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"Welcome to the Land Of Smiles" it said on the sign outside the immigration office at Maputo airport. So I smiled politely at the nice lady before she ran off with my passport and 25 dollars, and once she returned it stamped and sealed, I headed for a spot of angling tomfoolery on Isla de Inhaca - an oversized mound of sand being sloshed about by the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique - grinning like a deranged goon all the way, of course... 

It was good to be back in the world again after going square-eyed at my desk in sunny Spalding for a few months. After ten hours wedged into a kiddie's car seat at 30,000 feet between a couple of twitching, farting, snoring, halitostically-challenged French blokes things were really coming back to me. By the time I'd landed in Johannesburg, been tucked up for 350 Rand by one taxi driver for taking me to the wrong hotel, and then turned over for another 200 Rand by another taxi driver for taking me to the right one (a mile up the road, meter wiring by Jacko's Bubbles), I knew I was well and truly back on the road again. I'm hoping that one day the men in white coats can work out how eradicate the endemic Taxi Driver Knobhead Gene. If they can, I reckon world peace could be but one small step away.

Wandering around the city that evening, it seemed to have a certain 'feel' to it - even though I was in what could certainly be termed as a nice part of town. I think it was probably emphasised by the glass shards and razor wire topping the walls at every house, which didn't do much for the white-picket ambience. And every other house seemed to be called "Armed Response" which must have been a nightmare for all the poor Joburg postmen. 
























The longest string of spit I've seen since India.

 After finding a working taxi meter, a great steak, a few beers and a straight ten hours of unbroken sleep, the plane from Tambo Airport dropped us off in Maputo the next morning. The aforementioned nice lady sorted out a visa for me, and then eventually a prop plane took the 15 minute hop out to the island, once I'd been nobbled for my excess bags, which was strangely cheaper when paying by cash ("what receipt sir?"). The rooftops of Maputo soon gave way to the basin, and as the spits, sandbars and mangroves of Inhaca crept into focus I crossed my fingers hoping they harboured a few wet fish for me to play with.

I went fully loaded with a box of poppers, jigs and trolling lures... For some reason which now escapes me.

First fish in Mozambique, and surprised to wind in a small Barracuda- although probably not as surprised as the fish when it chewed the jig and shot through the surface like a Polaris.

While Jonah shows off a Green Jobfish snagged from the reef.

After checking in at the Pestana Lodge, I went to see the people at the fishing and boat company down at the jetty with whom I had booked my fishing, via the ever helpful Kerry-Ann at Sportfish Africa. I met Genial Diaan down at the office, who was a nice young bloke who'd been exiled to the island to front up the operation. 

When I'd researched and booked up the trip, I'd been dreaming about chasing some Yellowfin, GTs and Queenfish with poppers and the like. As I chatted with Diaan I quickly began feeling that oh-so-familiar-but-no-less-chilling-for-it "oh arse, not again..." sensation as the Bulldar started picking up some disturbing signals. He enthusiastically explained that he'd seen a Yellowfin brought ashore "earlier this year". He then informed me that it was "getting a bit cold now for GTs, although someone caught one at 30kg in 2007". When he confirmed (as I admit I knew anyway) that the "Queenfish have gone now" I found myself casting longing glances back towards the airstrip.

Nonetheless, he ran through the options left available, and we arranged a 6.30am rendezvous with a view to a dawn start. I could still hardly wait, feeling sure there'd be some fish-based amusement before I was on my way home - no matter what happened in terms of nautical traumas. I mean, I'd have been so disappointed if there weren't any. Though within a couple of days I'd got another motto to add to the list: "Never book a fishing trip with a firm that does pedalo rentals". 

The Bulldar twitched again in the morning. I think most people going out fishing with Diaan's boys usually just about manage to hoist their Speedos up from the pool for a day's trolling, just to break up their holidays a bit. When I turned up at the jetty with my heap of gear, as he rooted through my stuff I saw it in an instant; just a feint flicker

of a look. A mere fleeting glance. But a look that said it all in a nanosecond: "Oh shit. We've got a live one" as realisation dawned they had a fishing mentalist to deal with.

