A revived marlin fishery that could very well be the hottest blue-marlin bite on the planet was just recently elevated to a whole new level. IGFA-certified Capt. Bert Bouchard got his 41-foot G&S, Deceiver, in September 2011, and in one short year, he has put an island paradise back on the blue-marlin map!
One hundred and fifty miles off the coast of Gabon, West Africa, lies a cluster of islands that form the country of São Tomé. Príncipe, with just around 5,000 residents, is the smaller of the two major islands, and lies to the north. This is where you’ll find Bom Bom and the world-class Bom Bom Island Resort, offering secluded accommodations, wonderful service and idyllic, breathtaking tropical surroundings. As a bonus, the country boasts a stable, tourist-friendly government.
Made for Fishing
The islands owe their incredible fishery to their location — far offshore, beyond the seemingly endless oil rigs off West Africa, and just a mile from the dramatic drop-offs that hold vast schools of baitfish and, consequently, a lot of blue marlin.
The trade winds, or gravana, as the locals call them, blow predominately from the south to the southwest, providing calm water for fishing on the close-in drops on the lee side of the island — it’s almost like fishing in the lee at Kona. Bouchard fishes spots with names like Razza Drop, Razza Two, String Corner, Bobby’s Delight, Southwest Corner One and Two, and South Drop. “Razza is only a few minutes offshore, and South Drop is just an 18-nautical-mile ride,” he says. On a nice day, the 18-nautical-mile steam to the south sector makes for a nice change and can be very productive. Bouchard also fishes the 100-mile Drop, the 500-mile Drop and out in the deep. “In our main marlin season, from July through August, we fish a lot on birds and look for water temps around 83 degrees. This year we will fish Deceiver for the full season, from June until September, chasing the big girls in August and following the crazy packs in July,” he says.
The blues gorge themselves on a local feed fish called fullowfullow, as do frigate mackerel and bonitos. These large baitballs make for some good live-baiting opportunities if, for some reason, you get tired of catching blues on lures or while pitch-baiting.
On Bouchard’s best blue-marlin day last year, Deceiver went 8-for-10, and the biggest one he tagged was in the 800-pound range. “I didn’t fish the entire season last year, but we still did pretty good. Out of 27 days fishing, we caught 57 blues out of 77 bites. We had several tripleheaders, numerous doubles and a lot of five-fish days. Oh, and we also caught 36 Atlantic sails, with the biggest one weighing over 110 pounds — my biggest so far,” Bouchard says. “I think that 100-plus blues in a season is reasonable, and we bloody intend on breaking that number this year. There were also some seriously nice fish tagged last year and a 900-pounder lost, and with the big Atlantic sails roaming around, the island becomes something of a Jurassic Park,” he says.
Deceiver is a tag-and-release boat professionally crewed to international standards and compliant with all safety regulations. Bouchard outfitted the boat with the best gear money can buy — 130 Tiagra reels and fly-fishing rods, and anglers can choose between stand-up gear or a chair to suit their needs. Bouchard has been fishing African waters since 2001, and Deceiver’s full-time crew is very welcoming, well spoken and friendly. A new game lodge and a marine base for Deceiver are planned, with construction starting this year. Besides its world-class blue-marlin fishery, these rich waters hold billfish year-round, mahimahi (bulls in the 50-pound class are very common), a good wahoo and sailfish bite on the edge, and snapper big enough to feed a village.
Capt. Clay Hensley brought Hooker to Bom Bom several years back and really loved the place. “I was there on an odd year where we saw a lot of blue marlin in August and September, but not many big ones,” Hensley says. “I believe we had a 21-day stretch where we raised around 125 blues, but none over 500 pounds. Their normal fishing is less numbers and larger fish during that time frame.”
The new G&S boat should open up a lot of the areas that the smaller boats that were used in years past had to bypass. “I think the area is still a bit untapped, as the local charter fleet was confined to a smaller area closer to the island due to boat size and fuel requirements. We were there with our own mothership and were able to explore the numerous banks on the windward side of the island and had some fantastic fishing there,” Hensley says. “And the resort itself is spectacular, with one of the most beautiful bars and restaurants I’ve ever seen. The rooms were nice, and the staff was friendly. Bom Bom is definitely a place that I would love to return to,” he says.
