We’re beyond the reef that shelters Watamu from the high seas.
Six nautical miles out, the ocean is a solid deep blue, hiding within its depths the secrets of the seas. There is no land visible from where we are – only the blue world and the curve of the globe.
Suddenly the crew leaps into action. One of the fishing lines has hooked something. With bated breath, we watch the unfolding drama – will it be a swordfish or a marlin? Then out of the water the line pulls a fish – it’s not one of the “Big Five” of the ocean but a dorado.
The fish puts up a spirited fight, its’ beautiful blue bursting into animated flashes as it leaps in and out of the water; and then the lines goes limp –The dorado has made its escape.
In any case, we are not fishing for any of the marine “Big Five”, instead, we are here to try and spot whales and dolphins.
There are quite a few species of whales that migrate up and down the eastern side of the continent, all the way from the Antarctic to as far north as Somalia and beyond. Of the dolphins, some species migrate, some are homebodies.
It’s a nice little boat we’re on – luxuriously cozy, designed by two women, as revealed by our captain as we enjoy our drinks lounging on the two divans on either side of the boat.
In the lower deck, is a cabin full of hooks, colourful lures to attract fish – a few shaped like tiny octopus – and fishing lines. A lure costs up to $50 (Sh4, 874) while a rod and line can cost $ 1,200 (Sh116, 998). Above is the captain’s cockpit from where he steers our vessel. The crew keep a steady watch on the fishing lines.
“This boat has seven fishing lines – six for fishing on the surface and a downrigger that goes deep and is operated with a motor,” explains Captain Safari who has 20 years of experience on boats. ‘His’ boat which he calls his office was built in 1967 and in keeping with the times, it’s fitted with GPS and a depth sounder which resonates the depth of the fish. You seriously need a bit of brain to fish.
My interest is captured by Safari’s vivid tale. “The downrigger tackles bait 60 feet down,” he continues.
The crew is looking out for fish like wahoo, kingfish, tuna and little sharks.
It reminds me of the legendary novelist, Ernest Hemingway, who penned The Old Man and the Sea in 1951, about an old fisherman determined to catch a marlin. It’s on his 84th day at sea that he hooks the marlin and what follows is an epic battle between the two. It’s a must-read.
“July to September are best for deep sea fishing,” offers Safari who worked his way from being one of the crew to captain. Part of his training is to know the winds, the waves, the fishing spots and the lines and how to work with the crew. “During that time there’s marlin, sail fish, tuna and wahoo around,” he continues.
The fishing season quietens down in October and picks up for big-game fishing from November to March.
A few hours later, we’re on shore at Hemingways Watamu. It’s a luxe resort in Watamu, world-renowned for ocean fishing. It is named Hemingways – it has to be named after Ernest –because it’s believed that this Nobel-winning novelist set up camp on the beach from the descriptions in the notes during the pre-GPS days.
One of the striking features of Hemingways is the impressive collection of billfish and others on the walls of the bar and foyer – all hand-painted and a fibre-cast of the real fish. Most are a few years old, the practice now being to tag and release them.
“It’s a record of what was here, a little piece of history,” says Melinda Rees the general manager of Hemmingways Watamu.
The heartbeat of the resort is without doubt the bar. It’s where tales are swopped and merriment flows. Sitting at the counter with the billfish to stare at the grand views of the Indian Ocean, Rees continues. “This is one of the very few places in the world where you can have a fantasy slam in a 24-hour period.” In the fishing world that means catching the striped, blue and black marlin, a sailfish and a broadbill.
“In the last few years, we have had three fantasy slams,” she says.
Things to do in Watamu
Watamu is 107 kilometres from Mombasa and 21 kilometres from Malindi. There’s a lot to do in Watamu, from sports fishing to spa treatments.
Don’t forget to explore the ocean through scuba diving, kite surfing or wind surfing. The whale watching season is about to start and guides from the Watamu Marine Association can show you around.
Away from the sea, you can visit Arabuko Sokoke Forest, see the snakes at Bio-Ken Snake Farm or visit the ancient Gede Ruins.
You can stay at Hemmingways Watamu (www.hemmingways-watamu.com) and enjoy the delightful menus and beautiful grounds of this luxurious resort.