I think every true fisherman must have read Hemingway’s “The old man and the sea”, and will have remembered Santiago’s battle with that huge marlin.
Well, right here in Shimoni, there is another Santiago, only his name is Suleimani.Like Santiago, he fishes all alone in a small canoe made out of a hollowed out tree trunk, setting his long-line in the deep water outside the harbour, and like Santiago, he is old. Nobody knows just how old he is, but his eyes are mere slits against the ferocious glare of the tropical sun, and his hands are caloused and cut by numerous line burns
Despite his great age, he is strong as an ox and his arms and shoulders are muscled by years of paddling his canoe and pulling up his lines. He lives in a shack on Wasini Island.
He has caught many large fish on his baited long-lines, mostly sharks, and I am told that some of these were huge, and must have involved epic battles in such an unstable boat.
He tells me that the best bait is a moray eel, and he catches these by walking along the waters edge at night carrying a pressure lamp. The eels come out of the water, attracted to the light, and are swftly chopped up with a machete.
I was on my way out fishing one day, in my boat “White Otter”, when we saw Suleimani quite obviously having problems. He was standing in the bow of his canoe straining to pull up what we first thought was a fouled anchor. The bow of the canoe was almost submerged, with the stern raised out of the water, and sweat was pouring down his face.
We hove up alongside and asked if we could help. It turned out that he had a large shark on his line and that it had somehow taken a turn of the line around a coral head, and he was unable to move it.
The line was a stout nylon cord, and quite strong, so we asked him to pass it up to us. “White Otter” at that time had a hand-powered anchor winch, and we used that to give us the extra power needed. Either the fish would come up, or the line would break, but at least he would save most of his gear. Not only did the fish come up, but so did the whole coral head. We used one of our big shark gaffs and managed somehow to lift the shark and dump it, still very much alive, into the canoe, where the old man set about despatching it with a big club. He then raised his tattered sail and set off home sitting astride the shark, which totally filled the canoe.