The isolated atoll of Farquhar in the Indian Ocean has been a favourite spot of mine for several years now. It still offers wild fishing experiences but from a land based operation. This year I returned for my third visit. Farquhar will challenge you as a fisherman, teach you a huge amount about giant trevally behaviour along with numerous other species and offer you some unique experiences not to be found anywhere else. Although the GTs may not be as numerous as Cosmoledo or Astove, I have always seen some of the largest specimens here. It is a technical fishery and under the expert tutelage of the guides the results can be hugely rewarding. Our team flew on Emirates via Dubai, and then stayed at the Crown Beach Hotel on Mahé. The following morning we boarded the IDC Beechcraft to Farquhar in a high state of excitement.
On arrival we were welcomed by the guide team and taken down to the guest house on the tractor. Immediately I could see some radical changes had been made to previous and it was lovely to be reunited with Mona who was now managing the house and staff. Mona ran one of the live aboard operations that I fished back in 2007 and she was hugely efficient then. Her new team was welcoming, smiley and nothing was too much trouble. The whole area around the house has been cleaned up, raked, flowers planted and the palapa has been decorated with palm fronds creating an altogether different atmosphere to years gone by. The fresh coconut drink finished the welcoming feel followed by lunch.
All the gear was pulled out as most of the contents of a tackle shop appeared on the veranda. Four of us went out to take a look at Home Flat that afternoon, but apart from some big triggers dancing in the deep water and a squadron of bumpies playing in the bay the tides were really too high to see anything on the flat. It was great to get the arm going though and get kit in the right places before the following day. That evening I was awarded the “Downstream Mud Mullet” wig, thanks Tim!
Day 1 – Slamming it
The first morning dawned clear and bright, and as always at the beginning of the week I was up at the crack of dawn sipping coffee on the balcony. This two was a huge improvement on previous visits with freshly filtered ground coffee already there by 0600. My fishing partner was to be John Pollard guided by head guide and guru Tim Babich in one of the new skiffs. Built in Mauritius and shipped over they are fantastic craft and perfect for Farquhar. Two 25 HP 4 strokes with a centre console, casting deck and leaning bar they are very fuel efficient and comfortable. Tim took us down to Hell of a Place to begin with, a really good area of turtle grass flats punctuated by white holes that the fish like to sit in. Unfortunately the light was bad and with the fast dropping tide we only saw one big GT bow waving across the flats in the morning light but we did not manage to get a shot in. We split up and waded down either side. John had shot at a GT coming up tide on the left and spent a long time chasing his first big yellow margin trigger. The trigger charged in on the fly but John sadly did not hook up. With the tough light Tim moved us down to Trigger Happy as the edge is white sand dropping to aquamarine water. Jumping out into waist deep water it was not long before a fish came cruising down the white edge.
John fired out a great cast, dropping the poodle well in front. The fish tuned into the splash and charged ten yards to hammer the fly before heading for deep water. As this was John’s first GT he played it steadily but was stunned by its power. Finally Tim closed in and tailed it, a lovely fish of 65 cm, and a great way to start.
Wading a little further we encountered a marauding pack of bluefin trevally and I pulled one out of the pack on my Hardy Proaxis 9# and a bead crab. Shortly after another blue shape came cruising out of the deep some distance out. I started stripping off line and waded further out to intercept, casting as I went. The new Rio GT line sung out through the rings and the cast landed a little short. Again this fish was in hunting mode and immediately reacted as the black and purple fly hit the water. The GT accelerated to attack speed and closed the distance before smashing the fly. I set the hook and cleared the line. As this was a test for the new Hardy SDS 12000 reel I cranked the drag handle and gave the fish very little line. Pumping and winding the large arbor made keeping in contact with the fish easy - not even allowing it to see backing. In short order I landed a beautiful fish of 82 cm.
With the tide rising fast we ran across deep water to hit the ridges for the push. This is a broken coral strip that has two channels on either side that creates excellent rips as the water rides over it and a perfect place for GTs coming in from the ocean side to hunt. We saw bluefins and some sharks cruising in, but the water was rising too fast and we had to move. I spotted a couple of big GTs up against the beach of Goulette looking for birds, but they moved off before we could get close. As we went past the sand spit between Goulette and South Point a football of a trigger fish was acting like a GT and hanging out at the end, chowing on anything washed down. John and Tim waded down and as his crab wafted out towards the fish it bounced in to investigate, but turned around and sulked on a bommie in deeper water. However, another trigger fish came out of no where and hoovered the crab.
