The Trip There:
Getting to know the Bones and Gt's
Not knowing where to fish we decided to start on some Bonefish on the lagoon side flat at the Manahar gaps. It didnt take us long to see groups of 5 to 10 fish cruising around. The water depth was a little over waist deep and it took some time for the guys to put on flies heavy enough to get down to the fish. I quickly pinned 3 and then we decided to check the coral flats on the outer edge of the reef. Fred and I walked right of the gaps and we quickly spotted some big solitary bonefish and triggers. I worked my way quite deep into the surf and after a few minutes spotted a big GT on the back of a ray. I had a tan leftys deceiver on and dropped a cast ahead of the fish. Unfortunately it spotted me struggling to get a foothold in the waves and spooked. We were only about 2 hours in to our first session and I'd already seen Bumheads, Triggers, Bones, GT's and numerous sharks. Fred and I then concentrated on casting in the holes in the reef for other species. Eventually we decided to turn back to find the others. Next we headed to Goulette to look for more GT's and on arrival we heard the "GEEETS GEEETS GEEETS" cry. We looked to the right and a shoal of fish was hugging the beach looking for baitfish. About 5 guys peeled off trying to strip line to get a cast in, unfortunately we made enough commotion to scare a small whale and the shoal vanished into the blue. Fred and I searched the Northen flat and found nothing but a shoal of tiny Milkfish. We tuyrned and decided to fish the lagoon side channel and while trying my luck on a few Humpheads I heard the trademark Davis "ON ON ON!" call. Fred was in to a good fish. It must have taken 100 meters on the first run but Fred managed to turn it before it found reed. On seeing the fish our hearts dropped. We both saw a cloud of blood come out the gills. It was hooked deep. Fred immediately got the hook out by going through the gills and after a few photos it swam away strong.
|First bonefish of the trip|
|First bonefish of the trip|
|Fred into the first Giant Trevally|
|Feathers out the gills|
|Goulette Giant Trevally|
We woke up to absolutely perfect conditions. Not a breath of wind. I wanted to look for Permit on the grass flats so Fred Davis, Nick Filmater and I boarded the skiff with Cedric. En route we came accross a shoal of GT's and Fred was quickly in. The monster of a fish must have taken 150 meters in the first run and showed no signs of slowing. It found reef and eventually popped. I was immediately in as well and decided that I was going to take my chances on a straight pull. As I cleared my fly line I locked the drag to full and palmed my Gulfstream. My 12wt xi2 bent double and I almost fell off my feet as the fish summersoulted in the water trying to get traction with his tail. We moved to deeper water and a yellowfin tuna esque battle began. Except I didnt give it an inch of line. Every time the fish ran I just used the backbone of the rod as a shock absorber and then every time It slowed before a run I would pull back as hard as i could. As strong as GT's are they lose heart quickly after being pulled backwards. The fish circled time and time again around the boat and eventually we had it along side. There was a tense moment as the fish slipped from the Boga but we got it back into the boat. Insane.
Standing on the bow we did our best to locate a decent looking flat. Ive never fished true turtle grass but every bit of water in Rarquhar is so fertile. We started on the northern most tip and after seriously confusing Cedric he agreed to let me stand on the back and pole. We quickly saw some tails on the bow and stopped the boat. In front of us were 4 or 5 different groups of Humphead parrotfish. Shoals of 10 to 20 fish feeding in between small coral outcrops. I decided to jump off and try on foot. It quite something to get used to these fish. Their size (and the size of those beaks) is intimidating at first and your heart skips a beat when they first head your way. I tried fly after fly and must have presented perfectly over 30 times. None of the fish showed the slight bit of interest. I even found one seriously tame fish who I dropped cast after cast in front of. At one point he even sat over the fly and turned on his side to inspect it closely. His eye must have been about 20cm away at its closest. He did that with a white, tan and brown crab.
