Spearing Sodwana

“I now truly understand the thrill of the chase and the joy of bagging the trophy!”

Ever since I was a young lad, my family have battled to get me out of any kind of water. I have always just loved water. I would swim in the swimming pool wearing my diving mask, and spent hours trying (unsuccessfully) to hold my breath. Diving makes me feel like the world slows down. The moment I put my head under the water I am mentally, spiritually and physically challenged.

It all started some years ago with a phone call to Richard Colyn, asking if he would be willing to introduce me to the sport of spearfishing. At that point in time I had just bought myself a new wetsuit and fins, and was determined to learn how to spearfish. Making that call turned out to be the best decision of my life.

I recently successfully completed my last Commercial Pilot’s license exams and phoned Richard to tell him of my achievement. I really needed some spearfishing to recharge my spirit after a long haul of hard work and stress. Richard was planning a trip to Durban for business, and would be going up to Sodwana afterwards for some R&R. He invited me along and promised at least one day of diving. Grabbing the opportunity without a second thought, I made arrangements to join him. We left on a Wednesday at about five in the afternoon and headed to Durban. We arrived late, so after a good night’s sleep, we were up early the next morning to get crayfish permits from the local post office before heading out to the beach.

The sea may have looked calm and clear, but in reality it was borderline storm swell conditions. As Richard would say, “Ons kyk hom plat” – we decided to wait it out until conditions improved. When you live inland as we do, you need to make the most of every diving opportunity you have. We managed to get a dive in and caught some very nice crayfish.

On the Friday morning we left for Richards Bay, where we spent a few hours completing our business. With work done and dusted, the real fun began. We were off to Sodwana and Maginty Lodge. It’s a lovely place, made even better by the fact that the owner, Manie, is a spearo and is familiar with the local conditions. It is always a pleasure staying there and Manie regularly gets us onto decent fish.

Saturday morning dawned to hectic wind, so we voted to stay dry and spend the day sorting the gear and packing the boat. At times, the wind was howling at 65 kmph. However, I was determined that the trip would see me getting a fish after all the weeks spent slogging for my exams. That night, Nico schooled us in the art of making sushi, and after a few good laughs and stories around the campfire, it was time to go down on bended knee, pray for perfect conditions, and go to bed. I could not in my wildest dreams have prepared myself for what was to come.

I had lost all of my diving gear as the result of a very bad experience earlier in the year. It had a huge impact on my diving abilities as well as my confidence. My lack of gear also meant that I’d had to stop diving for 4 months. I was confident that this time around, things would go better and this trip would help me put the bad times in the past once and for all. I was reminded how God never wants us to give up, and decided that I would refuse to quit no matter what. Even if the conditions were not good, I was determined to spear a decent fish the following day!

I woke at 3am, and I could tell that the wind was not as strong as the previous day. I knew we had to Be up at 4am, but being too excited to sleep. I just decided to make some tea as I knew there would be no more sleeping anyway.

We kitted up, were on the boat at 5am and headed for the beach. The wind was very cold and my face and hands started to lose feeling. On the boat ride, we all took shelter from the freezing wind as much as we could. There were 8 of us on the boat – all guys that regularly dive together, with Wilma as the top man (she really is the best at what she does). We headed north and jumped into the water at Elusive.

The water was colder than I had expected. Luckily I was wearing a 5mm top with 3mm pants. The visibility was about 15 metres but was cloudy near the bottom. There were big schools of bait fish around, but the sea was very choppy and I thought some of the guys would want to head back early because of the bumpy conditions.

Nico and I teamed up and he suggested that we drift a bit deeper. He is a very good diver so without hesitation I agreed. We called for the boat and headed to about 20 metres. On our first drift, I spotted something bumping along the bottom. As I went down to investigate, I noticed that it was a bag and a crate, just rolling along in the current. This was a good sign, as it was surrounded by bait fish. After a couple of dives, we hadn’t spotted any game fish and called for the boat.

Suddenly, I noticed what appeared to be a black dot behind him. As I looked closer, I saw a Blue Marlin turning about 4 metres behind Nico. It took me about a second to recover from the shock. I could not believe it! I dived down, aimed for the middle of the Marlin and pulled off a long shot. My aim was not great and the spear hit the fish much lower and further back than I had planned. My line immediately screamed off my reel and before I tilt the surface I was being towed around.

