On 18th April I flew out to South Africa and Mozambique alongwith my wife, Sakis ‘Greek Malaka’ Griparis, John Yeatts, Lee Deighton, and Stephen Batten. We spent three lazy days with our friends Steve, Samantha and their little daughter Gemma at their farm in Eland’s Fontaine, in the outskirts of Johannesburg.
The weather was great and our days were spent going around the farm, sightseeing, shopping and even dowsing for fresh water streams.
Stephen had flown out there on the rebound from a severe bout of flu and sinus troubles. He was feeling very rough for the three days we spent in Johannesburg and, for everyone’s amazement, he decided to abort the trip to Mozambique and flew back to the UK. We all felt very sorry for him, for we all thought that after a few days he would be fully recovered and would be able to join the spearfishing. It was a real pity to see him go because he really had been looking forward to the trip for a very long time, but I hope that he will get the low-down from Lee and decide to try again next year.
On Monday, 21st April, we caught our charter plane out of Lanceria to Inhambane. The plane was a Fairchild Metroliner III and despite being just a 14 seater we had a very comfortable and trouble free flight to our destination.
On arriving at Inhambane ‘International’ Airport we met our hosts for the Mozambique part of our trip. Gary and D’René Hazel, Ryan Burmester and Owen were waiting for us and after Immigration and Customs formalities they whisked us away to our final destination, the Palm Grove Lodge at Barra.
Although we had landed under a little rain, that soon gave way to amazing African sun and after settling in some of us went for a swim in the sea just a short stroll from our accommodation.
The single guys we allocated the large hut where all the activity was centred, i.e. meals, equipment and supplies storage, etc.
Over a very large braii that evening we discussed the spearing options for the following day. As it was to be our first day diving, after a very long winter for most of us it was agreed that we would dive nearby shallow reefs. We hit the sack reasonably early in anticipation of the following day’s dive. During the first night we were “introduced” to the fury and relentless bombardment of the resident cloud of mosquitoes.
Day 1 – Tuesday
We were up at 5.00am and after a light breakfast were off to our first spot some ten minutes boat ride due northeast. This spot consisted of scattered flat patches of reef in around 12 metres of water.
Ryan was the first one to spot a shoal of large yellow tail king fish and quickly plugged one of about 12 kilos. I swam over to the same spot and soon was fighting a big spotted king fish of about 11 kilos. Lee was soon to shoot his first of many African beauties, scoring a nice cobia of about 6 kilos. We shot some smaller reefies for burley but that did not bear the fruits we were hoping for so we decided to move to the point, just south of our lodge.
On our way to the point we came across a very large group of whale sharks feeding in the rich plankton soup so common in those waters. We were excited and without much delay were all in the water swimming with or riding those magnificent fish. Ryan, being the sussed out dude that he is, soon realised that these fish might be escorted by some game fish and was soon going over each whale shark looking for, in particular, cobia. His efforts paid off when he shot a 16-kilo cobia. We spent about 30 minutes with the whale sharks and we all had the opportunity to swim with them. Sakis had his digital camera in an underwater housing and was able to get some amazing pictures and footage of all the action. On the way to the point we also came across a very large bait ball and were quick to jump in the water to inspect it in the hope that some game fish might be feeding on it. The waters in Mozambique are very rich in nutrients brought in by the Mozambique current and upwellings and this is the main reason why the marine life there is so abundant, diverse and occurring right at the back line.
When we got to the point we found the current going quite strong from a northeasterly direction. We were dropped off at the north-eastern-most edge of the reef, which gave us a long ride over much of the reef and the opportunity to see some fish action. The depth at the point is between 10 and 30 metres. The fish soon turned up and were brought in by all. Worth of mention was a 16-kilo wahoo that Ryan shot just off the point. I found a spot with some large crayfish but could only plug one, leaving my spear there to mark the spot for another drift by. Lee came across my gun in the water and thought it was stuck. He kindly removed the spear and the large crayfish impaled by it, so we lost the spot. We also shot some large parrot fish for the evening’s meal.
