A Good Sign. Lazarus Banks, November 2004 by Andy Foote

Pemba here we come

The plane took off from Johannesburg International and headed in a Northeasterly direction, heavily overloaded with spearguns, weight belts and a huge array of dive kit – if they had a roof rack they would have used it!! I was really looking forward to this trip after 3 land locked months of work, it can really be a nuisance when your work starts interfering with your spearfishing schedule! Good to see all the guys again, Pretoria dudes (Joerie / Adriaan / Oom Danie) and the Middleburg boere plus connections (Piet / Miles / Warbird / Collin / Charles / Neft).

The Ocean calls

Landed at Pemba, no longer necessary to stop in Maputo to clear customs. Advise you get your visa prior to departure, took a chance and decided to get one on arrival at Pemba airport but apparently they had “run out” of visas. No major problem, stamped my passport in and said they would remember my face when I left in a weeks time??? Couple of skuim-koppies at Pemba Beach hotel and then loaded the kit onto schooner Mieke and started getting everything sorted for the next days dive. Great to be back on the ocean and heading towards a legendary dive, fishing and spearfishing venue…

Lazuras Banks

Slept like a baby with the waves lapping against the hull as we headed out towards the huge piece of reef that rises up to a depth of 10 meters far out in the Mozambique Channel. Up bright and early the next day and keen to get in the water, split the teams into two groups – one team per dive tender and loaded the gear. The sea was as flat as a lake for the first three days unlike our previous trip in May that had been quite windy with a big swell out on the banks. The current was screaming at 3 to 4 knots but this was a good sign, the game fish like it and aggregate on the drop offs in these conditions.

Trophy Gamefish

Everyone had their personal goals but the majority of us were after trophy game fish – Wahoo / Marlin / Dogtooth tuna / Ignoblis Kingfish and Sailfish. The water was crystal clear for the whole trip with visibility ranging from 25 – 40 meters. This can be a major problem after diving in the Cape – a lot of us took shots from too far and under-estimated the distance between the fish and us. In clear water like this you need to be able to clearly see the details on the fish before you pull the trigger, often the fish are also bigger than you think. Our standard ploy was to find a good place on the drop off with lots of activity and drop a marker buoy on it. Head out a couple of hundred meters over the deep end and then chum the line and drift over it – diving down onto the drop off ledge as we approached it.

Lots of Action

The activity started picking up as it got later in the afternoon, all the game-fish feeding actively and the big Doggies coming out of the depths and onto the shallower ledges. Flasher drifting lazily in the current and suddenly a big Greater Barracuda curves up towards it – duck dive down and start swimming gently in his direction expecting him to turn and move off. He sees me and swims in aggressively, probably regarding me as something that may want to eat his newly found flasher dinner.

Line up and put a good shot in behind the gill plates. He streaks off in a trail of bubbles and puts up a good fight before I get him close enough to put a cautious hand into the gills being careful to keep away from those nasty gnashers!! Next drift and this time it is a sailfish swooping around to check out the flasher….another well placed shot and off he goes towing me along with the buoy. After ten minutes of strong swimming he starts to tire and I call the boat for a second gun. I start screaming for the other divers when a huge Doggy slots in next to the wounded sailfish and starts checking him out as a possible meal – how aggressive are these fish!

Sharks and Attacking Sailfish

I expect the batteries to go flat when the second spear goes in but instead he starts swimming in frantic circles. There are sharks around and this cannot go on for much longer – start pulling him in for the coup de grace. He eyes me up and down as I approach and then suddenly makes a sharp U-turn and heads directly towards me with his bill aimed for my chest. This is not what I expected, who is hunting who here! Manage to grab the bill as it comes in and divert it away in a safe direction, out with the long blade and the fight is over. Close shave – almost landed up as a Mozambican sailfish sosatie!

Dogtooth Alley

Looks like the Pretoria dream team have got the angle on the Doggies, Joerie and Adriaan both land good Doggies of over 40 kilo’s. Joerie gets a really nice one of over 50 kilo’s but a big Tiger shark takes a substantial chunk out of the tail section. We managed to spear a number of other big Doggies but putting a spear into one and landing one are two different things.

Under Rigged

Last drift as it is getting dark and my bungy / boogie board combo is all tangled up so ask Miles if I can use his 30 meter rope and two buoys – one seven liter solid and one inflatable 15 liter – bad mistake. Drifting down towards the ledge and a shoal of big Doggies swim under me, short sprint down and place a good shot from above. Fish rockets down and my float line and both floats go zipping after it, floats last seen 20 meters down and still going strong. Fortunately it is a break away wooden gun rig so at least still have the gun in hand.

After 15 minutes of searching we eventually see the buoys a few hundred meters out to sea and retrieve the gear – no fish, probably been eaten by the sharks or his fellow tuna. The seven-liter foam filled buoy is three quarters of its original size and totally water logged so who knows to what depth it was dragged by this powerful fish. Awesome Trip

Six excellent days of diving with awesome weather and water apart from a little bit of the wind the last two days. Skipper Willie, first mate Tony and the rest of the Mieke crew were great – these guys really know how to cater for a group that are dedicated spearo’s. We had some excellent fishing as well with lots of surface tuna activity around the boat. We often ate breakfast and watched the tuna chasing the flying fish all over the place, either hunter or hunted air borne and making huge splashes of water as they hit the surface.

Gone Fishing

Decided to join the fishing team one morning so that I could demonstrate my superior gaffing skills – the highly effective reverse grip seated twist and hook method. Put the gaff tip into a small tuna and was promptly dragged overboard – took a while for the hysterics to die down, guess I better stick to spearfishing.

Right Gear

Some lessons we learnt - in water like this you can expect to see ANYTHING so you need to be kitted for it. The guys that landed the big fish were diving with Tommy Botha or Riffe wooden guns, big boogie board, 40 meters of heavy duty rope, drop head spear tip and break away rig. You need to take plenty of spare kit along to a destination like this, if you have a good day you may lose / break or bend 3 to 4 spears in one day. Do not go undergunned.

Sharks and Chumming

Had some hastles with sharks and all the chumming but not a huge problem as long as you kept an eye on them and behaved aggressively towards them. Be ultra-cautious for shallow water black out in this warm clear water. You are so relaxed and comfortable here after swimming in the cold pea soup of False Bay that the tendency is to push it a bit longer and a bit deeper – the normal rules of diving one up / one down on the deeper dives apply. Also be careful that you do not get tangled in the rope after spearing a big fish – a large Doggy will drag you down to 50 meters, pop your ear drums and keep you down there. Be safe out there in the water.

Looking forward to the next trip, maybe Bassas, maybe Lazarus again - good mates and good spearing in the warm waters of Mozambique – how good can it get.