Today we’re going to look at some of the most iconic fishing spots in Europe: the big game archipelagos of Azores, Madeira, Canaries, and Cape Verde. Get ready to take notes, you’ll want to know exactly when and where to head!
Fishing is Also Good on the Other Side
Let’s face it: for as long as we can remember, our idea of world’s greatest fishing destinations has primarily been determined by the seductive, deep sea allure of the Americas.
After all, can anyone really argue about quality and grace of bonefishing in the Bahamas being second to none? Or how about those insane Marlin seasons all along the Caribbean, still keeping current record holders awake late at night? And did somebody just say Big Tuna fishing in the Pacific?
Anyway, you get the point. We’ve been conditioned to think that quality of fishing descends exponentially with each nautical mile we sail away from the lavish Americas’ mainland.
And while nobody will refute that casting your line anywhere from Florida to Brazil will undoubtedly account for some of the greatest fishing stories of your life, there is so much more for an avid fisherman to experience, anxiously waiting right on the other side of the street. Or, you know, the ocean.
So in order to make sure no premier fishing grounds get overlooked again, we’re taking you on an eye-opening journey to the opposite part of the Northern Atlantic, where four tiny archipelagos still await the day they’ll truly be discovered by the sport angling community.
On these volcanic islands, boating 100 Blue Marlin per season remains the norm rather than the exception. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to those giant Bigeyes that once inhabited the deep seas off the coasts of Florida and Mexico, it’s these very waters that you’ll realize most of them now call home.
And I’m sure you won’t be interested in hearing about the record-breaking Spearfishing potential of each of these big game hotspots, or some of the most exquisite Wahoo fishing in the world during the off-season?
Yes, whatever your ideal deep sea fishing vacation may look like, the Big Game oases of Europe and Africa’s western end are always more than happy to oblige. So, without any further adieu, commencing our voyage, we first dock in one of the most popular Portuguese vacation spots:
The Azores Fishing Spots: Where Blue Marlin Gather
If there’s one thing to take away from this isolated island group in the Northern Atlantic, it should be 1307. Because other than that being the exact weight (in pounds) of the largest Blue Marlin ever caught in the Azorean waters, it also pretty much represents the precise number of different ways one can find him or herself enjoying this archipelago’s incredible Big Game prospects.
In either case, it’s safe to say that the string of nine volcanic islands which make up the Azores are a haven for some of the finest Marlin fishing this side of the Atlantic. Renowned for its ability to produce a so-called ‘grander’ (any Blue Marlin weighing more than 1000 lbs) almost on demand, the Azores have quickly found themselves a regular addition to countless IGFA’s record lists over the last decade.
Other than that majestic 1300 lbs Marlin specimen, these shores also bore witness to a 1189 lbs Blue Marlin caught on an 80lbs line, women’s world record for Bluefin Tuna being shredded to pieces (974 lbs), as well as numerous record entries in light tackle classes for both Blue and White Marlin.
Azores Tuna Fishing
And although Billfishing definitely dominates the Azorean narrative during the summer months, with peak season for Marlin lasting from June to September, it’s really the so-called ‘off season’ that proves this archipelago as being much more than just a one trick pony. Enter Big Tuna spectacle.
Spanning from early May to the very start of traditional Marlin season, many of the angler’s favorite Tuna make their way to these waters, with gigantic Bluefins and Bigeyes leading the pack: some of them so close to shore you can start proactively fishing just outside the breakwater! If you’re particularly interested in targeting the ‘eyes, check out the islands of Santa Maria and Sao Miguel during the month of May, with these notorious fighters averaging anywhere from 200 to 300 lbs. On the other hand, when casting for Bluefins, try heading north of Faial for maximum impact.
During this lavish two-month period, 15 Tuna releases per day aboard the sturdy Azorean charter boats are anything but uncommon according to various fishing reports, with the respectable overall average of between 55-180 lbs, depending on the variety of subspecies. That being said, Yellowfins, Skipjacks and Albacores have all been well known to make a special appearance in the Azores during this timeframe as well.