When the fish started to become shy we decided to move to the deeper spots
It was around that time that a minor incident befell John. We were being picked up down the drift and taken up the drift for another pass over the reef. During one of these rides John’s float, which was being towed some 30 metres behind the boat, went underwater and pulled the gun attached to the other end of the float line. Unfortunately the gun’s spear was pointing forward and as the gun was dragged underwater the flopper came in contact with John’s leg, cutting through his wetsuit and stabbing him just under the knee. He was in much pain so it was decided that one boat would take him back to the lodge where he could receive medical attention. John’s was rushed back to land and after a couple of stitches and some medication he was advised to take it easy for a couple of days.
Once Gary returned with the second boat we went offshore looking for the deeper spots. On these spots we found some more Spanish mackerel. We were soon back at the lodge for the usual weighing of the fish and picture taking of the day’s catch. It was good to return and find John in good health and hear that despite the lodge’s isolation he had been able to find one of our neighbours who had medical training and who was able to attend to him.
Day 2 – Wednesday
On our second day’s spearing we were taken straight to the deeper pinnacles and were soon in action. I shot a medium sized tomato rock cod, Sakis shot a big one in about 35 metres of water and after trying to fight it out of the reef for quite some time he had to kiss his spear goodbye and unclip his spear’s line. The fish we got that day were: a 16 kilo barracuda and a nice green jog fish caught by Sakis, smaller green job fish, a couple of purple rock cods, a 20 kilo Malabar shot by Gary, several tomato rock cods and a couple of large Spanish Mackerel.
We returned relatively early on the second day and spent late afternoon and early evening going around the beach bars at the other lodges in the area to chill out having a couple of sundowners and playing a few games of pools.
Day 3 – Thursday
On the third day John was still out of action and Sakis decided to take a day off to explore the area and relax a bit after a couple of days waking up at the crack of dawn. Again, we hit the deeper pinnacles and were rewarded with some decent fish. Lee was by then well into it and had revealed himself as a natural deep diver and was shooting everything that came his way, having shot red snappers in quite deep waters and plugging some decent Spanish Mackerels as well. Owen shot a nice tomato rock cod, I shot Spanish mackerel and green job fish.
Day 4 – Friday
The fourth day saw all of us back in action, including Sakis and John. We first dived the deep pinnacles closer to shore and after shooting an assortment of fish, including large king fish, Spanish mackerel, a cobia shot off the back of a shoal of rays and a snapper we then moved to an offshore spot some 12 kilometres out to sea in the hope of finding some wahoos. We didn’t have to wait long for action and were soon chasing wahoos of all sizes. Sakis, who had already lost a spear to a large tomato rock cod a couple of days earlier, was the first one to see the fish. Lee and Sakis were going down the long drift in 30-50 metres of water shooting smaller schooling fish for burley and during one of these drifts a 2.5m Zambezi shark kept on buzzing the boys. Sakis was not too amused by the shark’s attention and on its fourth aggressive approach Malaka decided to give it the bad news with a shot on its back. The fish went ballistic and when Sakis held the line tight his Dacron rig could not take the large fish and the spear line broke. The fish disappeared down the depths with a new optional aerial for broadcast, leaving a very unhappy Greek boy behind. I was there and could witness the Greek rage at close range. As I was driving the boat at the time, I approached Sakis and Lee after hearing the commotion and all the thrashing of water by our Greek friend. I then lent my 1.5m RA rail gun to him so that he could continue fishing. As soon as he was back in the water and still loading the double 16mm rubbers he spotted a shoal of hoos cruising just beneath him. He quickly dived and plugged one of the larger fish. To his disappointment and further fury his float line had got snagged on the boat’s propellers and when the fish took off, dragging with it all the slack line, and once the float line stretched, the fish simply broke the brand new180 kg braking strain monofilament without much effort. Now the seas were erupting with the Greek rage and, of course, the blame was apportioned between I, my boat driving skills and my new gun!!! Well, all in a day’s fishing. Any way, once I had loaned