Back to the drawing board. He hopped back on the boat and decided to do some bommie bashing. The technique was pretty straight forward. I would pole up to a bommie and then we'd pick which fish to cast at. First time round Nick dropped a cast at a coral trout that was pretending to be a parrotfish. They are the oddest fish. Theyll sit stationary on the bottom like a grouper if surrounded by groupers. Or they'll swim around like parrots if surrounded by parrots. This one was acting parrot when he spotted Nicks brush fly. He accelerated and attacked the fly. Now we all wanted one. Eventually we came across a sand bar on the outside edge of the grass flat. Triggers and Rays everywhere. The water looked shallow so again I jumped off. It was deeper than it looked. I managed to find a spot to stand and then tried a few triggers out. And so my Triggerfish education began. Interestingly they are very spooky in deep water. I think it has to with them being aware of your presence. I presented to three separate fish that all spooked. Then I found two pesky stingrays who seemed to take a liking to me. Not knowing these rays I wasnt too happy with them circling me in armpit deep water and jumped back on the boat. Polling again we found a GT patrolling the fringes and Fred dropped a cast a full line away from him but still a good two full lines away from the fish. The fish spotted the fly instantly and tore accross the flat. It picked up the fly still heading towards the boat and left Fred with no tension to set the hook. We also began to realise that this was the way to pick up the GT's. Presentations well ahead of the fish.
We spent the rest of the time entertaining ourselves in the gin clear 15m deep water. Watching Snapper, Coral Trout and Grouper chase our flies. The funny thing in the deep water is that once a Coral Trout or Snapper has seen the boat they dont want the fly to move. Much like a shark chase they want you to strip and then as the fish is on you just stop. They suck it in like an oyster. We had one pesky Snapper sit in front of the boat and eat each of our flies. Each of us pinned him and lost him. And he didnt go anywhere afterwartds. He just sat there looking at us. There was also a big barracuda who sat under the boat but wasnt interested in flies.
|Putting a bend in the Sage|
|The American Eagle|
|Perfect conditions at Manahar|
|Poling for Coral Trout|
|Spot the Trout|
|Stalking one of four shoals of Humpheads|
|One of a million presentations at the non crab eating Humpheads|
The Boneyard and the Flats Slam.
For day 3 I teamed up with the two young guns- Jean and Francois Malherbe. They both fly fish for the national team and are worth a good few laughs as well. We headed to the Airport flat and were slightly despondent when we saw the conditions. It was overcast and the tide was pulling sand across the coral. It was murky, dark, deep and fast. Jean and I being slightly more cautious started in the shallow areas and Francois decided to take his chances up to his neck in murky surf. Eventually we decided a change of tactics was in order. We walked the length of the runway and then found the only section of the coral flat that the sun was shining on. We waded out and quickly saw thousands and thousands of some sort of neon blue fish. They were around our feet when I asked Jean "what the hell are these things? Greenspots? Mackerel?" It didnt make sense. All these big bluish fish. Just then Jean dropped a cast and the fly didnt even hit the bottom before something picked it up and decided to take it accross the flat. After a few minutes we had it at our feet. I couldnt believe my eyes. It was a bonefish. A big bonefish. And the spot inherited its name - The Boneyard. You could throw a spear into the shoal and get two on a point. We entertained ourselves for a few minutes and then I saw my nemises Humpheads riding the waves and tailing. I tied two Conch shell flies the night before and tried one on them. Nothing. Nothing about 5 times. these guys were trickier. Moving fast back and forth accross the flat. By now im doing some serious head scratching. Eventually I got distracted by some triggers and parrots and more bones.
We went back for lunch and by now I only had one thing on my mind. Permit. I hadnt seen a single fish. Everyone that Id asked about it hadnt seen any either and Id been told by the guides Id asked that I would be extremelly lucky to see one and I would need to present to at least 4 or 5 to get some interest. So things were looking bleak.
We got dropped off on the extensive grass flat the borders the lagoon west of Manahar and began a slow wade to the west. And then Jean began out spotting me. I was focusing on the bottom of the flat which is a serious rookie error. Jean was focused on surface disturbance and about 300m into the wade he began shouting "TAILS TAILS TAILS PERMIT? YES PERMIT!". I hauled ass across the flat and then didnt know what I was looking at. 3 massive sets of sickle tails working accross the flat at pace. The top half of the tails where protruding about 30cm out of the water. I just didnt understand the size or the behaviour. And then they turned in front of me. Massive, Massive, MASSIVE, Milkfish. Probably five and a half feet. 50lbs plus. I had no Milikfish flies and even If I did i dont think i would have managed to break myself out of the hypnotic trance I was in. Ive never seen anything like it. These werent pretty schooly deepwater milks. These were old battle scarred fish. With bent, sunburnt massive sickle tails. like a yellowfin tuna spawned with a bonefish and created a supersonic flats fish.
