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Hammered in Madeira! Duncan's Autumn Big Game Fishing Diary

As many of you may know, Rok Max has an exclusive partnership with a boat in Madeira. The boat is based in Calheta, a marina with an enviable reputation for big game fish pursued by traditional trolling methods. However on this occasion I wanted to explore some of the other types of fishing available. So after a quick call to Graham, captain of Gavito, I made arrangements for a short trip and set off early on Monday morning, straining the baggage limits with a variety of rods, reels and tackle.

Calheta Marina

Our aim was to try and learn more about the shark fishing on the island, and to experiment with some jigging. Ideally, we wanted to broaden the fishing and species available to visiting anglers. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nothing more than cruising alongside the stunning cliffs in pursuit of marlin, tuna, wahoo and dorado, but I also wanted to see if reports of hammerhead, mako, large blue and bonnet sharks were true.

Gavito BoatDay 1, Monday 7th September

I left Gatwick at 7.40am and arrived in Funchal, Madeira at 11.30am. There I was met by Jenny, Grahams’ wife, for the 40 minute drive to the marina at Calheta.

A speedy check-in at the hotel and then straight down to the boat for a talk about the next couple of days fishing and to meet Grahams crewman, Orlando. It is law that all charter boats in Madeira have two qualified skippers, but in reality, you need two people to manage the boat.

Traditional Rod PatternsI had taken a variety of shark traces, tied up to our usual Ocean Predator specification, although I did increase the hook size from 10/0 to 12/0 on a couple of traces. Graham had also sourced a frozen mackerel chum mix, bran and fish oils as well as a supply of onion sacks and containers to store, mix and disperse the chum trail necessary to attract the sharks we hoped would be there.

With a few hours of fishing time available that afternoon, we set off for a reef, and off course took advantage of the opportunity to troll as we went. We missed one brief hit, before releasing a small dorado.

On arrival at the reef, we set up a traditional pattern of rods, running the furthest bait the deepest, and the closest just under the surface. The water clarity is amazing and the chum was visible for a great distance as it dispersed, bringing the attention of all sorts of small fish. I decided to drop a jig into the near 100m of water, and was rewarded with a couple of strong hits before connecting with a grouper.

With the light fading, the effects of a 2.30am start beginning kick in, and with the beckoning lights of the marina bar in the distance, we headed back to base. About half way back a large tuna cleared the surface in front of us, and another unidentified splash confirmed that there were still plenty of game fish present.

Duncan with a Grouper

Day 2, Tuesday 8th September

We left the marina, and again, set up a spread to troll to our chosen mark.

On arrival, we set up the same shark pattern, using 3 rods and sat back in anticipation. Graham decided to drop a sardine down to the bottom to see if he could tempt dinner.

Suddenly Orlando leapt to his feet and pointed to a large fin, gently gliding through the surface. The fin belonged to a large hammerhead shark, and it was clear that it had picked up the scent, and would soon be onto the baits. Anticipating it would take the closest and shallow bait, set up on my Alutecnos stand up rod, I checked my harness was ready and prepared for conflict!

Then the clicker on Grahams’ reel registered interest in his sardine at depth. I knew that bringing a hooked fish up would almost certainly attract the sharks interest, and divert it away from the static baits but as it transpired, events were beyond our control.

In an instant, the unidentified fish on Grahams’ rod promptly appeared at the surface in the shape of a white marlin around the 100lbs mark. The distressed marlin immediately attracted the attention of the hammerhead, which swiftly and aggressively covered the short distance to the panicking fish and smashed into it with sheer brute force creating an eruption of spray. The line parted, and the shark, estimated at over 600lbs vanished.

The three of us were left staring at each other. To hook a white marlin on a bait fished at depth is a rarity and we would have been delighted to land it. To see the hammerhead cruising towards our baits with intent, set the heart pumping as we knew we had a proper chance of hooking one of these monsters of the deep. So for both events to happen simultaneously was unfortunate, but equally one of those amazing experiences we won’t forget!

We continued to drift, getting two short runs, which didn’t hook up. It is difficult in unfamiliar waters to know what else could pick up a large mackerel bait and run, but when we retrieved the rig, the bait had gone. We finished the day with an excellent BBQ at Graham and Jenny’s, watching the sea as the sun set in anticipation of our final day.

Day 3, Wednesday 9th September

After the events of the previous day, we decided to target another reef, and again set up the chum trail and rods to drift. I took the opportunity to talk to Orlando, who comes from a fishing family, and combined with his passion and knowledge about the waters around the island is a perfect mate for Graham. The sharks are not prolific in terms of numbers compared with the smaller blues around the UK, but they are big. Sharks around 800lbs are not uncommon, and there is a serious opportunity to set or break line class records in these waters. There are even reports of six gill sharks over the 1000 lbs mark moving up from the deeps during darkness.

