MEET THE FARQUHARS 

MEET THE FARQUHARS 

What distinguishes a good trip from a great trip usually comes down to the company. When Ewan Naude hit the Seychelles recently, he hit the jackpot with a crew that was as strong as the fly fishing on Farquhar. Photos: Ewan Naude, Paul Robinson, Alphonse Fishing Co. As featured in The Mission Issue 44 (Mar/Apr 2024).

It all started with a tube of “Ass Magic”. When an opportunity to fish Farquhar came about fairly suddenly, I spoke to a friend, Paul Robinson, about joining me. In an attempt perhaps to show his appreciation or strongly hint that he would like to room with me, he gave me a tube of very ambiguously named anti-chafe cream. Once I was comfortable that the gift was completely platonic, we started planning in earnest.

“You should have a throw at everything. As I found out, it can make your trip.”

When it comes to exotic fishing trips, it had been a particularly dry spell for Paul and me. That’s thanks to a few years of raising children, or what’s commonly described in parenting circles as “being in the trenches”. Double-hauling and Bimini Twists had been replaced by crawling infants and runny shits. It was finally time to tentatively stick our heads above the trenches during a brief ceasefire. Our wives (being good friends), had enjoyed a girls’ trip away together while we, as extremely diligent fathers and husbands, had tended to our children’s every need in their absence. It was time to slap on some Ass Magic and cash in that pink slip. 

As is the nature of these trips, you meet all the fellow fishers along the road to the destination. Generally, the twit wearing wading boots and an overpriced backpack at the check-in counter is your man and, before too long, there were six of us twits waiting at the IDC (Islands Development Company) hangar on Mahe to board our final flight to Farquhar. Joining me and Paul were Bruce Stewart, whom I’d met on a previous trip to Alphonse; the American father and son combo Tripp and Braden Hopkins; Anthony Thunstrom from South Africa; and Alan Milligan, a Zimbo living in the UK. Chris Cox met us on Farquhar having already spent a wet week on Providence.

fly fishing on Farquhar
African marble grouper

It took a little less than one drink that evening to establish that this was a well-travelled, easy-going and interesting crew. It was with much excitement that together with the guides of the Alphonse Fishing Company we plotted our plan of attack for our first guided day on the water. 

The fishing 

By the time we arrived, at the end of November, the sooty tern buffet was well and truly over. This is a phenomenon that typically happens in September/October and, other than an ill-timed back cast, no terns were harmed during our stay. It’s been said many times, but the beauty of Farquhar is the diversity of species and habitat. The huge coral gardens and reef structures in and outside the atoll mean an abundance of reef dwellers that are adept at swiftly destroying fly lines.

A mistake that many people make when fishing the tropics is to ignore the diversity on offer and to be hell-bent on catching, for example, a GT over 100cm or a triggerfish over a sight-caught, blue-spangled emperor. Of course, we all want to catch the trophy or one of the “Big 5” flats species, but you should have a throw at everything. As I found out, it can make your trip.  

Sooty tern buffet 

As seen in the most incredible footage in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, the GTs of Farquhar are adept at hunting sooty terns, nailing them while sitting on the water or even mid-flight.

 

fly fishing on Farquhar
Farquhar is famous for its bird-eating giant trevally

Kick-off 

We joked around the breakfast table on the first morning that this was what Eben Etzebeth must have felt like before the Rugby World Cup final. The wait was over, it was time to break a few bones. The Americans, still severely jet-lagged, politely declined Paul’s (aka The Ginger Heisenberg) offer of caffeine pills as a near-drowning in their corn flakes woke them from their slumber. Team America had some objectives for the week and top of the list was for Tripp to get his first GT.  

Paul and I fished the first day together and we were feeling pretty good as we left the slipway. We had each landed a nice GT on our 9-weights the afternoon before during the arrival walkabout. It was good to have Yousef as our guide that day. He’s a great guy who has a wonderful story of starting as a bartender on Alphonse and going on to become a well-respected guide for the Alphonse Fishing Company.  Fishing a falling tide on the day after a spring high was an ideal scenario and very soon, we started seeing “rat packs” of smaller GTs and nice bluefin on the flats.  

