The Ignoblis Christmas 25-Dec-03 - Len Turner

Ignoblis shot by Len TurnerWe all look forward to our annual leave and holidays over the festive season. For me it’s always been at least 20 days away from the Gauteng grimy grunge, with plenty of clean air, sun, surf and wild-seas… ala Natal South Coast and my holiday house “Sea-Lion’s Den” at Umkomaas.

This year was no exception and even with the river mouth boisterous launch turning over two little Tubs, every day was a spearfishing orgy off “Aqua-Tick”, although no really substantial fish came out. The Cuda’s had not yet arrived and the Wahoo’s were as scarce as rooster canines. Much to my disappointment, some of the locals were even diving out living coral (more about this later) to make ends meet.

Christmas Day was the family thing with blessings, good wishes (please will those mentally challenged friends of mine who re-send ad-nauseum cliché SMS’s originated by the cellular service providers to create profitable chain mail – kindly cease and desist forthwith – I got “Happy Easter from the Alzheimer’s Association” at least 5 times), gifts and stuff. After a breakfast that would feed the whole of Afghanistan for a short month, after dutiful visits to all the relatives and friends, I started to get kinda fidgety and all hand-shaked/kissed out. The sea was calling for an afternoon dive. Fortunately my family is understanding and they all said “GO!”

Mickey Toth my Umkomaas neighbour and living legend fisherman was just about to pull off with his Purple Grape beach vehicle thing and “Kingfisher”. I called “How about a ride?” He just dreamily nodded “Hop on!” Rob Gates (the Zimbabwean crocodile hunter – with the scars to prove it) and I needed no second invitation. We kitted up with the speed of greased racing snakes. Aliwal Shoal here we come. Gyulia had phoned with the spotting of some big Kingies on the inside edge the previous afternoon and so we were really psyched up and eager.

Now Mickey is really competitive and said the challenge is on: fishermen against spearo’s for a bottle of Captain’s. Deal! But the scheming scoundrel would not let us get in the water for the first hour whilst he was trawling through the birds. Eventually once he had landed three Yellowfin Tuny and a Wahoo he dropped us off on the Shoal and continued trawling. Now spearfishing off a boat that is not really paying attention to the divers: whether you shoot a fish, drift to Scottburgh, get eaten by a shark or put a spear into a really big one that tows you out into the shipping lanes is disconcerting to say the least. The first thing I dive out is a lost weight-belt. It’s not possible to swim around with an additional 12 kilo’s of lead so I hook the belt on my Float (which becomes a Sink). Then I shoot a nice Ka-kaap and Bank Steenbras and hook these on my well-submerged Float stringer. Still no boat appears.

Now it’s about 5 o’clock in the afternoon and the setting sun is casting long shadows in the water. I look around at my float and spot something huge with wide pectoral fins easing up to the Stringer to take a sample of my fish. Shark? No – it’s a Giant Carynx Ignoblis, at least 50 kg’s. Gently I slide down towards the big fish, which remains placid and ignoring me. Quickly, I place a shot in the fish and then all hell breaks loose. The Kingfish takes off, towing that heavy Float, 12kg Weight-belt, 10kg’s of fish and 82 kg’s of diver (me) like the Volraadt Woltemaade tug escorting the Queen Elizabeth 2 into Durban port. The Iggy takes me down into the reef and after a massive fight tears off. Now I am really angry and blame everybody (except myself) for losing this beautiful fish.

Eventually the boat arrives to pick us up for another drift. When I tell Mickey about the big Iggy I lost he says, don’t worry, they only have a 17-minute memory and I will get it on the next drift. Yeah, likely! So we backtrack on the GPS and get back in the water for the same drift again. I warn Mickey, under threat of death, to stick closer to us. Shedding some of the weight off my float and getting a fresh gun (without a bent spear), we try again. My first dive down, I am not impressed: The Sappi/Saiccor pollution gunge has really moved in and the late afternoon shadows has made the water grey on top and an eerie bile yellow down below 10 metres. Still on my first dive down I press on. At about 18 metres deep the water suddenly clears up. I fin slowly through a beautifully coloured school of baitfish and when I glimpse the bottom at about 22 metres, I see the strangest thing:

A pitch black Giant Kingfish, swimming slowly on its side with a big eye just looking up at me and the school of baitfish. Unhurried the king of the sea, fearless, just flicking its tail to glide effortlessly against the screaming current. This time, I too am unhurried. I know that only a gill shot will have any effect against this massive fish and I place the razor sharp brand new spear right through the gill plates. The fish is not going to come off in this lifetime. But I must still keep the Iggy off the rocks and try and power it up to little avail. Iggie takes off like a 1000 metre emergency rocket flare. The more I pull upwards the more the fish tows me down. I just keep on pulling as hard as I can and whilst keeping the tension on the buoy-line, eventually surface gasping for air. It’s like pulling up the Titanic. Heavy, Strong, Deep – no dead weight this. I scream for Rob to come and help me. We get another shot into the fish and even with both of us pulling with all our might, the Trevally is determined not to surface and keeps on fighting dirty. After about 15 minutes of this gigantic tug-of-war, we eventually start gaining and begin to retrieve the line, inch by inch. When we finally get the Ignoblis to surface, we are both so exhausted that I am dizzy, seeing stars and really think that I have drowned and gone to fish heaven. Just the eye of the Iggy is bigger than my mouth as I scream for the boat. Luckily Mickey paid heed to my threat, saw the commotion and was at hand to assist. When we boated the Carynx Ignoblis, we had to lie on the deck of the boat for the longest time to recuperate.

The things we do for a bottle of Captain’s. This was certainly a Noble Christmas. The best gift a man could ever receive. Thank you Father! Thank you fish! I can still feel your Noble Spirit coursing through my veins.