Up at 6, breakfast at 7. Id be fishing with an old friend, Kyle Reed, and a new friend, Rob. We’d fish the inside sand flats, my favourite place on earth.
Before we got to the spot Kyle pulled the throttle, Barracuda! Big one! But the long toothed Gandolf of the flats was too wise for us. This one fish terrorizes Bonefisherman and Bonefish on the inside, and he is a big boy.
We got off and started to walk the perfect sand beach, talking a lot of crap and having fun. And that is the single biggest difference (for me) between a guided and DIY trip. The guided trips are way more social and lighthearted. My OCD takes over on DIY trips and I tend to fish to the point of exhaustion. The fun in that is looking back at what you achieve. I was enjoying the change.
We caught a bone or two and I waded deep to have a look at something, and there they were, a solid shoal of permit, all around me. But a big problem. Bonefish, right underneath. Hundreds. And absolute flat water. So you present perfectly, the bonefish spook the permit and chase your fly down, and then the Permit don’t come back. I struggled with this a few times and realized I wouldn’t get a fly to the perms with the bone gutses around. You cant let it sink, you cant present, you just….cant.
I waded further and on the edge of the grass flat I spotted that awesome body shape. I dropped a fleeing crab and the fish hit. PEEEERRRMIIIITTT! I screamed to Kyle and Rob, followed by “I think it is at least! Must be! ya!” and then it dived and wrapped around a bommie. The 15lb flouro parted. AAARRGGHGHHH!!!!!!
Kyle looks at me and says “I’m just going to tell myself that wasnt a permit, just to make me happy”. I agreed. Sh$t.
I waded a bit shallower and heard Rob, “What are these? Gt’s?” Kyle quickly responded, “No! BIG Permit! Two! Take a shot!” Rob took two good shots and the fish turned my way. I managed to drop the fly 5 feet ahead of the lead fish, and he swam at it. My heart in my throat as its tail stiffended, “Take another shot!” came from Kyle. And so I did, another great presentation. This time the back fish turned and swam to the fly, and then gave me the trademark finger. God I love these fish. Even though (in the words of the Chronicles of Cod boys) they are absolute assholes.
We hopped on the skiff and headed South. We anchored on the perfect sand flat and got ready for lunch. And then Rob spotted again, “Permit!” I took two shots, right ahead of the fish, and this one also swam right over giving me the pectoral middle finger. We started to eat and I saw some more bones, I reminded myself where I was and not to take advantage and had a cast…. Shocker. About 10 feet from the fish, but Farquhar bones are hungry as hell, the fish peeled across and picked up the fly.
During lunch I told the story of Big Red, the giant purple trigger with orange cheeks and red tail that lives on a particular grass flat. Last time I managed to catch him but we dropped him as we were getting the Camera out. This time Id get a photo of that bugger, I thought. Rob found the perfect Palm tree and went for his daily sleep as Kyle and I went to go and find Big Red.
“Kyle, we was about…. ”
“Trigger, ahead!” Came from Kyle
Kyle laughed and so did I, we couldn’t believe it. I had time to change to a green K Crab Kyle recommended and I took my first shot. Pathetic, about 8 feet to the left. Big Red wants it on his nose. Sage syndrome is kicking in, my loop folds and leans to the left. If the loop on my back cast is too big it compounds the problem. I wish I had my Scott. I waited for the right moment for my second shot and we walked too close. Big Red stopped tailing and looked. Damnit. He saw me. “He knows its me” I jokingly said. Two years on and hes still on the exact same patch of grass, even over the same sand holes. The benefits of a well managed system, and a reminder of how fragile it all is.
By now the conditions were looking perfect for Milkfish. No wind, good current. Perfect conditions for the “scum line” they feed off of. I was teamed up with Jaco and Paul, my eye surgeon ultra marathon runner roommate, and we were heading out for the fish right on top of my bucket list, the Milkfish.
