Richard Sheard of World Sport Fishing offers his second insight into the fishing opportunities available around the West African paradise of Guinea-Bissau. Here he obliges the product testing crew from Salmo Lures, who sought to knock lumps out of a new saltwater range of artificial hard baits.
The diverse crew arrived in from Germany, Poland and Latvia and transferred to the boat launch. The crossing to our island base-camp was a dream two hours at speed across a sea so flat that you could spot a fish-fart at a thousand yards. Right on cue, a big bunch of jacks started spectacularly hammering mullet in the lagoon; the group started flapping desperately in an effort to wrestle tackle from locked rod tubes. I urged calm and reassured the group that by the time they’d geared up those jacks would be long gone. There would be plenty of time and opportunity for a crack at them later in any case.
The first day’s fishing began in the reliable Uno channel is a series of rocky outcrops at the bottom of a 30 metre deep channel. Our separate groups would fish in close proximity. I accompanied three anglers, while the remaining anglers were led by the other guides. Conditions were ideal for jigging but Peter was determined to fish a Salmo lure. I had a 300g jig and was nailing decent jacks and snapper regularly and handing them off to the clients who were struggling, even the normally deadly heavy chubby darter plug, which refused to go to the bottom.
However, the tide slackened off after an hour, and my secret weapon entered into the fray – Max. Skipper Max can catch fish in a bathtub. I handed him the rod with the chubby darter an urged him to have a go. He obliged, hitting into a big jack some two minutes later, thus proving that the key to the game is selecting the correct lure for altering conditions. As the tide slackened further, the darter out-fished the jigs, mainly because of its gently provoking feathered action.
As midday approached deckhand, Matar shouted: “Jacks!” From the bow I could clearly see around a squadron of or so 50 decent jacks literally cruising past the boat about 2 feet down. Peter was winding his lure to the surface and as soon as they saw it they suddenly changed direction like a flock of starlings and attacked as one. To see one jack slam the lure and another trying to rip it from the first’s mouth was quite something to behold. This chain of events is not uncommon and it’s why we get so many lures back with the belly hooks missing… two powerful jacks fighting in opposite directions is more than most lures can stand.
We quickly wound in everything that was down, and as the jigs or darter passed trough the shoal they were annihilated. Three clients hooked up simultaneously which is always brilliant until they inevitably start knitting! Great credit has to be given to the vast experience of Max and Matar. How they kept those fish apart was a minor miracle.
Peter’s inexperience bit him on the bottom when he thought to stop a 20lb jack dead – bad move. This is something that you just cannot do, and the long then short of it is that his rod exploded in a rain-burst of carbon shards! That equipment catastrophe aside, we still landed all three fish. A late spell of popping over the Pikanina sandbar crowned day one, and yielded two excellent jacks, a barracuda and smattering of jacks as well. All 12 anglers could boast big fish and there were many happy faces in the team photo taken that evening.
Jurgen, Rado and Co had me for company on what would be an all out ‘jack attack’ assault on day two. All four rods hooped into fish at the same time on four different occasions on the sandbars. This entailed lots of knitting and Rado managed to burst another rod. The Salmo poppers were working particularly well. There were various prototypes lures and we ascertained that the central wire on the new strain of plugs needed beefing up after the belly hook was torn out thrice in quick succession.
On the washing machine mark the guys caught a superb pompano of13kg. Switching to trolling tactics brought about an avalanche of barracuda. Two big cudas weighing over 15kg came on the beach in the afternoon, while a grand total of 38 were caught between the four boats that we had out.
The guys had arrived with their own gear. Despite my best persuading efforts, they would not take up the offer of the tackle packs that provided for use as part of the trip package. Insistence on bringing full sets of their own gear birthed two expensive problems. First, Peter from Salmo had to pay an excruciating 800 euros in excess luggage for the privilege, and the second issue and be they all brought pike outfits. These guys had been to Gambia previously and thought the fishing would be the same. Prior to their departure I had tried hard to explain that Guinea was totally different ball game but my recommendations fell on deaf ears.