About 100m after Jean and I were still discussing the Milks when he shouted again, "ORANGE TAILS ORANGE TAILS!". My brain interpreted that as "PERMIT PERMIT PERMIT" and off I went. It wasnt a permit but a Trigger. A purple and burnt orange trigger with a swallow tail. I lost sight of it at close range and we began walking further. We looked back and there it was again. I told Jean I needed a shot and began stalking it. I got about 15m away and went down on my knees as he tailed in the shin deep water. I didnt know when to take the shot. The Trigger would tail for a few seconds and then move and tail again. Eventually it worked to the edge of the flat and began tailing on a grass clump just aft of a perfectly round sand section. I dropped a cast on the fishes nose as it tailed. A lucky cast. The fish turned, attacked the fly and then turned to start tailing again. It didnt know it had been hooked and then felt the line pressure for the first time. It look off about 50 meters to the deep water and I managed to turn it. When we got it in Jean and I couldnt believe the size. This was a GT size Trigger. Even in all my dives and Snorkelling Ive never seen one this size. We were both pretty nervous of how to hold it having never picked up a trigger before. Jean was holding it while I was getting my camera ready and then next thing it bit through the leader, spat the fly and wriggled loose of Jeans hold and fell back into the water. I was shell shocked watching it swim away. Jean didnt know what to say. I had no words. The massive fish was a burnt orange to yellow swallow tail, it was lumo purple accross its flanks and had orange cheeks with black stripes on its head. It was my first Trigger, the biggest one ill likely ever see and we didnt get a picture. We would eventually name him Big Red, he saw him once or twice again and Jean and I were hooked on targeting these fish. Its so visual its insane. It takes delicate presentation but these clowns of fish get so excited when they see the fly you can almost see the expressions change on their faces. The best part is the take. they dont have good vision under their noses and when they first bite they get excited to feel the hook point. Its confirmation to them that the crab is real and theyll take it time and time again until you hook them. its forgiving but incredibly exciting. They do a strong first run but concede after it. They will still try to jump into holes in the flat though.
For the next few hundred meters Jean and I didnt talk much. I was ready to turn back but Jean convinced me to walk on. Things were pretty tense. And then about 10 minutes later something appeared in the surf. A Permit. A massive Permit. i dont think I even got the word out to Jean when I dropped my 12wt, took the Crab out the first eye and leader off around the reel and lead the fish. I stripped through and then presented ahead of the fish again. this time it went into the blue and then turned. Eyes locked on the crab at my feet. I dropped to hide myself and stripped again. The fish accelerated and almost beached itself taking the crab with its shoulders out the water- leader in the rod. My heart must have been beating at about 250 a minute and all I could think about was the 14 reef sharks we'd just counted. I ran into the water in an attempt to scare off anything in the vicinity. I cant remember how long the figh was but it was horrible. Every run, every second, I feared for a break off or shark attack. Eventually i had him at my feet and the permit tango began. I could see he wasnt hooked too well. I pleaded with Jean to grab its tail with both hands the second he could get a grip. He went for it and time stood still. The second he had the tail I shouted "RUUUNNN FOR THE BEAAAACCCHHH!!!". I didnt want this one to drop. Jean put it on the beach and I ran up to the fish and then collapsed next to it. I lost all strength. This is the only fish ive wanted to catch since I started fly fishing an watched Flip Pallot chasing them in the Keys. That was almost 16 years ago. Ive been tying Permit flies for years not knowing when Id have a shot. And I got one. One of the beautiful ones, the Golden Yellow Indo Pacific ones. And one of the biggest ones Ive seen come out in the Seychelles. I honestly couldnt believe my luck.
A bonefish on the bircks, a trigger on the grass and a Permit on the beach. What a day.
|The Boneyard - That blue shape off my left shoulder is a school of a few thousand fish.|
|What it feels like to catch your first Permit|
|What it feels like to catch your first Permit|
|A dream come true|
|Off my feet again - admiring her|
|Thanking Jean for convincing me to go on.|
I decided that as Jean guided me on to a Trigger and was the reason I spotted the Permit I owed him a service. So the goal was to fish the same flat we saw Big Red on and to get Jean a Trigger.
