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The Ultimate Bucket List Volume 1 2017 part 2

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But what first brought me to the island
was not its Caribbean charm, but rather
what inhabited its aquamarine waters.
Home to the second-largest barrier reef in
the world, Ambergris Caye is surrounded
by hundreds of miles of flats, teeming with
aquatic wildlife and, more specifically,
tarpon, permit and bonefish. It is here
where I chalked the big one off my bucket
list – giant tarpon. Bonefish too were
on the list and so were permit. The bones
were no problem, but the permit… Finding them was the easy part, getting them
to take the fly another story. They had
to wait a bit longer and for another destination, but that’s permit for you.
As I write these words, my mind drifts
back to one of the many fishing scenes
that I am reminded of when thinking of
my several trips to El Pescador. I am still
haunted by this particular one:
“The 3/0 Cockroach makes an ominous sound as it buzzes past my ear, but
I am oblivious to all else but the big
tarpon weighing what seems to be at least
100lb, surfacing 50ft from the boat, and
the necessity of getting the fly to it before
it either sees us or turns away. Luck is
with me. The presentation is good, and
without hesitation the tarpon inhales
the fly and it instantly disappears into
its large, cavernous mouth. It turns away
almost lazily, ignorant of impending danger. Adrenaline levels peaking, I react
instinctively and strike down hard with
my stripping hand, simultaneously pulling
the rod in the opposite direction in an
effort to set the hook in the fish’s bonehard jaw – but to no avail. My hand, still
slimy from a fish landed minutes before,
fails to get a good grip on the fly line, and
even before the mighty fish rears up into
the air like a ballistic missile in response
to my puny efforts, I know the battle
is lost before it even begins. Almost
disdainfully, like swatting a bothersome
insect, the tarpon shakes its head, throws
the fly and reclaims what was never mine
– its freedom.”
“The Tarpon shakes iTs head, Throws The fly and
reclaims whaT was never mine – iTs freedom.”
Photo: Smith Optics
Here’s another that took place on
Savannah Flats, one (coldish) December
morning: “So on this day, when the fish
came, they came in droves. In the space
of five hours, we must have seen at least
60 fish. Of these I estimated at least 20%
as being upwards of 80lb, with a goodly
proportion safely past the 100lb mark.
This is what we came for and the excitement was palpable. But the fish were
deep, too deep. This and the slightly
discoloured water allowed them to sneak
right up to the boat and then spook as
a rod arm is lifted, let alone try to cast a
fly in their direction. There were the
exceptions. Fish that came higher in the
water allowed me to place casts up to 70ft
away, but again frustration ruled for they
showed little interest in my offerings. In
desperation I turned to Erlindo for some
advice and after several fly changes he
shook his head and muttered that the fish
just were not aggressive enough. They
were not feeding. Period.
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“... iT’s sTill jusT a small, laid-back caribbean village and
iT seems noThing will ever change ThaT.”
“No shoes, no problem” the sign read
hanging over the door of the small restaurant, the bright sunlight contrasting
sharply with what seemed a soft and welcoming light exuding from the interior.
From a set of small speakers against
the wall Bob Dylan was dispensing his
wisdom on life, love and the world in
general. My kind of place, so we walked
right in, sat down at the bar and ordered
a cold Belikin. This was late ’90s and not
my first trip to Belize. In fact, I was
starting to feel like a local, having been
around the block a couple of times and
more or less in tune with how the locals
operate. If you were fresh from city life,
things could get a little confusing. “Right
now,” for example, meant in fact almost
exactly the opposite, for San Pedro time
is not in sync with the rest of the hedonistic world. Here the approach is simple.
Slow down and live a long life. At least,
that’s how I interpreted it, and I sighed
with contentment as the cold beer slid
luxuriously down my throat.
