HANDLINING SHARKS and Catching BONEFISH on Travel Rods

HANDLINING SHARKS and Catching BONEFISH on Travel Rods

By Joe Chappell 

Last month my dad and I spent a week on the island of Sal, in the Cape Verde archipelago. My mum was originally meant to be joining us, however due to the family dog falling really ill a couple of days before we were due to fly, she decided to stay home. Thankfully he has now made a full recovery. For my dad and I her absence had only one positive, more fishing time! I packed a variety of tackle to cover me for a few different types of fishing. I planned on mostly using my Rigged and Ready S Max, a powerful multi-purpose travel rod that compacts down to fit into a 66cm case. This is ideal, as it's a very long rod that can easily fit in a suitcase! The longer 3.6m set up has a cast weight of up to 100g, perfect for lighter pier/beach fishing. The shorter 3.2m set up casts to 170g and has more backbone for targeting bigger fish from the shore, all you need to do is change the tip section!
The six hour flight and early morning meant that we didn’t do any fishing on the first day, but we spent the evening preparing for a scout of the local town, Santa Maria. Morning came and with a belly full of all-inclusive breakfast, we took the free bus from the hotel to Santa Maria. We were greeted by a nice enough guy called Pedro who wanted us to go into his shop, we politely obliged as there were a few souvenirs we wanted to buy. After some haggling a fair price was settled on. If anyone reading is thinking of visiting Cape Verde, then a word of warning, the locals can hassle you. If you say no though, they’re not too pushy and at no point in our week did we feel unsafe or pressured to buy / book anything.

We had a wander around the town, our final destination being the main pier. It was amazing seeing the locals bring in their catches and it was all butchered right there on the pier. There was tons of smaller fish around so we purchased a baby tuna to use as bait, and tackled up the rods. We opted to fish small hooks under a float, but in all honesty I think anything would have caught fish. A couple of the local kids joined us and we spent about an hour fishing. We caught loads of small pompano and white sea-bream, which are endemic to Cape Verde.
The next morning we had a trip booked to the sharks bay, a lemon shark nursery. It was amazing to see so many swimming around our legs, an experience I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Sal. The TUI guided tour was definitely worth it as the tour guides were local marine biologists, and held a wealth of knowledge.

That afternoon, we headed to the breakwater outside the hotel to do some snorkelling. We saw loads of species including gar, trumpetfish and wrasse. However, the thing that stood out was the parrotfish, they were incredible. We headed back to the room to grab the rods for a couple of hours fishing outside the hotel before dinner. We opted to fish simple two hook flapper rigs but with smaller hooks, similar to how we do in the UK.

The fishing wasn’t great to start, but we ended up catching a fair few species including striped red mullet and more white sea-bream. We were just starting to pack up when my dad had a really great knock. He struck into it and at first he thought he was snagged, before something started pulling back. The result was a moray eel. 

Apologies for the poor photo quality, a passer by took it for us as our phones were in our bags and we wanted to get it back as quickly as possible. It had completely tangled itself and took an age unhooking. We packed up, vowing to return at night in the hopes of a shark. The following day, we had booked a trip trolling for dorado, wahoo and even marlin. Unfortunately nothing was caught, but we arranged for the deck hand Flavio to take us rock fishing on his own smaller boat later in the week. 

We decided the best thing to do to get over the blank was more fishing, so we returned to the breakwater outside the hotel that evening. My dad fished the same way as he did the day before but I decided to try a slightly bigger bait in the hope of a small shark. The first fish came to my rod and it was a peculiar thing, which we later identified as a glass-eye snapper. Not long after, my dad followed it with a small grouper. A few small white sea-bream and glass-eye snapper were caught before I had a better bite. The result was a decent sized emperor fish.