Keep in mind that, due to sustainability efforts, many charters do insist on fishing for Bluefin Tuna with only the heaviest of tackle, in order to reduce fight time and ensure that this important fish species gets released uninjured. In fact, much has been done in the recent years to protect the sensitive Azorean marine ecosystem, ever since its’ giant underwater seamounts (which provide crucial nutrients and shelter for many big game species) were ravaged by commercial bottom trawling and longlining, the former of which has been banned in the Azores since 2004.
If you’re hungry for some light tackle action though, plenty of species to choose from in that realm. In fact, there have been numerous White Marlin hook-ups (average weight: 50-100 lbs) on the fly in the recent years, with this saltwater technique steadily growing in popularity across the Azores. White Marlin is often considered little more than a by-catch when going after the big Blues, but these acrobatic warriors are bound to put your fly-fishing skills to the limit, with calm and plentiful summer seas being the perfect opportunity to test your luck.
Swordfishing Prospects of the Azores
Hey, remember how some prime fishing destinations pride themselves in offering novelty fishing trips, like the ones which only target specific, often niche fish species? (looking at you, swordfishing charters of Florida) Well, although Spearfish and Swordfish are certainly nowhere near as abundant as the Marlins in the Azores, there are still ample opportunities to go after these billed pelagics as well, yet most charters are usually reluctant to do so.
Why? Because swordfishing is much better during the night, and with such an array of big game species to choose from during the day, it is rare to find a Captain willing to sacrifice any single day of seasonal fishing in exchange for a nocturnal angling excursion. Yes, fishing in the Azores is so good, species that are considered main attraction in some places are just way too down the bucket list to deal with around here. Shark fishing is approached much the same way: although all too common, fishing for Mako, Hammerhead or Blue shark is just too time consuming, and is generally considered sub-par next to premier billfish and tuna prospects.
Azores Fishing for Families
If your fishing trip is going to be family-oriented or you’re simply more interested in exploring the archipelago’s seabed rather than engaging in tournament-style angling, bottom fishing is an excellent opportunity to experience the true marine biodiversity of the Azorean waters firsthand. Expect to snatch everything from Dusky Groupers and Chub Mackerel, all the way to Forkbeard, White, Blacktail and Common Seabream, Guelly Jack, Scorpionfish and much more. If jigging is your poison, you can additionally look forward to some Bluefish, Yellowmouth Barracuda, Atlantic Bonito and Amberjacks, all curiously visiting the other end of your line.
Beach casting for Bluefish, large Stingray and even small sharks is another popular pastime in the archipelago. Not to name names, but Ponta Delgada is a pretty fantastic place to go free-lining or spinning from the harbour, with jacks, small bonito and barracuda all being the potential catch of the day.
Madeira Fishing: Big Game Galore
The final Portuguese archipelago on our list, Madeira is comprised of three tiny islands volcanic in origin, with the main island (also called Madeira) actually being just the tip of a giant underwater mountain: which apart from sounding like an awesome supervillain lair, also turns out to be greatly beneficial to the island’s deep sea prospects.
How exactly? Well, due to the entire mountain running extremely steep all the way down to the ocean floor, the drop-off occurs unusually close to shoreline, meaning you’ll literally find yourself in about 6500 feet (2000m) of deep ocean waters in a matter of minutes! Yes, Madeira wastes no time getting you to the local hotspots, which is exactly why you are more than likely to see lines being put out just as the boats start departing from the harbor. Inshore or offshore fishing: what’s the difference again?
Blue Marlin of Madeira
Just in case you thought Madeira’s Marlin prospects still might turn out to be meager relative to the bountiful Azores, I’m here to give you a wonderfully disappointing news: starting in early May and running all the way to October, the Blue Marlin season is not only longer than in the Azores, the fish is bigger as well!
With some putting the average catch between the 600 and 700-pound mark, you can see why it’s often recommended to brush up on your record-setting manual before stepping on any boat around Funchal, Madeira’s largest city and main harbor. Some captains will even boast about at least 1 in every 10 of their catches being the ‘grander’. Truth or fiction? Only one way to find out.
