I just received this epic story from Geoff Volter from North Queensland, Down Under. What a catch! Enjoy …
The plan was that Bill Michell and I would get onto the inshore section of the flat at daybreak and wade it, so we caught the EARLY ferry.
Warren would be joining us in his boat at 8h30am, so we had means to explore the offshore sections of this flats complex. The main attraction at this location is Golden trevally (aka Goldies) while side shows include blue bastards and if you are really lucky, Black Spot Tuskfish (Tuskies or Bluebone) and Permit too. The Tuskies are from the wrasse family. As the name suggests, they have impressive dentition. They are uncommonly wary, fierce fighters, and highly visible. They are rarely caught by accident.
We got onto the water at about 6h30 and had an absorbing couple of hours with a slowly dropping tide. Bill has fished this spot for years and said that conditions were perfect. Perfect tide height and perfect time. You can’t beat local knowledge and Bill is as local as it gets here.
He was expecting the Goldies to tail happily as they exited the flat, so we were waiting for them near that exit. We would be fishing most of the run down and some of the run in.
The only issue was that the previous evening had got down to 7 degrees C, which is unheard of in NQ!
The other issue was that two other fly fishers had come to the bay and inadvertently cut us off by commencing operations “upstream” of us. The result was that the Goldies were being cast at before they got to us and arrived within casting distance very skittish. The end result was that we didn’t really see any tailers, or any surging fish.
Surging Goldies is how we describe it when they cruise in the shallow water at speed and leave a bow wave. The problem though, is that at first light in shallow water, anything bigger than a mullet leaves a bow wave, especially Rays. I had tied on a light pink Ragin Craven. Its a generalist fly which doesn’t closely copy a specific prey item but suggests a range of them. It is a great each – way – bet on the flats. Fish love chewing on them! You can strip them for a reaction bite or you can bump and leave them on the bottom if you need. I generally like a bit of lead in my flies too, and this one had its share.
Typically, the definite schools of Goldies were well clear of where we wanted to wade.
And they were skittish. The only good shot I had, i cast over the fish by 10 foot! This is very much point and shoot flats fishing, I needed to get on-point if I was to take advantage of any opportunities today. I was using a 10 weight redfish taper . It had been sitting new in a box at my joint for over 5 years. I purchased it for a trip in 2010. I had dug it out for my redfish trip two weeks prior but hadn’t used it. I needed some on water practice.
Anyway, by the time Warren arrived, the Goldies had given us little and we had messed up whatever shots we had had at them, so they lived to piss us off another day.
We were glad for Warren to arrive, even though his boat is only 3.7m long and not very stable, it sure beats wading with crocs, sharks and jellyfish.
We had a milk run of spots to hit on the last of the run out, starting at the southern crest of the flat. I get excited whenever I go there. It’s a great spot. Great features, great bottom, deep water nearby. Anything can swim by here.
Unfortunately, Warren was about 30 mins later than we would have liked, and the water was a bit too low for this spot. We deployed on foot and Bill immediately had two bastards tailing in front of him. I skirted well wide and hiked up the end of the flat. Bill’s fish disappeared without a trace and no other fish were seen by us. So we hiked at pace to the open side of the flat, which had a bit more water on its deeper edge. The light and visibility here were not great. The glare was difficult but fortunately the wind was less than predicted. Bill saw a small tuskfish but it had seen him, which is always game over. So we all got back in the boat and raced to the next spot. I had told Bill that I was feeling like we would get a Tuskie today and that he should have a crab tied on. Bill and I had been in the US chasing redfish and drum a fortnight earlier. He had been on fire and I wanted him to continue his rich run of form. Bill had never landed a big Tuskie either, despite spending more time than most on this flat. So I told him to take the bow. All of the fishing for the rest of the day would be from the boat. We went to the next spot, but it was barren. And the next and the next. The flat looked incredible at each spot but we think that the cold night had made the fish leave the flats. It could be the only explanation. There was a remarkable absence of fish. Turtle, ray and shark numbers were very low compared to usual. Our spirits were flagging. On the way past my favourite spot, a large gutter, we saw a BIG Tuskie down deep on a coral bommie at the entrance. This gutter is effectively the drain of two big flats. It has a slightly silty bottom in parts, coral rubble in others, and sand in one spot. I call it my field of dreams. I have caught one other uber Tuskie, a stack of Goldies, a permit, a bastard and I reckon I saw a bone there once. Anyway, the locals don’t share my enthusiasm for this spot. It’s just another spot to them and it does suffer from clarity issues on the low tides in most wind directions.
The guys couldn’t be talked into having a look at it, and to be fair the water level was too low. That and we wanted to go up a little further to another spot with incredible topography and features which lends itself to this water height. There is a large gouge into the flat here. It has become its own fish highway with water depth on most tides, and cover. Understandably it’s hit hard by the locals for barra, and other edibles.