| |Bouchard plans on catching 100-plus blues during the 2013 season. He believes he can do it, and with your help, maybe he will.|
Traveling anglers in remote areas do not often stay in high-class lodging and enjoy fishing on a top-of-the-line game boat with an experienced crew — but they certainly can in Príncipe. Back onshore at Bom Bom Island Resort, you can escape to your private beachfront bungalow, crank up the AC and hit the minibar before going for a swim off the pearly white private beach. Tracey and Bobby Bronkhorst manage the resort (they’ve been managing resorts and marine activities for years), and Bobby is also an excellent angler and captain. The resort’s restaurant is air-conditioned with a great open deck bar that can be reached by crossing a 250-yard wooden causeway. They have a freshwater pool and Internet access. You may be in Africa, but you have every comfort you could possibly want or need. The local cuisine is really wonderful, with a lot of Portuguese influence and fresh local seafood and produce, and the resort will cook whatever fish you didn’t put a tag in.
When taking a hike through the primeval forest, you see all kinds of birds and animals that you’ve probably only read about. Take a handheld GPS with you, as the rainforests can have some pretty thick vegetation. There isn’t anything out there that will eat you, just some cool monkeys and such, so don’t forget your camera. The beaches are white sand set against clear-blue water, and there are some magnificent snorkeling and diving sites in the area. You can take a drive to visit the old coffee and cocoa plantations or walk around the village of Santo Antonio and check out the local color and old colonial buildings. The locals are really beautiful people who have huge smiles and always something exciting to talk about; take the time and mingle — it’s great fun.
| |Bouchard caught 57 blues in just 27 days last year — far short of a full season, but still pretty good!|
During the peak blue-marlin season, the humpbacks migrate through the area, rivaling the Hawaiian migration. It’s pretty common to view the whales just off the coast. Three species of sea turtles (green, loggerhead and leather) are commonly seen in the shallows while snorkeling, and at times they are even on the beaches. There is so much to do on land that you’ll need to set aside a couple of days to experience it all for a nice, relaxing respite after getting on a hot marlin bite.
Bom Bom is a special place, with the best of both worlds: It’s remote, quiet and secluded, yet the resort has everything you could ask for as far as comfort, services, and great food and wine. The marlin fishing is epic, on one of the best game boats ever built, with an IGFA-certified captain and an experienced crew — what else could you possibly ask for?
Getting a Visa
You have to get a tourist visa to travel to São Tomé and Príncipe. The cost is 20 euro per person. There are several ways to request the visa:
1. If you have an embassy in your country, then you must apply for it prior to arrival.
2. If there’s no embassy in your country, then you need to try either a direct request or use a travel agent. For the direct request, the application needs to be completed 14 days prior to arrival in order to secure your visa. You will need to go online to smf.st and click on “eVisaST.” Fill out the online form and follow the instructions for stages 1 through 4. E-mail a color copy of your passport (the expiration date must be no more than one year away) and a copy of the hotel booking. On arrival, you will need to present your return ticket and pay the visa fee of 20 euro per person. Within 72 hours, you will receive a code by e-mail that you will need to give to immigration upon arrival. Without this code, you will be refused entry into the country. If you use a local travel agency in Príncipe, it will charge a fee for the service. You can use either Tropic Venture ([email protected]) or Mistral Voyages ([email protected]).
Things You Need to Know
When traveling to Bom Bom, it’s best to bring euros with you. U.S. dollars are accepted, but it’s easier to deal with the euro. You get hit up at the airport for 20 euro for your visa on arrival and another 20 euro as a departure tax, and no, they don’t take American Express.
The official language is Portuguese, with a local tongue called Principense, but you can get by pretty well with English or French.
You’ll need to get some anti-malarial medication — be sure to take it! I know firsthand about West African malaria, and believe me, you don’t want anything to do with it. You also will need an International Certification of Vaccination for Yellow Fever. The islands are pretty close to the equator, so it’s hot. The rainy season is split between the spring, from March through May, and the fall, from October through November. The dry season is during the summer, from July through August, and this is also the peak trade-wind time.
Anglers from the United States or from Australia and New Zealand should travel to South Africa as a jumping-off point. Avoid Nigeria; from my personal experience, the place is a nightmare.
HBD Resorts Operations,
Príncipe, São Tomé E. Príncipe, Gulf of Guinea, West Central Africa
Mobile: 239 9869 029
Tel: 239 2251 114/2251 141
Capt. Bertrand Bouchard
Oil Integrated Services Group
P.O. Box 427, Port-Gentil, Gabon
Tel: 241 5643 44/45
Fax: 241 5643 43
Mobile: 241 0752 0222