Going to War with GTs - Farquhar Atoll, Seychelles 10 - 17 November 2012

Heading for the outer islands in the Seychelles is the nearest thing in fishing terms of going to war. After months of preparation including some physical training the time was finally upon us as my band of GT hunters boarded aircraft and heading once again for the Indian Ocean. This year our destination was Farquhar Atoll, a small pin prick of land a further hours flight out from Alphonse Island. Having appeared from different directions in the world we gathered in Mahé where we stayed at Ian Hodge’s house on Eden Island.

The following morning the taxi picked us up and dropped us at the IDC hanger for the usual squabble about weight. The Beachcraft 1900 winged us down to Farquhar which takes approximately 1 hour 45 minutes. The operation is run from a former private house on the island and although it is nothing like as comfortable as Alphonse it is more than satisfactory for those looking for a serious fishing trip. The five double rooms all have ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning. It is functional, but nothing more. The guide team headed up by Jako Lucas were waiting for us on the tarmac to welcome us to Farquhar, and we swiftly moved on to cover the accommodation in fishing tackle. The first afternoon after the initial briefing fishing is allowed around the island and although we did not see much it was good to get the arms going and the kit sorted for the first proper days fishing. Peter Moylan and I did spot a big GT in the back of the lagoon, but after coming to look at the fly once it did not want to play again.

The first day I fished with Frikkie Botha with Warren as our guide, As the 18′ Angler putted out of the bay toward our first spot on “Green Mile” Warren took a little time to explain exactly what the plan for the day was to be and also more importantly, why. The weather was not in our favour and proved a constant battle over the week, but that first morning session on “Green Mile” was excellent. As Warren and Frikkie moved down the flat towards a school of bump head parrot fish that were tailing further down I took shots at the numerous trigger fish tails on the outside wing. Warren had explained that bumpies moved up tide, and on turtle grass the best way to catch them was to put a crab pattern out in front of the school and allow them to move over it. Then it became more like Czech nymphing, watching the leader tip and seeing if it began to move away. Bumpies are very odd looking fish, and they actually lean over to inspect the fly before chowing it with their beak. Very shortly Frikkie hooked into one and it tore off across the flat before something cut the leader and it all went slack. There were three further schools meandering across the flat with their blue green tails waving in the air and he hooked up a further three times before they moved off in a huff.

The tide was beginning to push hard now but out of the corner of my eye I saw a black shape moving rapidly across the tips of the white sand fingers. A GT. I quickly switched the 9# to the 12# and while pushing my way through the thigh depth rising water began to whirl the size 6/0 poodle around my head before throwing out a long cast across its path. I gave the fly two big fast strips and the GT accelerated to attack speed before engulfing the fly in its bucket mouth. I set the hook with a strip strike pointed directly at the fish and then all hell broke loose as the fish changed up a gear to warp speed and my reel protested verbally. I cranked the drag on the big Hardy Fortuna 4X up and slowed its travel substantially before I began to pump the 12# Proaxis and wind. I have always been of the opinion that you should play GT’s as hard as possible so they have the most chance of recovering. After eight minutes of knocking it off balance and using my legs to gain momentum I had the fish within Warren’s eager grasp. My first GT of the week! It wasn’t huge by any means, 25 – 30 lbs, but I had forgotten how strong they were! As the tide was now pushing hard Frikkie and I decided to fish offshore to see if any sailfish were around, but it proved fruitless.

Day two was greeted with a grey overcast sky, and this time I was paired with Peter Moylan and Rhett as our Guide. We also had Keegan, a trainee guide learning the ropes. Today our plan was to fish around “First Island”. As we arrived at the base of this coral jungle it very much reminded me of the islands on the outskirts of Cosmoledo. Tall coral over hangs, although these ones seem to be petrified in larva and look like a luna landscape. There is a white sand channel running along both sides that can be a bit of a GT highway. The tide was pushing off the flats like a river, and as there was no one home we parked the boat and waded across to the lagoon side. Here there are some deep channels that cut into the lagoon side flat and Rhett told us that often GT’s sit in them waiting for the tide to push allowing them access to their hunting grounds again. At the bottom of one of these Peter Moylan put a few blind casts in and after the fifth cast there was a huge explosion of water as if someone had just dropped a hand grenade in the hole. The GT nailed his fly and charged off down the channel, threading Peter’s line through the coral bommies as it went. This was not going to end well. Sure enough, before he had even had a chance to try and crank some line back the whole thing went slack and he began to wind in what was left… about 7 yards of running line. We could still see the GT thrashing on the flat on the far side obviously attached to the bommie, and as Rhett began to run round the commotion ceased and all was quiet… “So where is your spare 12 weight line?” I asked him.. “Back at the lodge…” he replied… hmmmm… I pulled another out of bag and handed it over. Lesson for the day, always carry your spares with you.

