Marlin Grand Slam off Watamu
Blue, Striped and Black Marlin tagged and released in one day's fishing on Unreel
A call from Rob, skipper at Unreel Fishing Kenya, at 7pm on a Thursday night could only really be for one question, ‘do you want to come fishing tomorrow?’, a buzz of excitement and I was already juggling my schedule. I knew fishing off Watamu (on the North Kenya Coast) had been fantastic recently, and this was a great opportunity to head out Marlin fishing during peak season.
I re-scheduled what I needed to, and within minutes I was sorting out camera batteries, preparing my packed lunch, and wondering why it is you can never find the sunscreen or the dry bag when you are getting ready for a day out at sea.
5.30am wake up, and out the door where Rob is ready and waiting at the gate, a 5 minute drive to Ocean Sports through the first light of dawn, where a host of other fisherman, skippers and their guests quietly sit around a thermos of coffee, waking up to a beautiful calm Watamu morning.
A quick coffee before we head down to the beach and the waiting tender to ferry us out to Unreel where the 2 crew, Dadus and Anuar have been busy preparing the boat for a full day sports fishing on the Indian Ocean. Skipper, anglers, and crew all aboard and we set off out of the lagoon, through the ‘mlango’, a gap in the protective coral reef, and we head towards the golden sun, just rising over the horizon.
We headed out north-east, towards the ‘Banks’ and the lines are in the water within 10 minutes of leaving the lagoon. Moments later we had a fish on, and Darryl, an experienced angler who’s visiting the North Kenyan coast for a week or so of sprots fishing jumps into action. The fish gives a decent fight, but within 10 minutes we see the silver shimmer close to the boat, a decent sized Wahoo starts the day off nicely.
Almost as soon as the lines are back in the water, a double strike, 2 more Wahoo on, I fight mine up to the boat, where it manages to shake the hook loose at the last minute, and lives to fight another day. Darryl boated his Wahoo, and the excitement that today was turning out to have some good fishing early on had us all in good spirits.
Rob had a plan in mind, and it wasn’t to stay relatively close to shore on the Banks for long. Even though some decent size game fish were around, and feeding, we knew there were bigger fish to find, and given the fishing stories from the last week or so, it was well worth getting further out to sea to try our luck.
Rob set our course to the north-west and we headed out into the Ocean as the coastline between Watamu and Malindi slipped out of site over the horizon.
The weather was great, a bit of wind licked up some small waves, and there was no swell. An hour or two drifted passed, as did a few small dinghies who’d ventured out as far as was sensible. The rest of the Watamu fishing boats were further south, and soon we’d lost sight of Tarka who we’d seen on the Banks.
Beyond the Banks is an area known as the Canyons, and for the inexperienced fisherman auch as myself, the talk of Banks, Canyons, Mountains, small mlima, rips and more leaves you none the wiser unless you sit alongside the skipper, stare at the sonar screen, and pepper him with questions, which a skipper doubtlessly gets fed up with answering as he concentrates on not just the screen, but the rods, reels, teasers, birds, and other signs that may lead them to the game fish.
The quiet spell on board was soon ended with a few shouts as Rob saw something go for one of the lures, and as I looked out, a brilliant blue flash leaped out of the sea, not very large, and my hopeful thoughts of a billfish were set aside for now. It was Falusi (Dorado), a feisty fighting fish.
We motored on out into the blue, the water was almost purple in colour, amazingly clear with shafts of sun rays penetrating down into the depths where we knew the Marlin were, but would be able to raise one up to the the lures.
By now it was after 11am, we had not had any sign of fish, nor seen a boat for a couple of hours, and you could sense Rob’s gut feel that he knew the conditions were ideal for fishing, everything was just right. He and his crew tweaked the lures and teasers, and constantly adjusted this or that, ever watchful.
I was being lulled into a sleepy state, with the gentle lolling of the boat, a warm breeze, and the midday sun, it was hard not to want to nod off for a bit, so I did, for half an hour or so. Listening to the crackling of the radio that the rest of the fishing boats were finding it as quiet. Alleycat lost what they thought was a black marlin earlier on, Seyyida had caught an array of game fish, and a sailfish, but no sign of Marlin.