John landed his first trigger in style and with time on our hands Tim ran us over to Red Carpet to finish the slam on a bonefish. That would be easy… right? The school of bones were in deep water by now, always a challenge. After a few close calls, a heart stopping moment with a big permit, a distraction with a huge 60 lbs cuda that we hooked and lost, John finally managed to land his bonefish and complete a slam on his first day in the Seychelles. GT, triggerfish and bone all in one day.
Back at the lodge we discovered that others had also had an adventurous day. Roland starred with sailies, raised one, hooked it, but came off as did not turn on the fly. Tony and Dave had been fishing offshore and caught tuna, a 500lbs bull shark and a lovely GT of 117cm. Quite an eventful first day.
Day 2 – Trigger Time
As the sun glimmered over the horizon it again looked to be a clear morning full of promise. As Wes, Roland and I headed out of the bay the pets congregated around the boat. Wes putted up the channel while he explained our plan for the day as we were going to try and raise a sailfish on high tide first thing. We trawled a conehead teaser for an hour but no luck, so we ran down to Goulette, and then out to Ze Plateau. Wes moored the boat up on a stunning turtle grass flat whose top edge dropped into the blue.
Having seen some action along the edge Roland and I chucked a few casts over the edge and caught two GTs in quick succession. During the battles a marble grouper and a giant rock cod came to try and eat them which added to the excitement.
As the three of us waded on up the flat on the drop I was buzzed by a stunning blue GT in front of small shark which made a sharp exit before I could get a cast out. A little further on there was a lot of activity on the surf line. As we hopped from coral head to coral head I suddenly saw a good sized lemon shark about 20 yards ahead heading back out again. I yelled at Wes and pointed it out and then we all rushed towards it to see if it had any friends. The shark was attracted by the splashing and turned round to investigate so Roland landed his fly just next to its head. The shark grabbed it immediately and charged off bending Roland’s 12 weight in a flat curve and ripping line off the reel. At about 2.5m and roughly 200lbs this lemon was probably the largest thing he had ever hooked on the fly. As the waves crashed over Roland and Wes the battle continued. He fought it for approximately 15 mins and nearly had it beat, but its sharp teeth finally cut the leader in the surf. Roland needed a swim to cool down after that, but it was one hell of an eat I will never forget.. Like an angry dog.
As the tide pushed us back up the flat away from the reef line below the turtle grass the flat opens up to a stunning white sand area punctuated with small coral heads, a perfect trigger fish environment. I had one good shot at a nice Triton trigger which came scurrying over to eat my crab and after a score of nips spooked before I could hook him. Shortly after that a little further on I saw a trigger that looked like a small football scurrying around a couple of coral heads. As the wind was coming over my right shoulder I put a back hand cast out with my Hardy Proaxis 9# and the crab dropped nicely a foot away from the tailing trigger. I let it sink and then gave the crab one short strip. The trigger immediately came scurrying over and as I gave the crab a long slow strip I could feel it nipping at the fly. Finally everything went tight and he was on. The fish was not happy and charged off across the flat doing its best to wrap me round every little coral head along the way. I splashed along behind trying to keep up and undo the knitting as Wes caught up with me. I really thought I would be pinged on the coral any second as I was only on 16 lbs leader. After a few heart stopping moments in which Wes managed to unpick further coral close encounters I managed to raise its head and Wes tailed the extremely cross Triton trigger. I was overjoyed as this was my largest trigger by far and we estimated it at a beast of 9 lbs. I was shaking for some time afterwards and that was my trip made right there.
Wes dropped us at a deep edge on a tidal highway to do a little dredging while he went to fetch the boat. Roland and I lasted no more than 15 mins casting the 700 grain lines and we retired to a coral bombie on the bottom to watch. Looking over my left shoulder I suddenly saw a big GT sliding down the tide hunting in holes. It looked like a giant trout dropping back in a river current. I threw a cast at it on the 700 grain line, but as the line hit the water like a ton of bricks it spooked. Typical GT behaviour though on the incoming tide. Roland had a great shot at a big Napoleon wrasse tailing on the flats while we had a late lunch and then we went over to Goulette to hunt the beach. Goulette is an extraordinary island, it has the largest nesting site for sooty terns in the Indian Ocean, approximately 400,000 pairs.
