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.
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.
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.
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.
P.O. Box 348,
Ukunda - 80400
Tel" +254 - 722 - 796198