Wahoo Winter Gamefish Competition 2007 by Andrew Henwood

Annual Trip

Winter Gamefish 2007Cape Vidal on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast is considered by many to be the gamefish Mecca of South Africa and many first class gamefish have been landed.... and lost providing many spearos with life time memories. It is here that the Durban based Wahoo Dive Club host there annual competition and is arguably one the most prestigious Gamefish Competitions on the South African diving calender.

I was invited to join three mates on their annual trip to Vidal which was always scheduled for the first week of August.  August can be a dodgy time of year weather wise as buster onshores can blow relentlessly, however if you get it lucky and the weather gives you a gap, there are some quality cuta (Spanish mackerel) making their way north to warmer waters after gorging themselves on sardines during the annual sardine run on the southern Kwa-Zulu-Natal coast.

The competition this year was scheduled for Saturday the 29th July which coincided with the first weekend of our trip so aside from entering the comp, little extra planning was needed. After tying up a few work commitments on Friday morning I was on my way to John Little's place then on our way up the coast in convoy. Mark keyser would meet us there later that evening and the fourth in our party, Craig Harper was only going to join us on the Monday.

 On the Way

The trip seemed to take forever but three hours later I found myself winding my way through the St Lucia Reserve toward Cape Vidal admittedly not paying to much attention to the fauna and flora as I was anxious to get a glimpse of the sea conditions and catch up with the guys that had launched that day. After impatiently booking in I made my way to the cabin and bumped into a fellow member of the Pietermaritzburg Underwater Club only to find out that his crew had landed some great fish over the preceding days including some 25+kg Wahoo. I dumped my gear then went down to the beach to have a look at the sea and wait for john who was a bit slower towing his boat. The sea looked perfect but the forecast had predicted a front to hit the next day and with it, a strong south westerly....

...which was temporarily forgotten about at sign on that evening as old friendships were rekindled and new ones formed over a few beers, stories and dinner put on by the organises. The excitement of the coming day seemed to over ride the looming threat of bad weather and most made there way to their tents, and the luckier ones, cabins to prepare for the next morning.

The Competition 

At 04:00 the following morning we were up and after wolfing down some porridge we loaded the boat and made our way down to the fish cleaning area to warm the motors and shortly afterwards made our way onto the beach to join the rest of the field and waited for it to get light enough to negotiate the launch through the surf.

Winter Gamefish 2007Our game plan was to run up to Leven Point which is about a 22km boat ride to the north. Leven Point is on the southern border of the St Lucia Marine Sanctuary and consists of two reefs that run parallel to the shore, the first in 8 meters of water that extends for quite a few kilometers south and the deeper reef which is not as long lies in 15m. The continental shelf runs close to the shore here and attracts some awesome gamefish and it's not uncommon to see large Wahoo or Sailfish on the shallow ledge in 8m of water!

 Leven Point

After a half hour boat ride on a smooth sea and time enough to enjoy the first rays of sun finding there way through the bruise of clouds that lined the horizon, we were opposite the sanctuary beacon and it was time to scramble! Looking back I was expecting to see an armada of boats heading our way but a lot of them (cleverly) decided to stay close to home and dive off Vidal point due to the front that was expected to hit midmorning.  

John was first to buggy as he had drawn the short straw the night before with me being second and Mark third. Mark and I were quick to kit up and on jumping in found the vis to be a respectable 10 meters or so - not great, but enough. I headed for the outside edge of the deep reef planning to slowly drift south in the current. On my third or so down I was on the bottom below my flasher facing south and I caught movement to my left out over the sand. Split seconds later I could make out the ghostly shapes of three big cuta on the edge of visibility. The two on the outside seemed bigger but were skittish and started to speed up and angle away so I swung my attention - which was in the form of a Rob Allen 1.4 Tuna gun - to the third which slowed down enough for me to extend and fire. I saw a flash as the spear hit a little high midway down the length of the fish and in true cuta fashion my float line was humming through my fingers and seconds later my float came past with my 5m boingy constantly negotiating the pressure on the fish. Game On!!

Our Luck is In 

All the usual thoughts like... is the spear holding? Did it go right through the fish? Where are the sharks? ... raced through my head and seemed to be amplified by the fact that it was a competition and loosing a fish in a comp is a lot more painful than on a social dive! The fish ran in a big arc inshore toward the shallow reef then back out to the deep ledge where I caught up with it. John had been following in the boat and not wanting to take any chances I asked him to pass me a second gun. I could see the fish was tired but still didn't want to take any chances so I clipped the second gun onto the shooting line of the first and put a second shot into the shoulder and that took the last of the fight out of the fish and I soon had my hand in the gills and quickly dispatched it. Although the fish wasn't as big as I originally thought, I was stoked to have a good fish in the hatch within the first 25 minutes of the day and later it weighed in at 20.5kgs.

After getting a good fish so quickly we all thought we were in for some serious action but as the morning progressed this was not the case. On queue the south wester started and began to strengthen steadily at the same time, the swell picked up and started breaking on the shallow reef rendering it a dangerous place to be. John managed a queen mackerel of 5.5kg between the two reefs over the sand while I was buggy so we decided to carry on drifting on that line to hopefully bag a few more.