Drowsiness abated, I looked out across the bows scouring the ocean for signs of fish. Strangely we’d seen no sea birds diving, not even on the banks. We’d seen no dolphins, whales, or turtles, it seemed the creatures of the ocean were not showing themselves today. We did begin to see a few flying fish, and as we headed further south, we saw a few more of the fleet. We were trawling parallel to Seyida when we saw them stop to fight a fish, was it a Marlin… no, but a sailfish, we we watched them tag and release, as we trawled nearby.
I looked out across the bow, and not far in front of us, only 50 metres or so, two long thin black spikes broke the surface, my skin tingled, and I immediately knew it was a billfish, I shouted to Rob, and almost immediately saw a dark black shape around 5 metres below the surface swim fast passed the boat from the bow to the stern, we were all yelling, and with seconds of seeing it up ahead, it had raced passed and hit a lure - a reel screamed, and the water exploded where the lure had been - a Blue Marlin, the boat erupted into action, the excitement was electric.
As the line tore out, Rob pointed out the Marlin jumping way off to the left of the line. After taking the lure the marlin gave a staggering display of speed and strength, some jumps where like a sprinter out of the blocks, flying horizontal above the sea in a series of jumps covering well over 30 metres. Other jumps were high and more acrobatic. After photographing a series of these wonderful displays, the fish then dove down. The angle of the line was a lot steeper down into the depths, and Darryl had to get stuck in and work the rod and reel against the might of the Marlin.
After fighting for about 15 minutes Darryl started reeling a lot faster, and thought maybe the fish was on the way up, but Rob, knew that the fish was off, it had shaken the hook and the Marlin won the fight.
We’d been treated to quite a display yet I did not feel disappointed, it would have been a bonus to see the fish up close and alongside, but what we’d just experienced was phenomenal.
Darryl looked pretty exhausted, and I’m sure the muscles in his arms were aching, he had some water and headed up the ladder to catch his breath and find some shade.
Rob, Dadus and Anuar were quick in setting all the lines again, and were very focussed, Rob must have seen something in the water, on the sonar screen, or had a feeling as he set the boat on a direct course and less than 10 minutes after the Marlin had come off the line, a reel screamed again, followed almost instantly by the shouted instructions and commotion on board, another Marlin shattered the surface with a massive splash.
Darryl grabbed the rod as the line sped away, and settled in for another fight, he’d already fought 2 Wahoo, a Dorado and a Blue Marlin, but was up for the challenge.
This Marlin also put on an amazing display, with a lot of thrashing and leaping, and not quite as many long low jumps as the previous one. After the initial 5 or 10 minutes of jumping on the surface, the Marlin also went down, and Darryl settled into fighting the fish, 45 minutes later we saw the marlin nearing the boat, and it took another 15 minutes to get it close enough to reach the trace. Rob and the crew communicated well, and were very wary of the fish getting under the boat or near the propellors. They first tried to bring the fish along the boat on one side, and then the other, and as it came along the Dadus and Anuar skilfully and patiently manoeuvred the fish and took their time to place the tag. They then quickly removed the hook, and the tired fish had a few moments of calm before, eye to eye with us, and as the Marlin was released she glided down into the clear water and out of sight. What an experience to have had.
Darryl had now caught his elusive Blue Marlin, to add to the Striped and Black Marlin he had caught on other fishing trips. An exciting morning’s fishing, with the Marlin being released shortly after midday, and a celebratory Tusker and congratulations all round.
The lines went back in and we carried on fishing the rips, and heading back west slowly towards the coast. I was amazed at the fishing we’d already had, and couldn’t have asked for more, a gently fishing back to Watamu with a beer or two sounded ideal. That wasn’t to be.
A pack of Striped Marlin, came in out of the blue, and yet again, the boat roared back into bedlam, in the commotion I couldn’t work out what was going on, it turns out we had at least 4 Marlin come in, maybe 5, 2 of the teasers were hit, and we had two marlin on, Darryl grabbed a rod, the crew were busy with lines, and Rob shouted at me to grab a rod, he didn’t have to tell me twice.
I grabbed the rod out of the holder with line streaming out, there wasn’t much to do as far as I could work out, whatever was on the end of the lines was in control here. The line pouring out eventually slowed, and I managed to reel some line in, I was aware of the fairly busy deck with Darryl fighting his fish, the two crew trying to get the teasers and other lures out of the water, and Rob directing everything from above.