As Rhett and Peter began to re rig his 12# I spotted a black tip sticking out of the water a long way off on the other side of the channel… a shark! “Come on Keegan, let’s go!” I said as we began to run through the shallow water round the channel and up the other side of the flat. As we got closer sure enough in front of the black tip shark was a bus GT with half its body out of the water… It is the first time of have seen the shark following the GT! I began to work out line while I ran, Keegan beside me… at last I deemed I was close enough as the GT and shark had changed direction and I hurled the poodle out in front of it. I gave two or three hard strips to pulse the fly and the GT smashed its way through the shallow water, throwing up a bow wave and spray before attacking the fly. I tightened up but there was nothing attached as the fish sped off to the safety of the channel, its sharky mate in hot pursuit. Keegan and I looked at each other, bewildered as to what had happened and also the actual size of the fish which was bigger than we had first thought, perhaps in the region of 45 - 50 lbs. We returned to Peter and Rhett, shaky, but elated. The tide had now turned and was beginning to flood in from the ocean side. We found another little pool on the return that Peter caught a stunning blue fin trevally out of before heading back down the ocean highway. Nervous water began to appear in front of us as a multitude of species sneaked back on the flats. Peter had another shot at a big GT on the back of a shark which had lock jaw and would not eat. Keegan and I were out on the left flank as we pincered around the island and suddenly I saw a bow wave and a large domed head charging towards me. I started backing up trying to get a cast out but the GT zipped up between the two of us and was gone. We again tried to tease up a sail fish for the rest of the afternoon, and apart the teaser being smashed by a big yellowfin tuna we saw no bills.

Day three dawned with finally some better light conditions. The wind had dropped, the sun was out and expectations were high. This time I was to be guided by Brad with Ian Hodge as my fishing partner. Ian and I have fished together on numerous occasions and I knew the banter was going to harsh. His faithful old Patagonia Marlwalker boots had given out after day one and we had taped them up with yellow gaffa tape as a quick fix. Our destination, “Deposé”. This is a picture postcard white sand island quite a long way down the south western side. The tide was again dropping quickly, and we waded across the white sand flat before heading straight out to the surf line. Along the way we saw a few bonefish, and Ian had a lovely one of about 6 lbs, and shortly afterwards I hit one of about 4 lbs. Bonefish… tick.

We moved down the sand tongue littered with little pockets and small coral outcrops. Suddenly I spotted a massive yellow margin trigger fish in one of the white sand gaps and Ian moved up into position. He put in two or three perfect casts, but that trigger was having none of it. The first time it saw the crab it came rushing over before turning his trigger up at it. After a further few shots he left in a huff… and so did we. There was barely any water left on the turtle grass now and Ian and Brad headed for the edge. I found one more trigger to play with in a hole on the flat over the top of a small coral bommie. The first cast resulted in the line tightened and I thought I was in, but it turned out to be a small red grouper.. I continued to cast and in quick succession began to empty the hole of its occupants.. all except the triton trigger fish! I caught small snapper, blue spangled emperors, even a juvenile needle fish! Finally the trigger headed off, presumably out of loneliness.

By now the tide was low low, and we could wade across the front turtle grass bommies. You could not ask for a better place to spot GTs in the surf. From the top of that first line of defence it was possible to look right out across the incoming waves with the sun behind us. This is my favourite kind of GT fishing, scanning the incoming sets of waves just looking for those GTs surfing in as they maraud along the first line. Ian and Brad went on ahead and soon I saw Ian casting frantically over the top of the surf. He put is Niap Popper down and there was an explosion of spray as the fish smashed it, but then proceed to continue its charge straight towards him. He was unable to set the hook and the 35 lbs GT spat the hook right at him..

We continued along our first line, and not long afterwards Ian spotted another GT surfing in on the aquamarine waves. With spray flying around his waist he put another meticulous cast over the incoming wave slap bang in front of the line of travel. The popper did its work, the GT zoning straight in on the disturbance of the water and engulfed the fly. The rod tip dropped as he set the hook and then line was flying around in the air as the surprised hunter sped off to seek refuge in deeper water… Ian gave him the good news and began to unceremoniously heave and wind the fish back towards our lines. Finally he brought him within Brad’s eager grasp and the fish gave up. Brad described in perfectly in the movie “Gangsters of the Flats”, GTs are like bullies, as soon as you stand up to them and get them to hand they pack it in. It was a lovely of fish of 30 lbs.