Paul and I both managed to open the account with a big bluefin. As the tide receded, we drifted off a sand flat into an area littered with coral bommies and with the coral came some very large African marble grouper (AMG) and bohar snapper. Some guys don’t enjoy casting at these fish as the effect on fly lines can be brutal, but Paul and I were frothing to cast at anything that swam so I shot a long cast over a particularly nasty bommie and saw a shadow emerge from under an overhang.

“We started seeing ‘rat packs’ of smaller GTs and nice bluefin on the flats.”

The super-size AMG missed on the first go and then ate the fly right next to the boat and almost immediately found a crevice to hide in. I don’t think Yousef was used to his clients jumping off the boat but, without thinking too much, I handed him my rod and wrangled the fish out. I wasn’t going to lose a round this early and a trophy AMG was the prize after a brief hand-to-hand tussle.

Not long after this Paul managed to tame a hog of a bohar and we were both ecstatic with how our trip had started. With my eyes making the adjustment from staring at a laptop to scanning the flats, I did a double take on a large black object sitting motionless on a bommie and then quickly registered, GT! A quick cast and the fish annihilated the fly and was joined by its buddy as they sort of just chilled around the boat. The hooked fish then realised that something wasn’t so lekker and took off through the bommies. I got unlucky as the fly line caught the very last bommie before clear water and the line was severed. It all happens very quickly with GTs and I had blown a trophy opportunity. 

fly fishing on Farquhar
Bumphead parrotfish tail

It’s raining cats and sharks

Most boats had a good start to the trip and the customary bell ringing celebrating notable catches on the first evening was a solid one. Chris and Bruce, leveraging their experience from prior trips, hit the ground running with a brace of GTs each and Tripp caught a magnificent saddleback grouper on the sand, which was special. Everyone was in high spirits on day two, but the weather could not have been much worse. After the heavy rain had subsided, we finally managed to get out around 11am. Bruce and I shared the boat with Evan as our guide. After an initial scout for permit in a high-water area, Evan was keen to move on to an area of coral ridges where the GTs cruise the surface and could be seen in the foul weather.  

“Paul and I were frothing to cast at anything that swam.”

I was on the bow scanning and Evan alerted me to a good fish about to come into range. The cast, eat and set all went according to plan and a nice fish in the 90s was on. We were only about 20m from some very foul coral. Evan started the motor to get on top of the fish. Bruce had me by the belt so I didn’t go overboard… Although I’m nearly twice his size so not even his caffeine-induced, Samson-like strength would have saved me. The fish was nearly spent but managed to find a small bommie and wrap me again. Within a flash, Evan had his shirt off and was in the water.

A few seconds later he surfaced looking like he needed a new pair of underwear. “There’s a huge shark down there!” He shouted thi as he did the Phelps dash back to the boat. Instead of erring on the side of caution, he grabbed his mask and jumped straight back in again! By then the fish and the shark had gone. The fish was probably eaten as it was pinned to the coral, and I was beaten by another good GT.

Later in the day we were fly fishing on Farquar in an area known as Trigger Happy and Evan mentioned that there was a resident tiger shark that loved hunting turtles and bumphead parrotfish on the turtle grass. Just a few minutes later we saw a tiger thrashing around in thigh-deep water predating on what looked like a turtle. All of a sudden my swim for the AMG on day one didn’t look so clever, and I made a mental note to avoid any wading deeper than scrotum depth for the remainder of the trip.  

The emperors of the atoll 

The first time I saw Anthony, something about him just screamed IQ of 180 and someone I wouldn’t want to take on in a Sudoku challenge. Spending a day on the boat with him, he also showed that he was no slouch casting a 12-weight. We fished together on a day that was completely glassed over with a blue cloudless sky. It sounds idyllic but these are tough conditions that result in spooky fish and affect water movement and temperature. Drifting the coral ridges was breathtaking and we were seeing fish many metres down in the total calm but, in all honesty, it was a difficult day out and the fish were lethargic.

