fishing the quirimbas

Fishing in the Quirimbas Archipelago - Overview

Fishing in the Quirimbas has the potential to be an absolute delight for most fishermen. Big game fishermen and fly fishermen should all take a fancy to the abundance and variety of species already seen and hooked in this area.

The sportfishing, although relatively young in this area, has thus far been very encouraging. Techniques such as trolling and fly have yielded much success with a selection of species such as Kingfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Queen Mackerel, Queenfish, Dorado and Barracuda.

The billfish potential is still being established but remains positive. Sailfish sightings are regular off the eastern side of the island and bites have already been recorded. Local fishermen speak excitedly of Sailfish and Marlin caught throughout the year, however, a peak season is still to be identified.

River estuary fishing has much potential in this area due to the amount of estuaries present within close boating distance. Springers have already been caught in river mouths close to the resort.

St Lazarus Banks

A wide range of species has already been recorded at Lazarus Banks: Dogtooth Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Salfish, Black Kingfish and Ignoblis are all part of an already increasing list of species to be discovered at Lazarus Banks.

Into the Deep Blue - St Lazarus Banks and the Quirimbas Archipelago

by: Fred Steynberg

I accompanied a group of fly fishermen to Pemba and St Lazarus Banks, to find out fish species make this magnificent 200km underwater “mountain” their home.  We caught our fill of yellowfin tuna, rainbow runner, bluefin kingfish, kakaap and many other fish during the last three days there.

The appearance of massive quantities of brown mantis shrimp brought shoals of fish to the surface and they could be heard feeding like the sound of multiple surf breaks.  We sight-fished and hooked yellowfin of up to 100lb, but managed to land (and release) only four that were around the 20lb – 30lb mark – good fish by any measure on a fly rod.  If anyone had told me that there would be a chance to sight-fish and hook large yellowfin tuna on fly, I would’ve seriously doubted their integrity.  On this trip, however, we were able to cast a fly closely imitating the mantis shrimp to a shoal of feeding fish and see a single fish break from the pack.  The fish would follow the fly for only a meter of two, take it and, at the strike, speed off into the depths at a blistering pace.  One of the yellowfin we hooked on a 14-wt weighed about 25lb and ran a good 250m before I could turn it.

It was mid-August and yet the Mozambican sun was relentless as our tender drifted over the drop-off of St Lazarus Banks.  With only a couple of sunlight hours left on our last day on the Banks, we were all eager for a chance to tussle with and land a trophy giant kingfish of a dogtooth tuna.  Winter, however, is not a good time to target giant kingfish, as most of them move off to greener pastures, leaving only the odd lunker to rule the Banks.  Earlier that day we had taken cover from the sweltering heat and prepared ourselves for our final onslaught.

After lunch I set up the vice on deck of the mothership and tied three #6/0 Black Whistler, on for each of us.  We checked and repaired our terminal tackle, ensuring that there were no weak points that could ruin our final chance – although of course it can happen that a fish totally outmatching your tackle will take your fly, and nothing can prepare you for that moment.  Our guide accompanied us on the trip and was the skipper on our tender.  We had learnt to trust his judgment as he showed consistent accuracy on the drop-offs and water depths.  He had scuba-dived a large portion of the Banks and had waypoints marking the spots where he had sighted fish congregating.  As darkness crept closer, silence fell over the tender.  All that could be heard was the stripping sound of the running lines being retrieved through the rod guides and the beep from the echo-sounder indicating fish somewhere below the boat.  Each of us was left to his own thoughts – thoughts that did not venture too far from each positive strip and the chance of a fish pouncing the fly.  The sun eventually dimmed to a low glow and we reverted to our Black Whistlers which are better suited to low light conditions.  Brett Hall was the first to attract something big.  I reeled in my line to assist and advise, but by that time the hook had somehow pulled, after an out-of-control dash of almost 100m.  We continued our search, casting upcurrent and letting the line sink as deep as possible before retrieving with long, positive strips.

The sun was about to make its landing on the horizon when my line suddenly stopped dead.  I instinctively struck, simultaneously setting the hook and putting a serious arch into the 14-wt.  The fish fought in close proximity to where it had taken the fly, making short 10 – 20m bursts.  I imagined it to be a kingfish of sorts because of its fighting tactics, but was surprised to see it give in after a less than ten-minute tussle.  Only once the fish had given us a side-on view close to the surface did we relies the prize was a magnificent black kingfish (Caranx lugubris).  Clint Mansfield did the honors and, with hands safe in gloves, tailed the fish that pulled the BogaGrop to 21lb.