The day continued to be eventful as the flats flooded. Ian hooked a further two bump head parrot fish, one of which was practically beaten before cutting the leader. Finally our little trio arrived back at the boat, by which point the water had reached mid chest level.. well on me anyway. Brad putted us round to a stunning sand spit coming off the bottom of the island where we pulled up for lunch. It is simply called “Have”. During the course of lunch was saw three GTs that were just cruising passed in the current, two of which were proper buses but were too far away for a cast. Finally another fish came meandering in front of the boat. I snatched up the 12#, ripped some line off the reel and dumped a poodle fly in front of its nose. The blue grey head pushed a big bow wave up to the fly and then the bucket mouth chomped before moving sideways. I set the hook… the fish just pile-drived its way across the flat in front of me, peeling line of the Hardy Fortuna 4X. This is a big reel with 600 yards of 80lbs braid as backing and I watched the line vanish quickly followed by several hundred yards of backing with very little I could do about it. Finally I managed to turn its head as by now the GT was in deeper water and I thought it was just a question of time before the fly line was cut. There is a very strong current here which I was now fighting as well as the fishes own aggression. Using my legs and back I began to pump and wind to retrieve the line. I built a rhythm and the fish began to inch back towards me. Finally I saw the end of the fly line, and then I was into line and the leader was not far. I jumped over the side of the boat up to my chest with Brad and he grabbed him by the tail. The battle was won and I was rewarded with another fish in the 25 – 30 lbs size. My arms were total jelly and I could barely lift him. The afternoon was spent hunting round the island from the shore, but we had now lost the light and spotting became very tricky. We saw quite a few more GTs, but were not in a position to get a shot at them. The tide by now was very full, so we buzzed the “Wreck” and “Third Island” but to no avail and headed for home.

Day four and the weather began to significantly deteriorate. Matt Egan and Jako the head guide were my fishing companions for the day, and it was great to fish with Matt again. Jako’s plan was to head for “Wrasse Hole”, and then round the back of “Hell of a Place” before trying over the northern side bay for permit. “Wrasse Hole” looked stunning, a massive turtle grass flat interspersed with little white sand pockets, each providing an awesome environment for a myriad of species. By now the overcast sky had given way to rain and drizzle occasionally switching to heavy squalls. Nice.

Not the best sight fishing weather. Nevertheless we persevered, but were not really seeing fish until we stood on them. Jako countered this by putting Matt and I in the boat while he acted as human pole to give us more height and slightly larger window of opportunity. We saw a couple of fish that we could do nothing about, but then I spotted what looked like a GT sitting on a ray in one of the white sand holes. I pointed it out to Matt who put in a fantastic cast across the wind dropping the fly on the edge of the hole. Immediately the ray materialised into another large black GT and the both rampaged towards the fly, the blue one just beating its comrade to eat Matt’s black brushy. Matt struck hard and the fish charged off the flat and over the edge into deepwater before Matt really had a chance to get it on the reel.. the went slack and I thought it had wrapped him on a coral bommie. Suddenly it started moving again, and to all of our surprise Matt then continued the battle with a large marble grouper. What we call a “down grade”.  After releasing it almost immediately I saw a flash of red from the front of the deck and Matt was hooked into an extremely surprised and cross Boha Snapper. It gave a good account of itself, and their colour never cease to amaze me. 

The conditions remained the same, and Jako decided it was time to get on the flat and wade. He selected a long turtle grass flat in front of “Hell of a Place” as the spot to be for the push. We waded across in a skirmish line with me on the left flank again. After scaring a few GTs in the low light I saw a big bow wave heading toward me across the turtle grass. The rod went up and I cast back hand across the wind and dropped the fly in front of the bow wave. The large teethy maw appeared from the water and smashed the poodle nearly wrenching the rod from my hands. “Inside!” yelled Jako closely followed by me yelling “Strrrrring!” as the backing began to stream from the rod tip. This fish was going to head for the coral edge of the finger flat and cut me. Jako sensed this and began to run after the fish to head it off. I had other ideas and simply clamped down on the reel and began to work the legs again. The low blow… they hate it! The running fish came to abrupt halt and nose dived straight into the flat doing a somersault with its tail flailing. Very unhappy fish as I started using the gears on him. I have to say I have NEVER had the kind of pulling power on GTs as I had now with the Hardy 12# Proaxis. Jako stopped his charge and just started grinning as he saw what I was up to. Very shortly I had the 25 lbs GT to hand and I could breathe again. After a few quick pics we let him swim away to fight another day, albeit slightly dazed and confused.. It was becoming maddening that although we knew there were plenty of fish on the flats we just could not see them.

