by Glen Stuart-Mathews
The fate of our adventure began 30 million years before the words, “ We have to go to The Maldives!” finally spilled from my mouth. Tersia wasn’t surprised, we had been ogling over this piece of paradise for the most part of lockdown and she knew that look in my eye. Whiling away our time, we had drifted to far off places in search of yet another destination to hunt for the Noble Giant. It wasn’t long before The Maldives became most intriguing and our focus honed in on the Northern Atolls.
We were spoiled for choice by the sheer expanse of the place with its 26 Atolls consisting of 1192 Islands. The once majestic ancient volcanoes that towered overhead, now provided a foothold for the coral reef to form, from their watery resting places way below the surface of the risen sea.
Each island, standing proud no more than a couple of metres above sea level, built up over millennia from the accumulating dead coral and the pounding sea, offers sanctuary for a host of Fish and wildlife. The diverse structure, from lagoons to sand flats to rocky ledges and out crops as well as the evident barrier reef which grows to form the Atoll rings, all pointed to one thing. ”This place was special!” We had to see this for ourselves.
It was no wonder then that in February this year, we found ourselves boarding the plane. Just one stop in Dubai and we were there, Male, the capital City of The Maldives. Well, almost there! It was not the cities nor one of the 100 private resorts we were after. It was the uninhabited islands we sought. We had 10 days of fly fishing ahead of us and unbeknown to us at the time, an adventure of a lifetime.
The Islands bordering the Atoll have a calm side which faces into the Atoll with soft white sand bottoms and turquoise waters speckled with grass beds and coral bommies and an ocean side with waves, reef, dead loose coral and action. The Surf Zone!
We had read about the 2000 odd fish species, 250 soft and hard coral, 5 different turtles and a host of other aquatic critters but nothing could have prepared us….
Each zone and habitat revealed its quarry to us, it was abundant. Schools of Parrot Fish edging the coral heads on the sand flats. Triggers darting here and there. Bait balls hugging the shorelines. Bluefin Trevally smashing their prey at our feet. The variety of targetable fish here for the fly angler is impressive. Bonefish, Permit, yellow spot trevally, BohaR Snapper as well as more obscure fish such as the Unicorn fish . The Giant Trevally were there too, we had found them!
GT ” THE LION OF THE REEF”
“Let’s dispel the misconception straight away that GT’s are stupid eating machines. Although they are ferocious opportunistic predators preying on virtually anything, they can be very selective at times.”
Prowlers of the coral reef, these stunning blue silver GT’s of The Maldives can be found on the flats but predominantly in the surf zone. Between the surf and the flats there’s a ridge of rock, exposed at low tide, which forms a barrier. At high tide the GT’s move in and feed up against this barrier, using the foamies to hide and launch attacks into the bait. We found certain areas along this barrier held large schools of bait of various kinds and this is where the GT’s were concentrated.
THE STANDARD APPROACH
Timing of tides is crucial when fishing these areas. A slow calm approach is vital. The shoals of bait we found are particularly sensitive to movement and noise and move off quickly once disturbed and if the prey moves off so do the predators.
The conditions are challenging with scattered chunks of dead coral loose underfoot, making walking feel like a dance audition. The waiting game begins… When a GT is spotted in range, a cast way ahead of the fish is carefully presented, stripping should commence immediately. Once the GT sees the fly and reacts, start stripping fiercely. This will trigger an attack. In my opinion an effective double hand retrieve is vital to trigger the eat response.
So when normal tactics failed to produce, as we witnessed large GT’s amble up to the fly, look at it one eye at a time then turn seemingly in disgust, we realized we faced a conundrum. Sempers to realistic baitfish patterns were scorned in the crystal clear water.
I saw a large GT swim in 15 metres to my right. He dashed around a single soft coral head a few times, even tailing at one point trying to inhale the terrified residents at the base of the structure. I thought well this is it. 12 weight in hand with what I believed to be a realistic 6/0 tan and white brush fly. I began casting . As he rounded the coral head once more my fly landed perfectly 5 metres in front of him..he spotted it and started to follow but it was obvious he viewed it with suspicion and turned back toward the reef. His attitude translated into English instantly in my brain..PATHETIC
The giant was by no means being fussy about what he intended to eat until he saw my fly.
Confidence made way for a feeling of complete insecurity. Surely my fly must be recognised as one of the two thousand possible fish here, I thought. I stared hopelessly into my overstocked flybox desperate for a solution.
Recurring rejection prompted a change in strategy… casting smaller flies 1/0 and 2/0 Clousers in Olive/White, Tan/White, Grey/White. We dropped to 10 weight rods with floating lines and 40 pound leaders. (accepted GT tackle 30 years ago.
Well timed casts dropping the fly just behind the foamy seconds after the wave crashes, then stripping it furiously into the milky water did the trick.
PORTALS INTO LEARNING AND GROWTH
We noticed a behavior change immediately. They exploded onto the smaller flies. Their commitment was noticeable the instant they spotted the fly. There was no hesitation. They seemed to recognise the fly as a food source. Bingo.
Failure drives adaptation, a new strategy arises and success ensues. To me this is the essence of the hunt, and brings a deep sense of satisfaction, a connection to our prehistoric hunting instincts that saw us become so successful.
Normally once a big fish is hooked, it is advisable to stay put, but the lighter rods saw us engaged in rapid coral bounding chases after fish who often hugged the shorebreak, running parallel to the shoreline. With this lighter tackle, if one can avoid being reefed, by applying sustained maximum pressure, even big fish are quickly worn down and one can expect to land most in around ten minutes. Immense fun.
We were nearing the end of our Maldives adventure. Our time had predominantly been spent visiting as many islands as we could, becoming familiar with the terrain and the different aspects each had to offer.
We managed to land 10 gts from 60 to 85 cms with the highlight of the trip being a Giant of 108cm which we chased 250 metres along the reef,all on the 10 weight. Several fish were lost due to smaller hooks pulling and the treacherous sharp coral.
By throwing Clousers in the surf one can expect to catch 10 to 30 bluefin a day, ranging from 30 to 60 cm’s with the occasional fish 60 to 80 cms. They move around in gangs and literally fight over the fly. (Generally the smaller quicker fish win). We lost count of the numbers landed.
As our main focus was of course the Giant Trevally, less time was spent on the flats and sand bars targeting other species. We did manage a decent Yellow Margin Triggerfish on a Brown Alphlexo Crab and a host of other species on shrimp patterns like Emperor and Yellow Spot Trevally.
The coral reef of The Maldives sees relatively low fishing pressure. The abundance of GT’s of all sizes is very encouraging. We saw many metre plus GT’s with a few real Giants in range.
We wondered what the fishing may be like if the GTs had been more willing to eat.
The prime season is January,February, March being the best weather months.
We will be back in September to further explore exciting new areas for our trips next year.