Hunting Dogtooth Tuna in Tanzanian Waters by Eric Allard

The Warm-up

Eric Allard with a good DogtoothIt was early morning on December 27th 2007. Nigel had been visiting us in Tanga from Mombassa over the Christmas holidays, to do some spear fishing - or to 'dunga' (Swahili for poke, or spear) as we locally call it - as was our custom since the past 3 years. The previous 3 days had yielded mixed results, with Nigel loosing a large Black Marlin that was practically in his hands, but bagging a nice 27 kg saily on the same day and a small King Mackerel on the next. We'd seen many wahoo in Tanga over the previous 3 days, but they were simply too shy. The water had been fantastically clear, 30 - 50 m viz every day. The kind of water that is so bright blue you just don't want to get out of. The moment you get out, you just want to get back in. I had bagged two nice sailies, the biggest at 33 kg, and a couple of decent dorado.

The Trip

Eric Allard and Nigel with a catch of good sized dogtooth tunaBut the previous 3 days in Tanga had been just a warm-up for what we considered to be the 'big prize' in spear fishing, the opportunity to dunga on one of the off-shore reefs of legend in Tanzania that lies 25 nm offshore near Dar es Salaam! Logistics in getting there are quite difficult unless you are prepared to spend +$1,000 in chartering a sport fishing boat. We had been talking about it for a few years, and finally we put our foot down and decided we were going to do it. The family was not too happy with us leaving home during the Christmas holiday period, but there was no more room for reasons why we could not do it. The 370 km drive to Dar es Salaam was a disaster, with our rear bumper on our pick-up breaking in two and leaving the little 15' cat we were towing stranded on the road, but under the watchful eye of Ali, our faithful boat crew. Nigel and I drove on to find a 'fundi' to help rebuild the bumper. After several delays due to power cuts interrupting the rebuilding process, we finally got going again and made it to our destination, some 40 km south of Dar es Salaam, arriving at 2 am. We woke at 6 am to find it was blowing a bit of a gale, and decided that in our condition (lack of sleep) and rough seas it was not a good idea to head for a reef 25 nm offshore that we had never been to, and in a 15' boat. We had 3 nights for the trip so we slept on and decided to re-assess the situation later on. We spent the rest of the day preparing our gear and going to the beach launch site for our boat. We had everything planned for the next day, and we were lucky that the wind gradually dropped throughout the day (it usually blows hard during the end of December in Tanzania).

Good Conditions and Hopes of Big Dogtooth Tuna

Eric Allard with a dorado taken in Tanzanian watersWe awoke the next morning at 5 am and had a light breakfast. The boat was ready loaded and we drove the 5 km to the beach launch site. By 6.30 am we were heading out, Nigel, Ali, and myself. The sea was slightly choppy but there was no wind. It looked like it would be a good day. We met a couple of current rips along the way and due to the slight chop, it took us 1 hr 45 min to get there. The sighting of the reef was a sight for sore eyes, and Nigel could not help by blurting out 'It is so beautiful!!!' It sure was; the sea was calm, the water was crystal clear, and the little island that sat in the middle of the reef was covered in all kinds of sea birds. We headed for the southern tip of the long reef, where we had info that there would be doggies, plenty of them. They were what we had come for, as I had never had one and Nigel had had a few, including a decent one of 65 kg off Bali. We knew of very big doggies being landed here on rod and line, some over 100 kgs, so we were excited at the prospect of seeing them. Some 5-6 years back, a good spearo friend from SA, Paul Ferguson was the first to dunga a large doggie of 76 kgs in this spot.

Finding the Spot

The sea calmed even further as we idled along the western edge, studying the fish finder and just relaxing and getting ready for our dive, absorbing the good vibes coming off the sea. It took us another hour to find what we thought was the right spot (we had no coordinates as the sport fishers guarded their coordinates from us), and on jumping in we found the visibility to be over 30 m. There was a slight current heading north, so we jumped in the 40 m mark and drifted onto the reef. Over the coming hour we saw a couple of smaller doggies, in the 15 kg - 25 kg range. Probably just the smaller males. Nigel warmed himself up by bagging a nice red snapper before getting back on the boat to try to reposition ourselves. There was simply not enough action where we were drifting onto. We moved further out into deeper water and jumped in on the 70 m mark, slowly drifting into the 60 and 50 m mark. It was about then, with nice schools of bait fish and rainbow runner cruising mid water that I saw the first big shape down below me. I could not tell what it was, but it was probably a doggie. We drifted onto the reef with no success and got back into the boat to go up current.

Big Dogtooth

We jumped back in on the 70 m mark and did another drift. This time, as soon as I saw the baitfish I dove down onto my flashers (I am using two Rob Allen flashers tied some 5 m apart for more effect), hanging some 15 m below the surface. After a few seconds by the flasher, 5 large doggies swam toward me, veering off some 10 m away. I gently swam to intercept them on their turn and got a shot in with my RA Tuna 140 Carbon rail. By then I was down at 19 m and it was a good hit just behind the pectoral. I raced to the surface as my line raced down. The first RA 11 L buoy went under like it was a stone, and as my RA speedline pouch did not immediately open, so did the second 11 L buoy. I don't think I had ever seen such raw power before, not even in large yellowfin tuna I had speared in the past. It took some 15 minutes before I had the fish in my hands. ?WOW!!! My first doggie!!! What a fantastic fish!!! I was ecstatic!!!! This fish was +50 kgs no doubt. How does one describe the feeling a spearo gets when he/she finally gets a large fish in his/her hands Only a spearo knows. While on the boat we idled back upstream and Nigel went in again as I got my gear ready. On his next dive, next to his flasher, he took a shot at a nice doggie. He breached the surface waving his fist and it was cheers for him from us on the boat! Soon the second fish was in the boat. We were on a high and not thinking about limits, which is what we should have done.

Shoals of Dogtooth

Over the coming hour I saw doggies come up to my flashers just about on every single drift. They were all of similar size, +/-50 kgs, and I wanted a second fish. Retrospectively, I should have been looking out for the bigger ones, but was too enthralled with the sight of these large doggies swimming in groups of up to 7, around my flashers. I speared another two which I lost. Silly shots! I speared a 4th which I brought into the boat, and that was it for me. Two doggies of +50 kg was enough for the day, and it was getting late. In the mean time, Nigel had a nice 14.7 kg. wahoo. We had to get back and pull the boat out of the water before it got dark.

Needless to say, the ride back was smooth and we were on a high after such a fantastic day. It was the kind of day spearos dream about. Upon our return to our little cottage on the beach, we iced the fish in a large ice box we brought along with us. The drive back to Tanga the next day was uneventful, with just discussing plans for the next dunga trip out there. Hopefully in October, when the sea is flat......The fish weighed in at 57.6 kg, 56.5 kg, 52.5 kg and the wahoo at 14.7 kg. And doggie is great to eat.