Tuskies are largely immune to those techniques, but they do wise up to the boats.
We started heading back towards areas we had already fished as the tide had well and truly turned by now. There was fresh clean water pushing into the flats. As sometimes happens, the tide change was accompanied by a strengthening of the wind. There was no fish to be seen. None. And it was cold.
By this stage, we were crestfallen. Conditions were brilliant; really good. And it just felt like something was about to happen. We had been at it for hours. Bill graciously offered the bow, but I told him
“No stick with it mate; today feels lucky! I can feel it”.
We worked our way towards to my favourite gutter. On the falling tide it acts as a massive drain. On the rise it is the first place to fill with water and it accesses deep water. So it is a very effective fish highway and holding station.
We poked our noses in there and straightaway saw large amounts of Rays, a couple of turtles and quite a few large black tip reef Sharks. This was better than anything we had seen all day. Again Bill offered me the bow. I declined for the same reason again and reminded him that I had a good feeling about today.
We worked our way in with the building water height. We were confident of some goldens, and again it looked and felt perfect, but just too cold.
I have this thing for eagle Rays. They sometimes eat flies, run and jump well. I love them! Everybody else thinks they are vermin. I would rather Goldies or Gt or lots of other things, but I rather Eagles to nothing. And at this stage we had nothing. We weren’t seeing anything except for the odd small bream, hardly what we were there for. A pod of 3 eagles started playing near the boat. Bill sensed my desire and countered my call for him to cast at them with
“Its your turn Voltz!”
I couldn’t take it much longer, I needed to cast at something. The Rays chased the fly but refused to eat it, but at least it was a couple of minutes of fun. We were all ready to fuck off and were making all the noises of doing exactly that. A warm coffee beckoned. I am sure that we all have the “last cast” or the “last drift”, or the “last 5 minutes” et al routine. We were well ready to call it a day.
But a genuine last look up the flat revealed a big Tuskie, 70-80 feet away and swimming away from us. The big blue fish was very obvious in the knee deep water.
I said “hey, check this out!”
Warren and Bill “motherfucker!!” And
“Where did that come from?!”
I said “cmon Bill- your turn.”
He said “No mate he is yours. It will surely spook by the time I get my shit together.”
We were heading straight into a tough wind.
We could close the gap using the pole but it was tough on Warren.
The boat was slapping in the chop and we were convinced the Tuskie would spook in that shallow water at any time…
Luckily the fish stopped and fed.
We got closer.
It fed towards us. Would we get a shot?
It seemed to grow in size…
We got closer… A shot might be on the cards…
I checked my stripped out line again, and re-laid the last few coils.
Everything was right and I was getting excited.
The fish was happily feeding on some morsel and was right on the edge of my effective range in the wind with that heavy fly on.
Did I take this shot and risk spooking it or wait for a better shot and risk spooking it while we repositioned?
Ultimately, I knew that I needed to take the shot now. Anything could happen if I waited for a better shot. This fish was happy, almost drunk. And I knew before I cast that this was going to end well if I just followed my procedures well. I knew that I just had to nail the last back cast; for me that is my key. Golfers talk about having their head over the ball; goal kickers about the placement of their non kicking foot; but for me I just need to nail a smooth, cleaning-feeling back cast and the rest looks after itself. Usually.
I let the fly go hard as it was quartering into a strong breeze with the wind on my bad shoulder. Focusing on the back cast and staring at where I wanted the fly to land took my mind off the difficult wind.
If anything, I over shot the target by about 50cm but on the correct line. The fish had moved slightly mid cast and its new position actually suited the fly landing. Best of all, the wind and the controlled fly landing had allowed the fly to enter the fish’s awareness with stealth and surprise.
On sensing the fly, the bluey’s body language screamed “I saw it!” A long slow prawn-like draw got the tuskie moving to the fly and it started tracking it immediately.
Suddenly, it accelerated and half tipped. Was that a bite?!? The water wasn’t deep enough to mask a full blooded tailing strike, but there was no tail. Regardless, I felt a tiny resistance, and then nothing again. Could it have been the bottom?
Once again, a half-hearted tip and a bit of resistance. Was that the fish? Surely it was, but again nothing. Strip again. By this stage the fish is looking right at the boat, still a fair distance off, but every strip brings the fish closer to the realization that not all is right. A little doubt started to creep in to my mind.
The fish was following, but not as committed as we would have liked. As it was getting closer, its size seemed magically to increase. I love the mixture of emotions that you can experience at that moment. The excitement, joy, anticipation, doubt, even a little fear, is something which I hope is never dulled by fishy experience. I thought I would try something subtly different. I waited till the fish was almost on the fly. I couldn’t see the fly so I was relying on the fish’s body language.