another spear to an unhappy Malaka, he was back in the water again and soon the Greek curse started to dilute in the Indian Ocean’s waters. I joined Sakis and Lee back in the water and Malaka was soon in action again, managing to shoot a 16-kilo wahoo. After the fish gave him a good run for his money he asked me to double up the shot just to make sure that we landed the fish or didn’t lose it to the sharks, or even the possibility that this fish could add to his misery by taking off with another spear. I promptly obliged and soon our man was all smiles again. I was diving around my flasher with John, and Sakis and Lee were close by diving on the burley trail. Sakis was not too impressed that, for some reason, the hoos kept on coming to check my flasher and he was not seeing much fish. After returning from a dive I saw John dive down in a hurry and saw him shoot at something. He missed the shot but once he came up he told me that he’d seen a very large wahoo buzzing the flasher and this had been the fish he had shot at. I quickly went down again and still managed to see the large hoo near the flasher. I gave chase and fired a long shot. The fish took off but then stopped just at the edge of visibility. I loaded up again and gave chase, but the fish then disappeared into the blue yonder not to be seen again. I estimated that the hoo was well over 30 kilos. A nice sight any way. I carried on diving a round the flasher and was soon rewarded when a nice hoo came in to check it. I dived down and managed to drill it in the mid section. The fish took off towards the surface with me in tow. I grabbed the float and let the bungee do the work for me. When the fish started to slow down I then proceeded up the float tine and on getting near-ish the fish I realised that all that action had resulted in the flopper cutting deep into the fish’s flesh and that a second shot would be required. I spotted Malaka close by and he promptly returned the compliment with a nice shot to the fish’s head. At that same spot Sakis and Lee still saw a monster Ignobilis Kingfish that came up from the depths with the nasty shark with the optional aerial. We then headed back home to be amused by Lee’s account of the Sakis’s shark encounters.
On Friday night we had a nice fish meal and a mean coconut crab stew prepared by D’René. Lee had promised us a crab curry but shied away from it when the opportunity arose.
Day 5 – Saturday
On the fifth day the fish were again obliging and we returned early with an assorted catch of nice fish. I shot a 9 kilo green job fish, a blue fin king fish, a cobia and a 20 kilo Spanish Mackerel. Ryan shot a big football trout, a purple rock cod and a speckled snapper.
It had been arranged that on Saturday night we would go to a braii organised at the Barra Lodge, located some 500 metres north from our own lodge, for some entertainment and to chill out. We all had a great evening and we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment provided by local folk groups. We then decided to go and check out a beach party being held at another lodge nearby, Barra Reef Lodge, another kilometre or so along the beach from Barra Lodge. We found the party in full swing, with fire dancers, beach bonfire, dj and a decent crowd in attendance. Some in our party decided to have it large and stayed on until the early (or late) hours of the morning. Needless to say that our scheduled dive had to be put back until early afternoon on account of the previous night’s extravaganza.
Day 6 – Sunday
We left for a short dive at around noon. On getting to our first offshore spots we realised that the visibility had deteriorated and was a spooky 5 metres or so. Will all those sharks around and bad visibility we decided to head further offshore in search of cleaner waters. We went as far as the wahoo spot but did not find clean waters to dive in. We then returned to some inshore spots where the visibility was not as bad and where Gary and Ryan managed to get some nice fish. At one of the spots where we had found cleaner water, and even before I did my first dive down, I deployed my flasher and as soon as it reached the 12-13 metres mark a grey reef shark of about 2 metres came in to check it and actually bumped into it, soon returning to the bottom. When I finally made my first dive and on arriving some 5 metres off the bottom I saw the usual large shoal of surgeonfish, leatherjackets, rainbow runners and trigger fish, but in amongst the fish there were some 20 grey reef sharks of all sizes. The mere sight of that many sharks in that kind of visibility was enough to make me jittery, but when about 10 sharks decided to get definitively better acquainted with me I suddenly felt very tired and decided to call it a day, agreeing to drive the boat instead.