The GTs have already figured this out as an alternative food source and being the opportunistic predators they are, cruise around the island looking for birds. They will actually track them in flight and come out of the water to eat them. We’re not just talking fledglings either, they will eat adults as well. Unfortunately I had nothing in my fly box that would represent a full grown sooty tern! We wandered around the island and saw a few big fish coming in on waves looking for a meal. Roland had one fish charge his fly, but the fish missed it. Round the back of the island I climbed the high beach and spotted.
There was a classic draw where two currents met leaving a cloudy area between two cold rips, and sure enough a pair of GTs patrolled on the waves. Every so often they would smash through the cloudy water to eat unsuspecting baitfish holed up there. Although Roland put some really good casts to them unfortunately they were not playing the game. Our little group finished off at Red Carpet again allowing me to catch an obliging bone to complete slam. Another eventful day on this incredible atoll.
Day 3 – The Long Walk
My morning coffee run this morning revealed an overcast sky and some large clouds in the distance. Spotting was going to be tough today. My fishing partners for the day were Julien and Peter as guide. Julien is the editor in chief of the French fishing magazine Voyages des Peches. Peter had planned a bit of an expedition for us today with a long walk from South Point on the high tide wading all the way across to Napoleon Dynamite and then back again on the push.
We investigated various cuts on the ocean side, but also then lagoon side as the tide dropped out. While wading down the inner edge looking for triggers I saw a GT cruising up the aquamarine water. I quickly pulled the 12# off my back, tucked the 9# between my legs and stripped off the line before throwing a hurried cast at an intercept angle. A pack of bluefin trevally immediately tried to eat it, which sparked interest from the GT that accelerated to attack speed as it rushed in looking for a meal. With mullet leaping out of the way the fish engulfed the fly and then… Nothing.. failure to hook, argghh! Ah well, that’s how it goes sometimes. Julien and I had one more encounter there where the fish spooked, and then two more big GTs came uptide… but we were holding the wrong rods. I bumped into a big Napoleon Wrasse and Julien had his first casts at bumpies, but lady luck was not with us. By the time we had waded back for lunch the boat was high and dry.
After lunch Peter led us round South Point heading north along the Long Walk. There were plenty of large bones on the incoming surf, Julien caught a nice 5 lber, saw a big cuda in the surf which again refused my offering, and then smashed a few bones out of a school. As we pointed our weary feet in the direction of home I spotted one big single bonefish nosing through the waves. I cast up wind and dropped the crab a little distance away to ambush it. When the fish was a foot away I gave the crab one small twitch. The bonefish immediately reacted and pounced on it like a cat with a mouse. I strip struck and battle ensued. Every time I hook a big bone I forget how powerful they are and this was no exception. Line peeled off the reel and I held the rod high above my head to stop the leader being cut on the coral. After a couple more screaming runs I gained control and finally brought the fish to hand. It was a lovely bone of approximately 7 lbs. On the way home a lovely nurse shark came into the shallows allowing a chance to see it close up which was fascinating.
Back at the lodge Roland and John had had an adventure fishing with Matthieu. He and John had both hooked bumpies in the surf at Trigger Happy. Roland was bitten off by one and hooked another which smashed through the surf with school. He and Matthieu followed in after it falling off coral heads with the surf crashing over them. He was obviously getting a taste for it! They finally landed the well deserved fish which was approximately 45 lbs.
Then over at Goulette on the inside edge a big GT came in on the waves and tore into his Olive Semper before charging off back into the surf line. Taking line they followed it into the current and finally managed to crush its spirit against the pushing tide.
Matthieu taped it at 101cm. Roland went on to catch his bonefish and complete the slam, but not without hooking a big permit on his first cast that popped the leader. Now that really would have been a day to remember.
Day 4 – Sail Ho
I have to admit that on waking I was feeling pretty stiff and sore in the morning after the long walk the day before. The sky looked heavy, but as the tides were still high in the morning John, Brenden and I opted to see if we could not raise another sailfish. Farquhar is one of the few destinations in the world where the prime sail fishing grounds are only five minutes from the flats and the lodge. As the teaser skittered across the surface the heavens opened and heavy rain began to fall. After an hour of trolling suddenly from the depths came a really hot sail thrashing at the teaser with its bill and lit up like an electric blue bolt of lightning. Brenden teased the enraged sailfish all the way to the back of the boat as it made sideways slashing attacks and John managed to get a fly to it. It hit the fly immediately but in all the excitement John did not set the hook and the fly came free. Almost immediately it ate again and charged off in the opposite direction. John managed to clear the line until the last loop threw itself around the reel handle and the line parted like a gunshot. We were then treated to acrobatic display as the sailfish tore across the surface, and we could still see the pink popper in its mouth. By the time it came clean out of the water for the sixth time the fly was gone and the fish subsided back into the deep. I think we were all slightly in a state of shock and a reminder how powerful those fish are.