The perfect team to do it, I thought to myself as we headed out. And there they were. Sipping off the surface just behind the backline. What a sight. Here we go. I was out in front and we immediately started putting casts into the feeding line. I was using my Sci Anglers GPX, notorious for not being that buoyant, so I took a page out of stream fishing and treated it with Silicone Mucilin. A milky dream on the end. We had 3 or 4 shots at the first group and then Jaco repositioned us. Not football fields like the Alphonse guys talk about, but still good numbers of fish. The tricky part here was massive swell, but Jaco knew how to handle it and position us. The fish were now behind us and I put a few casts perfectly in front of the lead fish off my shoulder. “SURELY!” Came from Jaco, “SURELY!” “THAT HAS TO BE ONE!”, I retrieved slowly as Id seen on various videos and had by first hit, “ON! sh$t, not on”. Two more casts and another missed take. I had a feeling I was missing the hits due to the huge surge pulling my line backwards, much like you experience in surf fly fishing. This is a time for no drag, none of that.
Jaco suggested we look for a bigger shoal further on, and we found them. Two or three more shots at them, now heading straight for the boat in a line. The head almost looks similar to a sharptooth catfish gulping air, in manner more than appearance. The swell was causing us serious headaches by now, and it was putting the fish on edge.
We decided to head back to the original shoal. Amongst the Mantas and fusiliers were a few fish, no longer feeding as aggressively. Jaco said “those fusiliers look nervous, I bet you there are some geets under them”. With that he grabbed the teaser rod and put a cast right in the middle of the shoal. And of course, all hell broke loose. 3 or 4 pack size Geets shased the hookless plug all the way to the boat while Paul and I stood there with our Milky set ups, Ummmmm. Run for the 12s! We got out or geet rods and began to cast as Jaco continued to tease, but too late, they had us figured out by now.
Jaco had another trick up his sleeve. He knew about some Milkies further south, just behind the break. We followed the scum line for a few kilometers, passing Manta after Manta, what a place. And there they were. Jaco knows his stuff. This shoal was just sub surface, not sipping off the top like the early morning shoal. They did however daisy chain and seemed to be far less spooky and worried about our presence.
Paul and I eat put out a cast, right in the middle of the imaginary circle the daisy chain created, then another. No interest. I decided to take a page out of my Mullet fishing book and made a decision I would regret later in the day. I
grabbed my bun and pancake, breaking them into a hundred pieces. Chum time. I threw it all in and the milkies did seem to stick around a bit longer, and up from the depths came thousands of reef fish. We each put in another cast, and we watched them do something very funny. They swam right up to the fly and suspended motionless in the water column, staring right at it, maybe 10cm off. “SURELY! SUUURRRREEELLYY!!!” Came from Jaco again. Dead silence. And nothing again. By now the daisy chain moved from eye shot from time to time and we struggled to find them. Jaco made a decision we’d all appreciate, change of place and target.
We headed to the beaded grass channels that link the small islands to the EAST.
The target would be GT’s, Bumpheads and Triggers. Jaco drove the boat perfectly through the shallow surf, dodging the minefield of bombies. As we hopped off a shoal of Bumpies was tailing and Paul had a shot or two while I re-rigged. I hopped off and had two or three shots and saw something very encouraging that I didnt see last time. A Bumpie or two would break off the shoal each time and follow the crab out of the whole in the grass and onto the shelves around them. This is some shallow surf, awesome. Neither of us hooked up and we continued the walk.
A trigger here and there, but in deep surf, which means they have a perfect window to the flat and the world, and to us. The buggers first stop tailing and then angle towards new. Next they swim straight at you, and you know youve been bust.
On one particular fish I was getting ready for my shot when Jaco spotted something. Right in front of me. A sea snake. Head down a whole and writhing like mad. Obviously holding on to a fish. I ducked and stalked the trigger ahead and clean forgot. When Jaco mentioned it again I thought it was under me and got a pretty decent fright.