We finished that day by wandering down the idyllic white sand beach of “Wonderland”  looking for bonefish and permit. Matt hooked one bone that fell off, and then had some shots at a lovely Indo Pacific permit feeding happily on a white sand flat with some very good sized bonefish. Well.. I think you know this story.. Happy permit.. Matt puts in a perfect cast.. permit swims over nonchalantly and inspects the fly giving everyone a heart attack, and then equally as derisively gives us two fins and exits stage left… I hate permit… I love them, but at the same time detest them.

Day five dawned and it was becoming increasingly difficult to get up in the morning. Another grey morning… Nevertheless it was another day on the water and not to be sniffed at. Ty and I were to fish with James, and in view of the light conditions James had decided we would try “First Stop” just across the channel from the lodge. The back end of the flat had a huge open expanse on white sand which hopefully we would be able to see fish travelling across. The first part is turtle grass, but quickly we were into the small crevices looking for triggers. Ty got one good shot at a GT that came in to one of the cuts, but it was directly into the wind and almost impossible. The tide was dropping very fast off the flat and most of the fish we had shots at, including a very large Napoleon wrasse, were having nothing to do with us. Hopping over to the ocean side the tide was pushing off like a river against the coral point. Ty and I put a few blind casts over the edge into the holes under the current and as I passed a large GT suddenly charged out and past me, scaring the living daylights out of me.. I might even have let out a small girlie squeak..

I decided to get on the side of the coral and salmon fish the outgoing river, casting across, putting a mend in the line and doing a little but of a Norwegian shuffle, rocking the fly back and forth in the water. As the fly came steaming across a massive Boha Snapper showed its fangs out of the water and tore off with my poodle round several coral bommies before disappearing down a hole.. dilemma. Cut the line or try and retrieve it in the fast outgoing current, next stop, Providence Atoll. I really liked that line.. I waded out into the current with James’ assistance, and after a little swimming and moon walking managed to thread my line from around the coral heads and was now peering in the hole that the Boha and vanished down like something out of Alice and Wonderland. There was nothing for it, I was treading water and just had to get my feet on the rock and pull.. finally the braided loop parted and I at least retrieved the fly line which relieved me.

The inner area kept us amused on the bottom of the tide with Ty and I scaring numerous trigger fish and I failed to catch a picasso trigger which I was trying really hard for. A specimen would be the size of your hand. The push finally arrived with sets of waves coming in off the ocean and Ty and I waited expectedly.. but apart from two GTs that buzzed me when I was unprepared and being inspected by a black tip shark nothing materialised, which was a shame. James then told us we really needed to head back to the boat now or the tide would catch us and we started the long wade back. The last hour we spent looking for some bones on the side of the bay, but the tide was very high and they did not want to play. Ty and I decided to cut it loose and headed home for an early shower and a cold beer.

The last day dawned bright and clear. At last! It was like someone had switched on a light. The last day I was to spend with Ian Hodge and Jako and I was very excited to hear that Jako was taking us back to the “Green Mile”, and then on to First Island. Target… bumpies. Ian so far had been smashed, cut or had hooks straightened by six bumpies over the course of the week, and we really wanted to target them specifically. I have not mentioned them much so far, mostly as up to this point I had not had a shot at them deferring to my fishing companions. We arrived on the “Green Mile” and immediately saw two big schools of bumpies meandering their way across the flats, grazing with their tails in the air like some kind of herd of bison on the prairies. Ian went right and I went left. Jako came and perched on my shoulder and offered instruction as I had not cast at one before. I cast out the crab in front of the school and let it sit in the turtle grass as the school advanced. Soon they were over the crab and I watched the end of the line for any movement. Slowly, and almost in perceptively the tippet began to snake away and I strip struck. The bumpie tore away from me, spooking the rest of the herd as they headed for the edge. Jako told me that this part was crucial as I need to separate it from the school. I asked if he had a sheep dog handy, but he did not laugh, so it was obviously not very funny. I clamped down hard and tried to turn its charge across the flat with the 9# Proaxis and Fortuna 1X. Jako gesticulated that Ian was also in and we into a double hook up.. I fought the fish for another few minutes, and thought I was really winning but suddenly everything went slack and fish was away. Argghhhhh! We began to wade over to Ian but then his rod went down and the shoulders went up in the air.. Oh well…

