Thursday, March 12, 2015

Species hunting adventures on Madeira : Part 3.

Last Thursday Lee and I had a lie in. When we got up and I sorted out our breakfast on the balcony there were a couple of anglers out on Praia Formosa below us surfcasting. I believe in the summer the beach hosts a "grunt hunt" competition.

I dare say these guys weren't drinking copious amounts of poncha the previous night. 

The girls were going to spend the day exploring Funchal again so jumping in the car Lee and I drove east to Caniçal to spend the whole day fishing there. Starting on the smaller of two concrete piers it was non stop action although the sport was provided by an endless stream of ornate wrasse. We caught dozens of them and when we cast out away from them the bites pretty much stopped. I did manage to add another species to my tally when I caught a Macronesian sharpnose puffer and Lee also caught a small wrasse that wasn't the ornate variety. 

Puffers might munch their way through your lures but they are pretty cool fish. Macronesian sharpnose puffers are very colourful too with lovely blue spotting.
When Lee caught this we weren't sure about it's identity.

After a while we moved to the longer pier inside the harbour but this saw a dramatic decrease in the amount of bites we were getting. A passing local helpfully suggested that we try from some rocks towards the beach so that's what we did. Hopping out onto them we were soon catching ornate wrasse again then I hooked a slightly bigger fish at range that put up a good scrap trying to get down into the submerged rocks in front of me. 

I would later discover that this very lovely green fish was a male emerald wrasse and that Lee's earlier capture was a small female of the same species. 

As the tide slowly receded revealing the rocks in front of us Lee headed over to fish from a small pier next to a slipway to fish a different area and I joined him shortly afterwards. 

It was turning into a lovely day. It had been cloudy all week so I had stupidly left my hat in the apartment and had no sun protection cream on. Before long my bald head was rather sore.

Casting around the fishing slowed down a bit so I gave the drop shot rig a break and fished other methods. I started of with an AquaWave shad I pinched from Lee's bag on a Decoy Rocket jighead using a slow sinking caro to cover more water. This saw me catch a few more ornate wrasse and a second emerald wrasse.

A different presentation, more ornate wrasse.
Lee meanwhile began fishing some soft plastic lures that he designed himself on jigheads. The puffers soon made short work of those however.

Lure length reduced by 50%? Check. Perfect semi circular chunks bitten out? Check.The evidence of a couple of puffer attacks was clear to see.

Getting annoyed by the destruction of his prototypes Lee switched to a small Hart RSF Mebaru Blade and after a short time had a fish follow it and have several goes at it. When it came into view Lee called me over as he realised that it was a grey triggerfish. He tried to tempt it again but sadly could not and eventually it swam off again out to deeper water. It was still quite cool to see one and Lee carried on fishing the small metal. He was soon rewarded with his first ever diamond lizardfish.

Lee catches another new species.

I then tried fishing an IMA Gun metal in the top few feet of the water column with a straight retrieve and then a sink and draw approach. This didn't produce any fish either so I lazily switched back to my trusty drop shot rig baited with an Angleworm. This soon resulted in me hooking what I call a swimming snag. The type of fish that you are so under gunned against that you think you are attached to the sea bed for a brief moment. The fish doesn't seem to know it's hooked either and begins to carry on with its business, swimming off and  slowly bending your rod a little more. When you both realise what is going on the fish charges away and normally breaks you off which is exactly what happened to me. I was pretty annoyed with myself as I had tightened up my drag while fishing amongst the rocks to our left and should have loosened it off again. Luckily I wasn't kicking myself for too long as I had another nice take and my now correctly set drag was soon working to protect my light braid. The fish stayed deep and made a few powerful runs but I took my time and Lee gave me a hand landing what turned out to be a lovely common pandora, the biggest I have caught. 

Perhaps the swimming snag was a larger common pandora. I'll never know and it's probably best to forget about such bad angling incidents. 

We fished on into dusk and I gave some other metals some water time in the hope that some barracuda might arrive but they didn't so with an hour long drive to make back for dinner we called it a day. 

On Friday the girls had the car and headed off to explore the north coast so we stayed local. The wind had dropped off during the night and the sea was nice and flat and clear so we decided to give the rocks at Doca do Cavacas another go before sunrise. I told Lee I had a good feeling about the day but by the time the sun was up I was messing about in the rockpools again. 