By now the surgeons and something else were tailing hard on the grass. Damnit, im goimng to have to take a shot. I cant resist a shot at a tailing fish. I tied on my newly designedd Surgeon special and spent the next 30 minutes casting to a shoal. Theyd spook, then move, then follow the fly. The current was making stationary presentation impossible. There was something positive though. They wanted to eat it. Bad. A little brown polar fibre over orange flash with a pink bead. A flower, I thought to myself. Even though ivve never seen a turtle grass flower (or know if they do flower), I imagined the night before that this is what they’d look like.
Then came an absolute mob of tails, looking pretty blacktail like (if youve ever seen them tail on a reef), but hundreds strong, tailing like mad. Here I go again. First shot and they spooked, second shot and straight on! What a strong fish. I chased it down still hoping it was a surgeon and still trying to figure out how I would land it without cutting open my hands. After a long 5 or 6 minutes I had him at me. What on earth is this. A bream? Who knows. I decided to drag him to my trusty guide. “Surgeon?”
“No! Dont know what it is”
“Let me see, hmm, neither, let me take some photos”.
We did and as I was about to realease him I noticed that as he went into the water he went from pale blue to brilliant blue with spots. Awesome. To me theyll be known as the Luminous Chameleon Bream. Biologists would hate that name, fisherman will love it.
We continued to the flat until we got to an awesome little bay. A Bohar and a stack of surgeons being terrorized by something we couldn’t see. A cast or two and Jaco walked back to get the boat. Paul and I continued. We had now got to the infamous warm water, and its famous lack of fish. I waded as far as possible and a squid kept chasing my blind casts. I hooked him twice secretly hoping somethhing would jump out the abyss. Then he hit me with ink. Right. Enough of that.
Jaco picked us up and off we went. Before we got to the flat we spotted a geet and some bluefin in deep water. They were tailed by a reef shark and Paul and I had numerous shots at all of them. No takers though. We continued the move to a new spot of Jacos. A Bumpie spot.
Some triggers in deep water again, which I followed left while Paul and Jaco headed right to the triggers. Hmm, I want to try that urchin fly I left in the boat. As I started back Paul hooked up, and the shoal went mad as his fish raced accross the flat. And then something very funny happened. The Bumpie shot in a hole and then turned around, Trigger style.
I ran to Paul inquisitively.
“Whats going on!?”
“Its in a whole, right here”
How funny. Right under a coral head. Paul kept pressure while Jaco slid his hand down the leader. i had visions of that beak taking a finger or two with it. Luckily it didnt.
We had oursevles a Mexican stand off. The fish wouldnt move. The angler wouldnt either.
Jaco ran to the boat to get the net and Paul and I discussed the probability of landing the fish. Not good.
Now well and truly convinced this fish was a possibility I headed back to get the Urchin fly. I got it and continuied to the shoal which had now moved to the surf zone. I glanced back and there was Paul, still standing with the rod bent. In front of him was a new specie tailing. Jako- Farquharus Guidis. His whole body now submerged, save for his Simms boots. If they land this fish this has to be the single most impressive display of guiding commitment ive ever seen I thought. Putting your whole body in a Bumpie hole is a serious risk. And as I was thinking that there was a massive commotion from the tailing guide. There goes his head, I thought. Followed by some serious fist pumping on both ends. They have it! Incredible.
