Fishing in Mozambique

There’s an angler’s adage that goes ‘it’s getting there that’s half the fun’ and in this case, Adam Royter travels from South Africa to Mozambique to fish the untouched waters of Santa Maria Peninsula.

Border line

Falling face first into a tropical fishing destination sounds like fun – and it is! I had no idea what to expect on my trip to Mozambique. This, of course, is half the fun.

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Mozambique is one of the poorest countries on the planet. After the Portuguese left in 1975, the country struggled economically.

I’ve been to some pretty wild places in my life and seen some crazy stuff – southern Chile where it’s colder than your mother-in-law’s kiss, Okoboji Iowa, USA for a good old-fashioned bar fight, and the inside of a jail cell in Buenos Aires! But this takes the cake as the strangest two kilometres of road I have ever travelled!

The border between South Africa and Mozambique is nothing like I have ever seen. Five kilometres before you get there, you start seeing people walking along the road with their worldly possessions on their heads. Those few people quickly turn into several thousand, all of them trying to get in or out of one of the countries. There is miles upon miles of razor wire six metres tall and electrified, and not just one fence, but three on either side. Add in the fact that all the security, police and army-type personnel carry automatic weapons, and it is a very eye-opening experience to the western traveller.

With passports handed over and a lot of hand waving and staunch faces, all it took was two hours and 3000 Rand (NZD$320) in bribes to get me through all the check points. From Maputo City we boarded a boat to take the 60km ride across the bay to finally end up in the gap between the peninsula of Santa Maria and the island of Inhaca, commonly known as ‘Hell’s Gate’.

Feet in the sand

With a hand full of soft-baits, jigheads and some leader, we walked straight out of camp and onto the beach. The shore-based angling here is amazing, to say the least. Giant trevally up to 50kg, queenfish, green-spot trevally, barracuda, pompano, bonefish and bigeye trevally are just a handful of what you can catch from the beach on the lodge’s doorstep.

Within the hour we had racked up quite a score card of trevally with some ‘unstoppables’ thrown in for good measure!

A substantial bluefin trevally on soft-bait gear.

A substantial bluefin trevally on soft-bait gear.

Hell’s Gate is like a massive wash-through halfway down the peninsula that creates an island at the point. Having a huge shallow bay on one side and the ocean on the other makes for a lot of water movement. Lots of moving water generally means lots of bait movement and predatory fish. Take into account that there’s virtually no angling done on the beaches here and you could almost say it’s an ‘untouched’ fishing paradise!

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Fishing outside

Our vessel for the trip was a 32’ custom built, centre cabin, long-boat style ship that was one of the best I’ve fished from.

The first thing I noticed as we made our way out past the 50m line was the amount of skipjack tuna. I’ve never seen so many skipjack tuna before! As far as you could see in any direction, there were birds and fish. I asked Earl the skipper what the marlin fishing was like and he said generally it is some of the best in the world. Stripes, blues, blacks and broadbill are very common, and this was not hard to imagine with so many marlin lollies around!

Geographically, the water type is classed as subtropical, but the majority of Mozambique is tropical. This being the case, you can expect all tropical and subtropical fish species to come together at this point.

The idea behind travelling off-shore was to come in contact with some speedy things like tuna and mackerel but also to find out what was living closer to the bottom – potentially grouper, emperor, amberjack, samson fish and trevally.

Amberjack are a cousin of New Zealand's kingfish.

Amberjack are a cousin of New Zealand's kingfish.

We soon found out that the off-shore reefs were full of trevally of all types. The most dominant species were green spot and bluefin. Other trevallies included gold spot, bigeye, golden and, the king of them all, giant trevally.

Golden trevally are another tough sportfish.

Golden trevally are another tough sportfish.

Considering we were in 50m of water, I had a 3/4oz jighead on so I could get to the bottom. My outfit wasn’t ideal for this type of water, but it was the one I had in my hands. The rod was 3-6kg and the reel packed 125 yards of 10lb Fireline and 30 more metres of backing.

