Between May and September every year some of the biggest blue marlin in the Atlantic appear in Madeiran waters.
Blue marlin have been fished by island anglers since the 1970s, when pioneers such as Dr. Antonio Ribeiro took on the challenge of battling marlin and tuna. During the 1980s, the focus for most visiting anglers tended to be sharks and the prolific schools of bigeye tuna, but some huge blue marlin were weighed in and many more lost. Dr Antonio was rewarded for his pioneering work when he boated a European record blue marlin of over 1000 lbs, the first grander blue marlin to be caught on rod and reel in Europe.
In 1989, English skipper Roddy Hayes set up a charter operation in Madeira. One of the first to work alongside Roddy was former commercial tuna skipper Anibal Fernandes (now Captain of M.Y. Balancal). Soon both skippers were recording remarkable blue marlin catches, the great majority of which were tagged and released. The exceptional marlin seasons of 1992 to 1996 saw the island of Madeira become the focus of worldwide attention.
Blue marlin fishing in Madeira, along with the other Atlantic islands, underwent a severe downturn between 1997 and 2000, blamed by many on the strong El Niño event of 1996-1997. Conditions quietly began to improve from 2001 onwards, and recent seasons have seen the island grounds return to much of their former glory.
Today, the emphasis is on sustainability and conservation. Heavy tackle is used to avoid prolonged fights and care is taken to release billfish in as good condition as is possible.
Blue marlin normally start to appear in May and can be encountered as late as September. Recent seasons have seen the months of June and July produce the very best blue marlin fishing. Most blue marlin encountered in Madeiran waters will be in the 500 to 700 lb class. True giants in the magic thousand pound class are hooked up and fought every year.
The fishing grounds are situated on the south coast of the island, sheltered by the high cliffs from the prevailing northeast trade winds. Fishing generally takes place within a few miles of the island and many great fish are caught well within two miles of the shoreline. Lure fishing is the most successful method with a wide variety of medium to large artificials from various sources being successful.
Big Eye Tuna
The Big Eye Tuna or 'Patudo' is the backbone of the Madeiran commercial tuna fishery. The island's tuna-boat fishermen range far and wide in pursuit of these elusive and valuable pelagic fish, which they attract with live bait and secure by the ancient means of pole and line.
The first tuna schools can arrive within striking distance of Madeiran sportfishing boats as early as January. April and May normally see the best tuna action with fewer, but larger fish being encountered as spring progresses. The largest Big Eye Tuna are often caught in the summer months.
These fish will often exceed 80 kgs (160 lbs) and are very strong fighters even on heavy tackle.
All tuna species can range over enormous distances in their never-ending quest for food. The movements and migrations of tuna schools are dictated by a complex and ever-changing interplay of ocean currents and the presence of baitfish. Tuna are also intensively hunted by commercial fishermen of many nations. Today, it is rare indeed to see the acres of busting tuna that were once so common in Madeiran waters. Nonetheless, the sportsman that visits the island at the right time still has a good chance of having his arms stretched by the power of one of these living torpedoes.
Big Eye Tuna are, of course, a highly prized gourmet delicacy, and a grilled tuna steak or a plate of finely sliced sashimi is a great way to finish off a day on the water.
Other Tuna Species
Longfin albacore or voador, and the skipjack tuna or gaiado are the other two important tuna species found in Madeiran waters. Albacore tuna are easily distinguished by their long wing-like pectoral fins, from which the Portuguese name voador (flyer) is derived. The smaller skipjack tuna is often abundant during the summer months and is an excellent light-tackle
WHITE MARLIN & SPEARFISH
Two lightweight billfish species are present seasonally in Madeiran waters, the white marlin and the elusive spearfish.
White marlin and spearfish normally arrive in Madeiran waters a little earlier than blue marlin. April often sees the first individuals and from May to at least the end of September, any given fishing day can yield one or more shots at these elegant neon-finned gamefish.
In Madeiran waters, white marlin and spearfish are often caught while targeting tuna in spring or blue marlin in summer, but their narrow jaws and leaping acrobatics can make them very difficult to hook up and land on the heavier gear typically used for larger gamefish. When a consistent bite is on, they can be targeted with smaller lures and lighter tackle, which not
only results in better hookups but allows these flyweight champions to show their fighting abilities to the fullest. Whether targeted or not, a visit from one of these species always adds excitement to the fishing day.
The white marlin and spearfish encountered in our fishing area range from juveniles of 30 down to as little as 10 lbs to mature fish of 45 to 70 lbs with some larger specimens of 90 to 100+ lbs. Madeira holds a number of current and former world record spearfish including the former all-tackle record of 90 lb 13 oz.
From late summer into early winter, large wahoo prowl the inshore grounds in search of mackerel, needlefish, large flying fish and other baitfish. Madeiran wahoo are well-conditioned fish that normally average 40 to 60 lbs with occasional larger fish exceeding the 70-lb mark.
These sleek razor-jawed predators can be surprisingly elusive and wary, but when hooked up are turbocharged performers on light to medium tackle. Most of the productive wahoo marks lie close to the island's remarkable cliffs, offering a spectacular view whilst you await the bite.
REEF & BOTTOM FISHING
During the winter months when little is happening on the game fishing front, reef fishing trips can be arranged by special request. Several marks on the south coast are home to a variety of rock and reef dwellers such as pargo (Madeiran red snapper), triggerfish, grouper and several species of jacks.