Madagascan Madness

Last year a couple of mates – Carlos and Ayman – and I did a thorough worldwide search for the ultimate destination for a memorable blue water spearfishing trip. The first destinations that come to mind after watching a few videos on YouTube were Mexico, Costa Rica, the Coral Sea, Mozambique etc… but, when you take another look at your budget, the list of possible destinations shrinks rather rapidly.

Being based in the United Arab Emirates, the nearest (and hence most cost effective) spot for a fishing trip is the east coast of Africa. Mozambique is an obvious choice, but we wanted something a bit less popular… I had read about Christ Coates’ trip to Madagascar in USM volume 4 and loved the article. With a bit of research I managed to track down Craig Scott – owner of Orca Sakatia Spearfishing Charters, who boasts an incredible

40 years spearfishing experience and a decade in and around the waters of Madagascar. Suddenly, from not knowing where in the world we were going, things began to happen quickly… and the next thing we knew, we were in Nosy Be waiting for the boat to take us to the lodge on Sakatia Island.

We were 3 shallow reef divers hitting blue water for the first time in our lives – what an experience! We were all trying to get that dream fish and after the first day diving, we quickly realised how difficult it would be and how unprepared we were. Shooting at fish still 10m away, rushing, chasing and battling to stay down long enough to get closer… To sum it up, a small nightmare.

Days passed… a few small fish were landed but nothing exciting. However, we all had that thing called faith keeping us going and hoping for the best. All of this positive energy didn’t get us the fish we wanted, but we were rewarded with the experience of a lifetime, the likes of which you tend to see other people enjoying on National Geographic channel. With adrenaline pumping to the max, you jump into the water and your heart stops beating for a split second when you spot a group of Orcas just a dozen metres ahead.

We were blessed enough to be able to swim with a group of 10 of them. Half an hour later, a group of Minke Whales came up right next to the boat and we had another 15min of freediving with whales… We didn’t spear a single fish that day but the experience was unbelievable… We arrived home, in absolute awe of the amazing potential of Madagascar. We learned so much about blue water hunting, especially that you can’t go without proper preparation.

2 months later we booked our trip for this year. We started diving more and training more, increasing our comfortable depth levels, breath hold and testing new gear. Proper preparation was one of the keys to success, the most important, but the “right time right place” factor is something you can’t do anything about.

By May 2012 the team was ready to roll. Craig had let us know that conditions were perfect and predicted the strongest currents during our stay. This time round, another mate (Bassem) would be joining us for his first blue water experience.

We arrived at Sakatia Island late in the morning, but we still insisted on an afternoon dive. That first dive back into the blue waters of Madagascar was met with an amazing feeling and some amazing fish. Ayman and Carlos landed their first Doggies and I ended up missing a nice size Wahoo… such a great opening for just a 3 hour dive.

Our main goal was to get to the famous Castor Bank, where we had seen monster Doggies the previous year, and the cleanest water you can imagine with 40 to 50m visibility! For us in the Gulf, 15m happens once a year and we go nuts when we have it.

The weather conditions around Mayotte weren’t the best so we decided to concentrate on local dives in a 45km radius, where Craig put us onto some amazing spots. None of us were expecting any monster fish, and after a few drifts, you could hear our favorite sound, “Tchaaaakk!” Yes somebody had taken a shot. Sailfish, Doggies, Wahoo, Job Fish and Rosie Job Fish were all over the place. Amazing diving, but not even close to what we were going to witness.

Around midday on our third day, we were drifting in deep water, from 80m to the edge at 30m. As I prepared for my dive while Carlos was moving the flashers, a big black shadow came in close. I went down and I saw this magnificent Black Marlin of over 3,5m! As I swam in closer, it started twisting around and moving away… I had to take a shot. A head shot is always best but I didn’t have a clear shot so I decided to take the chance and shoot a bit behind… The 8mm shaft went all the way through the body, and the slip tip was released.

That’s it, a perfectly secured shot! But was it…? My 35 litre Rob Allen and 2 15 litre hard floats went down before I even reached the surface from 13m from where I took the shot. The Marlin disappeared into the abyss. I surfaced to hear Carlos shouting “Duuude! You just shot a monster Marlin! Yiihaaa!” I could already see myself posing next to it back in Sakatia… We called the boat and followed the direction the Marlin had taken off in.

