploitation of yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares in the Pemba Channel, Kenya". which I successfully completed in 1994.
With my scientific background I have always found myself analysing such things as hook up rates, the benefits of single or double hook, etc when I am fishing. Since I started fishing, and especially following my return from university, I have maintained a daily diary recording everything that happens out at sea. Every marlin sighting, strike, lost, boated or tagged has been recorded including as many variables as possible, including: was it first seen tailing or free jumping; what did it rise to and what colour was the lure; which position was the lure in; did it take and if it switched to another bait or lure the same variables were recorded. Once GPS arrived on the scene the exact position of the original sighting was recorded. I also recorded wind direction, wind strength, sea colour and sea state. To this data we can add tidal data and moon phase so plenty of interesting variables to work with.
All of this is very slowly being put into a database but should provide some intriguing results, which I plan to share with you here.
Since I was awarded my PhD I have, from time to time been quite involved with marine fisheries in Kenya. This included a six year stint on the board of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Mombasa. I have been fortunate to have been invited to attend a number of workshops and to participate in a number of task forces including for the Ungwana Bay prawn fishery and sport fishery task forces. I have also made detailed contributions to the formulation of new laws covering fisheries and maritime. To this day I have a very good relationship with my friend Professor Micheni Ntiba, the current Principal Secretary responsible for Fisheries matters in Kenya.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below the articles and I shall try to respond as soon as I can.
Thank you and tight lines
With a lifetime spent working on and with the ocean I have developed a deep love and empathy for all things fishy. After more than 30 years as a professional charter captain and a doctorate in fisheries biology i shall be writing and various subjects associated with marlin fishing and fisheries in general.
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