As one of the most remote British overseas territories and being rich in military and maritime history, Ascension Island in itself is an interesting place. Add in to the mix some of the finest blue water sport fishing on the planet along with a truly unique travelling experience……..and that’s all my boxes ticked!
A tiny speck of volcanic rock, with Africa roughly 1000 miles to the East and South America the same to the West, Ascension had long been on the wish list. It’s an RAF base and important Mid-Atlantic stop over for the military with a 200 mile exclusion zone around it. About as remote as it comes and with very little commercial fishing pressure.
Anyone plugged in to the fishing grapevine over the years will probably have heard about the incredible sport that can be found at this unique place. Reports from other anglers and stuff on the net are what initially caught my attention. The final nail in the coffin was when my friend Dave Lambert returned from a trip there.
The stories and photos were enough to make me vow to get there one day with him and experience it too. Tales of huge schools of yellowfin tuna, amberjacks, wahoo, dorado, sailfish, marlin, snapper and more. With large, powerful fish it looked to be challenging and a lot of fun at the same time. It was a dream tropical fishing adventure.
It’s not a cheap trip due to the remote location but you only live once and you can’t spend it when you’re dead. That’s my philosophy anyway! Sometimes you just have to do these things, catching my first ever Yellowfin Tuna there had always been a dream. Dave was going again the following year, so I jumped on board.
After dealing with a stack of military and government paperwork regarding the flights and access permits, the all clear was granted. We booked up a week with accommodation, a small sport fishing boat and skipper Craig Hall (who now runs the Bluefin tuna tagging program down in Falmouth). We chose February. It is a good time for large numbers of species although it’s low season for the yellowfin tuna, but they are there year round.
In typical fashion, the anticipation in the build up to the trip was long and torturous. Fortunately, the gear was one thing I didn’t need to worry about as it was all taken care of by Dave. Being a well travelled tropical angler he had everything we’d need already. Popping rods, fly rods, jigging rods, Shimano Stella reels and all manner of end gear and lures imaginable.
Reels were filled with fresh braid and fly lines, split rings and hooks were upgraded, all the gear was checked over with a careful eye. Nothing can be left to chance on these trips..
When the day of our departure finally came, there was a great feeling of excitement. It had been a whirlwind of planning and anticipation from the conception of the idea to finally parking up at RAF Brize Norton for the flight. We seemed like the odd ones out in the departure lounge with all our fishing gear, surrounded by relaxed military personnel in their civies. It was a lot more chilled out than I had imagined it to be.
Our flight was 8 hours and without fuss in an unmarked, drab grey military transporter jet. With Ascension on GMT there’s no jet lag either, which is a nice bonus. There aren’t many tropical fishing destinations where you can say that!
Craig, our skipper, was there to meet us with the news that some unusually large swell had come in and it wouldn’t be possible to get the boat to the dock that day. This was disappointing news as our initial plan had been to get straight on the water, that’s fishing for you though. Some things are the same wherever you are in the world. It gave me the chance to have a wander round and check out the island anyway.
Georgetown is the main settlement. With just one small main street and the dock there really isn’t much going on. Everyone was working during the day and there was an eerie silence about the place. It seemed the ‘Saints Bar’ was the only place to be in the evenings though! No one is in a hurry and every one gives you a wave. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it before.
We spent the afternoon at Craigs place down by the beach, drinking a few beers and getting all the rods rigged and ready to go. The swells seemed to ease as the day slipped away and it was all looking good for us to get out on the water the following morning.
A plan of attack was discussed over dinner and it was agreed that we’d just ease ourselves in for the first day. Craig had recently installed a few FAD’s which had large schools of fish resident under them now. It seemed like a good place to start, we could throw a few lures, jigs and flies, do a little trolling and get a few species under our belts.
Craig told us that there hadn’t been many tuna around in recent days according to the local reports but plenty of dorado. Either way, I just couldn’t wait to get out fishing. We were also to be joined by another angler, Mick. He’s the pilot of the military plane we flew in on and also likes to wet a line.
The swells were still rolling in against the dock the next morning, it was a little hairy getting on the boat but we all made it with no mishaps. There were huge shoals of trigger fish all around us as we meandered out through the other craft to the open water in the early morning light. The depth dropped away quickly then and within minutes we were in clear blue water and depths over 100m. There’s no long steam out to the fishing grounds of Ascension, which is another reason it’s such an attractive destination.
We pushed out to the first mark, one of Craig’s FAD’s, and immediately spotted shoals of juvenile almaco and amber jack, rainbow runners, blue runners and a few dorado milling around. It was insane the number of fish that were there. The FAD’s were very effective!
We made a sweeping pass around the fish with a couple of lures trolling out the back and were immediately rewarded with a nice school size dorado and a rainbow runner. Straight into the thick of it with a leaping dorado at the back of the boat was about as perfect a start as you could hope for.
After dealing with the fish, Craig crept the boat in and anchored up to the FAD as we prepared the fly rods. Trying to pitch a fly in front of a fast moving dorado was near on impossible in the stiff breeze. Every time the fly hit the water it was blitzed by the hordes of almacos anyway, tearing off with the line down into the backing. It amazed me how much power these small fish of two or three pounds actually have. If the jacks didn’t get to it then the sea birds would. It was hectic fishing to say the least. Lots to think about.
We filled our boots with the small stuff around the FAD and then moved on. Fishing on the drift, we dropped speed jigs down to the bottom to see what was lurking deep below. Ripping the knife style jigs up at speed proved the downfall of many an amber and almaco jack. The sea bed must have been paved with them, most drops would result in a hit or two but repeatedly working the fish up from the 100m mark proved to be hard work over time. Most were around the 5 to 10 lb mark with the odd better specimen that put up a terrific scrap on the short little jigging rods.
Craig informed us there are monster sized amberjack that grow to the 100lb mark in the waters surrounding Ascension. It’s a case of wading through the fish on the jig, which would certainly test the endurance of even the most hardened jig fisher. Or, fishing large livebaits, which is a far more selective method for the bigger fish.
Our first day was finished off with a few hours chunking on the drift for yellowfin tuna. We didn’t nail our target, with just a couple of small dorado and an oceanic triggerfish finding the slick of our chum line. No monsters, but a very fishy day all round with lots of action and a good introduction to fishing Ascension. With fresh dorado steaks on the barbecue for dinner, it was a fitting end to an excellent first day. Craig kept insisting it was a rubbish days fishing by Ascension standards, I couldn’t wait to find out what a good day was like!
Join me next month for part 2 of this ‘Ascension Island’ series where we get to grips with some of the monsters that the island is famous for. Until then….Tight lines!