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Just as I hit the bottom, Earl called, “Wind’em up. There’s a big groper or cod on something big and round on the bottom, and we don’t have time to play something like that all day!”

Arrrrr!!? Too late!

“Earl, I’ve got him on.”

I felt like I was snagged to the hood ornament of a John Deer tractor – this thing didn’t even know it was hooked!

After listening to what Earl said about it being big and round, I didn’t really care much about fighting it all the way to the boat. So, holding onto the spool and pointing the rod down the line, I tried to snap it off – who knew I tied such good knots!

With some serious hook poking now complete, the fish finally woke up and sped off. Within seconds, all the Fireline was in the water and I was running out of backing.

Earl finally got the boat up to speed with the fish. This was about five seconds after I completely ran out of line and had run to the bow of the boat. From there, it was a flat-out winding session to get as much as I could back. I wound right up till we were on top of the fish again. The fish went on to take all my line another four times and every time I thought this fish was going to hit the knot and finally pop off, but everything held.

In the third hour of the fight (oh, did I forget to tell you that it took four hours to land?) the fish started those tell-tale signs of thumping on the line, telling us that it wasn’t round and brown but might be a trevally!

To cut a very long and painful story short, with ten metres to go and just in sight of the boat, a very large bull shark took a side swipe of my fish and it started to bleed out. This finally made it give up the ghost. So, in four hours, on 10lb Fireline and a snapper spinning rod, this 30kg GT was brought aboard – and let me tell you, I was cooked!

With aching arms, it was now my job to supply beverages to the very patient crew and tend to some outfits that needed re-rigging.

A flurry of mahimahi were next on the agenda and only a few went back into the water. The others became that night’s dinner!

Mahimahi were encountered around the skipjack workups.

Mahimahi were encountered around the skipjack workups.

I had one last rod to rig and then a rest in the cabin was on the cards. With the last outfit needing a long cast to get rid of some loose loops off the spool, I did wonder if this 5” Gulp would get eaten on the way back to the boat?!

Well, that’s why you fish remote destinations, isn’t it? Half-way back to the boat and ‘BOOF’! Not again!!

The lactic acid that had settled in my muscles from the GT fight instantly went to work cramping both my arms. I didn’t think I could turn the handle. Earl came to the rescue with a stretching technique not too dissimilar to what the cops give you when they’re throwing you in the divvy van!

It was a hellish 20-minute fight that I really didn’t need to go through. It seriously hurt me. But at the end of the fight, I was rewarded with a lovely bluefin trevally of 8kg. Someone get me the hell out of here!

Smashing expectations

Casting 4” and 5” jerk shads around balls of bait was a massive lucky dip. You just never knew what was going to climb on next – mackerel, trevally, tuna, amberjack or even mahimahi! And it’s the same if you send your plastic to the bottom.

Working soft-baits off the bottom attracted all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Some of which were quite familiar and others I had no idea about. Some of the more common fish like blue emperor, cut-throat emperor, potato cod, green jobfish, lunar (coronation) trout, amberjack, I’ve seen and caught before, but then there were some real weird creatures – like a snapper that’s not a snapper!

Another light-tackle spangled emperor comes to the boat.

Another light-tackle spangled emperor comes to the boat. 

And what about the beach fishing? Well, where do I start? If you were to go down to your local surf beach and expect to sight fish half a dozen GTs between 10 and 50kg, you’d be pretty happy right? Well, they get that on every other day at Santa Maria! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Spangled emperor are a top eating fish, and great sport off the beach.

Spangled emperor are a top eating fish, and great sport off the beach.

As a whole, this place is one of the most untapped places on earth for the travelling angler. The potential of this entire area is mind-blowing. From heavy tackle marlin fishing to light tackle sports fishing, this place has it all. You can catch yellowfin tuna just behind the surf break and even sailfish on soft-baits.

You just gotta visit here!

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

May 2019 - Adam Royter
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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