As the sun's rays slipped above the horizon, some light also started to cast a shadow on a few other issues too. There was a little indecision about who was skippering the boat. Initially it was Fernando, but Diaan then added another of his "most experienced guys" to make sure. Probably in the light of having a 'live one' on board. I'd also emailed ahead about needing some sinkers in case of going bottom fishing. But there were about four available. Diaan apologised for not getting any and assured me he would bring some back from Maputo in a couple of days. Ok, this wasn't a great start. But no fuel had turned up either. I'm not an expert, but I think as far as outboards go, that's usually a bit of a crippler. 

So Diaan and Fernando disappeared to go and see if a supply of gas could be found on the island, while I sat wondering how the wheels had already come off without even touching a nut. 

 

 

About 10am some fuel had been located from somewhere, and although I had booked one of the smaller boats with a 50hp engine - which I had been advised was more than adequate for a lone angler to do all the fishing I could need - Fernando wanted to go out and fish on the big ocean outside the island. And he'd only go out there in one of the bigger boats with twin 130s. Ok boys. Just take me to the fishes.

The dawn start had long since shot out the pipe, but off we went at last, all hand shakes and smiles as we headed to sea, though I did nearly chuck myself over the side when I found out that Fernando's mate's name was Jonah, figuring two of us on one boat can never be a good sign, can it? 

Out on the bright blue briny, Fernando and Jonah both recommended that I use either surface poppers or jigs to see what hit them. I had a rod rigged for both, so enthusiastically set about it as we drifted over the top of the reef. Meanwhile, F & J settled in with a couple of rods each, both rigged up with Scad from the bait box, and proceeded to pull up reef fish after reef fish, while I thrashed my jigs furiously up and down to no avail. Finally, as the bait supplies diminished and their fish-box under the decks began to fill up (and I began to wonder who'd paid for the fishing charter) I had my first success when a small Barracuda grabbed the jig and smacked into the side of the boat without so much as breaking the upward stroke of the rod. I dropped it back and it bobbed around on the top wondering what had happened for a minute, before waddling off with a couple of tentative twitches of it's tail - although this may have been it's death throes. At least I was off the mark.

However, a highlight of the early days out at sea was chasing the Skipjack Tuna that shoal up and chase the bait fish in frenzied patches under the swirling flocks of gulls. It was easy to spot where they were, but a good deal harder to catch up with them and stick with them. But we managed it a few times, and eventually I got one or two of them to snatch & snag a Daiwa Saltiga popper. Great fun to chase and stubborn scrappers on the light tackle I was 

Fernando's happy cos we have more Mackerel (dinner).

It begs the question "What the heck is that then?"
"Variola louti", says the man at Fishbase!

"Just look through here and press this..." I said as I handed over the camera... "No- not now Fer... Oh bugger."

using, it felt so good to be doing one of my favourite styles of fishing again - albeit that the boat looked like a bloodbath in no time. Jonah & Fernando said they were good for market, and looking at the state of the deck it looked like being the best place for them, so they joined the other multi-coloured stuff down in the fish box. The action lasted for a couple of hours until the tuna and gulls disappeared with the flick of a switch. But what a fun couple of hours it was. I love it.

 

 

The Inhaca jetty- focal point for everything going to, from, in, on or around the island.

F & J had run out of bait earlier out on the reef, and the GPS batteries had apparently run out in sympathy. So as not to feel left out of it the boys then ran out of ideas too. So the rest of the day panned out as a bit of a troll-fest, since we now couldn't find a mark even if we had some bait to soak over it anyway. Not my favourite, but a couple of Mackerel made a lunge for the hi-speed plastic, and a 'Cuda snagged itself on a Magnum before we headed for shore at the end of the day. So although things hadn't panned out as I'd dreamed, at least there'd been a few tight lines aboard. I didn't realise at this point that things were to go quite a bit downhill before they got quite a bit better.

The evening temperatures were about perfect as I sat slurping on a cold Laurentina and minding my own business. Pestana Lodge is a very nice place to stay. The staff were always friendly, the setting amongst the palm trees very pleasant, the rooms were very comfortable, and sitting out on the veranda that evening for a bit of beer and buffet was as convivial as it gets. The only problem was the "entertainment". This was a local bloke playing a Bontempi organ in the style of Les Dawson, cross-bred with a pissed Louis Armstrong choking on his trumpet. It was so bad I'd say it actually bordered on brilliant - until I realised he was gonna be wheeled out every night.


