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.
finally beaten boat side down at Bakau.
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.
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.
Sompot from the reef.
West African Spadefish- no shortage of these.
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'.
Grunt that sucked up a string of
shrimps about 9 inches long. Apparently these are really nice to eat. Still put it back
Mark Longster and a stunning Bluespotted
Triggerfish from a reef just out from Bakau.
one for me too...
Jacks a go-go.
A nice sized Cuda while trolling a Rapala along
the rocks in the evening.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
man... F***ing bonkers".
Threadfin Salmon from near Denton
Triple Header Hook Up in a school of Jacks.
Fag on, rods out and trolling the mangroves for
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
Steve: 'Give us one - it'll be fine you
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....