I have never in my life been scared of a fish, but this thing seriously almost drowned me! I didn’t trust the line I had on my belt reel (it was given to me by my father, who dived with it in the early 1980s) and called the boat for a spare float.

“This was a mistake that will haunt me for the rest of my life,”  as before I could clip the float on, my barb tore out
of the fish. As I rested on the float in the water, a sadness came over me which words cannot express. I felt so bad, knowing that I had just lost a fish of a lifetime, and knew that I could have landed it if I had done things differently. One thing that really breaks my heart is that not only was the fish lost, but it was left injured.

I was exhausted and I could not believe what had happened. Nico has seen plenty of Marlin over the years, and estimated the lost fish to be over 250kg.

After resting for a while, I decided to get back into the saddle, and we moved to a shallower line in 17 metres. I dived on my own, still mentally beating myself up over the Marlin mishap. I heard something in the distance and when I looked up, I heard cheering. When I got onto the boat, I saw that Richard had landed a nice 15kg Wahoo and Nico had stoned a 38kg Saily. On the next drift, I asked Richard if I could buddy with him. I was planning to just watch him dive. I have learned a great amount from him over the years and he made me the spearo I am today.

We headed out deeper and found a lot of bait fish. The visibility was still about 15 metres. As I was watching Richard, I noticed a clear patch of water coming in. It was a lot cleaner than we’d had that morning, a kind of blue water that I will never target. When I locked up, I saw a school of bait fish And then, out of the cloud of bait fish, emerged two Wahoo, one noticeably bigger than the other.

I descended, remembering the Marlin and how I had messed up. As I leveled out, the Wahoo turned to my right and in a split second I realised just how big it really was. I knew that if I didn’t stone it, I would not land it. I aimed for where the spine and the head connected. As I pulled the trigger, my heart felt like it had stopped. I waited for the situation to play out.

The spear left my gun and I saw how the Wahoo’s eye enlarge as it noticed it. However, the shot was true and the fish just quivered where it was. My spear landed just a bit back from where I had aimed but the fish was stoned. I swam down, overly excited and grabbed the fish. 

“I could barely get my arms around it! It was huge. I could not believe what had just happened!”

As I reached the surface, Richard gave me a high five. I estimated the Wahoo to be around 30kg. As I called for the boat, I felt excited, but could not help feeling sad for its passing. What a legend of a fish! A fish that had probably lived for years and was most likely older than me!

Loading the fish onto the boat was difficult. 5 minutes later, I was back in the water (Although I really wanted to get back onto the boat and spend time admiring my fish).

I now truly understand the thrill of the chase and the joy of bagging the trophy! It was only once we were back on the beach that I realised how big the fish actually was. We took some photographs and then headed back to the lodge to use the scale. Some local fishermen we met on the way estimated it at over 40kg… When we finally got to the scale, my Wahoo weighed in at 48 kilos. What a fish! I could not believe it and became quite emotional. It was unforgettable, yet humbling at the same time.

I would like to thank all the people who shared this remarkable experience with me. Firstly I want to thank our Father in heaven as He made it possible for me to have the opportunity to shoot this fish, by guiding me throughout my life and putting me into contact with the right people. Richard Colyn taught me everything I know about spearfishing. Without his guidance, I would not have seen the fish, much less have been able to shoot it. I could not have done it without Manie and Wilma from Maginty Lodge, who are the best team anyone could want on a boat. From Wilma’s great top man skills to Manie’s help and advice, they make for excellent company. If you ever plan a trip up to Sodwana, these are the people you want to go diving with. Last but not least, Nico Johnsen who – like Richard – has fish sense that will leave you speechless.

And finally… the moral of the story? Never give up on your dreams, nothing is impossible. You are never too old or too young. Get out there and dive!

Editor’s note: While Guillaume’s fish is heavier than the current South African record, he was not able to claim the record as he was not a SAUFF member at the time of shooting the fish. Don’t let yourself make this same mistake…


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