Madeira also offers some fantastic opportunities for jigging, so with this in mind I made sure to take an OTI Fathom Blade jigging rod, paired with a Daiwa Dogfight reel loaded with 50lbs braid. I have used several different outfits here before but this really is a sensational combination that beats everything else hands down.

On my first stint, I had a couple of hits before connecting with a red snapper.

Duncan with BarracudaThe second stint resulted in a spirited barracuda that fought hard all the way up. It is amazing to watch these fish coming up through the crystal clear water.

Jigging in deep water is hard work and it is important to make sure the jig is working properly if you want results. This means working a fast retrieve, and making sure the jig is fishing in a vertical plain, not at an angle. This may mean retrieving up to 200m of line, just to reset the angle, but if you don’t, it wont work. In the heat, fish in short bursts, stopping to rest and take on fluids.

I had another quick break and then dropped into 100m and was rewarded with a fantastic scrap from an amberjack that saw the Fathom Blade hooped over as it dived for the bottom, taking line against a heavy drag.

In deeper water, it is critical to use a short, stiff rod to impart the necessary action to the jig. It is also worth checking your jigs to ensure the hooks cannot foul and stick over the body of the jig. Most quality jigs will be balanced with the correct hooks, but if you change them, just check the gape doesn’t cause the hook to jam onto the blade.

Duncan with Amberjack

There was no activity on the shark baits, so we decided to troll back and call it a day.

What did we learn?

The objective this short trip was to explore some of the other forms of fishing available and it's clear there are certainly large sharks to be targeted! I am certain that without the incident with the white marlin, we would have hooked up.

Graham and Orlando will continue to research marks, times and liaise with the local fishermen to develop our understanding of the opportunities for targeting these sharks.

Jigging is very under rated. It is not that the fish are not there, again as we proved but just that no one fishes for them. The deep water reefs offer a wide variety of species with fish up to 100lbs. If jigging is not your thing, try fishing bait on the bottom, or free lining a strip of fish.

Tackle Guide

Duncan's Madeira Tackle GuideFor the sharks:
I used an Alutecnos 30-50lbs class stand-up rod and an Avet Pro EX30-W 2 speed reel, loaded with 40lbs Momoi line. This was matched with an Alutecnos Pro fighting harness and belt. For terminal tackle, I used Rok Max Ocean Predator rubbing leaders and bite traces. 12ft of 400lbs wire on the leaders, and 480lbs wire for the bite traces, with Mustad 7731D 10/0 and 12/0 hooks. We also used Grahams’ 50-80lbs class rods with the same terminal tackle.

For jigging:
I used the OTI Fathom Blade 40-60lbs class rod, teamed with a Diawa Saltiga Dogfight 8000 reel, loaded with 50lbs braid line. I used OTI jigs ranging from 200 to 450grams, favouring the shorter squatter patterns such as Jumbo or Jager in blues and silvers.

General Kit:
It is definitely worth fitting a Luna Sea Cush-It to your rod to prevent bruising. In addition to the game trolling, Graham has equipment to tackle up for sharks and to jig, but of course it is always nice to use your own gear where possible. Quality fishing sunglasses are vital - as well as cutting the glare and protecting your eyes - they will allow you to exploit the crystal waters with views down to 20m. I wear Costa’s.

OTI Jigs

The Team in Madeira

The operation is run by Captain Graham Venters and his wife Jenny. They work hard to provide you with everything you need for the perfect short fishing trip and their hospitality is second to none. Graham is assisted by Orlando, who is an extremely competent and professional crewman, passionate about trying to help clients and extremely proud about maintaining the boat and equipment.

Accommodation is at the Calheta Beach Hotel, and there are plenty of local bars and restaurants on the harbour to choose from.

End of the Madeira TripI travelled alone, but it is fine for 2 anglers to share the boat. Partners are also welcome and there is plenty to do on this amazing island. Packages can be tailored from most major airports and can be structured to include as many or as few days fishing as you like.

There are plenty of opportunities left to fish this season, so give us a call to catch up on the latest.

Contacts & Further Info

Mat McHugh, Fly Odyssey +44 (0)1621 743711 or email

Allan at Rok Max on +44 (0)1635 736436.

Ducan Goldsmith
I’ve fished for over 40 years, concentrating particularly on saltwater or game species on fly and lure tackle. In the UK my favourite sport is chasing the amazing blue and porbeagle sharks with a fly rod, and previously held the record for the largest fish in the UK caught on fly tackle along with the first porbeagle on a fly rod. In recent years I have literally been bitten by the bug in pursuit of tarpon. Other interests include cooking and property refurbishment.