As often happens, this great plan was conceived while consuming an ice-cold beer! Imagine sitting in a lounge chair on Zanzibar’s finest beach while overlooking the ocean sipping on a bottle of chilled Kilimanjaro beer and then to suddenly find out Latham Island is not that far away……….‘THE’ Latham Island!!!
I had read about this special place where world record class Dogtooth Tuna roam the reef often, but never really investigated it much further. I wondered if it would it be possible to get there from Zanzibar? I asked my friends and the owners of Blue Reef Sport & Fishing Lodge, Thomas and Nathan. ‘Well, why not. It’s only fifty miles offshore’ was the reply!
Since I was on a family holiday at that moment and fishing time was limited, we decide to let it rest and make plans for a dedicated trip the year after. We kept in touch, started dreaming and worked out a plan. Thomas and Nathan would focus on logistics and supplies while I was to focus on the fishing, explore the charts and form a team of fellow anglers. It took me exactly three phone calls, by the end of which André, Hendrik, Jan and Mark were onboard for the adventure!
Latham Island, locally known as Fungu Kizimkazi is a tiny uninhabited Island in the Indian ocean. Fifty miles offshore from both Zanzibar and Tanzania’s mainland, it’s situated on the very edge of the continental shelf, on top of a coral reef that extends about seven miles from tip to tip. The bigger half of the Island is made of coral and extends about three meters above sea level. A smaller part of the Island forms a triangular shaped bay that would enable us to beach the boat and set up camp.
Slowly but steadily the plan formed. We would depart from Zanzibar, and leave for a five day camping trip on the Island. The first three days were going to be with Thomas, who would then go back to Zanzibar and switch place with his brother Nathan, who could also bring new supplies if needed. It’s always a challenge to pack your fishing gear for any exotic fishing trip, but this time we also needed a full survival kit including air mattress, sleeping bag and all the usual stuff.
Thomas and Nathan had built a special tent that would act as both a cover against the blistering sun during the day, as well as a roof over our head to make sure we wouldn’t get covered in bird poo. Latham Island has some 300.000 flying inhabitants so this was definitely something we needed to consider!
End of October 2017 was the planned departure date and it came round fast. After an 11 hour flight from Amsterdam to Zanzibar we took a taxi to Jambiani, for one last night of good rest at the Blue Reef Resort. Final preparations were made and the next morning we took our final shower for five days, which seems a minor detail but believe me, it became a big deal!
A total of four boats were chartered. Three small fishing pangas and one bigger panga that included a big cooling compartment loaded with ice, so we could keep our catch and supplies fresh. The sea was like glass that day and before we knew it, our local crew had loaded the boats and we blasted off towards the horizon. We were accompanied by a pod of dolphins as we raced south with a handheld GPS showing us the way. The local crew consisted of experienced local anglers for whom Latham Island held no secrets. We were told to prepare for a 3 hour journey…..finally the adventure begins!
A tiny hump rises above the horizon. We’re getting closer, we can literally smell it! The presence of 300,000 birds was rather obvious! A little later we arrived at the Island and check out the possibilities to get ourselves and our gear on shore. First, we dropped off some guys on the Island, and then the gear piece by piece.
The sea was calm, yet it was still challenging to work with the boat in the surf against a very steep beach. So steep that I ended up swimming when trying to get off the boat, in fact!
Once on the Island we set up camp and started preparing tackle. As the sun set, we made some casts from the Island but the waves made it unsafe to cast from the rocks. Then it was time for dinner and a beer while they were still cold. It was quite the experience, all alone on a tiny Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean!
The next morning, we woke up at dawn. Some thirty minutes later and it was already over thirty degrees Celsius, zero wind and no clouds. We quickly cooked some breakfast and then it was time to fish. I had a tablet with a Navionics map of the area and a load of waypoints on it to show us the way. North of the Island, there was a small reef sat about 40 meters deep, surrounded by very deep water. It looked like a jigging hotpot and so we went North, even though our local crew promised us there would be nothing there to find. Stubborn as we were, we told them they would learn about a new, secret, top notch fishing spot.
A good hour later and we arrived at the spot and switched on the sonar. There was no bottom in sight, meaning it was more than 400 meters, instead of 40. You can imagine the wide grins on the faces of our crew as we turned around and asked them to show us their spots!
‘What would you suggest?’ we asked them. Trolling. They insisted it was the only way with the flat calm, still conditions. It’s not the most exciting type of fishing, but we agreed to try. Instead of heading out North we went South for the afternoon session, because that’s where the Yellowfin Tuna were said to be. Our captain advised to have the lures running at least 150 meters behind the boat, because of the calm weather. We listened, set the lines accordingly and the waiting game began.
After some time, a strike came and I landed my first Yellowfin Tuna of the trip, a fish of around ten kilos, followed by a second the same size. Regularly we saw small packs of tuna hunting and we tried to steer the boat into these areas, with not a huge amount of success. Towards the end of the afternoon a massive tuna jumped two meters into the air, far behind the boat. Wow! Did you see that? I didin’t realise that this jump was actually the take until the line pulled tight seconds and the drag started screaming! Forty five minutes later we were finally able to boat a 140cm fork length, 60 kilo Yellowfin tuna.
What a fish, I was broken. Fighting that beast under the intense heat and sun took its toll!
