It started with a call from Conrad Botes. Then another call, then another. Then Conrad called again. I have 10 minutes to decide. My internal dialogue reminded me of my move that I was in the middle of, the house transfer i was awaiting, and the severe work stress I was under, not to mention the Oman trip I had decided I would take next month.
But I had a vision….of the paradise of Farqhuar, with giant GTs cruising the inner atolls mugging fish shoals, The rodeo clown triggerfish tailing on turtle grass and permit and milkfish suspended in gin clear brine. The kicker would be the operator. Flycastaway. Four syllables that must strike fear into the heart of guide operations everywhere. This company has shifted the paradigm of what it is to be a guide company and has catapulted South Africa to the centre of the Saltwater Fly Fishing universe.
After having confirmed that I would still have a girlfriend on my return I made the final decision and prepared to leave in less than 36 hours. A visit to Conrads house reinforced fly selection (thanks again Conrad!) and some late night tying made me a bit more comfortable about that side of things.
The next day and off I went. Landing on Mahe I spotted a man with an NRX on a pack looking a bit too smart to be a fly fisherman. Must be Ryan Hammond. Confirmed. We went about a similar first day on the capital island. logistics, and on my side at least, putting out some serious contractor induced fires.
“You’ve gone where!?” “For how long!?”
“Ill be out of contact for the next week completely” I tried to hide the smile from my tone.
The next morning at the IDC hangar we would be weighed and checked and I got to meet two of the other anglers; Roberto, an Italian Tackle Manufacturer and Jonathan, a British Businessman -both as enthused as myself. As we walked into the hangar i got a bit of a surprise. We were told with the Beechcraft 1900s in service we’d be flying in a caravan, and i assumed Grand Caravan, not the 406 we saw in front of us. Not my favorite bird, and not the trusty 208b I’ve gotten to know. I looked to the south and the ex ferry pilot in me said “charlies bravos, surface to 36000, and were in an unpressurized light twin”. Aa few years of flying in tropical weather will put your heart in your throat at the sight on any thunder cloud. “Charlie bravos EAT aircraft”,
the line from flight safety training played in my head. I had to remind myself these pilots fly in this weather year round, and so I tried (unsuccessfully) to keep my eyes off the weather radar. 30minutes in and the pink and purple were gone. Green- thank god, I can relax and read my book now.
100 pages of Bear Grylls autobio later and the pilots started descent. They switched off the gps , put the islands ADF frequency in and began the approach. And there she was, 10 degrees right off the nose, peering through the clouds.
Now two scenes play immaturely in my head when i approach an atoll or exotic island, the first is Jeff Goldblum and co approaching Jurassic Park in a chopper and more recently, the mothership landing on Pandora in Avatar. The former works better on this island, pet GTs replace the T-rex and Bonito and fish scraps replace the cow and goat. Although there are some of those on the island too.
The mad scientists (guides) were dressed an pressed, island style, and waiting in the shade if the hut. and what a line up.
These are faces you’ll know from big fish pictures the world over, and I couldn’t wait to fish with them, and more importantly, learn from them.
After quickly meeting the other guys in camp I tackled up and decided to walk around the point back towards the runway for a little warm up session. And so it began.
Day 1/2 (The warm up)
Our earlier departure meant we were unpacked and in our rooms by 9:00- a lot of time left for fishing. The weather, perfect.
I decided to first get everything ready, and I needed to wait for lunch. My new gym diet of half a roost of chickens per week meant that I wasn’t at the height of energy efficiency, and having not eaten in the morning I wasn’t feeling too bullish about my chances in the heat. And so I tackled up and waited.
My Scott S4s/tibor Riptide with Sci Anglers GPX 10wt floating and a 12ft leader with a K-crab on.
My Sage xi2 12wt/Tibor Gulfstream with Rio Leviathon 550g floater and 8ft 120lb hard fluoro leader.
Then lunch happened, and I was off. I decided to round the corner in front of the lodge to head to the “Bone Yard”, a broken coral flat we named after the millions of bones we found last time on it. We even had a game to see if we could get a fly past the shoal without a hook up, we didn’t succeed.