Catching Tuna off Madeira
If you ever get bored of breaking those billfish records, there are ample Tuna fishing opportunities if you look close enough…or anywhere really. Bigeyes and Albacores jumpstart the Tuna season as early as January, with Skipjacks and Bluefins being the close second. April and May usually account for the finest Tuna action overall, while targeting Bigeyes specifically can be rather prolific even late into the Marlin season.
Much in the same way as with the Azores, both Bluefin Tuna and Blue Marlin are approached with great respect and appreciation from the local captains, which will usually only allow the heaviest tackle to be used against these marine gladiators, to diminish the risk of injury and release them safely back into the ocean arena as fast as possible.
For those of you that never really got into the whole Blue Marlin movement, this is where you shine. Unlike the Azores, this archipelago gives spearfishing the attention it rightfully deserves, with Madeira island holding a number of both former and current world records for Spearfish, including the one formerly set in the all-tackle category, where the catch tipped the scale at 90 lbs 13 oz.
Furthermore, just as the Tuna and Blues pack their bags and begin leaving in early Autumn, large schools of Wahoo push inshore preying on the the likes of Mackerel and Needlefish. Normally averaging at around 40-60 lbs, most of the finest Wahoo specimen are actually caught just next to the island’s cliffs, making for some excellent light tackle action.
Excellent Reef Fishing Opportunities
Come winter, as the local charters await the first Tuna travellers back onto its shores, there is still some excellent reef fishing to be done on several marks down the island’s southern coast. You can look forward to anything from the so-called Pargo (Madeiran version of a Red Snapper), to Barracuda, Triggerfish, Groupers and several Jacks. Or how about taking a hike up the famous Madeiran Levadas and go trout fishing in the mountains? Shark fishing is also particularly fruitful in the winter months, with Mako, Blue and Hammerhead all happily parked in these waters.
Basically, no matter what time of the year you find yourself on Madeira’s shores, there is never an excuse not to pull out your rod and go searching for some action (well, maybe not the most fortunate of word choices there). And for a firsthand account of the archipelago’s impressive fish diversity, one needn’t even go so far as to get in the water: just take a stroll along the giant fish market in the center of Fuchal and see if you’re able to recognize at least a third of all the species on display. Be sure to let us know how you did!
Fishing the Canary Islands Fisheries
One of the outermost regions of the entire European continent, the Canaries are actually located just off the western edge of Africa’s mainland, with some of its islands even falling on the same latitude as Florida and Mexico. And let’s just say a smidge of that latitudinal love brushed up on the Canaries’ fishing prospects as well.
Big Game Fishing in the Canary Islands
First fish first, when hellbent on Marlin, there’s a variety of islands to choose from, with Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Palma being particularly prolific, while at the same time offering a diverse line-up of other big game pelagics as well. The southern side of Gran Canaria is rumored to be hiding some of the best billfish hotspots in the Northern Atlantic, especially in the so-called Punta de Maspalomas area.
Depending on where you’ll be staying, your best bet for an all-encompassing deep sea experience would be to head out either from Las Palmas in the Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz in Tenerife, or Puerto Del Rosario in Fuerteventura, with the San Sebastian marina in La Gomera being a less popular (La Gomera doesn’t even have an airport – quiet day out, anyone?), yet equally satisfying departure point. As with the previous entry on this list, those underwater supervillain mountains are the origin story of most islands around here as well, so you start casting your lines just outside of the marina.
As far as Tuna fishing goes, this Spanish archipelago is situated right in the middle of some of the most relevant tuna migration routes across the Atlantic, with infinite Big Tuna schools passing the Canaries during spring and early summer. Bigeyes are especially abundant, with the largest specimen ever caught off the Gran Canaria island weighing in at 390 lbs! Aside from the ‘eyes, Yellowfin, Bluefin, Albacore and Skipjack seasons are all more than generous as well, and have even been known to last until late in the Autumn months.