We raised one more in the chucking rain, but could not get it into the back off the boat so moved into the inside of the lagoon and headed to Shlatzy. The tide was nearly all the way out but there were some excellent bones cruising along the beach edge. John caught five before nailing a fantastic 7 lbs fish on a sand prawn. I weighed it on my Boga grip out of interest.
I caught one 5 lbs fish that gave me quite a scrap, then Brenden took us by boat round the to the back of Napoleon Dynamite for the push. It’s a stunning spot with white holes in the turtle grass, a perfect hunting ground for Mr GT. John hit one small GT on a blind cast but there was nothing else showing so next stop was the sand spit that John had caught his trigger on near Goulette. I saw some really big bluefin, had one shot at a big GT that came in on the surf but could not hook either. Time for home and a cold beer. Seemed it had been a quieter day for everyone, and not surprising considering the weather.
Day 5 – Go North
By day five everything has hit a rhythm and you feel you have been on the island a long time. Roland, Brenden and I had a very cool plan for the day which after the previous days success started with sailies first thing for an hour or so.
We raised one but could not get a cast, and so headed back into the lodge. One of the tractors then drove us back up to the runway on the north of the atoll so we could fish the whole of the Paris to Dakar flats. These have very little pressure and as the light was good there was a high state of excitement. As the flats came into view it looked perfect.
The tide was dropping and there was a large amount of piscatorial activity going on. There were some encounters with GTs, bumpies, and an hour long window of shots at numerous triggers. I was in heaven, had plenty of follows, a couple of nips and one hook up that ended shortly in tears, but a huge amount of fun.
Roland and I both caught nice bonefish, Roland caught a nice trigger in the surf and a stunning blue spangled Emperor, and then we walked back down the length of the runway pretending to be Aeroplanes (I will never grow up) to a waiting tractor to take us back to the boat. About 20 mins run off the edge of the atoll from Deposé is a raised pinnacle ridge called Mexican which is the home of large things. It is only possible to get to on calm conditions and with another boat as back up. It has always eluded me on previous trips.
This is blue water GT fishing, so as Roland had not done this before Brenden explained how he would throw out the teaser and attract fish to the boat. It is very exciting as a big GT smashes the teaser off the surface and second chuck out Brenden hit a very angry fish. It charged into the boat, Roland whacked his poodle in front of the teaser and the fish grabbed it before giving Roland one hell of a battle. Text book. After a few close calls with it trying to go under the boat Roland got it to the side and Brenden landed it, a fantastic fish of specimen of 92 cm. In all we teased up 15 GTs but no further hook ups. Arriving back that evening there was much joviality as Julien had caught a trigger slam with a nice GT.
Day 6 – Bumpy Time
The mission on the last day was to get Julien into a bumpy. Tim was guiding us and had a cunning plan… a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel. We tried to raise a sail briefly, but the water had turned pretty green, so we ran down to Deposé to check for GTs around the island. Deposé is breathtakingly beautiful, azure water lapping against white sand. The bonefish obviously thought so too as a large tail was sticking out of the water against the beach. I cast my crab a little high in the waters edge. I have found that the bones on Farquhar are best ambushed well ahead and as the bone approached gave the line a gentle tweak. The bonefish came straight in and as its tail came up I strip struck.
The fished rushed out onto the flat, but almost immediately one of the black tip sharks we had seen further down came flying up the channel attracted by the commotion. I gave the bonefish no more line and Tim started throwing lumps of coral at its head. Finally I managed to clamp down and just yank the poor bone up the beach. Well, it was better than the alternative. It was a lovely fish of about 5 lbs. As the three of us walked round the other side we encountered another bunch of 5 – 8 lbs bones tailing on the beach edge. Julien caught a lovely fish of 6 lbs on a spawning shrimp that took a lot of line… but no sharks to harass it this time.