Rockpool blennies have a nasty little set of fangs on them. Another subtle difference to our common blenny.

To his credit Lee carried on fishing away using a small Reins Palpuntin jig and was soon rewarded when his rod suddenly arched over and his braid started being stripped from his spool. I had just started drop shotting in the open sea to his left and quickly reeled in to go over and assist him with landing the fish should he require it. Lee skilfully played the fish out though and soon swung it up to hand. At first we thought it might be a blue runner but we'd later discover it was in fact a white trevally. 

Finally Lee caught a fish that tested his light game setup. I was so pleased for him.

Excited by this capture we both carried on fishing with a renewed sense of optimism. The clear calm conditions must have made a difference and shortly afterwards it was my turn to catch a nice fish when I caught my forth new species of the trip, a lovely pink dentex.

Still fairly small but these fish can't half pull when they want to. 

Not to be outdone Lee then joined my up on my rock and caught one too, again jigging his small metal close to the bottom. It was turning into a great start to the day. 

Reins Palpuntin proves deadly again. 

After that brief period of action though things slowed down again so we decided to have an amble along the beach to the rocks at the opposite end. On the way I caught a small lizardfish and when we got there I decided to scout even further west to look for a new spot. I tried a few places but this only resulted in heavy tackle losses and I ended up all the way along in Câmara de Lobos after walking for about half an hour. I sent Lee a message to tell him where I was and he replied telling me that he had caught a nice striped seabream and was now on his way along to rejoin me.

Unfortunately this fish's mouth was badly damaged by the treble hook fitted to the bottom of the jig so Lee dispatched it and gifted it to a local fisherman. This improved the local's mood somewhat as he had just finished complaining to Lee that he had been fishing for two hours with nothing to show for his efforts and Lee had caught a nice fish almost straight away.

Meanwhile I had finally found my way onto a nice rocky outcrop on the eastern side of the bay and started catching a few ornate wrasse, a Guinean puffer and a lizardfish. Just after Lee arrived I caught my second pink dentex of the day. 

Probably my favourite fish of the trip so far. I love their elongated dorsal fin rays.
They also have incredibly strong jaws and a set of teeth that Dracula would be proud of. No doubt they use these to crush the shells of crustaceans they eat.

Not long after Lee arrived however the wind began to pick up and the bites dropped off so we headed around to one of the small restaurants in the town and treated ourselves to some tasty limpets for lunch and some cold lemonade. Feeling refreshed we fished from the back of the western side of the harbour again. I managed a few common two banded seabream and ornate wrasse.

For some reason Lee just couldn't seem to catch himself any seabream despite fushing right next to me and using the same approach.
Even I have to admit that ornate wrasse were getting pretty annoying to catch and I'm normally happy just catching fish.

I then had a text from the girls to say that they were heading back from the north and would come and pick us up. Before heading back to the apartment I drove us up some crazy winding roads to get to nearby Cabo Girão to enjoy the spectacular views from the viewing platform.

What a view. There is also a glass section you can stand on and look down the cliff!

At the start of the week I had promised the girls that Lee and I would catch some fish to eat on our last evening on the island. We specifically had barracuda in mind as I fancied grilling steaks of it. Obviously we failed to catch one so we went out for another meal in the small restaurant near the apartment instead. This time we avoided the poncha as we had to make a start to packing up ready to head home the following evening. Angelo got in touch later that night too and arranged to meet us at Doca do Cavacas early in the morning so we all had an early night.

The last sunset of our trip.

Up early Lee and I were at the mark at the agreed time but Angelo was a bit late. No prizes for guessing that a few glasses of poncha the night before were blamed. Angelo catches lots of his fish on small jigs that he makes himself and he very kindly gave Lee and I one each as a gift.

Beautifully made, I was reticent about using it in case I lost it to the rocky seabed but figured Angelo didn't give me it to admire so I had a go fishing with it.
Lee and Angelo jigging away. 

As the session went on it soon became apparent that the water wasn't as clear as the day before. Angelo suggested we move to another spot so we headed east along the cliffs before climbing down onto some rocks. Two other anglers were already on Angelo's first choice of mark but no sooner than we had scrambled down to his second Angelo was into a fish straight away.

First cast at the new spot and Angelo's rod soon had a nice bend in it.