After some time I got a glimpse of the marlin I was fighting, a flash quite deep down, but then it was off again, line peeling away, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Darryl and I had to switch sides again and I ducked under his rod as I moved across the stern. In the chaos I’d not been feeding the line uniformly back onto the reel as I gained line back, a novice mistake, and within moments a birds nest was appearing before me, and I had visions of the line snapping any moment, however, was very fortunate for the line to clear itself as it raced away with the fish. Another switch back under Darryl’s line, and the fight continued. Having ducked under the other rod, my rod had been pulled down, and the fish was still diving, I could not raise the rod, despite the instructions been shouted down to me. I thought I ought to ease the brake off a bit, but visions of a birds nest and a lost marlin stopped me from doing that. I turned up and looked at Rob, and said I couldn’t hold the rod much longer. Bent over, and being pulled against the transom, there was only so much time before my back muscles gave way, this fish had won the fight, and easily beaten me.
Rob told me to get into the fighting chair, which I managed to do, with some difficulty, and once clipped in to the harness, I could raise the tip of the rid and get some more leverage. The chair did make a big difference, but it did feel like I had an unfair advantage. I carried on the fight, and eventually got the fish back to the boat a second time, and saw it coming in sideways, the line had wrapped around the tail. I saw the trace come out of the water, the crew grabbed the leader, and yet again skilfully handled the fish alongside the boat in the water, got the tag in, and removed the hook. I got a chance to lean over the rail for a quick photo the winner of this fight looking up at me, before we let the marlin swim off having shown me who was boss.
Darryl had managed to tag and release his second marlin, so we’d raised the tally to 3 marlin for the day, and there were handshakes and pats on the back all round.
We were still some way out to see, so Rob and the crew quickly set the lines again and on we went. Fairly soon after, another strike, Rob wasn’t sure what it was, but guessed it was another striped marlin, Darryl was surprisingly sprightly and was up on the road in moments.
As the fish neared and Rob got a decent look from up above he saw that it was a Black Marlin. Darryl reeled the fish in, and the crew brought it along the boat, a beautiful fish, and an unbelievable treat to have seen 3 different marlin species in a day.
Rob has been assisting marine biologist Roy Bealey with a program of satellite tagging marlin for research purposes. Roy had met his quota of blue and striped marlin this season, but not black. Rob had a satellite tag on board, and the crew fitted it, took a genetic sample, and let our fourth marlin of the day head back into the ocean.
Congratulations to Darryl, there cannot be too many anglers out there to have caught a grand slam of 3 different marlin in one day, and thanks to Rob, Dadus and Anuar of Unreel Fishing Kenya on an immensely respectful 4 marlin tag and release, and an unforgettable day.
More Information on deep-sea Fishing out of Watamu
You can book a half day or full day deep-sea fishing charter directly with Unreel Fishing Kenya on +254 723 365950
Sorts Fishing Seasons on the Kenya Coast
June to September is when the “Kuzi” southerly monsoon blows, and the fishing is good, and it is not uncommon to catch black marlin, sailfish and other game fish including tuna, wahoo, dorado and kingfish.
October/November is the short rainy season, and a calmer period before the winds swing around to northerlies again. This is a good time of year to fish for sailfish.
December to March is when northerly “Kaskazi” monsoon wind blows, and the best time of year for billfish, with Blue, Black and Striped Marlin, and sailfish regularly caught on the Banks and further out on the Rips.
Game fish such as Wahoo, Kingfish, and Dorado are also in large numbers.
The long rainy season is in April/May comes with the highest rainfall and is the low season for fishing on the coast with most fishing boats out the water for maintenance.
Getting to Watamu
Numerous major airlines fly to Nairobi from most Europe cities (British Airways, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Swiss and SN Brussels amongst others).
There are 3 or 4 daily flights from Nairobi to Malindi (Kenya Airways, Fly 540, Air Kenya, Fly-SAX, Jambo Jet).
A few major arilines fly to Mombasa including Kenya Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, as well as British, German and Italian charter airlines.
Watamu is 100km north of Mombasa (3 hours by car), and 20 kilometres south of Malindi (20 minutes by car).