Profile on Spearfisherman Basie Ackermann

Hook, line and sinker

Basie with a Sailfish shot on Aliwal ShoalBrought up in Johannesburg (ouch!), but we had a holiday home in Scottburgh on the Kwazulu Natal South Coast. I became crazy about the ocean from an early age. I fished for Pinkies and Blacktail as a kid, started surfing at 13, and snorkeling in tidal pools. First underwater experience was at Roodeplaat dam at age 17, got me hooked and I became a scuba diver (yes – the foolish ways of the young.)

5 years at the University of Pretoria saw me graduate with BCOMM LLB, as well as a qualified bubble blower. During my varsity years we made frequent trips to Sodwana to blow bubbles, and this is where I started to see some big game fish that got me thinking. A friend had an old Arbalete gun which couldn’t hit a barn door. Tried a couple of times snorkeling round Jesser Point, but due to his ill maintained equipment and my ignorance, I failed dismally.

Birth of a Passion

Organised myself for a Navy call up in 1987, did my officer’s course at Gordon’s Bay Naval College and then pulled strings back to Naval Command East, Durban, and back to warm, clean, fish rich water. It was time to get out beyond backline and start spearing in earnest. The only way – a mobilized floating platform of sorts.  Me and two (in)mates slapped together an old black Navy duck, made some marine ply into a very heavy floorboard for it, bought two very old and mechanically very suspicious 25HP Mariners, and took on the notorious shorebreak of the old Black Rock River launch site (between Scottburgh and Greenpoint) Looking back, that site should never have even seen a boat launch. Steep beach and a 4ft shorey on a good day. What were we thinking? That is where we taught ourselves how to drive boats, and the surf taught us a whole bunch of hard lessons. All in the pursuit of fish.

I still remember my first trip out to Aliwal in 1987. Heard a lot of shark stories from the fishermen, and was somewhat nervous. First fish I saw out there that day was a Queenfish, then some cuda, and missed them all. Doppie diver of note.  We ended up with Bankies and Bronzies, very happy with ourselves. That day I also saw my first Oceanic Whitetip, and in 21 years of diving on Aliwal I haven’t seen one since.

The three of us were hooked for life. Plans were made for a better boat and more reliable propulsion in the form of a 14’6 Super Dolphin with 2 40HP Yamahas. We passed our Skipper’s Tickets and we were set. Our horizons broadened and Cape Vidal and Sodwana trips were aplenty, with excellent bags of snoek and cuda every time, as well as the odd Kingfish and Sailfish. My passion and interest in spearfishing just grew and grew.

First Job

I finished National Service as a Legal Officer at the end of 1988 and was not keen to start a career as a lawyer. On a trip to Sodwana I was offered a job as a Dive Charter Skipper at J.R. Diving. No prompting needed. I did my Commercial Skipper’s Ticket in record time.  Blue water, big game fish, working on the ocean, living in the bush – that was for me. 

The spearing was excellent. Shot my first Wahoo, 25kg nogal, that year, plenty cuda from 8-18kg’s, Kingfish up to 20kg’s, snoek all in the 10kg range , Chanos Chanos, several Sailfish, Kaakap,  big Sea pike and even Garrick. Explored north up to Kosi Bay with the boats, found reefs far north that just produced good game fish every time a coconut.

  It was an unbelievable year that further entrenched in me the thrill of spearfishing, especially Blue water hunting, and a love for the ocean. I believe that was the year that changed my outlook on life forever and laid a solid foundation for a future outside the “Corporate world.”

During this time I also completed my NAUI Dive Masters and CASA Yacht Skippers.

In 1990 my brother was returning abroad to captain a charter yacht in the Caribbean, I went with him, and worked and sailed there for a year. Also did 6 months as a commercial treasure salvage diver on the Florida Coast, diving on the wrecks of the 17th Century Spanish Fleet, for a subsidiary of the famous Mel Fisher Treasure Salvors Corporation.

Interesting work but I missed blue water hunting so I came back to SA and took up skippering at Sodwana again.  I had another unbelievable year with unbelievable spearing. My passion for the ocean and spearfishing was insatiable. Still is.

Met my then future wife, Laine, and moved back to Scottburgh, skippering commercially from Umkomaas to the Aliwal and surrounds.  Same lifestyle continued. Work in the morning, spear in the afternoon.

Did that for 4 years, then got married and tried to be “responsible.” Got a “real’ job, where you have to wear shoes and long pants, and can only dive on weekends. And weekends the weather was mostly crappy, or when the weather was perfect, you had a wedding or function to attend. Murphy oh Murphy.

A long and fruitless 7 years at the salt mines saw me running with my tail between my legs. I missed being on and in the ocean and not having to wear shoes. I made a conscious decision then to rather have a life of quality, than one of quantity.

Best of both worlds

I’ve been back working on the ocean for the past 6 years, with the Aliwal Shoal as my office. Even though I’ve done in excess of 8500 surf launches, I still enjoy doing it day after day. And it provides ample time to pursue my passion. What better place to work than on the ocean, and as an added benefit I know in advance if the conditions are right for an afternoon session. The only drawback is I often get to be a ringside seat spectator when the fish are loose and everyone else is shooting them!  Annoying, but a small price to pay, I guess.

It definitely is the best of both worlds – work on the ocean, play in the ocean.  Everyday. But always done with respect.  I’ve experienced some extreme weather conditions during my 20 years of driving boats and yachts, and there is no doubt in my mind as to who is calling the shots. Respect, and loads of it.  

Closest call:

Definitely being attacked by a big Zambezi shark, and getting away scott free. All thanks go to God. Read about it in The Shark Files.

Most memorable fish: 35.5 kg Wahoo

Some personal bests:

  • 47kg Black Marlin
  • 45kg Sailfish
  • 35.5kg Wahoo
  • 22kg Ignobilis (2!),  Salmon (3!). What is it with me and 22kg??? Can’t wait to break the 30kg+ barrier with these fish. One day.
  • 20kg cuda (3!)
  • 20kg Yellowfin Tuna
  • 19kg Albacore
  • 15kg Garrick
  • 14kg Brusher
  • 14kg Seapike
  • 10kg Kaakap

My passion for the ocean and fish hasn’t diminished, and I am still as obsessed as when I started 21 years ago. Every change in weather, wind direction, current is of the utmost importance. Bad I tell you, this drug called the ocean.  Although it drives my wife nuts, she understands and supports this passion, or should I say “drug habit” so I am a very lucky man indeed. That makes all the difference.