NOW THAT THE DUST has settled on the Fly Fishing Film Tour, you’d imagine we would be able to focus on getting shit done. We can’t. And for that we blame the tours films. The worst (or the best) of the lot when it comes to distracted daydreaming was Atlanticus. From the “baby” poons smashing hopper imitations during a once every eight years hatch, to the behemoth tarpon of Gabon and their cousins found up distant Costa Rican rivers, the footage is on constant repeat in our pips. We spoke to one lucky bastard who was part of the project, South African Neville Orsmond, owner of Thomas & Thomas fly rods.

How did you get involved with Atlanticus?
Grant Wiswell, who owns Castaway Films got hold of me. They needed a rod sponsor for this film they were thinking of doing and he asked if our rods could take the abuse tarpon dish out. We sent out a couple of rods, they tested them and were super excited. The next thing Grant said I should be joining the Atlanticus trips.

What was your experience of tarpon fishing before Atlanticus?
Actually even before Thomas & Thomas, I had the fly fishing bug and was catching amazing trout in the Catskills on dry fly. I was speaking to a guide one day and he said, “have you ever caught a tarpon? It’s just a ridiculous fish. This thing is so acrobatic, jumping out the water.” I ended up buying a ticket to Key West, Florida. I came back with a broken heart, having hooked a tarpon. From there I racked up plenty of miles flying down to the Keys to fish with Captain Joel Dickey, which gave me a lot of time to try understand tarpon. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. The Keys were where I cut my teeth.

What were your expectations of Gabon before you went there?
I was super excited just for the experience rather than the fishing which was the cherry on top. For me, having read about Gabon and followed what the boys from Tourette Fishing were up to, it was about seeing new waters. Understanding that in Africa, where I am from, there are tarpon. The goal was to catch one from African soil, from the beach – that’s why we were there. My expectation was that it was going to be tough, but I was excited about just going to Gabon and getting to see the fishery.

Neville Orsmond of Thomas & Thomas preparing to “cast his ass off”. Photo Jako Lucas

What did you find?
We found ourselves casting our asses off for a ridiculous amount of time. We were there casting from the beach, every single tide, non-stop. It’s a spectacular fishery with all the different snapper, the threadfin, the jacks. We ended up using the park manager Wynand’s military boat to get behind the surf where we found 1000s of tarpon, there were just schools and schools of them. It was exciting to find them. We did not find them in the lagoon, in the river mouth, but we ended up finding them just behind the breakers. What a spectacular place, I love Gabon.

Locked and loaded for big tarpon with Thomas & Thomas rods and Nautilus reels. Photo Jako Lucas

Just how tough on tackle are tarpon? 
Tarpon are pretty tough on tackle. They take off like a machine and will kick your ass. You have to turn this fish around so you need to design a rod for a fish that most of the time is very unpredictable in what it’s doing. With that explosive power, it’s bound to break anything. There was this one instance in Costa Rica where a free-jumping fish jumped into the boat, broke the console completely, shattered everything. This fish is something else – a prehistoric beast.

What were the highlights of getting involved in Atlanticus?
A highlight of this project was definitely getting really close with our pro staff and the friends that we made. Dr Andy Danylchuk, a fisheries scientist, Dr Mike Fay a conservation biologist for Nat Geo, these fantastic people who have such insights in preserving earth, nature and our waterways. Also the pros – learning a lot from Drew Miller and Jako Lucas, that was definitely a big highlight. Another highlight was being able to travel and see these amazing places where tarpon live.

And the hardest thing?
The hardest thing about filming Atlanticus was that I wished we had more time and I wished we could keep on doing it because it was so much fun. We actually have another project in the bag, but we’ll get there slowly but surely. The hardest part was being away from my wife and kids. I have three little ones, five-year-old twins and a son that’s a year and a half. Spending all that time away from them filming and working on this project was probably the hardest thing because you miss your family.

There’s a scene in Atlanticus where Jako Lucas looks like he’s about to burst out crying. What happened there?
Jako and I were on the boat and he just hooked this amazing tarpon. This thing was busting out and we wanted to land it on the beach. Jako is a strong guy, after fighting it like machine, as he gets it right to the beach, Drew Miller a pro guide out of the Keys moves to land it. Turns out the fish wasn’t quite ready, it was still green. Drew did everything 100% and as he wanted to land it he held the leader. It broke off right there at his feet. Gone with all the memories. That’s why we go fishing. There are the fish we get pictures of, but the ones we lose are the ones we always think about. I did feel sorry for Jako because I have never seen anyone so distraught. We had tried so hard, so it was tough.

“That’s why we go fishing. There are the fish we get pictures of, but the ones we lose are the ones we always think about.”

After being part of Atlanticus, have you got a favourite tarpon destination?
I don’t think there’s a favourite destination. Every single destination where there’s tarpon is a beautiful place. Every destination that I go and fish for tarpon brings its own values and the way that earth and fish come together. The places that really wowed me were Gabon and Cost a Rica. Costa Rica there’s 130lb+ tarpon in a small stream 130 miles from the ocean, which is pretty cool. But my favourite destination for tarpon? Wherever they live.


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