Time was running out and, although we had caught this magnificent specimen, we felt we still had a chance of hooking something bigger.  The fish was weighed, photographed and revived while Greg turned the tender’s nose towards the drop-off for our last drift of the day.  Clint’s hit came within minutes.  Brett and I, after hearing the reel scream and seeing the bend on his 14-wt, reeled in our lines to assist.  Clint had managed to guide the loose line that was lying on the deck safely through the rod guides and on to the reel as the fish sped away, and was now trying to control the reel with the full palm of this hand.  The reel suddenly looked very low in the 500m, 50lb backing we had spooled on and I advised Clint to direct more pressure onto the fish through the rod.  After the fish had taken about 300m of backing, it paused for the first time and I knew the battle was half won.  Clint went onto his knees and was threatening to pontoon his rod for support, but scrapped the idea after verbal abuse form the rest of us.  A hundred things can go wrong if you are fighting a fish from a tender.  Sitting or kneeling and supporting the rod on any part of the tender makes for a less mobile position and is asking for trouble, especially fighting a fish as powerful as this one.

Half an hour later, I could see that both angler and fish were taking serous strain.  Clint started retrieving meter after meter of backing while the fish started a side-on upward spiral.  We had stopped speculating half an hour earlier about the identity of the monster – all we were now interested in was landing it.  The leader and fish suddenly appeared out of nowhere and I dived for the tail.  With adrenaline pumping, I pulled a magnificent 65lb dogtooth tuna onto the pontoon.  It was not clear who was the most excited about the catch, Clint or the rest of us.  It didn’t matter, it was a trophy caught by a man who had worked hard for it and deserved every pound of it.

Sight-fishing the flats around and islands of the Quirimba Archipelago
Back on the mothership after our last eventful day fishing on the Banks, we got ready for the night’s sailing back to the Quirimba Archipelago.  We sailed throughout the night, with the crew taking turns on watch as the yacht followed its programmed, auto-piloted course back to the islands and were awakened the following morning by the sound of the anchor being dropped in a sheltered bay.  It was a new day with a new experience awaiting us.  A number of the islands around the Quirimba Archipelago have been bought by private entities and are now protected from uncontrolled fishing with gillnets and the stripping of marine life by subsistence fishermen.  The word is that fish have begun to move back onto the flats, especially fish like the highly sensitive and skittish bonefish (Albula vulpes).  These islands also have a number of channels and drop-offs which support a healthy population of kingfish, queenfish, king mackerel, barracuda and so on.

On this specific day we had a run or two over the drop-offs, but the wind did not allow us to drift at the desired speed, inhibiting our lines from sinking to the correct depth, so we were forced to focus our attention on fishing the flats.  Some of the flats around these islands extend for almost 300m, with clear, emerald-green waters and white sandy bottoms.  Feeding fish can be spotted from quite some distance away.  With our 9-wts, intermediate lines and a variety of Charlies and smaller Clouseres, we stood on the tender at first and cast to large threespot pompano, garfish of over a meter long and huge barracuda.  Wading knee to waist deep is also a productive option in this area, allowing a fly angler to get within casting distance of some of the more elusive and skittish fish.  Unfortunately, by the time we had found hangouts of the bonefish the high tide had almost reached its mark on the shoreline, allowing us only a couple of casts to non-feeding fish.  It was, however, satisfying to see these awesome creatures and know that they have returned to their rightful feeding grounds.

The sandspits and channels around this area offer enormous possibilities in the event of trips to St Lazarus being cancelled, owing to bad weather conditions.  Summer months will see large predatory fish cruise the drop-offs and even venture into the shallows to feed on shoals of juvenile or schooling fish.  In February this year we fished on of these sandspits, hooking into fish on almost every second cast.  Using 9 – 10-wt outfits, we hooked mainly brassy, big eye and yellowfin kingfish of 5 – 6lb.  We also saw shoals of small baitfish on the surface of waters running to the depths of 7 – 15m.  With large predatory fish ambushing them, they had been forced into pockets and could be seen all around.  We caught GTs up to 14lb, large bluefin kingfish, kakaap, and big needle fin queenfish around these shoals. 

Potentially the best blue water fishing in Southern Africa
During these two trips we caught massive quantities of bohar snapper, mata-hari, kakaap, rainbow runner and bluefin kingfish.  Among this lot we hooded GTs of 12 – 30lb, yellowfin tuna, dogtooth tuna, black kingfish swallowtail rock cod and even a flying fish which grabbed a large Clouser but gave no resistance on a 12-wt rod!  Species we failed to attract on these trips – but which are in abundance on the Banks – where wahoo, king mackerel, marlin, brindle bass, greater barracuda and, in the shallower waters en route to the Banks, sailfish.  According to the old commercial fishermen in the area, there is also a healthy population of broadbill, buy in my opinion this is not a targetable fly fishing species.

The Quirimbas - By Fred Steynberg

We set out from Pemba just after the flight arrived and were on St Lazarus by the early hours of Sat morning. Conditions were fair with a fairly stiff south easterly gently pushing us against the prevailing northerly current and along the drop-off. Anticipation ran high as the conditions improved through the day. Several big takes had reels screaming, lines snapping but with no large fish landed except for average size Bluefin Kingfish, Kakaapand Rainbow Runner. By Sat evening we still had not landed or even seen one of the big takes that had rattled the tender into an excited frenzy. A much needed rest and a fantastic three course meal awaited us.