As we neared the surf zone, there was a cut in the reef with some white water that looked like the perfect GT ambush spot but the only thing missing was the GT. I put out a speculative cast and a pack of five or six very big blue-spangled emperors followed the fly close to the boat. Anthony had the 9-weight in his hand and I shouted for him to quickly make a cast and let the Alphlexo crab slowly sink into the zone. The largest fish slowly sidled up the fly and gently inhaled it. It was a proper 5kg-plus spango and Ant did really well keeping it out of the bricks. To me this is special fishing and making the most of a day that could have been tough.

I needed to get in on the action and a few minutes later I also managed to pin a good one on my Carlos the Jackal shrimp.  

Carlos the Jackal

Modelled off a basic EP shrimp, and named after a Venezuelan assassin, Ewan Naude’s “Carlos The Jackal” fleeing shrimp fly pattern uses jackal fur to substitute synthetic material. In our step-by-step fly tying tutorial, Ewan explains how jackal fur has good movement in the water and presents various hues of colour. Watch the video here.

Despite the calm conditions, everyone had a good day and we were in high spirits for evening drinks. Bruce and the Ginger Heisenberg were particularly energised as Paul had finally found a willing taker for one of his caffeine pills for a lift during the late afternoon lull. Bruce reminded me of my six-year-old son crossed with a border collie, such were his energy levels. It seemed a good night to crack the bottle of Bacardi (Klipdrift for Alan) and cut a few limes as we eased into another extremely pleasant Farquhar evening of banter and a superb dinner. 

Brucie’s bumpie 

By day four, Bruce’s caffeine pill had worn off and his impersonation of the squirrel from Ice Age wasn’t quite as convincing anymore. We were keen to make the most of a good weather day and off the bat we started seeing GTs on the sand and had a few shots on some average-size fish. I managed to put one in the boat to start the day but, not due to any fault of his own, Bruce couldn’t convert his shots.

fly fishing on Farquhar

Towards the back end of the day, we walked a lovely surf stretch in the west on a perfect pushing tide and again Bruce did everything right on a good fish that then popped him after the line wrapped on the reel handle. Bruce stared into the distance; eyes glazed over as if his beloved cat has just been fed to the trigger-happy resident tiger shark. We all have those days but, as they say, it only takes one cast, and Bruce was soon to make up for the day’s lost opportunities. I was lucky to get the “beginners GT”, a very-hard-to-cock-up shot at six fish on a ray and landed my best geet of the trip in the surf. 

“Gerry was our guide that day and his chill is something to behold.”

Gerry was our guide that day and his chill is something to behold. He could see a school of 150cm GTs and I reckon his heart rate wouldn’t break 50bpm. In his very calm way, he tapped Bruce on the shoulder and told him to get his bumpie (bumphead parrotfish) rod ready as we drifted over a large turtle-grass flat. As we approached to within casting distance, there was a large school of very happy bumpies with their tails in the air, waving them around like they just didn’t care.

Gerry’s instructions were very clear: Cast into the middle of the school, don’t strip the fly, and just maintain contact. Bruce made the perfect cast and within a few seconds we were off to the races. After 150m of backing had been liberated from Bruce’s reel, he was looking a bit tense again but Gerry, in his reassuring tone, urged him to maintain pressure and assured him that the fish would stop. At 200m the fish stopped, and his buddies disappeared over the horizon. Once they are separated from the herd it’s pretty much game over.

As Gerry netted the fish, he looked back at us and put a hooked finger into his mouth indicating that the fish was fairly hooked in the mouth and only then did Bruce let out a cathartic scream. A bumphead parrotfish of 103cm perfectly guided, fished, hooked, and landed. It only takes one cast. 

Always carry Clousers 

One of the many reasons that the outer atolls are so special is that they are primarily sight-fishing venues, but I am not one to miss a fishing opportunity, so I was keen to maximise my time while I was there. Each afternoon after the day’s guided fishing Paul and I would take a walk near the lodge and do some blind fishing with our 9-weights on some deeper drop-offs while scanning for fish coming past. Very soon we worked out that the old faithful tan Clouser was a banker. I had learnt a lesson on my second evening when fishing my same Carlos the Jackal fly that had already accounted for plenty fish.

