We’re playing a bit of ‘catch up’ this month as I bring you the final part of my ‘Ascension Diaries’ where I recount the trials, tribulations and events from a very memorable trip to the magical Ascension Island. This is the concluding part of a trio of articles, of which part 1 and 2 were featured in the Hookpoint June and July 2021 editions (if you wish to refresh yourselves!). For this final part of the ‘Ascension Diaries’ I’m going to run through a few of the other highlights of our week. It’s been difficult to choose them as the fishing is so varied and the species so numerous but these are the moments that stand out in my mind, including some magical underwater moments!
Although not my favourite technique due to the long periods of inactivity, trolling has its place. For some of the species that frequent the waters of Ascension then there really is no other choice. Although fishing for the tuna was our priority, Dave and I decided that we would spend one full day pulling large lures along the drop-offs and way out into the deep blue to see if we could find any wahoo, sailfish or possibly even a marlin. Ascension is one of the best places in the world to target Atlantic blue marlin with fish over 1000lb caught every year. Hooking something like that in our small boat would certainly prove interesting and the thing with Ascension is that anything really is possible!
We used a selection of large, rubber skirted lures and big yozuri marauders in a spread behind the boat and started by trolling along the drop-off’s first. These are typically the haunt of the wahoo so we hoped to pick up a couple of these before then heading out into deeper water to try for the billfish.
Nothing touched our lures as we made our way round to the back of the island following the drop-off’s, the only noise was the hum of the engines and the sea birds circling above us. Dave and I were taking it in turns on the rods and I was first up. Just as we were approaching ‘Bird Island’ the left-hand rod burst into life briefly before falling silent again. I wound the line in and checked the lure, something had grabbed it but somehow failed to hook up so we re-set the lines and continued.
Dave, being ever the gentleman, allowed me another turn on the rods as it was a failed strike and it wasn’t long before the left-hand rod was away again. There were no problems this time and I was connected to a lively fish, tough to call at first but once the leaping and surface action started there was no mistaking a nice dorado. We quickly unhooked and returned this fish so we could get the lures back in the water. It seemed we had come across a productive area.
Dave took up position at the back of the boat and was watching the rods like a hawk, poised and ready for action. It was all starting to happen and the next run was on the right-hand rod with the purple marauder lure. The reel was howling as line poured from it at an incredible rate. Craig, our skipper, knocked the boat into neutral as he screamed ‘wahoo!’ and Dave hung on for dear life. The initial run was insanely fast which is typical of the species, they are built for speed!
After a dogged fight, the fish was brought into the boat for unhooking. With their fearsome dentistry this is a job that requires the utmost care and Craigs experience shone through here. He had the hooks out and the fish into Daves arms for a photo in no time at all. They really are the most striking of fish with their beautiful colours and markings, I made sure to get some quality shots of this one. As it turned out this was the only wahoo we got to see on the trip, but what a fish it was!
After the wahoo, we headed out into deeper water to see if we could find a billfish, it had to be worth a shot. February is peak time for the marlin and the start of the sailfish run so anything was possible. I took up position at the rear as we headed out and awaited my turn, I’d never caught a billfish and was rather excited at the prospect of doing so.
A good half an hour passed before the left-hand rod burst into life and I was on it in a flash.
Something wasn’t quite right, certainly not the heavy resistance I was hoping for. It felt like a small fish just rattling away on the rod tip. Sure enough, as I wound it in we were all surprised to see a juvenile almaco jack of 5lb or so attached to the end of our large skirted lure. Not what we were expecting way out in the deeps and definitely way off his patch. Hanging out on the surface like that he was pushing his luck. Marlin fodder for sure!
I retired to the front of the boat and let Dave up the back for his turn on the rods. We trolled for what felt like hours, riding the large swells with the brisk wind in our ears. I had pretty much written it off out there and we were discussing plans for the remainder of the day. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and our thoughts were leaning to a spot of inshore lure fishing.