We estimated the weight to be over 250kg. According to Craig, a fish of this size could take up to 1 and a half hours to pull in, especially if it wasn’t a head shot. The first half hour passed, we were still all excited. An hour… We reached 1 hour 30 minutes with no sign of the floats or the fish. After 2 hours our high hopes were replaced by doubts and the chances of landing my once in a lifetime fish were close to zero. We gave it another 30 minutes, but after 2 and a half hours of searching, we decided to head back to Sakatia… empty handed.

We went out in the same area the next day. Not much luck, we didn’t get anything until Carlos and I heard a scream… we looked for the guys and all we could see was Bassem literally holding the big float with his whole body and being dragged. (I guess my experience taught him a lesson). He wouldn’t let go no matter what! Ayman screamed: Marlin! We rushed to help them out, trying not to create a mess with all the floats and lines. Bassem was holding the float line, trying to pull up the heavy beast. 30 minutes later the Marlin started to tire and Bassem managed to lift it to 17m. This made it much easier for Carlos to put a second shot in the head. After one last kill shot, a beautiful 75kg Marlin was landed, shot with a 140 Rob Allen railgun at almost point blank range. The first dream fish of the trip was on the boat!

I don’t remember hearing about any spearing trip where 2 Marlins were seen 2 days in a row. We experienced it, and Craig made it happen!

After a couple of days, the weather looked perfect for the long trip to Castor Banks. The previous year we had seen monster Doggies… so this year we needed to land some. On the first drift, with flashers down, we saw Doggies, Wahoo and Fusiliers everywhere within 10 minutes. Getting ready for my second dive I spotted a Sailfish passing on my left.

About to take a shot, I suddenly noticed that it already had a spear in it! Ayman had just shot his first Sailfish ever and was drifting along with it! 29kg… not bad for a first ‘dream fish’. 30 minutes later we landed a few small Wahoo but we were still waiting patiently for the Doggies. Nobody managed to put one on the boat. We decided to change the drift but nothing was landed, although I did have the chance to watch a shoal of around 10 Sailies swimming a few metres from the surface. What an amazing sight. We decided to call it a day and went back to Sakatia.

The Doggies were playing hard to get, and we knew that Castor was where we had the highest chance of spearing them. The weather forecast was not looking good for the next 2 days, so we could only do local dives. It was fun, with lots of Job Fish, Couta and some small Doggies.

Our last day in Sakatia arrived with perfect weather, and we had to make the best of it. The boat was ready for Castor, and we were off. Carlos and I had just one objective: to land a big Doggie!

Castor provided amazing conditions once again. Ayman was the first to open the day with a 35kg Sailfish that earned him the nick name “Sailfish slayer”. He speared 2 on the trip, which made him the happiest guy on earth.

Carlos saw a Saily and dived down but couldn’t get close enough. On his way up a Wahoo passed right above him, and he took a shot. His first Wahoo was landed, a nice one of 12kg. While he was landing it, I decided to go down. At the flasher level 3 Doggies came along, I began taking aim… hesitated, and looked right to see a fat Doggie about 3m below me. I slowly swam down and shot it right in the tail (my mate from Vanuatu had told me it’s the best place to shoot if you want to slow a Doggie down). As I reached the surface, all I had to do was bark like a dog and the guys knew it was a Doggie! What an amazing feeling, landing my first challenging prize fish of 22kg. 

Carlos was excited, and now it was his turn to land a Doggie. Not more that 30 minutes later, he took the shot! The floats whizzed past me like a high speed train, giving me just enough time to grab the string on the last float, then Carlos took over. As he pulled his fish up I could see that it was massive, a perfect shot behind the head didn’t give the Doggie much chance to fight and he was quickly in

Carlos hands: 30kg of pure power. The trip ended with all of us having found what we were looking for, we’d all speared our dream fish! Madagascar has an amazing sea life, which has somehow been preserved and hasn’t been hit by heavy commercial fishing. Divers and spearos share those waters in perfect harmony.

The people of Nosy Be and the Sakatia Lodge are the nicest you could spend your time with, very humble and thrilled when we came back with fish. All the extra fish that we caught were distributed to the villagers in Sakatia. At the lodge, they make you part of the family, you feel at home and it’s always sad to leave. Craig and Jacques made our dreams come true, but I still think we had only a glimpse of what Madagascar can offer.

There are many amazing places to discover around the world but only one has a very special spot in our hearts… and that’s Nosy Sakatia.


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