I knew aggravation was my best chance of an eat. I didn’t have confidence that my fly accurately represented a food source. After all, it was an each way bet.
I thought I needed to trigger a response. When I thought it was on the fly again, I did a short, fast strip. Which was a significant change in cadence from the long slow strips that I had been employing until that point.
Instantly, it’s dorsal fin stiffened, the fish seemed to shudder and even flushed blue in colour. It was obvious what was going to happen next.
I think we all were jumping out of our skin at this stage. The fish committed and surged at the fly undeniably. Up until this stage, time had almost been standing still. There was a tactile “crunch” transmitted through the line. This is a moment of unbridled joy for any sight fishermen- the evident commitment and deception of the fish.
I had plenty of confidence in the leader and knots, so I strip set HARD. Twice.
The mood on the boat changed significantly. It was now pandemonium. We all knew how hard these fish can be to get to eat. Probably permit-hard. And then you have to land them. At this stage I was only concerned with clearing the line to the reel on my terms and they are (1) No easy meters, and (2) No regrets.
The big strip strikes had pulled the fishes head in my direction and it was confused and looking for its escape to deeper water and the bommies in it.
It came at the boat out of necessity as we separated the fish from deep water and it gathered steam. Time was accelerating and so was the fish. The effort taken pre- cast managing the line now paid off handsomely as it cleared cleanly onto the reel. When it hit the reel I realized that I had the drag lightly set due to stripping line off only minutes earlier. FUCK!
An overrun was imminent as the spool instantly went from stationary to spinning really fast, but I was able to feather the spool and get a clean transition. I was even able to get an extra turn on the drag knob.
Momentary relief! The rod loaded deeply as the heavy drag took effect. From experience, Warren and I knew we needed to stay on top of this fish with the boat as much as possible. As calmly and politely as my emotions could muster, I asked him to “get on top of it”. Warren has, to my knowledge, already been part of landing two of the biggest tuskies on fly, so I couldn’t have been in better hands. And as it turned out, he had already started the boat.
In the times that I have been hooked up to Tuskies on all but two occasions it has been over within 5 seconds of the eat. There is a crazy, wild-thing first run to the nearest hole or rock. You rarely make it to the second run. If you think its hard getting a bite, landing it is another story. In full flight and as big as a bin, controlling this guy would be tough.
I followed the line to the fish, unmistakable in its bright blue colour against the tan background. It was about 15m from a sizeable rock.
I hadn’t been confident of anything at this stage, and from experience I knew how these things normally ended.
No regrets! I applied as much side pressure as possible to try and steer the fish into kinder terrain.
It seemed to work. Then the tuskie lost a bit of focus and accepted its new direction. The boat was now moving so I had to crank like a bastard.
It was at that moment that i looked down and saw that I was 10-20m into the backing and that had happened in seconds.
Some slack gathered as the boat overtook my frenzied reeling. I couldn’t keep up! FUCK! AGAIN.
I shoved the rod tip into the water, hoping that this would keep some pressure on at the fish end due to line drag. Like a champ, Warren slowed down and everything came tight. It was probably only a couple of seconds, but it felt like ages that I had not been able to exert everything I could on the fish.
I knew I had put some serious heat on at the start and I was glad to still be in the game. I cranked hard and put more wood on. The fish had slowed and almost stopped.
I looked up expecting to see the line headed under a rock and the tuskie had made it home.
But there it was, 5 meters from the rock in the middle of the sand patch. Was he stuffed? Or was he messing with me and lining me up for a glorious close range coup de grace! Really, what business do we have messing with these heavy duty motherfuckers with over grown trout gear?
I pulled on that fish hard, never thinking for a moment that I had it beat. We gained on it. Meter by meter our hopes grew. The feeling in the boat was pure excitement! It was only meters away now. Could it really be over?
As the boat neared, the fish turned for the run that I was worried about.
I knew there was no quarter to be given now. No regrets. It was stop or pop at this point.
That run turned out to be nothing more than a feeble last turn for home. The tuskie was tuckered. Moments before the net went under the tuskie, it seemed to again grow in size. It was truly immense!
I lifted it to the surface and Bill made no mistake with the net and held it in the water next to the boat.
There was a second or two of silence on board. Did that really happen? Was it over? Wow!
Bill went to lift it in to the boat. Bang!! The net frame broke in two places where it joined the handle! Surely we couldn’t lose it now!
Luckily it went nowhere. We lifted it in.
The fish hardly moved; it was clearly fucked.
The mood finally changed to elation. Pure elation. We organized a quick photo shoot.
It wasn’t until it was on the deck that we all saw the girth and bulk to match the length. It was a blue monster. Bill and Warren really helped me get that fish and for me a special moment was made better for the team work. I love fishing for tuskies. To be able to do combine that with fishing with mates is simply awesome. It was a memorable day that I will cherish always.