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"F***ing bonkers man!!"

Taking it easy on Senegambia Beach, and waiting for a Guitarfish that never turned up.

Strapped into a Tarpon on Pike gear (31/2lb test curve rod & 20lb line). A laugh a minute.

Until she's finally beaten boat side down at Bakau.

Steve and myself had several targets when we paid a 2 week visit to the Gambia. In the months leading up to the trip, we had talked ourselves into trying for the big Tarpon of Dog Island (which it turned out to be the wrong time of year for anyway!), the small Tarpon close to shore at Bakau Rocks, a Cubera Snapper from one of the multitude of the reefs lying just out from shore there, a Guitarfish from the beach and last but not least, some Threadfin and Cassava from the mangroves and creeks interlacing the estuary in that part of the world. By the end of the journey, you could say that on some fronts we were successful, but on others, sadly, less so, especially considering how hard we tried for 12 days consecutively out of the 14! I guess it has to be said that we also sampled quite a lot of the local 'culture' in the evenings there, which wasn't always conducive to feeling so fantastic on some of the early mornings out on the ocean either...

Steve had been out to Gambia a couple of years before with his wife and kids, and had fished from the beach directly behind the hotel- catching a multitude of species. He reckoned it was dead easy, and great fun, so we had high hopes of some repeat sport from there. However, our first day was spent wandering the beach and trying several different ranges and spots with our squid and prawn baits- and we didn't have a single bite between us! Quite what we were doing wrong, I don't know, but the only action we had all day was fighting off the constant stream of Bumsters who persistently hassled us for money/fish (huh!)/tackle/socks(?): delete as applicable. After a while it became pretty much unbearable, so we gave in and headed back to the pool for some cool beers & relaxation before someone ended up with a sun-lounger wrapped around their neck.

We fished quite a bit there with ex-pat Englishman Mark Longster who runs his boats out from Denton Bridge. Mark is an ex inhabitant of Whitby in Yorkshire, but has taken root in the Gambia now for many years and fully assimilated himself into the country, customs and culture. In fact, one morning I was explaining an unbelievable incident at a local bar the night before, where a local bloke ('Big Lami', as he called himself- along with four thousand other Bumsters operating there) had approached us outside a bar and offered us, in no particular order, heroin, cocaine, grass, ecstasy, viagra, crack and a selection of whores. When we politely declined his offers, on the basis that we had already eaten, he then went on to run through the rest of his menu, which included young boys, his daughter, his son, his wife and finally himself (!!!). Obviously we declined his dessert menu even sharper than the first course. When I'd finished my tale, Mark turned to me with a big, cheesy grin on his face: "It's great innit?" was all he said....

Our first day out with Mark was spent trying to catch some of the small Tarpon which frequented the area along the coast at the cliffs at Bakau. After stopping at the bridge first thing in the morning to snatch some Herrings on unbaited golden hooks, we were soon steaming over the waves of a choppy surf in the direction of the hotspot. I couldn't wait to get started. We had been told that the Tarpon in this area were all juveniles, and so ran anything from 25lbs in weight up to 100lbs at the top end. So with this in mind, I had taken a 10ft  three and a half pound test curve heavy Pike Rod fitted with a Baitrunner 4500 which was filled to the brim with 20lb line. This, I thought, would provide a great scrap should I get lucky enough to set the hook into one.

Great sport on a stepped up Pike rod, Baitrunner and 20lb line.

Cute little Sompot from the reef.

West African Spadefish- no shortage of these.

Mark advised us to set up some simple sliding float rigs, and set them at about 8ft deep. This we did, and soon we were rigged, with sliding Pike floats, a half ounce drilled bullet on the main line and 4ft 40lb mono leaders with size 4/0 circle hooks at the business end. As we stood on deck, bouncing about in the waves and scanning the water for signs of life, suddenly we saw bright silver flashes in the surf, and the dark razors of the elongated dorsal fins slicing through the surface film.... A couple of Herrings were quickly lip hooked and sent to meet their maker on a greased line, and within seconds they were being chased by a hungry pack of junior Tarpon. And yet somehow, and I have no idea how, they managed to miss the baits! The school disappeared again from sight. We waited, both of us on high alert. In the distance the 'Poons appeared again, working back towards us. Fresh baits on, and out they went... only for the exact same sequence of events to occur! Frustrated, again we had to wait, and eventually the school appeared. This time though yours truly got lucky, and a Tarpon of maybe forty pounds seized the bait. I wound down and tightened into the fish, and it immediately went airborne, giving a thrilling display of piscine acrobatics- before the rig catapulted through the air as the hook popped clear of its tenuous hold, in typical Tarpon fashion. Oh well, at least we'd had some action. 

