Trevor Hansen recently embarked on a fishing escapade to one of the distant corners of the Dark Continent, Gabon. His gripping story describes the thrills and spills of fishing off the coast of western Africa and what one might encounter on such a journey. It certainly put the Leisure Boating staff in an envious/adventurous mood and we’re sure it’ll have the same effect on you! Here’s his tale…
It’s not often that one begins a fishing trip stuck in traffic in a panic, trying to get hold of the airline to hold the plane because you’re running late. Having left home with plenty of time to spare, a hectic traffic jam in PE had me thinking about African omens and superstitions, and we hadn’t even left yet!
Apart from a few stories I had read on Bom Bom and the difficulties of reaching the destination via Libreville, I knew nothing about Gabon. My numerous internet and fishing forum searches had yielded nothing except the fact that it was on the West Central African coast and was sparsely populated due to heavy tropical forestation. Having had some interesting and sometimes less than successful travel and fishing experiences into Africa, it was a case of pack and hope for the best.
I had been invited by Andrew Bell to join him and some mates to help show them the ropes in a marlin competition out of Libreville and lend a hand in bringing home the trophy. I had nothing better to do and was fully up for the unexpected adventure and challenge.
Missing the plane would’ve been quite embarrassing and hard to explain but luckily we made it just before the gates closed and my first trip to Libreville and Central Africa had begun.
The first comp in the Billfish Roundup had already been fished out of Port Gentile two weeks previously and was won catching sailfish. I had, however, no idea what we would be fishing for off Libreville. Complicating things even more were the line class categories (16-80 lb) and a points system based on size of the fish.
I had prepared as best I could on the scant information I had been given before departing and packed light tackle to catch sails (16/20 lb) as well as some heavier 80 lb stand up rods for marlin.
We had three practice days set up on the 33 ft Grady White called Agombenero and I was hoping that after that we would have a better idea of how to go about fishing the tournament.
On the advice of the check-in clerk I didn’t check my luggage straight through to Libreville and collected it at OR Tambo before checking it on further. However, upon arrival in Libreville I found that my luggage had not accompanied me and I was left with the clothes on my back, my computer, camera and reels in my hand luggage – the evil African omens and superstitions were starting to feel very real in my head.
Fortunately, the next day my wife discovered that the bags had not left OR Tambo and called to say that the bags would be delivered two days later when the next flight came in. It would mean waiting three days without clothing or tackle in hot central Africa. I had to borrow a few things from my teammates and had to endure the stifling first two nights without aircon before it was fixed. This is Africa…
The weather was kind on our first practice day and it was great to be out on the ocean again even though we did not have the tackle we needed. Having fished Ghana a few times, I was sure we would need my heavier 80 lb outfits for the marlin – the light tuna rods geared with Tiagra 30’s and spooled with 50 lb line were looking rather frail!
Nevertheless, we fished three days on the area called the Callou and the results were a mixed bag. We caught numerous tuna, many of which were bitten in half before they could be landed and, astonishingly, we saw a small marlin chasing one of the tuna we had on the line! We also released one sailfish.
This was the first time I had seen so many sharks (Silky Sharks) in 300- 500 metres of water. Tuna counted for points, but they were impossible to land on light tackle. I also wondered how many Marlin would make it to the boat and if there were indeed that many around.
The practice days were vital to do some reconnaissance of the area and luckily we found a debris line. Although the water colour was not ideal around the debris, there was plenty of bait in the form of small Bonito and they were attracting lots of action.
The billfish seemed to be more concentrated further north where we had spent limited time, while the most sharks and tuna were in the southern area. We were going to focus on the north.
We decided to opt for heavier gear in order to land the weighable Yellowfin (over 15 kg) quickly and in one piece as well as any billfish we came across. We settled on three 50 lb outfits and two big 80 lb bent butt stand up outfits for the tournament.
There was a very well organised opening function sponsored by Heineken at the lodge at La Baie des Tortues (Bay of Tortoises) on the Pont Denis peninsula some 14 km across the bay from Libreville. It is a beautiful eco lodge owned by Andrew’s boss, Abbad. It’s set on the beach against the African jungle where wild forest elephants and buffalo can be seen roaming wild. Luxurious and sumptuous, this lodge was a far cry from the African mainland and Libreville just 14 km away and it was to be the home base for all 16 teams entered into the tournament. The omens and demons were almost forgotten now, especially as all my gear had arrived and everything was looking on track again. Our crew included Andrew, me, Eddie Orton (South African) and a young local Gabonese friend of Andrew by the name of Damian Zissman, and although our team were mostly first timers on billfish, there were some serious bets and challenges thrown our way at the function! Abbad had also upped the ante by placing bets between his and our boat – this had suddenly become a serious competition with lots at stake! All the same, the bets were done and it was time to roll the dice.
Charged up by a good breakfast and the lingering effects of the previous evening, the fleet of boats motored away at 06h00 on the 75 km run to the Callou. The seas here are calm most of the time, but a rain jacket is a must as we were in the small rainy season, which starts in November. I’m therefore sure the rest of the competitors were somewhat bemused at the sight of the SA contingent on Agombenero charging out bare chested in the middle of the rain squall that greeted us on the way out. The boys were amped and we had a cooler full of cold Heineken on board to keep our spirits up.
Lines-in was at 07h30, and we duly reported the first Yellowfin landed, before going tight on a sailfish 10 minutes later! Once the saily was tagged and released I was having difficulty hearing any ominous bongo drums or other superstitious nonsense in my head, but that was probably because the music was turned up so loud and the boys were having a gas. We had had a dream start and we were just 30 minutes into the first day!
There were some more small tuna and later we landed another weighable Yellowfin, while the boat named Faymar released two sails. The other boats dropped a number of marlin and sailies while a few tuna were landed and some lost to sharks.
It went quiet until the top of the tide at midday, when we went tight on a small blue marlin. The fish came on Damien’s bigger 50 lb rig with a Tiagra 50 and he did a good job on his first blue as we tagged her (150 lbs) after 20 minutes. The crew were going nuts even though Faymar had tagged another saily.
We dropped a good-sized blue (350 lbs) on the same rig 30 minutes later, when it slammed the bird and got tangled up with the whole rig. It almost spooled the 50 lb outfit before turning back to the boat and somehow coming off. The rig was a mangled mess and had to be re-rigged from scratch. A huge pity that we had lost the big one but we were ecstatic when we returned to base and found that we had a slim lead after day one.
The northern area had produced some great action and a good number of blues had been lost for various reasons but mostly due to tackle failure of the lighter tackle.
This was more action than I had expected after the practice sessions and it was turning out to be great fun. The comp was really on now and with much higher expectations and pressure, the team was gelling well and having a ball.