I continued to the shoal. Third cast was I was on, then bitten off. Last K Crab with me. This better work. Four casts later and boom. ON! Then the worst possible thing happened. The shoal ran straight through the shall surf and minefield and bombies. I was now Usain Bolting across the flat, knowing that if I didn’t get close to this fish it was going to be another fish that got away story. And it felt massive. Fly fishing has a funny way of only rewarding guys that commit absolutely, and I was well aware. I had covered about 80 meters as I got to the surf. Now ive seen a fair amount of big sharks in this surf, and, being 30 meters behind a struggling Bumpie was probably not the safest place to be. I had a sharks eye view premonition of all these flashes of colour and light and commotion and scent. And then I saw a big dark flash. Here we go I thought. Im going to lose a foot during this fight. Another look and the shape developed. It was a Geet, with a foot fetish. A sniffs distance from my foot. A look ahead showed more drama. The fish was headed for a bommie another 50m or so ahead. In the blue water. Left arm up with the rod out the water and I was now barely floating, the water level just below my chin. I struggled to swim in my boots in this water. Luckily my pack held some air. I was struggling to breathe as my head bopped in and out the water and my buff clogged up. I could now just keep my mouth out the water as I continued forward. Screaming at the top of my lungs for help. I was fixated on the area my line dipped into the water. As my head got dunked in the swells I had a split second of glass bottom boat vision through my glasses before they filled up completely and I could see nothing. That bommie. I have to get there. A few minutes later I got there and guess what, its fire coral. I managed to scrape my knees up it, grazing both of them beautifully. But I was now effectively standing on the water surface. Fighting this bohemoth around the coral head in the deep blue. I continued screaming, and finally I could see the confused faces of Paul and Jaco. Over 100m away they finally started coming in my direction. A boat. What a sight. They finally got to frantic Peter and the boat knocked me right off the bommie. Now im swimming again. I tell Paul to hold the Rod. Now im haning by one arm. Like Simba trying to escape the buffalo canyon in the Lion King. Except I was trying to catch this Buffalo. A similarly soaked Jaco managed to wrestle me up. And im 100kg dry. So Jaco honestly one arm rowed about 130kg in that moment. Straight onto the boat. I muttered some pathetic things, effectively begging neptune to help me out here. Jacos next moves were perfect and indicative of his thousands of hours of guiding. He had it, at least the front 3/4s, in his net. Elation. There is no feeling like that on earth. Working that hard for a fish you want so badly. That youve come so far for. Youve beaten the odds for over half an hour, and wrestled a bohemouth on 20lb tippet. The kind of stuff I use on river carp.
We ran as fast as possible, we wanted pictures on the flat. It shat all over me. Still smiling. That’s how you know you’re happy. We were all a team on that fish. And what a team. We’d landed two fish against all odds. Thanks to some incredible commitment and some insane skill from Jako. Now Paul and the guys had been here for a week. So we knew how many had been lost. Rich was 0 for 8. We were both 1 for 1. Incredible. A look at my leader showed how lucky I had been. Two kinks in my leader, I had felt it cross the fishes mouth twice, the second time it must have got caught in the tiny gap behind the beak. What are the odds. Of all of this. Well, with this good of a guide, surprisingly good.
The pictures followed, and this fish didn’t tire. It still had some ass kicking to do. And it hit Paul and I a good few times before finally breaking Jakos net completely. He released as if it never happened. And I lay back in the water. I had to take it in.
Then I smiled, laughed and pointed.
“Guys, that little bay and section of surf is FULL of Geets. One tried to bite me.”
There must have been some scepticism. I was the crazy South African. As we got the section of surf and the suds cleared, there they were. Stacks of GT’s. I started laughing as I stripped off line, shaking my head.
“This is crazy, this is just so crazy”
First cast and “FISH ON!”, Jaco as stoked as me. Its partners looking for more action as Jaco shouted “DOUBLE UP TIME!”. My fish came off and they were gone -gutted. Then they turned and came straight back. No ways. Paul hooked up this time and I think a little inspired from the madness he’d just witnessed jumped in and started our now trademarked Usain Phleps swim/run. Jaco tailed the fish all smiles as I spotted them again.
They would follow but wouldnt eat. Hmm. “Ive got it, they wont risk not having a bite if its in the wash”. I waited for a swell to break and dropped the fly just behind them in the white stuff. It made it three strips. BOOM. White water everywhere as it engulfed the fly. “Brakes ON!” I shouted as i locked the drag. Too much structure to let anything run here. The fish tried left and then changed direction, taking a page out of the Bumpies book. But he’d misjudged it horribly. He got to the surf as the surge pulled, and with my pressure on did a nose wheelie straight into a rock. How embarrassing. I love giving these flats bullies a bit of a lesson. Jako was on him like Scotty on a chocolate. What a way to end the day. We didn’t say that much on the ride back. It was the ultimate day, the best days fishing in my life I told Jako. And it was, bar none.