Madagascar – Nosy Be - The experience and fishing potential...

By Fred Steynberg

My third trip to Madagascar and what a disappointment yet I have no one to blame but myself.  I had broken one of my own unwritten rules...never plan a salt water fishing trip around the southern hemisphere during the month of August.  This is when the trade winds, the Varatharasa in the case of Madagascar, can blow continuously and not only push colder currents closer to shore but also make fly-fishing almost impossible.  Conventional fishermen can still cope with these windy conditions but for fly anglers where boats are mostly used to fish reefs and drop-off’s, the drift can often be too fast.  Castable, sinking fly lines will just not reach the desired depth and flies then often do not attract the attention of the desired fish species.  In my defence, I did not have a choice as this was the only free time that was available to me and I’d rather endure the wind than miss the opportunity and not gain the experience.

A Dogtooth tuna on fly GT on Fly

Last November a group of us travelled to Madagascar and fished using both conventional and fly gear.  We fished around Nosy Be and worked our way up to Nosy Mitso and Nosy Lava.  Our skipper skilfully took us from one fishing hot spot to the next, at times only stopping for a quick drop of the lines to see whether there were fish around,  before moving on to spots where fish were prevalent. It is amazing how fish in this area can often be numerous on one hotspot and during the same day and same time and tide, another hot spot, a short distance away, would not show a sign of a fish on the echo sounder.

Predatory, pelagic fish move around these shallow reefs following large shoals of bait fish and if you hit it at the right time and place, carnage literally breaks out on deck as double and triple hook-ups are not uncommon.  King Mackerel, Yellowspot Kingfish, Jobfish, GT’s, Yellowfin Tuna and different species of leopard grouper are among those that feast on the bait balls and can be around in great numbers.  At dusk every day we would run into one of the remote but protected (from night time winds) bays and overnight in calm conditions continuing our venture early the next morning.

Large leopard grouper Yellowsop kingfish

A couple of days fishing up to the remote Nosy Larva and we turned our attention to a deeper, larger reef called Castor Bank. This massive, undulated underwater mountain mass has amazing fishing potential but lies approximately 40 – 60 miles off the islands and the run out can be a long one but definitely worth the effort.  When we approached the bank there were signs of fish life everywhere. Bonito and Rainbow runners showed themselves in large shoals on the surface, groups of nervous fusiliers bunched together in patches and the odd tuna and sailfish breeched the water surface in pursuit of some desperately fleeing baitfish.  The most valued fish for us on this reef with its multiple caves, pinnacles and drop-offs are the fish that one cannot see on the surface but which patrol the depths.

On Castor Bank, Dogtooth Tuna and large GT’s are the main predators and if ever you want to be ensured of hooking a sizeable doggie on fly or conventional tackle then this is the spot.  Dogtooth Tuna average 20 – 30kg’s (40 – 80lbs) on the bank but there are some larger units around that can give a 12W outfit a proper testing.  On heavier conventional live bait rigs and jigs doggie hook-ups were eminent but the fly fishing guys had to work a little harder and the reward would ultimately be sweeter.  GT’s share the ‘Castor Bank’ throne with the dogtooth and specimens of 55kg and more are not uncommon although the average size we gloved was between 10 – 15kg.  Bluefin and Yellowspot and Blackjack Kingfish, different Rock Cod and Grouper species, Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Dorado and Sailfish are often a target on this bank and make for interesting fishing.

Fighting a dogtooth Leopard grouper

Between the conventional and fly fishermen we literally caught and released a ton of fish or more a day on some reefs off Nosy Be and at the peak of our fishing sessions this venue compared with the best.

Sailfish are in abundance around Nosy Be.  The locals call them by their French name, Espadon, a long, heavy, two-handed and two-edged sword, formerly used by Spanish foot soldiers and by executioners and they are without a doubt the islands signature fish species.  Only a couple of minutes boat ride from Nosy Be or Nosy Sakatia and one can start expecting sailfish to pounce on the teasers.  We were not doing much trolling on our trip but whenever we saw a sailfish on the surface we dropped teasers, looped around with the boat and before long we had a bill slashing at it.