Ambergris Caye, and more specifically
its main village, San Pedro, to me personifies the Caribbean. It’s laid-back, period,
although the modern world is doing its
best to intrude. Back when I first visited
in ’93 there were few vehicles on the
island and the streets were filled mostly
with colourfully dressed locals and recognisable tourists, each going their own
way and doing their own thing, but at a
notably slower pace than almost anywhere else. In that lay a great part of its
attraction, and that persists to present
day. Although there are now more cars,
shops and other signs of the modern
world, it’s still just a small, laid-back
Caribbean village and it seems nothing
will ever change that.
It is simply made for chilling, although
a word of caution – your wife may find
more than one reason to bend the credit
card in the many interesting small shops
that adorn its unpaved streets.
Thinking back to what motivated my
first and subsequent trips to El Pescador,
I find that even after all these years the
answer remains the same. I like comfort
as much as the next guy (maybe a bit
more these days), but comfort can mean
different things to different people. I
have been there, done that, and have
several cupboards full of T-shirts that
say so. I have slept under open skies, in
bushes next to rivers and on beaches next
to the ocean with little or no shelter from
the whims of the weather, all in the siren
pursuit of fish on fly. I have also been
privileged to have been pampered to no
end in some of the most expensive fishing
lodges around the world, for I do this for
a living and tend to get around more than
the next guy. But in the end, luxury or the
lack of it aside, what matters more to me
than anything when booking a trip somewhere is that I prefer a real fishing lodge.
The kind that real fishermen like, and
that doesn’t mean they don’t come with
the soft touch, many do, but rather that
when you arrive, you know you are in
the company of people who speak your
language. El Pescador does that for me
and, although the resort today is much
more modern, it retains that charm so
many other fishing lodges lack. Much
of the original lodge is still recognisable,
but the added private villas now offer
a wider choice of accommodation and,
irrespective of your standards, you are
sure to find comfort here.
“... whaT maTTers more To me Than anyThing
when booking a Trip somewhere is ThaT
i prefer a real fishing lodge.”
We are planning our next trip there as
we speak. There are places with bigger
tarpon, bigger bones and easier permit,
and I’ve been there, but Belize remains
a very special destination. The lack of
crowds on the flats is always a plus, there
are lots of tarpon large enough to pull
your arms off, the bones can be challenging, and the permit… Well, they are still
permit and I have yet to catch one there.
I am sure that opportunities will abound
as they have in the past and, who knows,
maybe after all these years, my skill levels
are up to it.
“we are planning our nexT Trip
There as we speak.”
It will also be nice to meet the new management, say hello to old friends and
wander out onto the jetty where we were married. My wife and I are going to renew
our vows and this is obviously the perfect place to do it. One thing though, thanks to
her we were almost two hours late for our own wedding all those years ago. The fact
that the bones were hot on the bite that morning
and that she simply could not stop catching them
was not really a good excuse. However, when we left
for fishing early that morning we did say we would
be back “right now”…
diy exPloration
GRaeMe Field reveals a favourite salt water fishing destination –
the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar.
ver heard of Madagonia? I didn’t think so. But
tundra-like grasses eke out a living among jagged,
don’t be too hard on yourself, because it doesn’t exist.
razor-sharp rocks, and where bleached turtle bones lie
Well, the place exists, but the name is simply a fig-
scattered on deserted beaches. It’s a barren place
ment of my imagination, conjured up after we
where very little rain falls and few humans live. But fish
first found it. A lot of research, time and effort went
thrive here in the warm tropical waters. Ghost crabs
into finding it, and I figured that, being such intrepid
scurry along the water’s edge, and turtles nest every
pioneers, we must have earned some sort of unspoken
few metres along the beaches – their fresh and distinc-
explorers’ right to assign a name to our “discovery”.
tive tracks clearly visible each morning. Weird shrews
hop around in the dry grass, and unusual buzzards
It’s a harsh place where azure flats and pristine coral
reefs encircle arid rocky islands, where low-growing,
hover in the clear skies. It’s the kind of place where we
truly feel like we are the only people on earth.
“iT involved days of living on The boaT and camping on deserTed
islands, moving painsTakingly slowly To conserve fuel,
living on raTions and in The same dirTy, smelly fishing cloThes
day afTer day. buT i couldn’T Think of anyThing beTTer.”