It was getting late and the bites had dried up, so we decided to give it just another half an hour. With only ten minutes of the half hour left my Smuggler S Max hooped over and something peeled drag from my reel. I struck in and a short but powerful fight followed. I tried my best to keep the fish out of the rocks and it finally surfaced. It wasn’t the shark I was expecting but a bonefish, one of the fasted species of fish in the world, and possibly the fastest fish to ever be caught on a Rigged and Ready rod! Holding it up for a photo was so difficult, it was pure muscle and you could really appreciate why they are so fast. We gave it another half an hour before calling it a night and hitting the all-inclusive cocktails.

The next day was spent relaxing and snorkelling before an afternoon trip shark fishing with Inshore Experience. We were going to be inshore drifting, a method neither me or my dad had done before. The guides were fantastic and all bait, tackle and chum was included in the very reasonable price. The guides got everything tackled up before starting we spent an hour or so catching some live bait. The shark fishing was really slow in the beginning. However, the guides assured us that as the sun started to set and the scent of the chum spread through the water, we would be in with a good chance.

The trip was originally booked for four hours, starting at 2pm. However, 6pm came and the guides asked us if we wanted to stay a little longer, as they were sure we would get some action. As the sun started to rapidly set a huge lemon shark came right into the shore, feeding on the tuna gills we had been using as chum. The guides reeled the rods in closer to the shore as they were still about 200 meters out. Ten minutes later the bait on the rod I had chosen at the start of the trip got picked up and the balloons we were using to drift the baits out started to move. The guides instructed me to wait a little for the fish to eat the bait before striking.

I struck and the fish was on! The fight was rather anti-climactic compared to the bonefish the previous night, and before long the shark was mine. It wasn’t the 2 meter long lemon shark we had seen earlier, but a nurse shark which the guides estimated to weigh about 25-30 kilos. We got a quick picture before returning it to live another day. The great thing about inshore experience is that they only practice catch and release, unlike many other guides and fishing trips in Cape Verde. You can find them on Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/inshoreexperience/ or on their website https://www.inshoreexperience.com/

The huge lemon shark came into the edge a few more times, and we stayed until 7:30 in the hope of catching another, but it never ended up happening. The guides dropped us off outside our hotel, and we celebrated with a beer and some dinner before heading to bed for an early night. The next morning Flavio, who we’d met earlier in the week, was taking us out on his boat for some rock fishing.

We were up early so that we could meet Flavio in Santa Maria at 7 am; the conditions weren’t favourable with a really strong tide. Fortunately, Flavio said we still had a great chance of catching something. We spent all morning catching mainly emperor fish, however there were a few beautiful trigger fish caught too. Flavio was using a handline and having much more success than me and my dad, he told us he had a big fish on and to get the gaff ready. A large moray eel surfaced and shook its head, snapping the line before swimming back down into the enticing blue ocean. Flavio said it was time to get the big lines out, and he used a filleted tuna as bait.

Time passed slowly and as the tide turned the fishing seemed to slow down. It was time to head back now, so we brought our rods in and Flavio brought his handline in. As he was bringing it in, something grabbed the bait and line started pulling out of his hands. Something big was on! Flavio brought it to the boat and it was another nurse shark, slightly bigger than the one I had caught just 18 hours before. The sun was now high in the sky, bearing down on us and cooking us like fried eggs, it was time to head back to the marina and Flavio let me drive.

The afternoon was spent with more snorkelling and cocktails. There really isn’t much to do on Sal unless you enjoy fishing or kite surfing. The following day, and our final day, we were going on a tour of the whole island. You can see pretty much all of the island in just 8 hours. It was a fantastic tour and my favourite part was swimming in the salt lake which had formed in the basin of a volcano. It’s 30 times saltier than the dead sea, and floating on it was a fantastic experience.

That evening we tried to fish outside the hotel again, however the sea was way too rough and the waves crashed over the breakwater and soaked us whilst we were deliberating if it was safe or not. Needless to say, that confirmed it for us. It was a shame that we didn’t get one last night of fishing however we had a fantastic week together and caught plenty of fish along the way. If anyone is looking for somewhere to go on a fishing holiday, you really should consider Cape Verde. We spoke to one couple who had been tiger shark fishing for their wedding anniversary and landed an 12ft monster.

Obrigado e adeus, Joe