The locals tell us the sailfish are often around in such great numbers that their bills and sails can be seen protruding from the water surface all around the boat.  According to a fishing guide that spent many years fishing off Nosy Be, the best time to target sailfish in this area is April and May so if your dream is to catch a sailfish on fly your chance can surely be no better than in this area with a good operator over the best season.

Lunch time on the boat Comfortable yachts

Admiral Charters have been operating from Nosy Be for a couple of years now and offer two of the most comfortable fishing adventure boats I have had the pleasure to fish from.  The deck space is ‘open plan’ making moving around the living area of the boat less cramped and claustrophobic.  The staff are all on the ball with their cooking, cleaning and fishing and with a smile, effortlessly, go about their chores without interfering with the angler’s fun.  Madagascar is well known for its prawns and shrimps and these are often incorporated in their scrumptious seafood dishes.

Admiral Charters have 2 larges motorized catamarans in their fleet at this stage, the larger of the two boats called Admiral Explorer which sleeps 5 – 10 (sharing in 5 double cabins) comfortably and is 15.15m in length and 8.7m wide.  The second cat, the Admiral Adventurer is 12m long and 7.3m in the beam and has 3 double cabins.  David Bird, the owner of Admiral Charters, has secured the unutilized Oceanographic research institute buildings in a picturesque bay on Nosy Be.  He is cleverly planning to develop this shore ending section into a marina that will be a first on Nosy Be and will benefit many.

During our last trip we had enough time to do a little snorkelling around some of the island and the shallow water aquatic life, the coral structures were unreal , this is a must do.  There is also a fantastic, pristine, mangrove system to the south of Nosy Be that can only really be properly reached by live-aboard and from there explored by tender.  This is one of Admiral Charter’s specialities. Apparently the ‘light’ tackle fishing for different snappers and kingfish species is unreal.


Nosy Be also offers an in-depth look and feel into the colourful, interesting way that the Malagasy island people live.  There is a hands-on Lemur park, forest walks, beaches, curio shops and an eclectic mixture of bars, restaurants and night time entertainment at Ambataluka Bay.

Madagascar is so close to our shores but yet so far divided in culture and nature.  From the minute you step out of the plane at the small Airport in Nosy Be and travel down the windy road in a local taxi to the coastal areas, the smells and scenes portray a complexly different, exciting adventure.  If fishing is your passion then Madagascar should be visited.

Some facts on Madagascar

Madagascar has the feel of a frontier country especially when flying over the miles and miles of seemingly undisturbed forests, from Antananarivo, the inland capital to Nosy Be Island.  It is then hard to believe that almost 90% of its natural forests have been lost since the arrival of humans 2350 years ago.  The deforestation was largely caused by ‘tavy’, a traditional slash-and- burn agricultural practise imported into the country by early settlers.  Madagascar, according to geologists, split from India about 88 million years ago and evolved in relative isolation.  This long isolation caused this ‘eighth continent’ to ‘create’ species of plant and animal life that are absolutely unique, in fact, 80% of Madagascar’s plant species and animals such as the Lemurs, Fossa and many bird species are found nowhere else on the planet.  By 2012 a total of 103 species of lemurs had been identified and are all rare or endangered species.

Archaeologist estimate that the first settlers arrived on the island between 350BCE and 550CE. This will then make Madagascar one of the last landmasses on the planet to be settled by humans.  These settlers found an abundance of large fauna such as large Lemurs, Elephant birds, Giant Fossa and Malagasy Hippopotamus which has since become extinct directly due to hunting and the destruction of their habitat.  Most of the inhabitants of Madagascar speak the local Malagasy (Malayo – Polynesian origin) language or French.

Madagascar’s natural wealth comes in the form of unprocessed agricultural and mineral resources that include fishing, forestry, raffia.  It is also the world’s largest supplier of vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang (a bush like tree that produces a strong scent for the use in perfume).  Other important recourses for exportation include coffee, leeches, shrimps and various types of precious and semi-precious stones, including Sapphires.

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