Back at the camp we found out that all the boats had experienced tuna action, both trolling and on popping gear during the last hour of daylight. This information was the key to providing us with success over the following days. That evening, we celebrated drinking our ‘not-so-cold anymore’ beer, with an endless supply of sashimi and tuna steaks on our plates.
During the following days, we slowly put together all the pieces of the puzzle. Popping and jigging around the reef was ultra-slow, which was probably caused by the fact that some locals have been using dynamite to fish it which is a big shame obviously. The tuna fishing, however, was out of this world especially in the afternoon. As soon as the sun started its descent, school after school passed by the current line. It was possible to choose whether to go for numbers of smaller fish or target the big ones, by picking the right school and making your cast. Multiple fish in the 40-60 kilo class were caught by the group and believe me, these big fish make you wish you’d spent more time in the gym! What a workout!
Areas where the tidal current was most apparent were the best spots to stick around and wait for fish to pass by. Especially one area pretty close to the Island, which we named ‘the washing machine’ which attracted the bigger fish.
The main current would make a full circle here before pushing back on itself, forming a large back-eddy a couple of football fields big. Choppy waves from all directions thinkable made standing up, let alone popping difficult, yet very rewarding!
Apart from Tuna, Mark also landed a beast of a Barracuda and André missed what seemed to be a very large Cobia or an Amberjack right in front of the boat. We spotted a monstrous school of Mahi Mahi that unfortunately were not in feeding mood and I had a big Sailfish following my stickbait for many casts that would not commit. One nice GT was also landed by Thomas.
After three days we slowly started to realise that living on a deserted Island, covered in salt and sweat, eating tuna for breakfast, lunch and dinner is not really something we are used to! Also, water stocks were running dangerously low. We were glad Thomas and Nathan would make the switch half way through the trip to bring new supplies.
However, on the changeover day, Nathan hadn’t arrived by sunset and we all began to worry, this could be serious. Finally, we saw a small light coming towards the island in the darkness. Nathan had encountered some tuna on the journey and couldn’t resist making a cast. A 60kg Yellowfin had caused him over an hour delay. Where else would you find an excuse like that? I cannot remember a cold beer tasting any better than it did that night!
Fishing around Latham Island requires rock solid, heavy equipment. You can only use what you bring to the Island, there’s no fresh water to rinse your gear, and doing maintenance in this salt heavy environment probably does more damage than good. We mainly used 8 foot PE8 setups for casting poppers and stickbaits. It seemed that the bigger the popper, the bigger the Tuna it would attract!
Jigging and trolling we did with our PE8 jigging gear. Since trolling lures far behind the boat really delivered more fish on calm days, bring a big (spinning) reel with ample line. I saw the spool on my 25K size reel for a short while when that 60 kilo Tuna took off for the first time. And they grow bigger! For trolling we mainly used Halco Laser Pro 190 and Williamson Speed Pro 180 lures. Switching between deep and shallow running lures can help a lot in getting results.
The rip currents out there call for heavy jigs. 200 gram jigs in most cases would just never reach the bottom, even in relatively shallow water of 50-60 meters. I wouldn’t bring any lighter, and guess 300 and 400 grams would be wise to bring if you want to put the effort into it.
Fishing from the Islands shoreline, which has been successful on other trips requires for a little longer rod than boat fishing. Light tackle can be left at home unless you want to try and catch some baitfish. Since you’re in the land of giants, and the main current rips around the reef at up to 7 knots, you won’t stand a chance with any moderate sized fish.
For camping on the Island, do yourself a favour and bring a comfortable inflatable mattress. After a hardcore day of popping and fighting big fish, you need some proper sleep.
A sleeping bag should also be part of your kit, at night it got pretty “cold” with a stiff breeze blowing over the Island and little shelter. Bring rope, knives, sunblock and vitamin supplements are no bad idea either. Since there’s no escaping from the sun at any time, bring proper UV50 clothing. In the end it’s all in the details, like bringing saltwater proof soap. I will never forget the sight of seeing Mark, fully soaped up, running into the ocean, only to find out his shampoo turned into some weird ultra-sticky substance!
The last piece of kit that needs to be in good shape is you. Apart from the physically challenging fishing, you need to be in good shape to launch and beach the boats. Prepare yourself in the gym if needed!
The season runs from October till mid-April, to avoid the risk of getting stuck in bad weather. Where October is prime time for Yellowfin Tuna, November, February and March are the better months for fishing around the reef for GT, Bluefin Trevally and other species. These are also the prime months for goliath sized Dogtooth Tuna. Mahi Mahi are plentiful in March and April.
Just when we thought our trip couldn’t get any better, nature threw in another surprise while we were on our way back to Zanzibar. After breaking up camp and getting all the gear loaded up we said goodbye to the Island and departed for Zanzibar, when all of a sudden, our captain points to the horizon. Whales! A family of Humpback Wales shows up and makes a big show, waving their pectoral fins and launching themselves fully out of the water. We got pretty close and enjoyed these magic moments, before continuing our journey.
Tired, sore and smelling like a bunch of skunks, we eventually arrived back at the Blue Reef Resort just before lunch where we all devoured a big juicy Beef Burger, which after 5 days of Tuna tasted absolutely heavenly! It was a great trip!