Travel

The Beast on the Rock

The 16th of October saw me going back to the Tuna magnet of the South Atlantic: Ascension Island, AKA ‘The Rock’. On my previous trip to the island, in May, I managed to get a 60kg Yellowfin Tuna, while Karl Maingard landed his beast of 112 kg… although we did see many much bigger ones.

At a braai one evening on that trip, the RAF Wing Commander in charge of Ascension Air Base, hearing that I build and repair boats, asked if I would be interested in repairing their recreational fishing and diving tender, an offshore 105 that had a soft deck, no hatches, a big hole in the aft deck where a inboard diesel used to go and various other repairs. They were on a budget, but after costing the job, air tickets etc and getting time off from my boat building business Fibretech, it was almost worth it. Knowing that a second trip would give me another chance at getting into the ‘100 Club’ of fish over the 100kg mark, it was game on.

With tickets, visa and M15 security clearance sorted out I was off for two weeks. I reckoned I would get the work done in about 7 days and have 4 or 5 full days of spearing… but boy was I wrong. As soon as I arrived, Colin announced that there would be no work that afternoon and that we were going spearing at Bird Island instead. “You need to relax and settle in with some diving,” he said, keen to dive himself.

I didn’t need any convincing. I quickly unpacked my gear, set up my Mamba gun (a 1,5 metre custom shaped winged carbon fibre barrel that I built, with two 14 mm rubbers and a new 7mm double barb Rob Allen custom spear – 1,9 metres long in total). I’ve been using this set up with double wrap 200kg dynema since May when I landed my 60kg Tuna.

This time I paired it with a breakaway Rob Allen 30 metre bluewater bungy and a 35 litre inflatable Rob Allen float. The breakaway has a piece of 4mm stretch cord fitted from the shooting line end and looped to the bluewater bungy line, connected to the line release. It’s a very simple system that a friend of mine, Mohammed Al Kuwari from Qatar, uses. I didn’t want to lose my only Mamba gun, but I did have spare spears just in case. Colin, seeing the simple set up, also changed over to this system. As a matter of interest, I left Colin one of my Mamba guns on my last trip and up to now he has landed 13 Yellowfin Tuna of over 200lbs with this gun, the biggest one 288lbs (130kg) on the same spear. That has to be some kind of record!

The sea around Bird Island was flat for Ascension and we got there pretty quickly. After kitting up and getting in, the water temperature was a cool 23oC. It’s normally 26oC in summer, but I was okay with a 3mm suit. Visibility was a hazy 30 metres due to rain that washed the guano off Bird Island. “Not so good, Steve. The Tuna don’t come close when it’s not clean,” said Colin. I saw some huge fish, about the size of tanks, cruising, but Colin – knowing the Rock so well – was right. I managed to get an Amberjack of about 15kg. In the process of subduing the fish, my small spearing knife broke off in his head and the fish slipped out of my grip. The remaining part of the exposed knife in his head raked me across the inside of my arm, cutting my suit open but luckily only scratching the skin… it could have been a serious accident!

A few days later, the RAF boat repair was well underway, and we managed another afternoon at Bird Island. We tied up on Colin’s mooring buoy in the lee of Bird Island – the water was flat, clean and perfect. Getting ready, we could see Black Triggerfish hugging the cliffs of the Island, a good sign. This meant the Tuna were feeding and keeping them against the cliffs. Visibility was a lot better at 50 metres, and immediately we had Tuna around us, but I could not get a good shot that afternoon. With these huge fish of over 200lbs, you have to be close. There were plenty of Bigeye Kingfish and big Black Jacks around us, but we were there for the Tuna… So another miss for me.

By this stage the RAF boat was my main concern and I needed to finish their project. The work was turning out to take much longer than anticipated, so spearing was put on hold. In the meantime, Colin had some fishing charters that did well catching Tuna on trolled tackle, one was a beast of 240lbs. A week later and almost finished with the RAF job, I was able to go spearing on the last Sunday afternoon of my trip. We returned to Bird Island and the Black Triggerfish were hugging the cliffs again. We slipped quietly into the crystal water and straight away we were seeing 3 to 4 Tuna on almost every dive, some fish even between the boat and the cliffs, all of them over 200lbs. We had worked out a method of using a Carbon fibre pole spear, a mini Mamba that I had made. Taking turns, we would spear a Black Triggerfish, then pop the air bladder and throw it beyond us every 2 or 3 minutes. It worked like a charm – the Triggerfish would slowly sink and the Tuna would come in to investigate, giving us an opportunity to get close. After almost being in the right position numerous times, I dived down to about 15 metres, following 2 Tuna, one with a huge pair of scimitar shaped fins going past its tail, glowing white on the ends. Not wanting to miss out on an easy meal, it cruised in fast underneath me. It was now or never.

I had to take a longish downwards shot, but the Mamba still had the reach and I got the fish in the tail, near the top, tough skin area. It roared off. Colin was filming and followed the float. I swam to the boat to get another backup gun with the same bungy and float rig, and followed the Rob Allen 35 litre inflatable float that was heading towards the horizon. Swimming hard with the bouy just in sight, I could see the Tuna was starting to turn out to sea so I changed my direction and cut him off. Once at the bouy, I held on and kept up the pressure while getting towed out to sea. The fish must have been at least 100 metres deep by now but the float never got pulled more than halfway under. Two dolphins swam up to me while fighting the fish and hung around squeaking for about 5 minutes, it seemed like they were checking if I was okay.

I pulled in 10 metres of that RA blue water bungy maybe 40 times, gaining a little extra every time, but the fish just kept on taking it all back. Eventually I managed to retrieve a bit more bungy. Colin dived deep, and said he could see that the spear and the barbs looked fine. On his next dive Colin got close enough for a second shot and the Tuna tried to run again. It wanted to sound, but I held it hard while Colin was able to put another spear into it. Seconds later, my first spear pulled out. It had worked the spear loose while I was holding it in position for Colin to shoot.

Not wasting any time, I reloaded the Mamba, dived down and got a good holding shot just behind the left pectoral. Not long after that, the fish started pumping out loads of blood and the fight was over. The dead weight of the fish was amazing, even without a weight belt it was a huge effort to swim him to the boat. The whole fight had taken about an hour and a half, but felt like a couple minutes. Getting the fish loaded through the Marlin door took some effort… and then the realisation that I had just landed the fish of a lifetime kicked in.

Wow, what an extremely strong, hard fighting fish. I felt elated and physically exhausted at the same time. There were congratulations all round, and I was on a high the whole way back to Georgetown. The Rock had delivered. Just seeing and swimming with these magnificent fish is such an incredible experience. Also, when spearing at this level, a team effort makes all the difference.

My fish had caused us to miss out on a special invitation buffet supper by the US Wing Commander of the US base that afternoon. That’s the kind of sacrifice Colin, Craig and Blaine from Ascension Island Fishing Charters (AIFC) are prepared to make to help you get your fish of a lifetime. Many thanks again. The RAF boat had turned out well with lots of help from Craig. There’s the possibility of some more glass fibre work in the near future, so now that I’ve landed the fish of my dreams, can’t wait for the next trip. I’m dreaming of Ascension.

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