Then out of the blue, as is typical of this style of fishing, the left-hand line was away. Dave grabbed the rod and we were treated to the sight of a nice sailfish leaping and thrashing its head angrily as the water boiled. Dave looked at me and told me to take it as he’d caught one before and I was a billfish virgin. I shook my head and told him to crack on, it was his turn and his fish. A very kind gesture, but some things are meant to be and that fish wasn’t mine. I would have felt cheated had I taken the rod from him.
The fight was typically spectacular and to be honest I enjoyed just being there, sharing in the moment with Dave and Craig. To see the fish up close and personal in itself was a treat, they are such magnificent creatures. I did the honours with the camera while the fish was unhooked by the boat, never leaving the water. After a little reviving, the fish swam away strongly. With that, we called it a day and headed back inshore as the clouds built ever thicker behind us.
Although we didn’t catch a marlin, I did get to see one. On my last day, I was out in the boat alone with Craig and I was really going for it, knowing that time was against me. I’d done five tuna back to back by fishing chunks and was pretty much exhausted at that point. A school of good size rainbow runners had moved in under the boat and was intercepting all the chum so I switched to a smaller hook and was trying for these as an ‘easier’ option. Easy on my back but very difficult to catch, I was failing miserably and missing every lightning-fast bite!
Suddenly, all the rainbow runners grouped up and hid tight under the boat as Craig screamed ‘marlin!’. I looked down into the clear water and was treated to the sight of a monstrous fish that must have been pushing 500lb, all lit up in incredible hues of green and blue. It circled the boat twice at great speed and then ploughed through the shoal of fish cowering underneath us before vanishing from sight. It was all over in a flash. Magnificent and imprinted in my mind forever. Incredible!
We spent a little time snorkeling one morning too. We had met the very talented underwater photographer, Ellen Cuylaerts, on the island as she was there exploring the potential of the island and asked to accompany us for a day to take some photographs. Of course, we obliged and got some wonderful shots to take away as souvenirs. The underwater world of Ascension is truly ALIVE! It was amazing.
Fishing for the bottom dwellers was pretty spectacular during our trip too, there are so many fish down there. Working the 100m line seemed to be a good depth, there were plenty of fish and it wasn’t too much hard work on the retrieve. Dropping whole sardines or jigs down was the best way of getting into the fish and the majority of bites would come from almaco jacks, amberjacks and grouper. You could pretty much guarantee a fish a chuck like this, it’s staggering really.
The amberjacks and almacos are great fun, they have the nickname ‘nodders’ due to the way they fight on the short rods. Even with drags locked down hard, fish of 10lb are able to take line, they are just pure muscle and when they decide they want to push hard for the bottom you just have to hang on and enjoy the ride. Catching anything larger guarantees you a solid workout. Jigging enthusiasts have been known to catch 100 fish or more in a day, such is the quality of the fishing on Ascension. To be fair we struggled to work our way through the smaller fish to anything bigger, but it was brisk sport!
Every trip has a tale of the one that got away and this trip was no exception. While we were chunking for tuna one afternoon, Dave hooked a fish and had it on for nearly 2 hours.
The fish simply would not give up and Craig called it as 200lb+. Finally, with Dave almost in bits, we got a glimpse of the fish below the boat and it was indeed enormous. It looked at least twice the size of the others we had been catching, a proper sea beast! Then disaster struck as the pressure became too much and his rod snapped at the butt. With the fish now being played directly from the reel it was impossible to get any leverage on it. Craig grabbed the braid and started to hand line the fish up inch by inch. It was no more than a few meters from our reach when the line parted and we had to watch as the fish turned and slowly swam back into the inky depths. It was heartbreaking. So close. It would have been the biggest tuna of the trip as well, just goes to show the raw power of these fish. You win some, you lose some!
That brings the ‘Ascension Diaries’ to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them. Until the next time……Tight Lines!