Day 7 – Monday
The seventh day only saw John, Sakis and myself in the water. Lee had gone down with some unknown ailment after having taken his malaria tablets dry, without food and in the middle of the night. As John needed to be back by noon in order to catch his charter flight back to Johannesburg and from there get his connecting flight back to the UK, we decided to help John make the most of his last day, especially given that he had had to take two days off due to his earlier incident on the boat, and go out for a short morning dive. Our efforts were not wasted and we were lucky to find the sea boiling with fish, like no other day during the trip. It did not take us long to start bringing in the fish. I shot two nice green job fish, a decent Spanish mackerel and a yellow tail king fish, whilst Sakis got a nice purple rock cod, that required him to do some long and deep dives to free his float line from around a reef head. Sakis also speared a green job fish and a kingie. We saw some nice Ignobilis kingies in the area but whenever we saw them they were just too far to shoot. We had also seen a very large snapper on this pinnacle but the fish kept us guessing all the time and the current did not work to our advantage either.
With a nice hatch of fish we headed back to land to drop John and see him off and to have lunch on land, for a change. Not wanting to waste a beautiful afternoon we were soon heading out to the point in search of some crayfish for our upcoming fish braii to be held at our own lodge. Ryan was crowned the crayfish king of the day with a nice catch of some very large crayfish and some others of decent sizes.
Day 8 – Tuesday
We set off nice and early to the offshore spots that had proved so productive over the previous days. Lee was now in his element and was going down in style to plug some nice tomato and swallow tail rock cods.
After shooting a large sweet lips in about 28 metres of waters, Lee still had to fight a very large and determined potato cod that had swallowed his fish. Lee got the upper hand and left the potato cod sucking its teeth and having to content itself with some fish scales and the short-lived taste of fresh fish in its large mouth. Sakis also did well and shot a couple of decent sized tomato rock cods. Between Gary, Ryan, Owen, Lee, Sakis and myself we shot an assortment of fish, including a cobia that I shot off the back of large ray, a 19-kilo barracuda shot by Gary, some very large tomato roc cods and snappers, a kingie, several green job fish, Spanish mackerel and some other fish.
The potato cods proved again to be our main concern as far as losing fish was concerned. We all had, on occasions, to fight hard to keep hold of our catch whenever there was one of these large fish nearby. With so many sharks around one would expect to lose a few fish to them, but that was not to be the case this year. We did not lose a single fish to the sharks and the only inconvenience caused by them was the one incident with Sakis and Lee.
In the evening we were surprised by the feast that D’René had prepared for us. We started off by chomping our way through a large yellow fin tuna cut expertly sashimi-ed by Gary, followed by a delicious fish and lobster braii, washed down by the powerful cocktails concocted by D’René using the local version of rocket fuel called Rhum and drank out of coconuts. All in all a lovely end to an amazing day out fishing.
Day 9 – Wednesday
With the bad visibility and slightly rough seas of the past couple of days, we woke up to find the sea moderately calm and it was then decided that we would head south and look for clean waters there. Just after we rounded the point north of the lodge we noticed bird activity in the area and decided to get closer for a better look. On getting to the spot we realised that the birds were working a large bait ball and that queenies, kingies and snoek were working the bait ball from underneath. Ryan quickly dropped into the water was plugged a very respectable yellow tail king fish. I dropped my flasher in the water and soon the fish were swarming around it. From the surface there was very little that I could do and the fact that I had stabbed myself in the firing finger the previous night did not help me don my wet suit quickly enough to join in the action. Without the suit and with a swollen and stiff finger I had little chance of loading the powerful Rob Allen railgun. The guys on the other boat also spotted the action and approached at speed and were quickly in the water chasing the fish. The action quickly fizzled out and we resumed our journey south. When we were going past the point at Tofo we again spotted large fish in the water and decided to stop there and check it out. By then I had my suit on and was ready to jump in with Ryan. We spotted some quite large queenies and snoek coming towards the flasher over the sandy bottom, but the fish were wary and would not come close enough. We gave up trying to get one of those elusive fish and were soon back on the boat and heading south again. It did not take too long for our attention to be drawn once again to bird and fish action on the surface. We dropped in quickly and on approaching a shoal of large garfish, Gary was quick enough to shoot a stripped tuna (same family as the bonito) of about 5 kilos. We spent quite some time swimming around, trying to shoot some more of these very fast and agile fish, but to no avail. We were, however, rewarded by the spectacle of swimming in the middle of a very large shoal of big garfish, some in excess of two kilos. Lee and Sakis were soon having fun diving with some dolphins and whale sharks that put in an appearance.
