How many decent fish can you see in a day of diving? 100? 500? Well, any perspective I had of what the word “fishy” meant before I went to Latham Island was completely blown out of the water by what I experienced in that magical place.
It doesn’t look like much from above sea level, just a lump of sand and rock covered in birds and guano. Apart from the catamaran anchored in the lee of the island, there is nothing to see apart from endless blue water and birds circling overhead.
I had been in East Africa for 4 months already, working as a guide for Extreme Bluewater Spearfishing. I had heard stories of this legendary place and wondered when I would crack the nod and be able to see for myself what it is that got people coming back again and again to that bird covered rock in the middle of the ocean.
The time finally arrived in mid-September, it was traditionally a bit early to be going to Latham as the Doggie season only starts a bit later in the year. However, Eric Allard had been on a recce mission the previous September and he had encountered a lot of Yellowfin Tuna, so it was with high expectations that we set off.
The trip consisted of myself, Eric Allard and a friend from the USA who had come to try blue water spearfishing out for the first time. We arrived mid-morning to a flat sea, which after travelling for 12 hours to get to, was a welcome sight. I jumped in with a camera and the 3 of us drifted down the ledge towards the drop off. We started our drift at 15m and planned on being picked up by the boat once we were completely off the wall and in between 30 and 50m.
As soon as the drop off came into view, the Wahoo weren’t far behind. First 4 together, then 6, then a shoal of 10, then a single, all making their way along the wall and into the current. I dived to flasher depth and hung there, waiting to get a shot at a Wahoo swimming overhead. Instead, I saw what looked like a swarm of bees hanging in the current…Yellowfin Tuna, and a lot of them! I signalled to the guys on the surface but it was too late, we’d drifted past them. Then more Wahoo, another shoal of Yellowfin and then we’re in the blue and its time to call the boat and do it all over again. By the end of the first drift, we are all buzzing with how much action there is, and waste no time getting back into the water.
What follows can only be described as unreal. We were repeating the same drift line and each drift would go something along the lines of: Jump in, start breathing up, see Jobfish, Emperor Snappers and Big Eye Trevallys as we near the ledge. Get ready to dive, see Wahoo before you can even dive. Gun goes off, someone shouts. Wahoo shoal around while you’re reloading, a shoal of Yellowfin cruises past. Another shot, buoys come tearing past. Fish on! This continued throughout the day and by the end of it we had 3 decent Yellowfin and 6 Wahoo on the boat. My brain was so saturated with fish that when someone asked what I had seen I could not differentiate between what I had seen the previous drift or what I had seen a few drifts earlier. It was all blending into one flash of fish going through my head.
When we were done diving we approached the nearest fishing boat to give away most of our catch. The local fishermen sail their wooden dhows from Tanzania mainland which is roughly 50NM of open ocean to make a living fishing at Latham. As with the policy in Zanzibar, the majority of our fish caught was given back to the local community. It is really rewarding to see how stoked the guys get when you hand over 100kg of fish to them, which they can then take home and sell to survive.
Our second day started in a similar fashion to the first and it wasn’t long before we were all into decent fish. We decided to go to the Doggie spot which is a few miles from the island to see if it was worth trying for the monsters of the deep. Unfortunately, there was very little bait on the spot but our efforts were rewarded with a pod of Humpback Whales making an appearance on the Surface.
By late afternoon, the Yellowfin Tuna were on form and we were seeing shoals of them in the hundreds. They were not feeding and were a bit tricky to approach. On our last drift, as we were about to call the boat, Brady did a last dive to flasher depth. He came racing up and pointing down to the diminishing light so it was impossible to make out from the surface. Eric had already unloaded, so I swam down and hung beneath the flasher. As my eyes focus, I realise that I am in the middle of a giant shoal of Yellowfin Tuna. As far up and down as I can see and 360 degrees around me, is nothing but fish. They all look between 15 and 30kg, but I can see some bigger shadows at the back. Out of the corner of my eye I catch movement coming in my direction at speed. Instinctively, I track my gun on the form and as the fish passes under me, I place a shot in its back. It happened so fast that I could not even tell how big it was. All I know is that my 35l float was getting pulled down at full steam and that it was not going to be a quick fight. The guys were on the boat already waiting for me to land my fish, which I was having a tug of war with from the depths while the sun was going down below the horizon. The boat boy then shouted something in Swahili, while pointing over me. I spun around just in time to see half a whale submerging itself next to me. I stuck my head in the water and there was the whole animal, clear from tip to tail, just gliding under the surface with the East African sunset behind him, while I fought my fish. It is a moment that will stay with me forever. The fish came in at a healthy 45kg and it went straight to the chefs sushi knife to turn it into the freshest sashimi possible.
The third and final day was not to disappoint either. I was diving with a camera to try and capture some footage of the shoals that were still very active on the ledge. We drifted into the deep and the other 2 guys got separated from me and the flasher while they chased after a shoal of Yellowfin. I looked down to the flasher to make sure the Wahoo that we had attached to the bottom was still intact, and coming out of the blue was a Marlin of around 200kg. It came up to the flasher and did a circle to check the Wahoo out before leisurely swimming off. We tallied up the day with 6 Wahoo in the 20kg range and a Doggie of 15kg that Eric sussed out.
It was with happy hearts, and hours of unreal video footage, that we cracked a cold beer as we started sailing back towards Zanzibar.
I have now had a taste of what real diving can be like and I am told that it is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Latham is concerned. Summer is coming and the giant Doggies will start making their annual appearance in the deep spots off the island.
Watch this space.