No stranger to big fish, when Meredith McCord visited the flats of Sudan she was on the hunt for triggerfish, bluefin trevally and GTs. What she didn’t expect was the spaghetti worm.
No one expects the spaghetti worm.
“What is that?” I asked, awe-struck, as I stood looking in front of the three of us just twenty feet off the shoreline. The light was still low on the water and Kayla, Tim and I had just started our day walking and stalking the sandy beach and flats of a small island called Talla-Talla Kebir. We were looking for triggerfish or anything else we might cast a fly to. We all stopped and stared hard, willing our eyes to see through the silver roof of the water’s surface to whatever was cutting its way parallel to the beach and coming towards us.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Tim quickly. “Just cast!” Before I could even think about what I was doing, what fly I was tossing, or how light the tippet was on my 9-weight Hardy, I cast my tan Spaghetti (worm) fly a few feet directly in the path of this “thing”. I had just begun to strip my line when a huge silver forehead, followed by a big white upper lip, slowly emerged from the surface of the water and literally sipped in my tiny #2 fly like a brown trout. It was as if it was saying, with ease and grace, ”Thank you, I will take that tasty little Italian morsel of a treat.”
Our first four days of fly fishing the Red Sea’s crystal-clear waters in southern Sudan had already been a great success. Our group of six was made up of a newly engaged couple from Boston (Simon romantically proposed to Kayla on the white sand flats of Abu’Isa on our second day, right after Kayla landed her first trigger of the morning, and our guide/photographer Tim was prepped and ready with his camera to capture it all); long time fly angler Susan from Michigan; Uncle “Big Fish” Bill from Seattle; and Traveling Charlie and me from Texas.
We had made the long trek across the pond to a country new to us all to chase triggerfish, bluefin trevally and — the golden egg — the giant trevally (respectfully referred to as GTs, or Geets, by fanatics). Our home for the 10-day exploratory trip was the 31-metre steel trawler dive boat, the “Don Questo”, with a crew of six and captained by a passionate, hand gesturing Italian, Lorenzo. We were being led island to island by three incredibly fun and fishy guides: South African head guide Brent Poultry, Spanish guide and fly tier David Fernández and, new to the team, the amazing photographer Tim Leppan.
On the first evening we made a hard overnight push as far south as possible to the islands near the border of Eritrea and Sudan. Each day after that we explored, walking for miles and catching more fish than one could believe, always working our way back north towards our final destination of Port Sudan. In the evenings, Lorenzo and Brent would study the map and, taking into account the wind and weather, would make a plan as to what new islands we might fish the following day. Every morning the nine of us (two anglers paired with a guide) would load into two Sudanese seven-metre fiberglass pangas, run by either Manga or Mahmoot, and venture off to walk and wade various uninhabited and untouched small desert islands to see what they might offer. It was an incredibly adventurous feeling to know that, on some of these islands, we were almost certainly the first fly fishermen to step foot on the flats, and were casting to fish who had never seen a fly.
By the fourth day the group had landed 37 triggers and over 20 bluefins, as well as a few small giant trevally. Although we had caught no large GTs, we had seen them and a few had even felt the sting of a hook. This particular day was a special one for me, as Brent took Susan and me to a very small island that looked to be a good size and shape on Google Earth but had never been checked out by fishermen. When searching the satellite map for good fishing areas, a few things are looked for on and around these tiny islands. Most are so small an angler could walk around them in less than an hour to half a day. The first thing you look for is the number of fishable flats between the shoreline and the reef and blue water drop-off. The second is whether or not the island is big enough to block waves, wind and current in order to create a “receiving” lea side into which to bring the panga to safely deposit guide and anglers. There is something heart-thumping and wild about this kind of exploratory fishing. Not knowing what might happen brings an electricity to the venture that is palpable for both guide and angler and heightens the sense of being alive.
About mid-morning on this particular tiny island, Susan, walking ahead of me, spotted something dark cruising the shoreline and shouted, “Big fish!” I grabbed my 11-weight rod, rigged with an original James Christmas NYAP with a sailfish pink/white popper head in front of a loop (definitely not the sexiest of rigs, but very effective), and made a cast to the silvery blue Geet, which by then was right at my feet. One pop of my fly and it charged, swirled, and seemed to reject the fly. I kept popping, with each “kurrr-bloosh” trying to will the fish to eat and, on the third pop it worked! The GT jack-knifed back on the fly, smashed it with a sound I cannot do justice to, and the fight was on! I cranked down the drag on my new 9600 Mako reel and ran backwards to get as high on the island as I could in order to keep my prize out of the coral. Brent whooped and hollered and after a short fight ran out to tail the trophy – my first Sudanese giant trevally, a beautiful dark 84cm fish. After a few photos, I picked up my 9-weight rod and was able to bring to hand my largest Titan trigger ever. Needless to say, the trip was going well.
We returned to the Don Questo after fishing to learn that everyone had had a bang-up day. Bill and Simon had both caught big bluefins, and Kayla and Charlie had landed an epic ten triggers, all on the Spaghetti fly,, This is nothing more than a simple worm pattern tied in seconds with a piece of chenille wound behind a pair of small dumbbell eyes, with the “tail” protruding out below the hook just under an inch. A few sharpie stripes on the tail finishes off the fly. Who would have thought such a small and basic piece of material could have such an effect on the triggers? David had learned about the fly from Johan Persson Friberg a Norwegian fly fisherman who had crushed the northern flats of Sudan with a very similar worm fly. On witnessing the fly’s success, David began to tie his own version in tan, olive and red, which he called the “eS-Paghetti”, as he pronounced it with his thick Spanish accent.
Read the rest of Meredith’s story in issue 29 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.