Pesky showboating kids. Yeah, yeah; it's not big and it's not clever.

 

Rush Hour, Inhaca Stylee, as far as there is such a thing.

 


The fine line between piracy and lunacy.

As funny as it was initially, I soon began using his trumpet as the starting pistol for a sprint back to my soundproof chamber in the room. You might be able to experience for yourself a quick, sharp stab of the pain inflicted on the unsuspecting tourists every night by clicking just here... Thacker's Bilk (Nokia).3gp

Please don't try that at home. The trumpet headache became a bit of a migraine when no fuel had turned up again the next morning. Diaan had gone to Maputo, so Fernando set off on a fuel hunt. Thankfully he got lucky and a couple of hours later we were out on the ocean. As we headed for the first spot, F pulled out the GPS... which didn't work because the batteries were still flat from the day before. "Ah boss didn't give me no battery" he smiled. Great. So I gave him a couple out of my flash unit in the name of finding a spot to fish.

After losing a good sized Mackerel on a Fire Tiger Magnum on the way out, we pulled up over the reef again, and set about a drift. F&J recommended I do some popping and jigging again, so I set about it, while they set up two rods each again and set about emptying the reef of it's inhabitants. And I'll admit it began to irk me a bit. Whenever I asked for a bit of advice, or asked if there were other good reefs to fish, I'd just get blank expressions and a shrug of shoulders in return, usually as another reef fish was on it's way into the fish box. Whenever I asked to try something different (that didn't involve filling the fish box), they were bored shitless in ten minutes flat. Bait gone, we trolled, and it didn't help when another really nice Mackerel of perhaps 40lbs I hooked came adrift right at the boat, and another snapped the wire at the hook a few minutes later. A five pound barracuda (which came to the boat looking as bored as I was) right at the death didn't really smooth things over, and I went to bed that evening with with trumpet ringing in my ears and jumbled thoughts rolling round my head about how to get the best out of the current situation. But... something always turns up...

Fernando had told me that they sometimes found Bonefish down at Hell's Gate at the southern tip of the island. This is a narrow channel between Inhaca and Santa Maria Islands, and the whole of the Maputo Basin empties and fills through this tiny aperture. The result is that the current rips through there like the Ganges in flood, so I really wanted to go and take a look. Fernando wanted to take the big boat on the ocean again, but I stuck to my guns cos I couldn't keep pace with paying for a hundred litres of fuel a day, every day, and so we took the boat I'd actually booked for a spin out in the basin.  

Half an hour later Fernando pulled the boat up and pointed to where I should fish, then yawned, zipped up his coat and went to sleep, while I tried to get a bait to anchor on the bottom for a minute. Fishing from the Santa Maria side as the basin emptied into the Indian Ocean, I was shocked at just how fast it shot through. 






















Bloody Skipjack. All a bit messy, really.



























The fish that sparked me off on a quest as Senor Alberto Steptoe proudly displayed his scaly, dried out old Bone for the camera.

All pretty intimidating, and I spent the next couple of hours until the tide slackened right off watching my rod tip bounce as my end rigs were relentlessly swept round into the boulder strewn edge. By the time Fernando woke up I was bite-free and down to the last two sinkers, things weren't looking good.

 

 
 

"You row".
"Get stretched- it's your turn, fatty".
Two weeks adrift on the Indian Ocean, 
and delirium had obviously set in.

As the tide turned Fernando told me we should move, and he drove the boat across the channel, pulled it up in the sand, pointed "out there is good place", and five minutes later he was pushing out the big zzzzzs again in the dune behind me. The prospect of a Bonefish obviously wasn't as thrilling as filling a box with 20 kilos of Snapper. 

I managed to find an eddy where the rig would hold station, missed a couple of bites right away (through shock I think), and then waited for another 2 hours for a bite. Suddenly, half way up the tide the switch tripped and the bite kind of spluttered to life, when I caught a small shark, broke the hook link on another more solid little number, and then finally set the hook

into something quite substantial, which gave me a bit of a run around. When I dragged it ashore, Fernando couldn't explain what it was in English, and I was quite excited to have caught something I'd never seen before. White and silver in colour, about ten or twelve pounds in weight, big lips, sloping forehead and a mouth full of molar-like grinding teeth. When I extracted the hook it looked like someone had been at it with a set of mole grips! I was chuffed Fernando took a nice shot of it, and this proved useful when I later showed it to some South African anglers, who immediately identified it as a Natal Stumpnose. It seems that's about as big as they get too, so it was nice to have a spot of luck at last! 