Lee and I were suitably impressed and a pink dentex was soon landed. Lee then managed to catch a lizardfish on his jig before Angelo then had a blacktail comber and a nice common pandora on his.

Angelo with his common pandora. "Work your jig slowly and close to the bottom." was Angelo's advice.
I tried my best to emulate Angelo's success. My experience of fishing jigs in this manner is pretty limited but I did manage an ornate wrasse much to Angelo and Lee's amusement.

Unfortunately heeding Angelo's advice eventually led me to snagging my lovely little jig on the bottom and I was unable to free it. I was quite disappointed to loose my gift and reverted to fishing a drop shot rig for the last half an hour of the session. This saw me catch a canary damselfish, a few more ornate wrasse and a couple of blacktail comber.

A nice little blacktail comber. My last fish of the trip?

Soon it was time to say goodbye to Angelo as we had to head back and check out of our apartment and Angelo had to go to work. It was a real privilege fishing with him and watching him catch fish on the jigs that he made himself with great skill. It's a pity that we could not have fished together for longer and I was gutted that I lost the jig he gave me. His use of jigs has inspired me to explore this style of fishing more myself though and I'll be trying to do just that in the summer.

Back at the apartment the keys were handed into reception and all our gear packed up and loaded into the car. We had four and a half hours left before we had to be at the airport though so the four of us drove to the north coast to Porto da Cruz for lunch. In the back of my mind was the possibility of perhaps having a few more casts but when we got there the sea was quite coloured so we didn't bother. Instead we just relaxed and enjoyed some very succulent Espetada, marinated beef cooked on skewers, another of the islands tasty dishes.

The north coast is pretty spectacular.

After lunch I popped inside the restaurant to freshen up and spotted these goldfish in a small pool inside.

Lucky they were inside the restaurant otherwise I might have had a go at catching them!

Driving back through the island's interior we still had some time to kill so we decided to drive up to the peak of one of the islands mountains. The drive up was absolutely breathtaking.

The interior of the island is lush and green.
Small villages and allotments seemed to be built on every conceivable flat piece of land.
Heading higher up we passed through the clouds.
Before we knew it we were up above them and the lush green surroundings gave way to a harsher landscape.
The mountain we went up was Pico do Arieiro. It is the third highest mountain on the island at 1818m above sea level.
It was nice to end the trip on a high.

The drive back down towards the south side of the island was just as awe inspiring and before we knew it another great holiday was over. On the fishing front I had caught over two hundred fish and whilst I didn't reach my little species hunting goals of twenty five species including five new ones I had a lot of fun trying. Here's a summary of everything I caught. New species are in bold.

  1. Atlantic Lizardfish x 7
  2. Bastard Grunt x 12
  3. Black Goby x 1
  4. Blacktailed Comber x 4
  5. Canary Damselfish x 26
  6. Cardinalfish x 1
  7. Cleaver Wrasse x 1
  8. Common Pandora x 1
  9. Common Two Banded Seabream x 9
  10. Diamond Lizardfish x 6
  11. Emerald Wrasse/Atlantic Wrasse x 2
  12. Guinean Pufferfish x 4
  13. Macronesian Sharpnose Puffer x 1
  14. Madeira Rockfish x 8
  15. Ornate Wrasse x 114
  16. Pink Dentex/Lumphead Seabream x 2
  17. Rock Goby x 5
  18. Rockpool Blenny x 7
  19. Saddled Seabream x 2
  20. Striped Red Mullet x 1
  21. Striped Seabream x 1
  22. White Seabream x 3
The fishing was tough at times and perhaps some larger fish would have been nice but personally I think you have to make the best of what is on offer and I think we did that given the time of year and also the conditions. Barracuda had eluded us once again and it would have been nice to catch our dinner. I believe the ones found around Madeira are the Yellowmouth variety (Sphyraena Viridensis) so it would have been a new species for me had I caught one. It was really nice to meet Angelo and Telma, they were a lovely couple and so passionate about their fishing. I think Lee and I will return to Madeira and if we do I hope we can go fishing with them. Perhaps the summer of 2016 would be a good time to go back? Only one way to find out!

Tight lines, Scott.


  1. Great trip Scott , those emerald wrasse look cool!

    1. Yeah it was great. The emerald wrasse were pretty cool. The cleaver wrasse was even cooler though. :-D