 Snoek and Sailfish Action

Winter Gamefish 2007I got back in and after loading up and unraveling my flasher, I saw a lone queen mackerel come onto on my flasher. I folded over and got into a tail chase with him not giving me much of an angle. As I was about to take a shot, he spooked and shot up to the surface. I thought I'd waited to late and missed my chance when he turned for a last look. He was at max range when I fired and I hit him dead center and not long later had him in the boat.

Feeling pretty chuffed with myself having just boated another fish in the trying conditions, I reloaded and caught up with Mark who had been working his flasher on the 10 - 12 meter line. All the while the wind was freshening and the swell increasing but thinking the fish were turning on we stuck around. It was at this point that I was working my flasher (Rob Allen propeller type) hard when I saw two electric blue flashers come speeding in over the sand. It took me a full second before I registered....SAILFISH! I ducked over and they were darting around seriously excited by my flasher. A memory flashed into my head from the same competition the year before when I duffed a potentially comp winning saily. I had been pushing myself off the sand with my gun and sand caught under my barb kept it slightly open when I fired causing my spear to shoot high and miss a beaut of a saily as the spear just clipped its sail.

 Another Gamefish Boated

As I was descending one of the sailys lost interest and moved off but the remaining fish thankfully still wanted to eat my flasher! I was closing the gap quickly but was reluctant to shoot from above as it was moving quickly and very erratically so I pulled my gun in and angled slightly away from the fish to land on the sand on the opposite side of my flasher. As I hit the bottom and before I had time to compose myself it was right in front of me and shooting from the hip at almost point blank range I hit him dead center just behind the shoulder.

It took off float in tow and thankfully after heading inshore a bit, headed out to deeper water. I remember looking up and seeing it tail walking in the distance while swimming hard to try close the gap. When I was about 50 meters away I looked down and saw an absolute monster of a Zambi (Zambezi or Bull Shark) heading toward my prize. I caught up to my float and knowing my shot was good started to pull hard. Soon I had him 5m below me and not wanting to waste time as I didn't know where the shark was, I dived to try get hold of and subdue him when he flicked around as If to charge and I backed off and gave him some space. John was right there in the boat and again passed me a second gun that I loaded, clipped onto the shooting line of the first gun then put another spear in him. I then jumped on the boat and pulled the fish up the last few meters. Time for a quick photo or two then we went to find Mark and pick him up. It was about 11:00am and the front had hit in full force but the excitement of landing another good fish had us heading north back to the beacon for a last drift.

 Dangerous Sea Conditions

On jumping in the water had become seriously churned on the bottom and I think we were only in the water for about 20 minutes when we decided to pack it in. I remember stowing the gear on the boat and looking up to see a set of monstrous swells hitting the shallow ledge and watching the spray coming off the back as they thundered their way to shore. Had we left it too late?

It was only when we were underway and heading directly into the now howling wind and swell that I think all three of us realised the severity of the conditions. We were in John's 15'6 Ski Vee which is an awesome boat for spearing on our coast but under the circumstances started to feel more like a surfboard than a boat. Later we found out the swell was recorded at seven meters (23 feet) and the wind gusting 30 knots and we were in the middle of it, 20km from the launch site. We reached a point a few kilometers south where there was some strong rip currents caused by the massive volume of water moving offshore after thundering in wave by wave. The swell and currents were working against each other causing very unpredictable peaks that were moving very quickly with a short wavelength and as we would go over the top of one the wind would hold the bow up and as the wave pasted the stern would drop and once or twice the boat was near vertical but fortunately fell forward. Swimming to shore in that sea is something I'm glad we avoided!

 Safely Back

After well over an hour with some hairy moments we were back off the launch site at Cape Vidal however what used to be a reasonably sheltered bay protected by a shallow reef that runs from the shore in a north east direction acting as a breakwater, was now just wall after wall of fast moving white water. John picked a gap and we headed full taps toward the beach. Feeling that boat hit the beach and slide up the sand was a welcome sensation and I believe it was thanks to johns 20 years experience of skippering along the Natal coast that we made it back without incident.

I was quietly hoping that in the tough conditions I had perhaps done enough to win but my hopes were soon shattered by a bystander who casually announced that a marlin had been shot. We then made our way to the fish cleaning area to clean the boat and our gear and we were able to catch up with some of the other competitors and heard that very few fish came out so although I knew I didn't win, I was in for some serious prizes!

 Big Fish Take the Competition

Arriving at the weigh in I saw the marlin on the gantry and it clocked the 100kg scale and was estimated to be around the 115kg mark. Next in line was a solid Wahoo of 25kgs and I new my saily just didn't have enough to beat that.

I ended up with my saily taking third place at 23,5kgs, my cuta taking forth at 20,5 kgs and my queen mackerel ninth place. There were only about ten fish weighed in and I was chuffed to take home some great prizes. What was best of all was that this was the first day of the trip and we still had a week to go! We managed to dive every day during the trip bar one, and got some queen mackerel and cuta in the hatch for our efforts.