Sunday morning arrived with perfect conditions, flat seas and hardly a breath of wind. We pursued the drop-off as we had done the day before but with less luck. A few big takes were had but again with no landings. Just as we were settling into our breakfast flocks of birds and large splashes were noticed about a 1 km beyond the drop-off. We shot out to the pleasurable sight of large schools of Yellowfin Tuna, between 20 and 100 lbs, feeding on the surface on millions of surface swimming prawns. These were not your average eating prawn but looked more like a swimming version of a mantis shrimp. Manoeuvring the tender into their path of attack we were soon within casting distance of average to large "gas bottles". I clearly remember Fred saying "Guys, watch here! and neatly placed a large Clouserright in front of a Tuna that bolted for the depths and had Fred and his 14 weight Scott and Bauer reel working hard. Fred carefully played his hard fighting opponent until it was tailed and weigh in at 30 lbs.

This feeding frenzy continued with several takes and landings with the big ones getting away. By the afternoon the frenzy had died down but had alerted the reefs predators. We had several visits from large shark, schools of Barracuda, Egnoblis and a prowling group of 1.5m long Wahoo. Brett still had a line in the water in clear sight as we all watched an aggressive take from one of the Wahoo. A second later the ballistic run ended as it's teeth clipped the 40 lb tipit like cotton. Every one rushed to add steel trace but the opportunity was missed as they left for more tasty treats. The day ended on the drop-off with a large take that bolted for the bricks & a cut-off and a second take that, after looking like we were finally going to see what had been responsible for all the takes, landed up getting off after a good fight. The day ended perfectly with a good fight that clearly resembled the fight of a Kingfish. After a lengthy tussle by Fred a 21lb Black Kingfish was tailed. This is possibly the largest specimen of this specie ever caught on fly and probably on any tackle and a highly unusual catch. Again a sumptuous 3 course meal awaited us back on Yacht Walkabout.

Monday morning and perfect conditions had the day looking very similar to the day before but with less willingness from the Tuna. The most impressive take of the day was by one of 4 or 5, 4m Scalloped Hammerheads. Fred had had his line in the water after a retrieve. The large Clousers (seen in front of the shark in the pic below) was only 3 meters from the tender in a meter of water, motionless, waiting for them to pass. I am sure Fred had no intention of trying to hook the monster but probably couldn't resist the thought of what a hook-up would feel like. One of the super predator left him with no choice as it snatched at the motionless fly and took off with it and it's mates hardly knowing it was hooked. Fortunately after a few hundred meters the fly dislodged which left Fred, thankfully, retrieving his line and the rest of us with our mouths open at the size of the sharks. Large takes were again had just off the drop-off resulting in major questions, strategies and tactics to try and land these fish.

Tuesday had us out early on the drop-off with "Whistlers, Deceivers, Profiles & Clousers" patrolling the depths. Large takes were had but again no landings. The frustration was starting to rise as fly after fly was taken or lost. Speculations were running high as to if these illusive prey were Egnoblis, Large Yellowfin Tuna or the even more elusive Dogtooth Tuna. Lunch was enjoyed on Yacht Walkabout, an afternoon siesta and a serious fly tying session before heading out to the drop-off. I clearly remember thinking that the guys look motivated. The stripping had the signs and sounds of serious intent to catch. Two large takes flashed by with no sight of the fish. The sun was just heading for the horizon and the thought of leaving St Laz that night had spirits running a little low. Clint's reel suddenly exploded into song. His 14 weight Stealth Extreme & large arbour Scientific Angler reel reeled under a barrage of ballistic runs. Advice and excitement filled the air as time flashed by. As Clint started taking strain advice became encouragement as the scene looked set between the two competitors. Run after run flashed by in the fading light. Meter after meter of backing was retrieved until a large fish came into view in the clear water. No one dared shout with joy or make any sudden movements. The tender was prepared for the landing of a large fish with large teeth. The fish tired and drew closer to the tender with each spiralling turn. Clint carefully played the fish up to the side of the tender before Fred tailed an exhausted 65 lb Dogtooth Tuna. Clint sank to the pontoon with shear delight and disbelief. The rest of us went mad, shook his hand and flooded him with numerous camera flashes.

Wednesday morning arrived with a stiff easterly. We tried a deep drop-off but found it too uncomfortable so decide to take a look at the flats on the seaward side of the island for the numerous fish I had seen in February. On our way back to the island in 1 to 2 meters of water we had Fred, Clint and Brett sight casting to Pompano, Giant Garfish and Barracuda. Later that morning we when in search of the much talked about Bonefish and were rewarded by numerous sightings but cool water resulted in us not being able to entice them to feed.

All in all the trip was a great success and we are now more than convinced that the area is going to become a highly sort after fishing destination.

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