Something unstoppable ate the fly and took off. I had to apply more pressure after the fish had run more than 200m of backing and the 20lb parted. In hindsight, it was silly not to fish 30lb from the start, so I certainly wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Super-sparse, 5mm tungsten tan Clousers operated every evening going forward and we caught many smaller trevally and some very chunky bonefish this way. The highlight for me was a crazy session on the third evening that included a jobfish and what I thought initially was a golden kingfish that turned out to be a very big Ferdy kingfish. Always carry Clousers!  

Tan Clouser

Tripp and Ant smash the bell 

Although I didn’t get to fish with Tripp and Braden we all got to know each other well after the day’s fishing. I really enjoyed their company and the stories from where they fish and hunt. It seems that Tripp was lucky to make this fly fishing on Farquhar trip with his father as it was clear from dinner conversation that Braden’s favourite child was Maddie, his hunting dog. On day five I shared a boat with Chris and although the flats were quiet, the usual suspects came out to play when drifting over several likely-looking bommies.

I managed a decent GT on a morning surf walk, getting them in the surf zone is always nice, but the day belonged to Tripp and Ant. By day three I’d seen that Tripp was getting agitated at not having ticked off his GT. It was either that or he had found out that his father had written him out of the will in favour of Maddie. At dinner on the fourth evening, he had the thousand-yard stare and he clearly had GTs on his mind.  

“At dinner on the fourth evening, he had the thousand-yard stare and he clearly had GTs on the mind.”

As we were all getting ready to go out on the boats the next day, I gave Tripp a few flies that had been working for me and thought maybe they could do the trick. Returning from my usual after-hours Clouser chucking that evening I could see that both Tripp and Ant were looking decidedly chuffed. Tripp had achieved his goal of two GTs for the day, one of which was on a popper I had given him. As is tradition for the Hopkinses, when they catch a special fish they retire the fly they caught it on to the dashboard of their pick-up which reminds them regularly of a special fishing moment. It’s pretty cool knowing that a fly I tied in Cape Town, South Africa caught a GT in the Seychelles and now lives the life cruising around Utah.

At this stage it seemed that having Bruce on your boat was the opposite of having bananas. Either there was some red-hot action or a caffeine overdose. On that day Ant was the beneficiary of the Stewart lucky charm. Legend goes that Ant made a textbook presentation and hookset and the result was a 117cm GT, the third biggest of the season and caught on the sand. Angus, the guide for the day, looked like a proud parent as this was undoubtedly the fish of the trip. 

Final thoughts: fly fishing on Farquhar

It’s hard to put into one story the true majesty of a place like Farquhar. The Alphonse Fishing Company runs a proper operation here as well as on the other atolls they manage. What struck me is how lucky we are to be able to experience these wild places and how it’s incumbent on each one of us to contribute something, however big or small, to ensure they remain protected. We should ensure that we continue to support operators that are good and responsible custodians of these areas, and this extends to any service/tackle provider in the industry. 

The fishing was exceptional, but nothing is a gimme. You get shots at big fish, but you must convert them. My personal goal for the trip was to catch a 100cm plus GT sight-caught on the flats, which would be my first having only managed an agonizingly close 99cm fish before. I got busted up by two fish in the 100cm class on this trip. I’ve caught 100cm plus GTs popping blind, but the sight-caught fish still eludes me. Many of us on the trip lost our dream fish during that week. Paul, a trophy GT on the last day as Dean did the guide’s swim not far from where Evan left his underwear. Alan, a permit guided by Angus that only ate after numerous attempts and parted the leader. We all have stories that still need a fairytale ending.

Above all, what stood out for me is how a group of like-minded people can add so much to the experience. Here’s to meeting the Farquhars. 

“We all have stories that still need a fairytale ending.”

Read the rest The Mission Issue 44 below. It’s free.

The Mission is free to read! All we ask is for your email address so we can send you a rad newsletter once a month (including announcements of new editions). You can unsubscribe at any time and we promise we won't use your details for anything nefarious.

Leave a comment

RELATED ARTICLES

SHOP MISSION MERCH

Subscribe to our newsletter and get all the latest to your inbox!