Steve practices 'catch & release' with a Cassava.... Assam would have preferred 'stab & market'.

 


Thick Lipped Grunt that sucked up a string of shrimps about 9 inches long. Apparently these are really nice to eat. Still put it back though!

 

Freaky, man.

 


Mark Longster and a stunning Bluespotted Triggerfish from a reef just out from Bakau.

And one for me too...

Jacks a go-go.

A nice sized Cuda while trolling a Rapala along the rocks in the evening.

However, the frustration continued, since several more times the schools of our target fish burst through the area and each time managed to avoid taking any of our baits. The only other hook up occurred when Steve tried casting a Rapala. Somehow it got stuck in a rock right on the surface, and eventually after much pulling he freed it... and at this exact second another junior Tarpon hit the lure with great force. It managed to stay on the hook for about a minute before leaping to it's freedom! After numerous failed attacks, I got to thinking (for once), and remembered something that had happened when fishing with Watto for Tarpon at Baja Honda Bridge in Florida. We too had been driven nuts by Tarpon rejecting our baits all morning, so for a change I put some lead on the line, hooked on a dead mullet and dropped it down tide of the boat. Within five minutes an 80 pounder had sucked up the deadbait and hooked itself! This was a technique we then went on to use to fool some little Tarponettes into taking Finger Mullet up on the Sebastian River too... So, on the basis that there was nothing to lose but my hair, I deepened the stop knot on my rig to about 15 feet, added a little more lead to the line, and hooked a dead Herring by the lips again in readiness. This time when the school of 'Poons appeared, a deadbait splashed down right into them. I briefly stood the rod down and flicked over the Baitrunner lever, and when I looked up the float had gone. Just as I was thinking I had added a little too much lead to the line- the clutch started to scream at me like crazy!! I picked up the rod and started winding- no need to strike- and a beautiful bar of silver left the sea some 30 metres back from the boat. This one stayed hooked, however, and after a wonderful battle on the relatively light tackle, a truly handsome 50 pounds or so of Tarpon was hoisted into the boat for some photos with it's delighted captor, before being returned unharmed back to its watery home. Sadly, this capture seemed to put the other fish down, and we saw no more of them that day, and in fact we tried again in the same area a couple of days later and saw no evidence of Tarpon at all, so I guess I was very lucky to catch one when I did.

Gambia is also famous for it's reef fishing, and we also spent several days over Mantle Reef trying everything from free-roving livebaits, to huge racks of shrimps fished on the bottom, to large deadbaits in search of the elusive Cubera Snapper. 

We were rewarded with a multitude of different species from Cassava, Captainfish and Thick Lipped Grunts, down to Triggerfish, Sompot, Red Snapper, Spadefish and several other varieties of reef species, all of which readily grabbed a shrimp fished on light tackle. 

The local boys like Assam would also sit and fish their way through the day. Now while Steve and I would return virtually everything we caught to the water, they, of course, were fishing for market. So we would be fishing by about 8am, and soon be into fish, which Assam would simply throw onto the deck to flap themselves to death. And there they would stay, complete with guts, for the next 8 or 9 hours, in 90 degree heat and sunshine, until they resembled nothing more than a flip-flop with fins. Quite who ate these things I don't know, but they must have had the stomach of a goat.

One little aside from on the reef, was the capture of a stunning Bluespotted Triggerfish by Mark. It really was one of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen in my life- you just couldn't paint the colours and patterns in your wildest dreams. Luckily I managed to get some nice shots of it before it was dropped back into the water, and you can only imagine how far over the moon I leapt a couple of days later when another of these lovely creatures visited the boat on the end of my line.