As I'd been messing round with and releasing the Stuntcock, a local fella from the village had slid into position some 30 yards to my right and lassoed his hand line out into the swirling current. He tied it to a stick in the beach and laid back to take it easy. This was the most important thing that happened that day, as half an hour later he sprung to his feet and ran down the beach like he was being towed before he finally dug his heels in at the edge.

A fat little pig- and look at the size of the Triggerfish.

A large Natal Stumpnose. Not to be confused with the Large Naval Stuntcock, which is something entirely different.

Look at the choppers stuck in its stump- and what they did to a 6/0 Owner SSW!

























Early morning dew in the coconuts.

Five minutes later, the 50lb handline had taken it's toll and a nice Bonefish of about 6lbs was flapping about in the sand and being drop-kicked halfway up the dune behind us. I approached the other angler to get a photo as we left for base a short while later. He nodded yes and held up his nicely desiccating Bone for the camera.




















The locals could catch fish no problem, but this poor lad was really struggling with his kite, bless him.

As he posed, I began to notice what a remarkable looking character he was, seemingly with just one of everything: one handline, one plastic bag, one set of clothes, one nose in the middle (ok, so that's the usual count), one working eye and one lonely looking tooth. So I gave him a handful of hooks for the photo (assuming that he maybe just had one of them as well), and he gave me a big, monotoothed smile. As we sped back through a stunning luminous orange sunset I smiled too, happy I now had all the encouragement I needed to concentrate on catching a Bonefish.

When I wanted to go back the next day, Fernando pulled a little face of disappointment. The reef was obviously where it was at for him personally, but I had Bones on the brain I'm afraid. The problem was bait. Fernando was sure that strips of scad were fine, but even they had run out in the freezer, leaving only bags of half-beaks (Ballyhoo) piled in the bottom. And so we took them with us. That day I discovered two things. The first was that the fish only fed in that area on a rising tide, as I found myself entirely alone until the tide had turned to the up. I'd not had a bite on the outgoing. Then a couple of lads with their handlines turned up next to me, and caught three Bonefish... two little ones of a couple of pounds, then they finished their evening having a kickabout on the sand with a nice 7lb fish. The second discovery was that Bonefish don't like Ballyhoo. This wasn't much of a surprise to me, as to be honest I'd never choose to chuck a shrimp at a sailfish. This was confirmed as I soaked my Ballyhoo strips without so much as a knock, glancing with envy to my left as the lads rolled another up the beach: Yup, "All the gear, no idea". 

"This good bait for Bonefish, Fernando?" I asked as I slipped another fresh (ish!) strip of 'hoo on the hook.
"Hmmm. Other bait better sir", he replied. I'd have appreciated it if he'd mentioned that before I'd lost 6 hours of my life waiting for a bite.



Fernando was dead excited about my quest for a Bonefish... dead, dead excited.

"That is no Bunfish mon!"

... but that is!

Fernando waiting for the sun to go down (and the cows to come home).














 




Punt de Torres, Santa Maria.

A local handline fella gave me a handful of these Sand Fleas, which are apparently the best Bonebait on the island.

But, I knew the place, I knew the time; all I had to do was sort out the bait scenario. Having befriended the bloke supplying my Laurentinas each night, this wasn't too big a problem. There were a couple of early teething problems (I can vouch for the complete ineffectiveness of squid marinated in garlic), but eventually I'd end up with a small package of shrimps and/or squid from the kitchen each day - until they ran out there too. So I asked Fernando what we could do to get a supply of bait.
"Do you have 20 Rand sir?" he said.
I put a crumpled note in his hand, and off he skipped. Fifteen minutes later he was back with a carrier bag stuffed with fresh, silver, bright-eyed scad. I was well chuffed.
"Where'd you get them from?" I asked.
"My friend in the village fishes them. He was taking

them for his lunch, but I made him sell them to me".
"So he's got no dinner now?"
"No sir he is very happy, because he can now buy a chicken instead". One man's bait is obviously another man's roast dinner.
Why Fernando hadn't suggested a spot of Inhacan free-market economics before I don't know, cos I'd have bought the whole village Kentucky popcorn nuggets for a month if it meant a good supply of bait!