Inspired by the juxtaposition of the
warm tropical waters and flats of Madagascar with the harsh, barren and windswept lands reminiscent of Patagonia, we
incorporated the two contrasting destinations, and Madagonia was born. One of
the benefits of owning boats and a fishing
operation in a place like Madagascar is
the opportunity to undertake exploratory
DIY-style trips in our own time and at our
own pace. But exploring can be a tough,
expensive and challenging business and
requires generous helpings of patience
and determination. It took us a number
of long, hot and arduous fact-finding
trips to locate and properly explore
Madagonia. It involved days of living
on the boat and camping on deserted
islands, moving painstakingly slowly to
conserve fuel, living on rations and in
the same dirty, smelly fishing clothes day
after day. But I couldn’t think of anything
I absolutely love DIY fishing, but it
does require time, as you are continually
moving and searching and not just
getting on with the job of catching fish.
Some spots are great and produce fish
immediately, some look fantastic on the
charts, yet turn out to be totally barren.
And every now and again you find something that just simply blows you away.
Madagonia is such a place. It was first
discovered by my Madagascar Fishing
Adventures business partners Jason and
Brandon, who did it the even harder way
– long overland treks on the mainland
in crowded local minibus taxis, some
serious 4x4ing and a few days’ puttering
slowly along in a local dhow and sleeping
on the sand on deserted islands. But
when they finally reached the place they’d
been eyeing out, the rewards were
instant. Armed primarily with spinning
tackle in order to prospect and cover as
much water as is possible in a short space
of time, Jason made his first cast into
a fairly stiff breeze. It must have been
the travel weariness that affected his
normally impeccable casting technique,
because the popper apparently flew all
of ten yards, blew back five yards and
landed in the shore chop virtually at his
feet. Cursing, he started reeling up the
slack line, and the second he connected
with his popper, there was an explosion
of white water and it was engulfed by a
40lb GT – bang!
“The island was compleTely deserTed and, oTher Than The
remnanTs of a long-dead fire and some weaThered fish scales
and shells, There was no sign of any human habiTaTion.”
And so kick-started a crazy 24 hours
of fishing. Between the two of them
they landed a number of good-sized GTs,
greenspot kingies, bluefin kingies and as
many saladfish and wave garrick as they
could shake a rod at. Most of the fish
were caught on spinning gear, but Brandon also nabbed a few on fly. He even
had the opportunity to cast a fly at a few
tailing triggerfish on the flats, but it was
windy and the tides were strong, so he
was unable to present the fly properly.
When the two finally got back into cellphone reception a couple of days later,
they were like babbling idiots on the
phone. I needed no further motivation.
A fortnight later, I was on a flight for a
proper follow-up trip, this time on our
own boat, King Julien.
Named after the ring-tailed lemur in
the movie Madagascar, the boat is a sleek
28ft monohull and has been our trusty
steed on a number of our voyages of
discovery over the past couple of years.
Even though King Julien is a walkaround-style boat designed for fishing,
all our travel paraphernalia miraculously
vanishes into it. Four of us were heading
off for a full seven days and expecting
to cover about 400km, so the amount of
bottled water, fuel, food, camping gear,
camera gear, fishing gear, cooler boxes
and cooking equipment was mind-boggling. Somehow it all disappeared into
the hatches, small cabin and even onto
the roof. If it wasn’t for the mattresses
tied to the top of the T-top and the fact
that the boat was sitting conspicuously
low in the water, a casual observer would
never have suspected that we were heading off for anything more than a regular
day’s fishing.
After two days of travelling (and
catching some good fish on the way), we
eventually found ourselves prowling up
and down the lee side of one of the
many islands that dot the area, with flats
extending far to our left and right. Low
tide meant we couldn’t reach the island,
but we managed to manoeuvre King
Julien through the coral heads. Excitement was running high, and, as the bow
slid onto the white sand flats, three of us
quickly leapt off the boat. I only had a
camera with me, but Jason and Gavin
were armed with spinning rods, and it
was barely a couple of minutes before
the yells started as good-sized greenspot
kingies charged out of the coral heads
and smashed their poppers. After a couple
of photos, we started moving again and
a few minutes later I spotted two 20lb
GTs cruising the flats in knee-deep water.