We did manage to encounter 4 or 5 Cubera during our stay, but again, the fish won the day! Each time our legered Bonga were seized, we hooked up only to lose these immensely powerful fish. Steve even hooked one on a 50lb class outfit which took line against very, very heavy drag pressure, disappeared into the reef, and then finally wore through the 50lb BS mono! All I have left from the Cubera experience myself is a single scale, after hanging on to one for dear life and pulling the hook out, whereby presumably it caught in its side before finally pulling out for good. I still have the scale now, and even as dried out as it is, it is still some 45mm in diameter. Oh how I wish I had landed that one!

A couple of other more bizarre captures also spring to mind. The first was a when a huge Pufferfish took a piece of shrimp on Mark's line, and set off all it's defence mechanisms in one go! When thrown back into the water, it deflated itself with a farting noise and then waddled off back into the depths looking properly put out with the whole situation. The second was when somehow a Cuttlefish managed to ensnare one of the baits. It was duly thrown into the livebait bucket, and it then dumped its ink. All of it. And it kept dumping it until the water was completely black, with the force of its pumps spraying black splats all over the cuddy of the boat. 
"Good idea, that one", observed Mark.

For Steve and myself, one of the highlights of the trip was the great Jack fishing we stumbled upon out from Senegambia Beach. In fact, we had so much fun doing it that it became a daily event for an hour or two around high tide. First we'd all be on red alert looking for flocks of diving and wheeling seagulls, since this would be our signal to high-tail it over there as quickly as possible. Once in range, it was possible to see hundreds or thousands of bait fish spraying from the surface of the ocean as the frenzied packs of Jacks mercilessly chased their victims into blind panic, and by watching the direction of travel, we would cast our spoons into the frenzy, with a guaranteed hook-up in seconds from one of the most brutal fish in the sea! Man, what fighters those Jacks were- every one of them giving us sizzling runs and stubborn, unyielding wars of attrition under the boat. 

The problem was that as you had one near the boat after a ten or maybe fifteen minute battle, it was often possible to see more Jacks smashing into the baitfish right nearby... and so you would pull harder to try and get the fish boated so you could get back in a try for a bigger one... which then meant that the bloody fish would start pulling back twice as hard again!! Great fishing, and great fun, and you can only imagine the mess we got in at times with double and even triple header hook-ups being commonplace.

All the Jacks were released alive much to the disbelief of the local boys on the boat, which often gave rise to another war of attrition actually in the boat before the things were eventually dropped back over the side. I'm sure the tip at the end of the day made up for it though.

Finally, our days would often finish with a troll around for an hour or so in pursuit of Barracuda, either around the reefs or up in the mangrove creeks. This provided us with a couple of really nice sized 'cudas around the 20 pound mark, which, as ever on light tackle, fought like the psychopaths that they are. 

Now for some reason, Barracuda are THE most highly prized eating fish for the Gambians, so when I had my 'cuda on board and was unhooking it, Assam was eyeing it up and down, hatchet at the ready:
"This fish 200 Dalasi at market", he announced as we had a couple of snaps with the fish.
I looked at Steve, and he looked at me.
"It's your fish mate, so it's your choice".

So with a shrug of my shoulders, I looked at Assam, said "sorry mate"... and then dropped the fish overboard, disappearing in a burst of spray. Assam put his hands over his face and sat back down on his outboard, shaking his head slowly in disbelief:

"F***ing bonkers man... F***ing bonkers".

Threadfin Salmon from near Denton Bridge.

Triple Header Hook Up in a school of Jacks.

Dinner.

Fag on, rods out and trolling the mangroves for Barracuda.

Steve waits for the Big Pull as the heat goes out of the day and the sun heads for the horizon.

The ice cream van appears as we're bait catching at the bridge...

Assam: 'Cone anyone?'
Me: 'No way- did you see the state of that cooler?'
Steve: 'Give us one - it'll be fine you nonce...'

And then the ice cream takes effect...

But then alas, cos back comes the Salmonetto with full effect!! Hate to say I told you soooo....

 

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