So now we had the spot, the time, the bait and the technology. All we needed a plan of action. With the productive couple of hours in the tide occurring later each day, it was only going to be worth fishing there right towards the late afternoon. This meant the days could be spent trying other stuff, which lead to the capture of some interesting reef species like Lyretail Cod, Emperors and the like, and the discovery of a Triggerfish hotspot over a patch of reef just behind the waves crashing on the deserted beaches of Santa Maria. A succession of chunky fat Triggers greedily snapped up strips of squid (minus marinade) and Berkley Gulp as we carried out several drifts over it's top. This was loads of fun on a little spinning outfit. 

There was also the odd frustration too, with Fernando still un-enamoured with my choice of target species and itching to get out on the ocean in the big boat every day. I think he liked driving it.
"What's the plan today Fernando?"
"I think it is best that today we take the big boat to the reef sir".

This was sacked off in the end after driving round in circles with no clear direction for the best part of two days, thereby vaporising another 180 litres of fuel into the atmosphere in the name of snagging the odd Mackerel. This finished with a new bald patch for yours truly and a quite superb "show-me-the-plan" rant in the style of Cuba Gooding Jr in that Jerry McGuire film, while Fernando sat in his chair smiling and looking bewildered. But there were always the evenings...

 

Left: The nice lady brings the cerveja supplies ashore. That's my girl!

Right: "I know I put it somewhere".

Not the first Portuguese colonisation round these parts.

And this was the best bit. The first Bonefish that took the bait took me by surprise. The rod had been nodding away quite merrily in a tube in the sand for some time, with a fillet of Scad anchored to the bottom out in the rip. The evening's first Laurentina had filtered through the system and I was dealing with it, so to speak, in the edge of the Maputo Basin. In a split second the rod was doubled over in the tube and I found myself running down the sand while a map of India found itself running down the front of my shorts. Nice. 

It was worth a wet leg though, as the Stradic squealed and a hundred yards of 20lb braid fizzed from the spool under the persuasion of a tide-assisted supersonic Bonefish. My heart thudded in my chest, the fish screamed around the channel, and I prayed it wouldn't fall off or find a boulder. But after a brilliant fight in the current, some ten minutes later I hollered with delight as about 6lbs of beautiful silver torpedo slid onto the sand. Ok, so it was far from the classic Bonefish scenario found in the Caribbean or the Seychelles (in my dreams...), but it was all good fun for me and the goonish grin spread wider than ever as


Getting Smok
ed.



"Why you wan catch dem fish?" wondered Fernando.
"Because they fight like that and look like this!" says I.

Sunshine, fishing and Laurentina? At the same time? Yup, "My Life Is Shit".

I held the fish up for a trophy picture and then watched her waddle off back out into the cauldron. I loved the journey back to the lodge every evening, as the sky burned orange across the top of distant Maputo, but after catching that first Bonefish the trip was even sweeter. I could hardly wait until the next rising tide.

As it turned out, once we'd got it all worked out, catching the Bones wasn't too difficult. They certainly weren't too fussy in terms of bait. In fact as long as it wasn't a chunk of Ballyhoo or marinated in garlic it seemed that they'd give it a go. Squid, Scad and prawn all accounted for fish, but it was one of the friendly handline fishermen who gave me some useful Bonefish tips. He spoke a little bit of English, and between us we managed to have a half a conversation. It turned out that his biggest Bonefish from Inhaca waters was 10 kilos, and his friend had caught the biggest he'd ever heard of at 12 kilos (yes, that's TWELVE) as he held his hands about a metre apart. I thought I'd misheard him and turned to Fernando, who just nodded to confirm. That is one huge Bone, to coin a phrase. He also tried to explain to me what the best bait was for them, but something was getting lost in translation. 

The Bunfish Boys.


Trigger happy.