The up shot was that by the third the crew had suffered five broken rods, and I had run out of replacement tip rings for several more that were routinely subject to hostile fish that they were never designed to cope with. To a man, the travelling group conceded that mistakes had been made and that they were totally under-gunned. My unspoken thought was that we hadn’t yet got out to the big wrecks were the bigger fish lay waiting!
Each morning thereafter I had a succession of pleading questions to the tunes of: “Rich, have you got a rod I can borrow?” or “Oh, you wouldn’t have a reel I can use by any chance?” and “Do you have anything that I can stick this back together with?” So lets be clear, light tackle is all very well but when you get the situation wrong you are going to bust an awful lot of it. It is my job to make sure you enjoy your overseas fishing experience, and part of that undertaking is making sure that you are appropriately equipped to tackle the location and the species on offer. And if you listen to the free advice then you will not go far wrong.
Plenty more eager jacks made their presence felt where my anglers were concerned. Max on the other hand opted to collect yaboy live-baits, and took his crew off to the 17km wreck. They made the wreck at 10:30 and as they dropped down the first two baits five cobia rose and lay finning on the surface behind the engines. Max, being the enterprising chap, quickly dropped bait among them, which was immediately accepted. Max then handed the thumping rod to Jurgen.
Roman was desperately trying to aerialise a huge clouser minnow. Splat! The big fly hit the water to be instantly whisked away immediately by a cobia. Unfortunately it was the same bloody fish that Max had already hooked at the back of the boat! Mayhem ensued, with Jurgen fighting the cobia and Roman, and hyperactive Roman fighting the cobia, the engine and Jurgen. Perhaps the oddest thing is that five minutes elapsed before anyone noticed the comedy doubled-hooked predicament.
Jurgen claimed it was hooked on his rod first, while Roman claimed the moral high ground as he was fighting it on a fly rod. Roman won through and it fell to him to play the fish out. 45 minutes later his reward was a fine he had his 20kg cobia. Events out at the wreck continued in the same vein, with around 20 further cobia to around 20kgs, and numerous small barracudas that typically delighted in killing any unattended live-baits.
45 Kilometre Wreck
At 45 kilometres out, the major wreck is a thing to see but it’s a long way to go if it doesn’t produce. Day four saw us make the long trip. We fished live-baits and poppers for several reasonable fish but returns were not of the usual high standard. Our other boat had a ball trolling and hit good jacks one after the other on exactly the same spot every pass. The devastatingly successful lure was Salmo’s new whitefish deep diver. I am told that the finished production model will formed of solid plastic rather than foam because the really big jacks and cudas were breaking the test lures in half on the strike.
We were winkling out a few fish at the wreck, but nothing spectacular and opted to head back. We stopped on the way to work a couple of sandbars, and hit a big group of jacks. The sight of a shoal of 25lb jacks surfing within a 12ft wave breaking across the bars is incredible. And when you chuck a big popper right in the middle of them… well, you just have to experience it, as words simply cannot do it justice.
The afternoon of the fifth day found us at the washing machine with a tank full of live-baits. Gentle beginnings soon blossomed into frenetic 100mph all-action fishing. Things began with Peter pulled into the rocks by a snapper. I followed with a screaming run that kited the line uptide, and handed the rod to the member of our group known as the doctor. In the act of doing so a 6ft manta ray leapt right out the water and smashed down, ripping the hook clear. The ray was clearly foul-hooked but what a run! And we would connect with three more big rays over the next couple of days.
When the real action kicked in there was plenty of knitting to be unravelled. A succession of cassavas, snappers, jacks, ninebones, small sharks and cudas hit everything that we dropped down. We started using livebaits and ended up fishing anything that we could lay our hands on. The fish were so frenzied that it didn’t matter. I have no idea how many fish we caught but it must been around have been 50… and all decent sized fished at that. Anyone who has fished mantel reef in the Gambia in the good old days will know what I type of scene I am describing. Back then in that other time and other place, when the cassavas pushed through in numbers through the whole place would go mad and live-baits guaranteed bagging up.