Unfortunately, excitement got the better
of trigger-happy Jason and Gavin. Poppers went flying at the GTs long before
they had got themselves into a proper
position, and both fish shot off into the
deeper water, spooked. But there were
a lot of fish around, and it wasn’t long
before they were each into small to
medium GTs.
As the afternoon wore on, the tide
pushed steadily and the chases from
greenspots, GTs and bluefin were seemingly never-ending. By the time we got
back to the boat, the tide was high enough
to reach the island, so we took King
Julien onto the protected beach we had
been eyeing out earlier. The island was
completely deserted and, other than the
remnants of a long-dead fire and some
weathered fish scales and shells, there
was no sign of any human habitation. We
tied the boat up securely to one of the
few trees, and set off on foot to explore
the island’s edges on the high tide.
The action started immediately. As we
rounded the first corner, I spotted a
40lb GT cruising the edge, clearly visible
on the uncluttered white sand bottom.
Jason made a cast and the fish charged
in and smashed his popper but missed.
“iT was a preTTy wild
inTroducTion To a
brand-new, unexplored
“... and every now and again you find someThing
ThaT jusT simply blows you away. madagonia is such a place.”
It came back twice more but just
wouldn’t commit. Brandon, armed with
his fly rod, elected to stand and wait on
a sand spit with a nice channel running
past it while we continued on our walk
around the island. He cast at a couple of
decent GTs before hooking a good one
that threw the fly after a short fight. We
ended the day in a bay that faced straight
into the onshore wind, making casting
difficult, but schools of greenspot kingies,
saladfish and wave garrick were holding
in the bay and chased our poppers on
every cast. To compensate for the high
tide and strong wind, we resorted to
teasing fish in close so we could throw a
fly at them. It worked a charm and we’d
be into a fish virtually every time. Every
hour or so the salads would suddenly all
go leaping into the air in panic as a big
GT cruised in and smashed one of our
poppers. It was a pretty wild introduction to a brand-new, unexplored destina-
tion. Late that afternoon, four very weary
fishermen set up camp in a little grove of
trees that afforded some protection from
the strong night wind. Soon the tents
were up, the sun was setting, a few cold
beers were sliding down parched throats
– and life felt pretty good.
The next morning, we explored the
flats more thoroughly on foot, finding
GTs, bluefin and greenspots, and spotting
a few giant triggers and yellowlip emperors. I was chief cameraman (rodless) and
Brandon fished with fly gear all day. He
caught a few good fish, but also lost
a couple of GTs that frustratingly just
didn’t stick. One of those instances happened right in front of me. Everything
was textbook – white flats, a black GT
hanging on top of a stingray that charged
and ate the fly as soon as it landed, a
perfect strip-strike from Brandon – but
the fly pulled loose as soon as the fish
took off. Brandon more than made up for
it though, landing a really nice GT early
the next morning on the high tide.
Since then, the GTs have generally
been getting the better of us on fly. On a
follow-up trip, our head guide James and
I were walking along a jagged coral ledge
when I spotted a GT holding in the current. James, in perfect position, made a
good cast and the fish charged, ate the
fly and was properly hooked. But, as so
often happens with GTs, if something
can go wrong, it will. Despite some fancy
footwork, the very last loop of line
wrapped around a tiny protrusion of
razor-sharp rock, neatly severing the fly
line, and James lost the fish and his cap
in the process. I’ve also spotted a few
solid 30lb - 40lb GTs cruising the flats
an easy ten-yard fly cast away – when I’ve
been armed with only a camera. I’ve got
to start carrying that 12-wt again!
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fly fishing in remote
Mongolia is much more than fly fishing in pristine and picturesque surroundings.
It is also home to the world’s biggest species of trout, the taimen.