When we finally arrived at our spot we found competition for the best spots in the shape of a couple boat-fulls of scuba divers. One of the boats was picking up their party and would soon head back to base, but there were a couple of other boats waiting their turn. We quickly headed to the north-eastern-most end of the reef and were quickly in the water. The visibility was not great, but it was much better than the one we’d had for the past couple of days farther north. On my first dive down I saw a large purple rock cod swimming lazily over the reef in 22 metres of water. Having trouble to shot and hold the gun steady with my stiff finger I had to resort to firing the gun holding it as if it was a shotgun. I managed to drill the fish at the gill plates and it was quickly dispatched and put on the boat. That followed several frustrated attempts to shoot more fish. I tried several methods of firing the gun with some accuracy, and one of these attempts almost resulted in my having my own teeth knocked out by the recoil of my gun for shooting it like a shotgun. I was having real problems holding the gun steady and was missing what otherwise would have been easy shots. I lost two large sea pikes, two green job fish and a big tomato rock cod. That was frustration enough for a day, but I was pleased with myself for having caught a decent purple rock cod. But even that satisfaction was to be short lived for when I was finally picked up by the boat I learned that Gary had shot the grand-father of all purple rock cods. He showed me the monster 19-kilo fish that he had plugged (equalling the South African spearfishing record for the species). We then headed for some shallower spots in Coconut Bay, where a few kingies were shot and a large green lobster was bagged.
Day 10 – Thursday
We started off our last day’s diving fishing the offshore spots right in front of our lodge. I had woken up to find that my finger had regained some of its movements and was less painful and swollen. That allowed me to try and get the last few fish of the trip. I was diving around my flasher and soon started seeing and landing some decent Spanish mackerel. Gary was not to be outdone and soon deployed his flasher deeper and was in hot pursuit, managing to shoot a couple of very respectable fish. I shot a couple of large-ish green job fish and three medium sized sea pikes. Gary was in great form and ended up landing a few decent Spanish mackerel, a big Malabar of about 19 kilos, a lovely 9-kilo snapper, a large barracuda and some other fish. Ryan had forgotten his wet suit back at the lodge right when we were to have our best day’s spearing. Lee provided us with the fish of a life time by shooting and almost stunning a 32-kilo Ignobilis kingie.
He managed to drill it just behind the massive head and wounded it in a way that the fish offered very little resistance given its size and weight. Lee was well chuffed after that and decided to drive the boat for a while whilst Owen had a go at shooting some fish. Owen managed to shot a very nice blood snapper of about 8 kilos, whilst Sakis landed a few sea pikes, a monster 14-kilo Henry sweet lips and, amazingly enough, when he was unloading his gun after the last dive of the trip he saw a decent wahoo cruise by, after which he hurriedly reloaded his gun and went after the fish, managing to land a belly shot of sorts. The fish took off like there was no tomorrow and Sakis soon ran out of line. The fish then dragged the float for what seemed like an eternity, now with Sakis, Lee and Gary shepherding it. Gary dived down and realised that the spear had come out of the fish’s body and was hanging on just a fold of gut hanging out of the fish. After much commotion Gary dived down and placed a solid shot into the fish, putting and end to what turned out to be an amazing trip. Sakis’s wahoo weighed in at around 15 kilos. Not a bad last chapter at all. From the boat Ryan spotted a sailfish on the surface and quickly handed us the flashers so that we could try and lure the fish closer, but we never saw the fish. Maybe next time…
To conclude, it was a trip that we all will have trouble topping. The fishing was incredible, the organisation was faultless and the comradeship was second to none. It was nice to meet Lee and Stephen for the first time and it was nicer still to return in the knowledge that everyone had a great time. Some of the guys have told me that this was the best trip of their lives in every respect, so I think that there is very little else that I can add to that.
All those who went on this year’s trip have already put their names down for next year’s, and our French friend Bernard cannot wait to come along as well with some of his own friends. I, for one, have already pencilled down next year’s dates in my diary and am looking forward to heading to the African sun, fishing and good times again in the near future.
If you would like to join us next year, please get in touch as soon as possible as places are going fast.