Following a beautiful lunch of sushi on day six we arrived on the tarpon mark at 13:30. The tide was hammering through but dropped off by 15:00. We were fishing dead mullet under a balloon with a size 22/0 circle hook, weighted to keep the fish swimming straight. Baits were strategically positioned just on the edge of the broken water. A joker in the other boat tried to make their set up a little more interesting… and so we spent the rest of the afternoon looking across at an orange poodle with a great big pair of testicles and a giant penis fashioned from appropriately coloured party balloons!
I put a bait rod for looking for a passing snapper, but I don’t like too many rods in play because you really need to move fast in answer to a strike and wasting five minutes winding in loads of rods isn’t ideal. 20 minutes later a furious run came on the snapper rod, and sod’s law saw me hooked into a tarpon. Without pause 100 yards of 80lb braid screamed away, the fish then launched itself majestically skyward at which juncture said tarpon and hook parted company. They do that a lot, you know!
I had the rod precariously in my hand when the second run came, and count myself very lucky. I was however able to lift into the tarpon as it turned and ran, achieving a sound hook-hold before pushing the rod into Roman’s clutches. It rushed off, jumped, ran and jumped again. All the while I was screaming as well as gesticulating at an excited Roman not to try and stop it. Rather just keep even pressure on and not do anything silly, which was a challenging message to get across given that he spoke less English than my ruddy Springer Spaniel! Roman fell calm, and more by luck than judgement we steered his prize to the boat. A beautiful female fish of 60kg was carefully photographed and released.
The other boat however had enjoyed seven failed strikes. Then, at 19:30, in pitch blackness, they hooked up. We hung around for an hour to make sure all was okay, but our guys were tired and we left them to it. We monitored the radio all the way back and were repeatedly told we heard how big it was and strong their tarpon was. It finally scaled 105kg and took three hours to subdue. They eventually made it back at 12.40 am, but we did leave them a few cold beers.
Gone in a Splash
We went back for tarpon on the final day, but despite three committed runs we failed to claim a tarpon. Notably, a good fish latched on to the snapper rod for the second day in succession. This was indeed a good fish – easily 100kg plus – which tore away with 150 yards of line before erupting from the sea in an acrobatic shaking leap that throwing the hook in the process. In the short time that the fish was on the reel drag had gotten so hot that I could not bear to place my hand on it!
I re-baited and dropped back down. For two hours nothing stirred and the hypnotic slap of water against the boat had lulled us almost to sleep. A telltale snapper bite broke the involuntary malaise. I lifted the rod and waited for the characteristic pull-down and before lifting the hook home. Instantly, it tore off it ripping line clear. I dialled in a bit more drag and passed the rod to Rado. The fish continued peeling line at speed. I told Rado to ratchet the drag up some more, then a bit more, and more yet which he did on demand. Something was wrong, as this had no impact on the fish at all. A quick inspection determined the drag was absolutely shot to pieces and we couldn’t force any ground on the fish.
Deckhand, Majyo was wearing gloves and boldly grabbed the line and hand-lined some line back in Rado’s favour, while I ran to the front, grabbed a spare rod, and roughly tied the mainline to the link swivel on the other rod. This done, Rado wound in, but of course my dumb interference only caused the swivel to jam in the tip ring… what was I thinking?! Moved to action once more, I hastily grabbed the line again, hastily removed the swivel, and the knotted the lines together. With the improvised knot wound securely on to reel Rado went on to land a beautiful 19kg snapper. This just goes to show what you can achieve under pressure.
Not to put too fine a point on it the fishing in Guinea-Bissau is fantastic. I organise and guide regular extended trips out to the location, and I have just taken over the running of the fishing camp. For information on forthcoming trips or fishing advice please email me at richard @ worldsportfishing.com I look forward to talking with you. Alternatively you can browse my website at www.worldsportfishing.com
Details of the lures used in this feature can be found on Salmo Lures website