RASMUS OVESEN takes us to northern Mongolia in search of this ancient predator.
he Mongolian highlands appear before us like a setting from an
era long gone. Autumn has clad the hillsides with thickets of
sagebrush, vast grass plains and sporadic blotches of larch trees in
golden colours, and while the river carries us downstream at a sedate
pace, a deafening silence fills the air. If it wasn’t for us being hundreds
of kilometres away from anything remotely resembling civilisation, we might as
well have been drifting down a typical prairie river in Montana. But, below us in
the cold and whirling water lurks an ancient predator that would scare the living
daylights out of even the most stoic and self-assured Montana trout fisherman.
With its shifty eyes, powerful jaws and massive flanks – and, not least, its propensity
for launching attacks on any prey within sight – this fish defies all comparison
with other trout species. Taimen, the world’s largest living trout species, is
without a doubt the uncrowned king of this wilderness. Ever since reading my
first article about this indomitable predator, I have dreamed about catching one
on a fly rod. And now, almost 25 years later, my friend Klaus and I find ourselves
right in the middle of this childhood dream.
“All in All, the number of exciting fish species
on this river is overwhelming –
or, more precisely, Acutely stressful.”
Drifting downriver in a boat, manoeuvred to within perfect casting range by
our guide from Mongolia River Outfitters, we pass a promising holding spot.
He has concentrated his efforts on the
border zones between the shallows and
the deeper pockets, along pronounced
eddies, undercut banks, deeper pools and
especially backwaters below steep cliffs,
and the results have been phenomenal.
Countless times, our huge streamers have
been brutally attacked with lightningquick suddenness. And even though we
haven’t landed one of the monsters, the
dream is alive and well. Several fish of up
to 1.5m have been landed over the past
five years, and each of our four enthusiastic guides has seen fish in the vicinity of
1.7m while guiding on the river. Just a
week ago, one of the guiding company’s
clients landed a 130cm taimen on a big
mouse pattern. To catch one of these
relatively slow-growing and old fish is not
a simple matter, however. First of all,
they have bony mouths full of teeth and a
strong grip that makes it quite difficult
to set the hook. Secondly, they have the
ability to tear apart leaders on boulders
and sunken trees. As a result, it is more
common to be briefly in contact with
them than to actually land them.
The sun pours down the hillsides of
the river valley and displaces the coolness
of the morning as we approach a big bend
where the water accelerates and licks a
steep cliff. Already, at the entrance of the
bend, an agitated fish collides with my
streamer and, after much head-shaking
and several attempts at escape, looms up
alongside the boat and glides into the net.
It is not a taimen trout but instead one of
the relatively rare amur trout (Brachymystax savinovi) – a fish with blushing
gills, olive-green flanks, white fin slashes,
and irregular and haloed dots the size of
ink stains. A beauty.
Above right: Mongolia’s amur trout. They are a bit like a cross between a lenok and
a brown trout, and they have large black spots and white slashes along their fins.
“Autumn hAs clAd the hillsides with
thickets of sAgebrush, vAst grAss plAins And sporAdic
blotches of lArch trees in golden colours...”
This particular specimen is about
average size for the river – a good 50cm –
but they grow to about 90cm, fight with
intense determination and have a ravenous appetite. Together with the populations of grayling and the ever-present and
closely related lenok trout (Brachymystax
lenok), the amur trout conjures up a dream
scenario for the dry fly and nymph fisherman. And in the calmer channels, forks
and tributaries, flathead asp and amur
pike will explosively attack streamers
without hesitation or remorse. All in
all, the number of exciting fish species
on this river is overwhelming – or, more
precisely, acutely stressful.
The author with an amur pike (above) and his close-on 100cm taimen (below).
“incredibly enough, the fish tAkes the fly At close
rAnge Another three times without my being Able to hook it.
things go silent, Awfully silent.”