But by now the tides were tricky with only one fishable low in the afternoon so we began at 4am by hiking out to the airport to fish the boneyard for sunrise. As we got there Jean tied on a flipper and picked up a baby Geet. Then, while I was deep into conversation with all three of us standing side by side blind casting I noticed a tap on my line and turned to see a massive swell. The fish I missed attacked Francois' fly further down the beach and took off for the horizon. Francois was shell shocked and even with his drag full and his palming his Abel Super 12W he couldnt slow or turn the fish. By now he was just laughing as the fish reefed him well over a 100m away from us. That was the sunrise session.
We decided to fish the morning drop at the South Point Island. Conditions were difficult and at first the shallowest spots we could find were chest deep. It was also pretty murky so we began just standing on the fringes casting for bones. Again not long until all of us were in to fish. We got sick of the bones and eventually went on the look for Permit and GT's. We didnt spot much in the high water until Jean and I walked around to the vast sand banks. As we passed the whale carcass and neared the point we spotted something. "Stingrays!" I said to Jean and started wading to have a look. As we got closer Jean added "Nope, Sharks" and then I got a fright. Two monsterous GT's. The biggest Ive seen yet just sitting motionless on the flat. As we got close they started moving slowly and I instructed Jean to take a shot. He didnt manage to clear line quick enough so I stripped off and dropped a terrible cast way too far in front of the fish. They both went to inspect and followed slowly right behind the fly. The fish closest to me followed all the way in and then when I had the leader in my rod tip he just stopped in front of me. The girth on this guy was frightening. He was so wide that his eyes were almost on the front of his face. His two pectorals protruding over a foot out each end. I didnt know what to do and coudlnt strip so I just lifted the fly and jiggled it in front of him. He went a bit forward and, looking at me straight in the eyes opened his mouth and focused on the fly. I had no room to strip and watched the 13cm fly go in his mouth like a little bass bug. I saw the sand of the flat through his gills as he almost swallowed the fly. I then set the hook and he took off at pace. I knew I didnt stand a chance. I saw the teeth in his mouth and realized the leader would be rubbing back and forth with such a deep hook set. As he started his first run I said to Jean that there wasnt a chance this would last, and, a few seconds later the leader popped. That was it for the morning session.
We left South Point and headed for the Trigger grass. Jean and I began as we head the previous day with the slow wade across the flat. Conditions were much trickier with a wind giving substantial swell and muddying the water but Francois managed a Trigger on the Northern edges. After witnessing the previous days events he tucked the fish like a rugby ball with total disregard for its sharp bits and carried it to the beach for pictures. Jean and I continued on the beach and then I saws him drop and signal for me. When I got there I could see a Permit feeding almost completely out of the water on a sand bar. We shoudlnt have dropped a cast and after some time I couldnt restrain myself anymore and presented a fly. I tried pattern after pattern and after about 7 presentations and 20 minutes I gave up not wanting to spook anything else. We spotted another fish and Jean dropped a few more good casts. We followed the fish into deep water and eventually it followed a spawning shrimp in. But no commitment.
|A South Point Bonefish|
|Francois Malherbe found this little guy on the flat|
|Francois Malherbe with his Trigger|
The search for Jeans Trigger continued and we decided to head back to the Trigger flat again. This time conditions were slightly easier and I managed to get Jean shots at three fish. Unfortunately it was one of those days when the ball just bounces the wrong way. The first fish moved off before Jean managed a shot. The second was keen and followed Jeans presentation all the way in but before it could commit it spotted both of us and spooked. The third fish also moved off before it could be presented to. After feeling like we worked the flat properly we began working the beach. I was trying to get a big Lemon Shark to eat when I heard Jean scream. He was in to a massive Bluefin. As Jean was fighting the fish I heard him shout "GEETS COMING DOWN THE BEACH!" and there they were. A shoal of about 30 fish cruising right against the beach. We actually have GoPro footage of the fish swimming around Jean. Aware of how spooky they can be to a cast I dropped a cast with them a good 100m away. I lay on the beach and waited for them to pass Jean how was 30m to my right. I twitched the fly and a beautiful silver fish shot ahead of the shoal and engulfed the fly. I didnt get a good look at the fishes size but my thinking was that so close to the beach it must have been pretty small. With that in mind I locked the drag and stopped the run completely. The fish sumersoulted twice before it began circling. I landed it in about 4 minutes and way shocked to see it was actually quite a decent fish. By now Jean had landed his and i couldnt believe the girth of it. Unfortunately the man is massive and makes the fish look a lot smaller than it is in photos but its by far the fattest bluefin ive seen. When it was on its side on the sand I shouted at Jean "Thats not a Bluefin! No ways. Its too wide and too sliver". When I got to it I was amazed. We took a few photos and released both fish simultaneosly.