After that it was onto Have, looking for GTs, nothing, so Tim took us over to the wreck to look for bumpies. Large green tails greeted us as the schools grazed amongst the coral heads. Julien’s chance was here so I left them to it and waded uptide in search of triggers. What I found was a big GT sitting in a white hole on the dropping current. I switched rods, took the 12# off my back and put the 9# between my legs. Frantically stripping line off the SDS 12000 I cast a grey mullet up to the fish. It turned on it immediately, charged towards me and planed with his mouth out of the water. There was an explosions of spray, but no hook up as the fish spooked down and past the other two. Gutted.
I carried on, spooked a yellow margin and then turned around to find Julien hooked into a bumpy that they had been working on. What ensued was an epic battle as Julien kept his calm and played the fish steadily. I managed to separate it from the rest of the school and then bring it under control. The wreck made a lovely backdrop to the fight, but Tim felt he should go back to the boat to get the net. Finally he arrived back and after a couple of nail biting moments scooped it up. A big old parrot of 30 lbs. Julien was ecstatic as the one fish he had really craved was a bumphead parrotfish. It transpired he had lost one shortly beforehand, his Velcro Crab pattern sheared by their fearsome bolt croppers of a beak, so this made up for it. Mission accomplished.
Tim took us back to the white sands of Have. As Tim pushed the boat I suddenly caught sight of a large fish near the coral break… At first I thought it was a good sized GT but the movement looked all wrong. Then suddenly a large sickle tail came out of the water as the fished ate some unsuspecting crustacean and I could see it was a seriously big permit. I grabbed the boat and Julien slid off the boat with Tim to try and have a cast to the other species he was obsessed with. What was one permit suddenly turned into four and the excitement between us was tangible. His first cast was perfect.. The snapping shrimp went in, the fished moved to investigate and we all held our breath…. But then it behaved like a normal permit and just carried on… They are the devil fish indeed. As we turned around to go back to the boat the three of us suddenly found ourselves facing a massive GT that had come into investigate the splashing thinking it might be food, and needless to say I could not get a fly to him before he moseyed off in the other direction. By this stage the weather was deteriorating rapidly and there was a huge rain squall heading directly for us. Coats on, hoods up, time to head for home.
John and Roland had also had an epic day with John hooking a bumpy right off the boat at Coco Pops but got bolt cropped. Roland hooked a big one in the deep water and he and Matthieu had gone swimming again. Matthieu had waded well out into deeper water, holding the leader away from the coral to try and land it with the net. They had that fish to the surface three times, but as it was hooked in the top lip it finally rolled on the leader and clipped it. Another epic battle and a brilliant way to end the trip.
Despite having some inclement weather during the week our group experienced some fantastic fishing. I am hugely impressed with the upgrades to the operation from the new boats to the hugely improved service and food. The chef was on hand in the morning in the Palapa to cook everyone’s eggs to their taste, Mona was never far away and her team were hugely attentive. The boat lunches also are now excellent, so that whole side of the operation is vastly improved.
Farquhar is by no means for everyone and if you are thinking that catching GTs in the fly is relatively easy, it is not. You need to hunt them in their own environment and understand what motivates them to put yourself into the right place at the right time to maximise your chances. We saw a huge number of fish over the course of the week, but it is not always possible to present a fly. It is a wild fishery which changes on a daily basis, and hunting big GTs around this atoll will teach you a huge amount about how they behave, some of the idiosyncrasies they display and why I have grown to love them so much. It is a technical fishery and the more you put in the more you will get out. I also know of few places that can offer the species variety including the truly unique bumphead parrot fishery and an excellent bluewater fishery 300 yards from the flats. The current guide team is exceptional under the watchful eye of Tim Babich. Thanks to Tim, Matthieu, Wes, Brendon and Peter for looking after us and sharing their knowledge.
Four of us caught five slams in six days and in all the team caught 49 GTs on the flats and offshore. The largest was caught by Tony at 132cm which was a beast, and five fish over a metre we caught. We certainly should have added a couple of sailfish to the roster as 28 were raised and cast to, but it just did not go our way. Three bumpies were landed although quite a few more were hooked. Farquhar sits nicely in a niche all of its own, and I know will continue to attract those that wish to explore her vast flats. I will certainly be returning to further my education…
For more information on Farquhar Atoll or to check avaialbility for next season please contact Peter McLeod or call +44 1980 847389.