However, what I had no problem understanding, was "excuse sir, is it only one small hook I may be having", which is something I'm used to now after so much time spent in foreign lands. If any despots or dissidents (this is a broad church - there is no target audience) happen to be reading this, then forget oil, guns and diamonds. I'm convinced that Third World revolutions can be easily financed with multi-packs of Mustad O'Shaughnessys - you'll save a fortune, and getting them over border crossings will be whole lot less stressful. I let him chose the sizes he wanted, but he took just three, so I spooned out a few more into a gnarled looking hand.

Nice hat. The Bonefish Bonnet scores again. 
Now just say cheese, fool.

Delighted with his new stash, he nipped off back to the spot where his handline was tied to a stick in the beach. A minute or two later he was back at my side with a handful of his favourite bait - a cluster of primeval looking Sand Fleas. He carefully showed me how to prepare them for the hook, peeling off the carapace before threading the hook right along the body. He was right, they certainly worked! Top fella and a lovely bloke.

On one evening the Bones went quite mental, and I managed four of them all from 3 to 4 kilos in one hot hour, which I seemed to spend most of running up and down the sand after them - probably as much fun as a bloke can have without needing a tissue. if you like fishing, anyway. Even Fernando got in on the act one time, when as I baited another rod the first just folded over in the tube.
"This one is going!" he shouted, as the clutch started wailing and the rod bent past 90 degrees.
"You have it, mate!" I shouted back (doesn't take long to get blasť does it?), and he set about having a tussle with it. 
"It is still going", he grimaced as the spool began to

look a little empty. But despite having a great scrap with the fish, he only just forced a grin for the photo. I think he preferred Mackerel really.

It was during one of the final sessions that I finally got down to the last sinker. Somehow we'd managed to eke 4 of them out to last over a week, no small miracle given the state of the underwater topography. Diaan still hadn't made it back from Maputo (with a few pounds of lead I'd hoped), so it was with some relief I found him in the bar that evening, a bit red-of-eye: 
"Sorry about that, I got kind of detained" he offered 

when I asked how things had gone, "but I got some sinkers, so you'll be good for the morning". Good news indeed. The coveted sinkers, however, turned out to be 2 bags containing half a dozen 10 gram drilled bullets. I might as well have tied a wing-nut on the line.

When I showed the bags to Fernando, he shook his head and clucked. 
"Do you have 20 Rand sir?" he said.
I put a crumpled note in his hand again.
"I will be back in 7 minutes sir". This seemed a quite specific prediction, but with Africa being Africa, I was willing to be flexible. 

It was probably more like eight and a half minutes before he returned with a carrier bag, this time with half a dozen brand new sinkers (large size) in.
"Where'd you get them from?" I asked.
"My friend in the village is making them. So I buy them from him". I slapped my forehead. I'd waited a week for some lead to materialise, cherished the two sinkers I had as if they were made of gold, panicked every time a rig had snagged bottom... and all the while Fernando could have nipped to the village and kitted us out with a sack full of sinkers in, well, eight and half minutes. I mean... why the hell didn't he...? Oh... forget it.

The tide rips between the islands at Santa Maria, although on a neap tide it was more Devil's Ditch than Hell's Gate. The fishing died with the current...

Fernando knocks out a few more zeds. It's a dirty old job.

As the days clicked over, with the neap tide approaching, the current had slowed to a mere trickle (in relative terms), and the sport slowed noticeably in line with it. But on my final evening, one bite materialised out of the blue, with a Scad fillet being seized somewhere out in the depths. I struggled to get the rod out of the tube and didn't even need to strike before the line began to peel off the spool. But this was no Bonefish. Slowly and inexorably the 'thing' just swam off, and kept going into the sunset. 50 metres, 100 metres, 150 metres, and I began staring forlornly at the spool just before the leader gave up and snapped. I have no idea what it was, but it probably didn't stop until it smacked it's snout on Maputo harbour wall.

I'd had an interesting trip, the fishing was somewhat different to what I'd dreamed about, getting there a bit too late in the year. There were a few cock ups and a few moments of frustration, and it's probably quite fitting that the last fish I hooked at Inhaca just swam off and flicked the Vs. But there'd been some beautiful weather and amongst it all there were a more than a few gems. Those beautiful Bonefish certainly saved the day.













Adios, Isla de Inhaca.

 



 

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