I had also begun to figure the Milkfish out better. I found the channel that they access the grass through, and, although I didnt get a cast in I was suddenly feeling a bit more confident about targeting them.
In the afternoon Jean and I teamed up with our most experienced offshore angler- JD. We put out a spread of a Purple Kona on the right, a Tan/Yellow Kona on the left and a daisy chain in the middle. JD was up first and before we knew it we were in to a bait ball. Birds all around and struggling to keep fish from pulling our teasers off. I peaked over to see a giant Amberjack right next to the motor, tailed by about 15 GT's. JD struggled to get a cast out and before we knew it they were gone.
Now it was my shot. Line stripped in the basket, Rod in Hand. Standing ready. It was only a few minutes and JD screamed. The teazers were still coming out when I dropped a cast behind the fish. "Saily!" JD screamed, "No! Two!". Then tragedy. Cedric, unsure of what we wanted cut the engine completely and both fish dropped their sails and turned from that brilliant blue to almost pitch black. The larger fish went over to my fly and began knocking it with its bill. On the second cast it eventually got it in its mouth but as I set the hook I felt nothing. The fish both turned off and vanished.
Next, Jeans shot. He had a flashy profile rigged with wire for Wahoo. As I chugged the teazer I spotted the fish right on it. I pulled it clean from the water and Jean dropped a cast but the fish was nowhere. We began trolling again and watched another grab the Purple Kona and clear about 8 feet in the air with the lure in its mouth. All this a few boat lengths behind us. We soon raised another sail and this time didnt cut the motors. The fish chased and chased and at one point JD had the fish eating the teazer right at the motor. Jean dorpped cast after cast and the fish must have ate the fly about 7 times. With no trailing hook the fish just didnt manage toi get stuck and showed about as much frustration as us.
|Jean Malherbe with his bus Bluefin|
|Spot the Geets|
|Two Sails in the spread!|
|Hook Set!..... and off.|
Second last day and the pressure was mounting. Even though I got my Trigger I still didnt have a picture with one. And thats all I wanted. The tides were now at their worst as well. The other groups had good success with GT's the previous day at "Rats and Mice"- Three small islands in the middle of an immense grass flat. So this is where we decided to start. Jean and I had gone off the GT's a bit and decided to fish the deep water from the boat. We managed some good Coral Trout and then went to pick up the others. We decided to fish the afternoon on the massive grass flats hunting for Triggers.
I went to the edge of the flat looking for Triggers in the surf but only managed to spot a GT cruising the surf. I turned back and frantically walked up and down looking for fish. But nothing. Eventually I saw Nick get into something and worked my way towards him. He had presented at a Trigger and spooked it but I saw this as a good sign that he was in an area where he at least spotting them. I quickly saw three fish but they vanished before I could get a shot. Once they are aware of anglers in the area they become impossible to catch.
I worked my way to the fringe areas as it seemed to me most of the Triggers were in areas where there were sand holes in the flats. Unfortunately the water was now waist deep and the fish I spotted spooked. A few hours passed without much success until eventually the water had dropped to shin depth. Jean and I spotted two Triggers and we each took shots. Both fish spooked on sighting. Mine on the fly as well. Then we started seeing orange fins working around us. We first thought them to be Permit but the fins were wrong. Jean lead a fish and landed a nice Emporer. As far as fight goes there isnt much that can take a Emporer on. A 5 kilo class fish must be an incredible fight. After taking some pictures of Jeans fish we both spotted two Golden Trevally but didnt manage shots. Then, I heard a fish coming towards me. I turned and saw it about 12m off coming in fast. I dropped a back cast right on its nose and tailed aggressively on the fly. Sickle tail right out the water. I think i was shocked at the sight and didnt manage to even set the hook as half way into its first run the hook pulled. By now Im not enjoying myself. I eventually kept myself entertained casting at the shoals of swallow tailed parrots tailing from on end of the flat to the other. But these ones had minute unbeaked mouths and none of us managed to hook any. By the time the day closed out I had little more than a few bones and a Coral Trout to my name. Usually this would be a good day. But not in Farquhar.