As I got to the point the tide started to push hard, and with it LOTS of fish. Immediately I spotted a big blue shape, long and slender. Gar. Lets have some fun. Cast, three strips and on he went, shooting straight out the water straight at me with his best Crocodile face on. The fly came out and my leader was safe. Thank goodness.
I had a laugh to myself at how ridiculous those fish are and turned to see a trigger giving me the finger with his tail way out. First cast was spot on, no action. Second cast and he was all over it. He hit it 4 or 5 times and as the fly stopped I set. Boom. Coral. Great. The Trigger as confused as me by the hidden crab. I pulled until the leader broke, tied on again and re-presented, but he was wise by the commotion. Just then three GTs swam 50ft off of me, left to right. “you must be kidding me” I thought to myself, its been like 5 minutes. By the time I got my 12 out the pack they were gone and replaced by two Bumpies. So I kept moving.
As I rounded the point into the bay I found perfect conditions for crustacean eaters. Direct swell and the milky water that comes with it. If you’ve ever fished for Belman (umbrina ronchus) or extensively in shallow surf you’ll know the water, and it always produces. I was smiling to myself when all of a sudden a shadow appeared in the milky water. Geet. Must be. I dropped my 10 in the sand and got a perfect cast in the breaking swell with the big 10/0 brush fly. I could barely get my first strip in and the fish SMASHED the fly in a breaking wave. What a sight for sore fishless eyes. I let him on the reel and then locked the drag. God they’re strong, and when you haven’t fought a GT for a while that first fish is a recalibration of sorts. I a few minutes I had him in and got to take some photos. A beautiful fish, not a tank, but what a way to open.
As I released him I spotted some darts in the wave and the specie angler in me took over. A little Geet outraced the Darts, I landed him, took a pic or two and then changed to a smaller shrimp.
I dropped a cast less than 20 feet in front of me, right in the beach break, and BOOM, I saw the three spot smash it in the wave. Kick ass. After a ridiculously long fight for the fishes size (they do not give up) I got some photos, running up and down the beach, exhausted. As I released him I made out a massive black shape right off me, TANK Geet. This is getting ridiculous, my heart must have sustained 180bpm for 10 minutes by now. I ran up to get the 12 again but by the time I ran down mister tank was gone. Back to the 10. By now a school of Batfish lay laid up in the surf, 5 strong, my first instinct when I saw the top of the first fish was PERMIT! But no. That didn’t stop me from having a few shots though. Right. Back to it. I bumped into Rob and Paul on the beach and frantically explained what was going on, and I think for the first time since they left home they must have thought they’ve met a serious mad man. But I was on a serious high, so hopefully they understood.
As I chatted to them a big ray swam by and my GT radar started pinging viciously again. A quick goodbye and off I went. this ray would be joined by 6 more, and all of them cruised mighty duck style in a flying V just off the beach. With the tide now high I decided my best shot to be following them…something must joint the party soon. And like clockwork a Bluefin cruised in. He ate a crab fly. A few pics and back in the water.
As he swam off 3 bonefish cruised in. Another cast. The lead fish hit the crab hard and the all too long Bonefish fight started. And then tragedy.
My rod broke above the base ferrule. My S4s, my baby. Gutted. And with no back up. Now I’m not close to as accurate with any other brand of rod than Scott, and I knew the chances of finding a Scott to lend out here weren’t good. So this was a frightening prospect before it had even began. I ignored the negative thoughts and accepted the challenge. This is going to be a test I told myself. If I only knew…. As I landed the fish I got out my brand new Olympus TG2. And guess what, it wouldn’t work. The whole face of buttons. Dead. Talk about an emotional Roller Coaster. With my luck declining rapidly from a very high place I decided to walk back before a meteor shower or something else as likely as breaking my camera and favorite rod of all time at the same time happened.
But still, what a session. Maybe 45 minutes. Max. Probably the most fish filled fun 45 minutes of my fly fishing life. Farquhar my old friend, here we go.. Oh, on the way back I found 4 more Geets. But tthey saw me first. A favourite hobby of Farquhar Gts.