By the way, remember that former all-tackle world record for Spearfish that was set in Madeira? Guess which archipelago decided it was about time someone put up a new one? In fact, the city of Puerto Rico alone currently has over 50 Big Game fishing records to its name. Yes, the Atlantic Spearfish just can’t seem to get a break the more we move to the south, much the same way as Wahoos and Sharks in the winter time. And isn’t it strange how we didn’t even talk about Mahi Mahis at all until just now? That’s because it’s almost considered a redundancy to spend your time mentioning Dorado potential around here, which is regularly high year-round, although the species is understandably not specifically targeted most of the time.
If you ever get tired of living the greatest of classical big game experiences, the Canaries also got you covered. The islands’ underwater ravines and sand banks play host to a range of trophy-size rays, such as the Stingray, Eagle, Black Ray and plenty others. Bottom fishing is one of the most popular technique along the archipelago, and will usually result in anything from Groupers and Amberjack to Topes, Conger Eels and a playful variety of Breams.
Canary Islands Night Fishing
Night fishing, on the other hand, is best approached by those focusing on the likes of Oilfish, which is usually lured by slowly chumming through the night. And although you shouldn’t expect to snatch the fish of your life angling from the shores, there’s plenty of Mackerel, Bream and Mullet ready to make it worth your while. Fishing from harbours and marina is not allowed in the Canaries, but casting your line from a jetty or a pier is just fine with the authorities, as long as you make sure to get yourself a permit before going fishing on your own.
Cape Verde Fishing
Topping it off with the southernmost point of our journey, hidden some 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa lies the majestic deep sea gem that is Cape Verde. Made up of 10 volcanic islands (and you should’ve already learned what that really means by now), this remote archipelago is lauded by many as one of the, if not the single greatest Blue Marlin destination on the planet, with the average catch of between 450 and 650 lbs, and more granders per season than many of the hotspots get to witness between two leap years!
Blue Marlin Bite’s on Fire
Yes, this is one of those places where snatching anything less than a hundred Blues per season per charter gets you not much more than a sympathetic pat on the back and a ‘better luck next time’ sentiment. A couple reports published each year documenting double figure catches in a single full day of fishing.
Regular Marlin season lasts from March to October, but if you booked your ticket somewhere in the winter months, don’t despair just yet, as standard catches are often reported deep into the year’s end.
Renowned for its Billfishing prospects, the island of Sal as well as the channel between Santo Antao and Sao Vicente are your best bet to never have to lie about the biggest fish you ever caught again.
Tuna Fishing Season in Cape Verde
All you Yellowfin fans out there, this is the one place on our list you definitely do not want to miss out on: averaging anywhere between 100 and 300lbs, Big Tuna season spans from June all the way to December, with a plethora of Albacore and Skipjacks keeping the Yellowfins company.
Resident population of Wahoo is circling the archipelago year-round, with catches in excess of 80 and 90lbs being anything but unheard of. Shark fishing knows no particular season either, especially if you ask your Captain to take you around the waters of Sao Nicolau, where you can expect to find anything from Tigers and Hammerheads to Amberjacks and Groupers at the other end of your line.
Staying Inshore for Bottom Fishing Spectacle
Inshore fishing in Cape Verde is the perfect opportunity to take a breather from releasing that seventh Marlin of the day (your back must be killing you by now) and go after some Snapper, Grouper, Jack Crevalle and Amberjacks, although we recommend avoiding this type of fishing in Cape Verde during winter months, as the high seas make it unlikely you’ll find the excursion enjoyable.
As a compromise between tournament-style billfishing and casual inshore casting, Cape Verde is happy to provide you with some quality light trolling, specifically on the bank just north of Santo Antao island, where the largest concentration of Wahoo are known to gather, often followed by ample Barracuda and Dorado schools. The rocky bottoms of the archipelago’s volcanic islands make for a great day of jigging, where an impressive number of Jacks, Barracudas and Groupers are going to be your primary targets.
Anything we might’ve missed about these Big Game utopias? Want to learn more about the local hotspots or some of the best deep sea Captains in the area? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below!