About fifteen years ago I was browsing through a French angling publication with some amazing pictures of fishing in Gabon. One of the pictures really caught my attention. It was a 25 to 30 kilo fish that looked like a cross between a Queenfish and a Garrick, with the head of a Natal Snoek (Queen Mackerel). I had never seen anything like it before and was fascinated as to whether this fish would have the sharp teeth of a Queen Mackerel, or the sand-papery jaws of a Queenfish or Garrick.
More recently, I read of a very big Garrick that looked more like a cross with a Queenfish that was caught at Rio Longa in Angola. Once again my curiosity was aroused and I wondered whether this could possibly be the same fish. On a trip with the Blackfin Angling guys to Flamingo Lodge in Southern Angola in 2008, I managed to go through a Portuguese publication on the Sea Fish of Angola, which the local research student, Tim Richardson was kind enough to show me. I could find Lichia Amia, which is the same Garrick or Leervis that is caught on the South African East Coat, Southern Angola/Northern Namibia and extensively in the Mediterranean. Water temperature is a very important factor with fish and whilst Garrick seem to prefer 18 to 22 degrees Celcius, 16 to 24 is about the max of their range, other than in blind estuarine lagoons, where they are sometimes forced to tolerate even higher and lower variances.
I had spoken to a number of scientists, ichthyologists and marine biologists, most of whom were not aware of this fish at all. Some however were vaguely aware but could not offer any kind of name or additional information. On a recent trip to the Kwanza River Tarpon Lodge in Angola with the Off The Chart Fishing Adventure crew, I again enquired as to whether anybody had seen this particular fish. Bruce Bennett, who has fished commercially in the area said he had heard of some strange Garrick that he assumed were the same ones that were caught in the Mediterranean having been caught by the locals in the last few years. That enquiry put my hopes on the back burner awaiting some future trip to a place like Gabon or Guinea Bissau.
Although we were at the Kwanza River Tarpon Lodge primarily to fish for Tarpon, we were also hoping to get a few other new species such as African Threadfin, Cubera and the various Jack’s (Kingfish) on lures. Reports on some great surf fishing off the beaches below Luanda had come from friends and customers working in Luanda. It sounded too good to not do, so we planned to do a trip from Kwanza to Massulu in the hopes of getting in on this action. Unfortunately because of the tides we had to leave it right to the end of the trip where we had an early morning high tide.
To say that outing was a mind-blow is an understatement. It was arguably some of the best light to medium spinning I have ever had in the surf. The Kingfish (Jack Cravelle), of which we caught three different species, were going absolutely ballistic. So much so that the driver of our vehicle who had told us he wasn’t interested in fishing, persuaded Neil Gouws, who was guiding for us on the day, to rig one of the spare outfits so that he could join in. For about three hours we had absolutely frantic action. Shoals of Kingies were coming right into the shore break and their smashes looked like hand-grenades going off in the water. Often one could see Brad, Richard and I, plus Neil and the driver, all on at the same time, with a frantic camera man in a semi-controlled state of panic. The Needle Nose GT Ice-Creams were being hammered from the back line to the beach. One fish that missed my Needle Nose in the shore break came right up the beach on its side and grabbed it almost at my feet. Believe me, these fish make a GT seem like a damp squib on Diwali night in Durbs.
In the midst of all this chaos, I caught a glimpse of a fish that Brad was fighting as I ducked under his line following my fish. I couldn’t believe it – I turned around and shouted “Hey Brad, you’ve got a Garrick!” Garrick from the beach, like Prodigal Son from a boat, has cruelly eluded Brad and both fish he would dearly like to tick off his list. He immediately did the fisty air-punch, “Yes” thing, saying “My first Garrick off the beach!”. Fourty or fifty metres further on, I had my Kingie in the shore break and was trying to keep the line from fouling on a Spotted Eagle Ray of some 80 odd kilos that was on the inside of the shore break lip. It seemed to be desperately trying to stop the Jack Cravelle from coming up the beach! I was fascinated at this behaviour and I was trying to work out what was actually going on.
With the Garrick thing niggling at back of my mind as well (far too far North), it was only when I turned sideways to punch a wave waist deep and was reminded that the water was 30 degrees that I really clicked that it was impossible for that to be a normal Garrick. It could only be the mystery fish. I quickly chased the Spotted Eagle Ray away, landed the Kingie, returned it to the water and took off up the beach to stop the release of the “Garrick”. I immediately recognized this fish as being the one I had seen in the Gabon picture, albeit a younger version. This fish was going straight back to the Lodge as I knew that a complete specimen was required for any kind of scientific analysis to take place. A short while later Neil Gouws caught another one, which we released. Before the session was over we had caught yet another, but the colouration and shape appeared to be slightly different and this one we decided to keep as well. Back at the Lodge was a research student from Grahamstown who was collecting specimens from the Kwanza River for his own project.
Some time after our return, we heard to our dismay that the kitchen staff at the lodge had mistakenly cooked our specimens to feed the guests. Not content to give up, I have done a little research on the Internet and made a lot of enquiries amongst associates in the fishing and diving fraternity. What has come to light thus far is that when viewing pictures of Lichia Amia, shot by spear fishermen from Europe and especially France, I immediately recognized some of these fish as being our Tropical Garrick. When contacted, the divers confirmed the fish were shot in Equatorial Guinea in 27 to 31 degree water. Another report from Gabon is that they seem to be fairly common around the off-shore oil rigs in about 30 metres of water and that the average size is 25 to 30 kilos, so some of the reports that we have heard in the past of 50 kilo Garrick from West Africa sounds a lot more feasible. The bigger the fish get, the more diamond shaped and deeper bodied they seem to become, with the head appearing even smaller and sharper than in the younger specimens we caught.
There seems no doubt that up until now this fish has been confused with Lichia Amia, when in fact it is a different species and that contrary to what scientists have documented, the genus Lichia is not a Monotypic genus. In all probability, there are two separate species within it.
Collaborative hunting by different species in fish is not uncommon and neither is the adoptive shoaling phenomenon where a few individuals from one species join a bigger shoal of a species with similar habits. In this way, the few individuals can often end up well away from their normal range. If I were to speculate, I would say that these sub-adults that we caught were at the southern extreme of their range and may well have grown up with that group or shoal of Jack Cravelle that we enjoyed so much sport with that morning.
We are trying to gather as much information as we can on this fish especially in terms of the areas that they are most prevalent in. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.