Time to hit up “First Island”, and this time we attacked it from the lagoon side. We parked the boat, but the light had dipped again and although we saw a few GTs we failed to connect. Jako was acting as a human pole again at this point so it was quite a lazy way to fish for a change. We were heading for a large expanse of white sand flat with two deep channels on either side, and soon the three of us were wading across while the water continued to drop off fast. Apart from a pair of peppered eels trying to give each other a hiding and shots at triggers in holes not much happened until we hit the edge of the white sand. While Ian was trying to put in a fly to a giant yellow margin trigger in one hole I saw some dark shapes and ran up switching to the rods as I went. I dropped the fly but then realise they were actually three bumpies on the white sand and switched again. A shape darted up the channel from where Ian was fishing and I intercepted it with a crab which it chowed before beginning to spin line off the reel in a serious of fast sprints. A stunning bluefin trevally. I had been looking to catch a decent sized bluefin all week and this was on a crab on a 9# so the heat was on. It looked about 8 lbs and would have been a specimen for me, but finally the 20 lbs tippet could take no more and it rubbed through leaving me feeling sad and empty.. knickers.

As we continued up the flat the lights came back on, and out to the right was a trigger tailing merrily on a small patch of coral. I was further up at this point, and I directed Ian to take the shot. He had a few great casts right in its vicinity but it ignored his fly. It then turned and began to amble up flat towards me. Ian yelled at me to get ready. I put the fleeing crab a long way in front of it as I wanted to ambush it. As the trigger arrived I gave the crab a small strip and it immediately raced over to inspect it. I stripped again and it again scurried over and tipped up on the fly. I gave it one more slow strip and everything went tight and the triton trigger immediately raced away threading my line through the coral heads before diving into a hole. Jako, being ever quick on his feet, intercepted it and managed to grab it by the tail as it vanished.. but the fish had stuck its trigger up and was wedged. I took out my boga grip and using that Jako managed to drop its spine and extract one seriously angry trigger from its hole, snapping at everything near by. I was seriously chuffed as I had not managed to hook one all week.

Well.. Once more unto the breach we thought, one more crack at bumpies. We had to crack it as not one had been landed all week. As if ne queue two schools appeared out on the turtle grass as the tide began to move up. This time Ian went left and I went right.. My school began to edge closer and closer, and again I put the fleeing crab fly out. This time one of the lead fish swam over to it, bent sideways to inspect the fly and the snaffled it. I struck, and the fish charged over for the channel. Now what this bumpie did not know was that after the morning’s performance Ian and I had decided to beef up leaders to 40 lbs Seagur and this time I really put the thumbscrews on. I heard a yell and Ian two was into another one. As my fish was on the edge of the channel Jako ran over and held the line in the air to prevent it rubbing on the coral on the edge and then I began to pump and wind. The fish came out the channel, and now every time it lunged I knocked it sideways. After a short while Jako was able to sneak up on it and grab it. At last! My first bumpie! It was important to keep well away from that beak, and Jako stuck a lanyard through its mouth like a reins for me to hold it. They are very slimy and not that easy to hold. Unfortunately the barbless hook fell out and the fish slipped away before Jako could get a good photograph. No matter, we needed to get over to Ian anyway.

His fish had not only charged all the way back to the lagoon, but was now heading in our direction. I stayed with Ian as Jako went in hot pursuit and he began to chase it across the flat. Suddenly, the line went slack and the fish was off….. silence fell on the three of us as the awful truth dawned. I did not really know what to say…. “Beer?” I suggested.. Ian nodded and we turned for the boat. We looked at the fly and the hook had snapped in the middle of the shank. Even though we found another school a little later we could not recreate the experience. Nevertheless the last day had been a fantastic, even if the score tally was not so good. The week was over, and there was nothing left to do but return and start the painful process of washing kit and packing everything up.

Farquhar is a special place. This spec of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean has an extra ordinary fishery which is still very much being learnt on a daily basis. It has a long way to go before it will be as well known as Alphonse, and it is a very different experience. That there are more GTs here is beyond dispute, and even though we did not see it in as good a light (quite literally) as it could be, I certainly got a feel for what it could offer. Our tally for the week of eight rods was 11 GTs landed out of 20 hooked. Although we only landed one bumpie over 16 fish were hooked and they became a bit of a fixation. Between the group we caught a number of bonefish even though it was not a bonefish tide, some massive bluefin trevally, a lot of grouper and boha snappers, countless emperors and some triggers. There are some long wades, big flats and some rough coral to negotiate and all of us slept well! The accommodation is basic but functional, the food sufficed and there are some supply issues to the island as one would expect being so far out. The guide team headed by Jako is highly skilled and motivated, and I want to thank them for working so hard in tough conditions. If your passion is to catch GTs on the fly then I don’t think there is a better place out there right now. Like all wars however, sometimes the other side wins…

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