Taking a Moment to ‘Take it All In’

 JAPAN ANGLER

Most people never think of game fishing as an adventure sport. Yet for some anglers there is no great thrill, and they’ll travel increasingly greater distances in pursuit of exotic quarry. Having become one of these expedition anglers, I’ve found it is not always the rush of a monster on my line that makes the journey worthwhile.

In late 2004, I had a brief conversation with the staff at a tackle shop in Shibuya where I first heard the name Giant Trevally (Caranx Ignobolis). I had probably seen some pictures and a few in captivity in aquariums, but had never paid any mind to them as game fish. These are known as “jacks” where I’m from, and the last fish you want to catch.

I had unintentionally hooked more than my share of a similar species in the Atlantic. So, I was a little puzzled at the staff’s insistence that I wasn’t an angler until I had caught a big one. “OK, I’ll take it into consideration,” I thought. Still, the idea of spending a month’s salary for an expedition to a remote corner of the Earth to catch a “GT” was going on the back burner for a while. 

Fast-forward six years, and I’m in a puddle jumper on the last leg of a two-day journey to Nosy Be Island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. I’m expecting to catch my first GT and a variety of other large predatory reef fish. The action on the water turned out to be less than stellar, a possibility all avid fishermen accept. But, in my case, I came away with a profound experience that made me think objectively about the circumstances of my life.

From the moment we touched down, I kept thinking about how familiar the surroundings were to me. Throughout Nosy Be, there were open-air markets, locals casually moving about running errands and conversing with one another. Remnants of the country’s colonial past were easy to observe in the opaque pastel colors, decorative wrought iron gates and high ceilings of homes, storefronts and office buildings.

There were also little things; locals snacking on sugar cane, random 18th Century cannons, the sense that nothing much was going to happen, and that nothing happening was a good thing. I caught myself questioning whether I had actually been here before and realized it was just that Nosy Be reminded me of the old Spanish quarter of St. Augustine, Florida, where I spent my early childhood.

My fishing buddies and I made our way to an isolated beach side camp on the northeast corner of Nosy Be that was only accessible by boat. It was from here we would make runs to fish a string of mostly uninhabited smaller islands located about 30 minutes away.

From the first day on the water, we realized the grounds were under a bit of fishing pressure. There were a few artisanal fishermen taking small catches for subsistence, but they didn’t have as much of an impact as the recreational GT anglers–most of whom came from France and Italy during the summer months.

Our trip organizer Yoichi Mogi had sized up the situation 24 hours before we hit the water, when upon entering the guide service’s villa in the center of town his first words had been, “There are no catch shots on the walls?” From that point it was obvious we’d have our work cut out for us.

The year prior to coming to Madagascar I had slowly accumulated about ¥100,000 worth of handmade top water GT lures, most of which, at around 25 cm., proved to be too big for the job. Once I understood the bait pattern, it turned out there were only two 20-cm. plugs in my tackle box that matched the size of the small reef fish on which the GTs were feeding.

For two days I casted away and caught all manner of “bi-catch” – snapper, barracuda, Spanish mackerel, bonito and even a nice yellow fin tuna, but not my target fish. My buddies were fairing better, but had only caught one or two GTs themselves. 

On day three, I was nearly ready to throw in the towel, when late in the afternoon I dropped my plug near a school of baitfish scurrying away from a nearby sandbar. In an instant I saw a grey silhouette shoot at my lure like a missile from 30 meters away, followed by a foamy splash and the sound of my line tightening along the guides of my rod.

I felt a good hook set and immediately began retrieving to get the fishes head turned toward me, when to my surprise, the GT ran straight at the boat.

It took me a second to realize what was happening but, as my line slackened, the skipper began repeatedly yelling the same phrase in Malagasy, which I’m sure meant “Reel, reel, reel!”

I cranked as fast as I could, and three seconds later felt my rod at full load with the fish running straight down from the boat. No sooner than I gained some leverage, the GT ran back in the opposite direction, this time pulling about 20 meters from my spool. This fish had some energy.

There I was thinking my first GT was a tank, and no sooner than I got the fish to the boat, I saw this tiny little guppy looking back at me. I reckon he didn’t weigh seven kilos, but he made me work to get him on deck.

“OK, now I get it,” was all I could say. It was at that point I realized what other anglers meant when they told me about how fiercely these fish could fight. 

Upon releasing my GT, I suddenly felt the pressure to catch something fade, and for the first time allowed myself to take in the scenery. I had been in paradise for three days but hadn’t bothered to take notice of the emerald blue water, islets topped with brilliant green foliage, tropical birds and pristine beaches. This was perhaps the most picturesque, exotic place I had been to in recent memory, right out of a National Geographic. 

However, as we passed an exclusive island resort frequented by uber-wealthy French couples, the irony hit me. Nowadays, people like me who live in the so called “developed world,” have few chances to experience something so simple as a sunset with no buildings on the horizon, or night sky clear enough to see all the stars.

On the other hand, 80 percent of the Malagasy live below the poverty line, yet are perpetually surrounded by awe-inspiring beauty. I wouldn’t dare say they’ve got it better than me, but I can’t exactly call my life of daily commutes on human cattle trains in Kanto a wealthy life either.  

Over the next two days, our GT catches improved slightly to the tune of five or six fish per angler. My biggest was probably close to 12 kilos, but landing it didn’t seem as challenging as my first. Back at the camp, we had plenty of time to relax on the beach and enjoy superb Malagasy cuisine when we weren’t fishing.

As our time on Nosy Be ended, I began wondering about what existed in other parts of the country and wished I could spend another week getting to know some locals, backpacking or mountain biking on the mainland.

As an expedition angler, I tend to get absorbed with just fishing and forget half the benefit of visiting remote corners of the globe is soaking up the surroundings and experiencing the local culture. I need to remember to take my mind off the water sometimes.

Madagascar is a very poor country that stands to benefit greatly from eco-tourism. The unique geography, wildlife, flora and kindness of locals are indeed the country’s greatest assets.

Getting on the Fish:  Nosy Be can be accessed via Antananarivo, but direct flights from Paris are also available. Anglers interested in trying their hand at GT or other offshore angling can contact Guy Geffroy at GP Voyages.

Web: www.gpvoyages-chasse-peche.com