Unhooked, the amur trout glides back
into the water, slaps its tail a few times
and heads for the rocky river floor. At
that very moment, I hear a splash further
downstream and when I look up I see a
handful of grayling skipping across the
surface, while the water behind them
bulges and whirls. A big taimen has obviously moved into the shallows to hunt,
and it doesn’t take us long to come within
casting range. I manage a quick crosscurrent cast a bit downstream and can
clearly see a depth curve along a gravel
bank barrier as I retrieve the fly. Klaus,
who is in the front of the boat, has also
just made a cast, and he suddenly freezes.
I’m certain the fish is following his fly but
in that same instant I feel a violent tug on
my fly line. For a couple of seconds, my
rod bends and bows in submission while
the fish rolls heavily on the surface. Then
suddenly the line slackens. Klaus has
seen it all from the bow of the boat. The
taimen has followed my fly patiently all
the way to the front of the boat and
launched its attack right below Klaus’s
feet. “It had to be at least 110cm…” he
mutters, but there’s no time for regrets.
With the assurance that there is still a
good chance the fish will strike again, the
guide commands us loudly and clearly
to cast again. Incredibly enough, the fish
takes the fly at close range another three
times without my being able to hook it.
Things go silent, awfully silent. We let
the spot rest for a good half an hour and
return with new flies that we retrieve with
alternating pulls and galloping hearts –
but nothing happens. After the two
previous days of fumbling fishing, during
which we succeeded in fine-tuning our
fishing technique and finding a handful
of useful flies, we have only really just
got started. We still have four full days
of drift-boat fishing ahead of us, and
anything can happen.
Over the course of the coming days,
we catch loads of decent-sized taimen,
and I manage to reel in three fish just shy
of one metre – gorgeous fish with stark
colourful strokes and thousands of neat
black spots that almost make me forget
about the big fish I lost. Each day, we
drift and fish approximately 10km to 12km
of river that is set in the most beautiful
scenery imaginable, and we spend the
nights in tented camps on the riverbank
“we Are now fighting severAl
bAttles: one to keep our fingers
wArm enough to function
properly, Another to keep the
rod guides free of ice...”
– camps that are painstakingly packed
up every morning and shipped downstream on rubber rafts to be set up again,
all without leaving the slightest trace
behind. The others on the trip – a South
African and four Americans – are great
company, and the atmosphere is warmhearted, high-spirited and uplifting, but
something has started to eat me up from
the inside. My belief in catching a 1mplus taimen before the week is over and
thereby realising my childhood dream is
slowly but surely vanishing.
The weather deteriorates and, with
two days of fishing left, we wake up to
a changed landscape that, despite its
rugged grandeur, seems to be at the
mercy of winter. We are now fighting
several battles: one to keep our fingers
warm enough to function properly, another to keep the rod guides free of ice,
and, not least, a seemingly hopeless one
to lure my dream fish into striking. We
cast dutifully and retrieve our flies with
anticipation, but nothing much happens.
“i hAve cAught 40 tAimen trout in six dAys
of fishing, during which the service, the cAmp life,
the sociAl intercourse And the scenery hAve grAnted
me one memorAble experience After the other.”
Less than an hour before rounding the
last bend of the river and preparing for
the long and arduous journey back to
Ulaanbaatar, I finally come to terms with
the situation. We have had a phenomenal
trip with solid amounts of hot-tempered
lenok trout, a good handful of amur trout
and amur pike, and loads of taimen trout
that have smashed our streamers and
surface flies to smithereens. I have caught
40 taimen trout in six days of fishing,
during which the service, the camp life,
the social intercourse and the scenery
have granted me one memorable experience after the other. My childhood
dream has come true. And the big picture
isn’t reduced in the slightest just because
my biggest fish of the trip was three
centimetres shy of one full metre. This
makes what happens next almost vulgar.