|Turtle returning to the sea after laying eggs|
|Jean and his Emporer|
|Loving that crab|
Plagued by the bad high tides we were lost for options on the morning high. Eventually Jean and Francois and I decided to explore a new section of sand flat west of Goulette. The usual Coral dwellers came out. The highlight of the session was a big Bohar that Francois hooked. It went straight into its hole and turned on its side. We were in deep water but Jean feeling particularly spritely put on my mask and snorkel and jumped overboard. He went down all the way to the Bommie and jumped and tugged until he got the fish out. He came up with a massive example of a fish. As the Bohar lay on its side on the surface I noticed Francois hadnt taken up all the slack and was pretty amused to see the fish go straight back into the hole and break off his 80lb tippet.
By now I was getting pretty tense about not getting my Trigger picture and after a slight sense of humour failure with three anglers on one skiff I asked to be dropped off at JD on the grass flat. We swam accross a channel and then JD spotted a Trigger. I begged him for the shot and explained my reason. Luckily, he gave it to me and I stalked the fish down. I dropped the cast on its nose and then lost sight of the fish. re-presented the fly on sighting the fish for the second time and this time It liked what it saw. A lot. It tailed hard on the fly and I felt a bump. I stripped as it continually hit the fly and then it lost sight of it in the sediment it has created. JD told me to leave it there as he could see the fish looking for it. It peeled through the sand cloud and attacked the crab as I set the hook. "ON!!!!" I shouted and rand after this guy at pace. We were surrounded by coral heads and I was frightened by the thought of it getting into a hole or wrapping me or biting me off. JD landed the fish and we got some great photos. I owe that fish to JD. I was so relieved.
Then JD spotted something. i thought we was looking at Bumphead parrots and was confused at why he was throwing brush flies at them. THey were in fact two big GT's. Each on the back of a ray. Both fish eventually spooked on presentation and we headed back to the boat. Spooking one more GT on our way.
|Spot the debris in the background from running accross the flat|
|baby coconut crab|
|When fly lines snap|
Our last morning on the island and I thought I owed it to the Trigger flat. I was secretly still after Big Red and the Milkfish but the conditions werent condusive to it. Eventually I went walking up the beach and spotted two silver fish hunting the small shore break. I hid and dropped the crab well ahead of the fish and felt the line go tought as a fish took off for the horizon. I thought I had a Golden on and, with 14lb was nervous to put pressure on. This was my hardest fight of the trip and the first run must have gone well over a 100m. The fish was now almost off the drop off and it gave 4 more spirited runs before eventually turning belly up on its last run and tail wrapping. I retrieved all the line but by the time I had the fish at my side it hardly had any life left. i lifted it out and felt its two last twitches before it died. I felt horrible. The first fish ive killed in years. I tried to revive it for about 5 minutes before I gave up and walked the 50 meters or so back to the shore. After the pictures I gave him to the group of pesky reef sharks that patrolled the area. The carcass didnt last long.
Walking towards the pick up point I spotted what i thought was two garfish. As I got closer I realized they were two Permit feeding on the edges. I presenting perfectly and dropped to the ground as they both tailed on the crab. By now the fish were right at my feet and I couldnt afford to take a peek and spook them. I felt a tap and set the hook. As I jumped to my feet elated but my heart dropped as I saw the two startled Permit still looking for the crab that the pesky bonefish had just snuck from under their noses. Dammit.
|Bluefin Trevally on a crab|
Other notable fish:
|South Island Bonefish|
|Jean Malherbe - 80cm Bonefish (TL)|
|Nick Filmater - Coral Trout|
|Goerge Filmater - Black GT|
|Fred Davis - GT|