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Cape Verde Islands
By William Boyce
for Marlin Magazine

    When invited by marine biologist and artist Guy Harvey to join a photo expedition to the eastern Atlantic islands of Cape Verde, needless to say, this California boy was stoked! Having only heard scattered reports of the impressive concentrations of Atlantic blue marlin residing there, I was quick to seize the opportunity to get some firsthand knowledge of this fishery.

    You take your eyes off the spread to wipe the dried salt from your glasses. Then the call comes: "Right short! Right short!" You quickly drop the glasses and look out past the transom but only spy a huge hole in the water and a couple of splashes where a big blue marlin just did a cannonball. "Oh, man, did you see that?" someone yells up from the cockpit. "See what?" you ask.

    As odd as it sounds, though, this trip was not intended to be a fishing excursion. Instead we hoped to obtain unique underwater video footage of free-swimming billfish to be used by Harvey in the second edition of his Theater of the Sea video series and to be sent to the BBC in England for review for their upcoming documentary on the pelagic environment, The Blue Planet.

    Two others in this team effort were designated angler Charlie Foreman and Capt. "Mikey" Latham, a world-traveled marlin fisherman and longtime crewman of the famous French Look sport-fishing operation. Latham would be filming topside action and underwater sequences with his impressive array of pole cams and submersible video setups, while I would man a second underwater camera.

    To ensure a trip of this magnitude would be a success, we utilized the services and expertise of one of the world's most successful mother-ship operations -- Jerry Dunaway's Madam and Hooker combo, skippered by the seasoned Trevor Cockle and crewed by the competent talents of Randy Baker and Ronnie Fields.

Cautious Optimism
    The long flights and extended layovers involved in a trip to the coast of Africa had driven us to total exhaustion by the time we caught air to our final destination, the island of Sco Vicente. Not knowing quite what to expect other than what was provided through the Internet library, we rounded the steep-walled cliffs of Scn Vicente Island and touched down in a landscape reminiscent of the lunar surface.

    After a day of rest, we pulled away from the anchorage in the bustling harbor town of Mindelo amid some truly inspiring island landscapes. The Hooker, a fish-proven 48-foot G&S, appeared insignificant when compared to the black volcanic cliffs rising in a perfect vertical pitch some 1,000 feet above our heads.

    The reports from the season's fishing charters in the days leading up to our visit had been mixed ... some days on, some off. The action here doesn't really kick into high gear until mid-May, and we were a bit early for a bite rumored to be "wide open" when it really goes off.

A Short History Lesson
    The fishing grounds in these waters are quite close to the anchorage, and during the 20- to 30-minute run offshore we talked of past successes in these waters, as if these memories might somehow translate into the present.

    Stewart Campbell was among the first well-known anglers to explore the Cape Verdes. In the late 1980s, he chartered a 31-foot Bertram that he crewed with the dream team of Captains Barkey Garnsey, Peter B. Wright and Charles Perry. The quartet fished the months of June and July with world-class results. They raised five to 15 blues a day in the 200- to 500-pound range, with one fish raised just minutes from Mindelo Harbor that Perry says to this day is the biggest fish he, Campbell and Garnsey have ever seen. Perry, who has seen more than his share of granders, estimates the fish at better than 1,400 pounds.

    Sport-fishing interest in Cape Verde waned somewhat in the early '90s as other new exotic hot spots gained the headlines. But last year, the Dunaways decided it was time for another look. A short season there prior to other commitments found them in a torrid bite between late May and mid-June. News of this unimaginable blue marlin fishing spread worldwide. During a 19-day period, the chartered anglers caught 146 fish, including one day when the crew raised more than 30 fish, catching 20.

Timing is Everything
    Unfortunately, despite the area's documented ability to produce swarms of blue marlin, we found no such concentrations on our trip, thanks in large part to the seasonal trade winds common to these islands. We fished two prominent high spots northwest of Santo Antco called simply "the bank." With the daily trades blowing 20 knots and seas averaging 6 feet, we managed to raise only 16 blue marlin during the 10 days. On our best day we saw five, and a few days we saw none at all. Even so, the never-ending stream of 40-pound wahoo and yellowfin tuna helped pass the time between marlin video sequences.

    As is standard fare in the game of big-game fishing, it turned out that we missed the Cape Verdes' trademark blue marlin bite by only five days. Less than a week after our charter ended, Latham (who stayed an additional two weeks after our departure) reported that the bite went wild. Though not quite as impressive as the catch results experienced in 1996, the numbers were still truly staggering.

    On May 6, 1998, the Hooker began a week where the boat was literally covered up. During those five days of fishing, Cockle and crew raised from 12 to 18 fish per day, got as many as 15 bites per day and managed to successfully release from seven to 10 blue marlin per day.

    Though the fishing never again approached these kinds of statistics during the remainder of the summer, the season was still a success. Through June 23, with a week of fishing still remaining, the Hooker crew and its guest anglers had fished a total of 89 days in which they raised 297 blue marlin, received 229 bites and caught 117 fish (79 of which were tagged). When you consider the Hooker spent much of its time chasing fly-rod and light-tackle world records, these numbers become even more impressive.

    Given time and more consistent fishing effort, the Cape Verde Islands may well become the next "must-fish" destinations for the angler seeking exceptional blue marlin activity. The blues here are not the monsters one typically brings to the stern in Madeira, but it's only a matter of time before the area's first grander is captured.

    In these waters, it appears the occasional 700-pounder is truly a "pig," and the average fish run in the 300- to 350-pound class. Comparatively speaking, that's not a bad average size, and when the bite turns on, this area holds great promise to completely rewrite the IGFA world record book for light-tackle and fly-fishing categories. At the very least, your angling talents and stamina will surely be tested, and very possibly perfected, with so much activity to be had.

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