Suddenly, below a towering cliff, in a
backwater with steady water flows and
great depths, I see a white flash behind
my streamer, which is cutting spasmodically across the water. The fly disappears
and I respond by pulling back on the
“i lift the 125cm-long tAimen trout out of the
wAter for A few quick shots. it is A regulAr
river monster with A dArk glow, uncountAble numbers
of blAck dots And big, soulful eyes.”
line to set the hook. I can feel the weight
of a massive fish that is thrashing about
violently, then seconds later is surging
downstream. During the next 15 minutes, a real dogfight takes place. I try to
gain on the fish and bring it closer to the
shore, but it reacts with almost disdainful
indifference and contempt. And even
though I lean back on the fish until the
graphite fibres of my 10-wt start to
squeak, I can’t lift the fish from the
depths of the river. Twice, it seems to
have wedged itself under boulders or
rocks, and each time the guide has to
place the boat crosscurrent so I can put
maximum side pressure on the fish and
force it out into the open current again.
Gradually, I bring it towards the
surface, and here it engages in a series of
pulls, tugs and jerks. Then the line slackens momentarily, but thankfully this is
merely due to the fish shaking its head
while moving closer to the boat. It is still
on! The fight now enters a new phase
and I bring the fish into the shallows
where Klaus has jumped into the water
with the net. The fish is tired, but when
it sees Klaus’s silhouette against the sky,
it summons its last reserves of energy and
surges into deeper water again. Now I
am more determined than nervous, and
turn the fish around while Klaus sneaks
up on it with the net. As it glides over the
frame and into the mesh, I jump out of
the boat, my screams echoing down the
river valley.
I lift the 125cm-long taimen trout out
of the water for a few quick shots. It is a
regular river monster with a dark glow,
uncountable numbers of black dots and
big, soulful eyes. But it isn’t until this
very moment that I fully understand
what I have been dreaming about all
these years. Seconds later, I submerge
the fish in the icy-cold water and, with a
couple of strong-willed slaps of the tail,
it reclaims its place in the whirling
depths of the river. It’s going to take me
a while to comprehend just how lucky
I have been.
Mongolia River Outfitters offers an incredible angling experience. Although it has been
around since the late 1990s, this Mongolian company (and its international team) keeps a low
profile. Not only is the name of the river it helps administer withheld from the public, but the
number of anglers on the river is also limited to fewer than 25 a year on both the upper and lower
stretches. The folks at MRO work in partnership with local communities, government agencies
and international conservation organisations to protect the river, one of the few left in Mongolia
– or even the world – with thriving taimen populations. This is the world’s first Taimen Sanctuary
and all fishing is strictly catch-and-release, single barbless hooks and fly fishing only. To find
out more, visit and
Photo: Jens Ottoson/
Visit a stockist near you or visit
• Campworld Ellisras
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220 Cowen Ntuli Street, Middelburg
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Riverside Industrial Park
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Tel: +264 61 258 760
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Somerset West
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exploring the Dark Continent for
Tanzanian Tigers
Exploring wild African rivers for trophy tigerfish seems like an
adventure junkie’s dream. Add whitewater rapids, marauding hippos and
hungry crocodiles to the mix, and you could be in for more than you
bargained for. LEONARD FLEMMING reports.
t all started when our skipper Saidi Alley casually dropped the
words “hatari, hatari” (“danger, danger” in Kiswahili). We stared
dumbfounded at the tree ahead of the boat. Confusion silenced Ed
Truter, Rob Scott and me, since the stump was in fact way off our drift.
But in the next few seconds our world was turned upside down. The tranquil
ambiance was shattered by a loud bang as the jaws of the hippo latched
onto the back of our aluminium boat and we found ourselves flat on the
deck and drenched in water. Earlier on, we had passed the bull with a few
hundred metres to spare, as we placed rushed casts into bankside timber
in the hopes of hooking trophy tigers. After a violent headshake, the hippo
finally decided that the boat was too much to contend with and retired like
a submarine into the murky, amber-coloured water.
To put it simply, hippos attract baitfish and baitfish attract tigers and, in
this case, Hydrocynus tanzaniae, a tigerfish resident in Tanzania that consistently
grows larger than its cousin Hydrocynus
vittatus from the Zambezi and Okavango
river systems. I am talking tigers that
regularly exceed 20lb (official records
are up to 26lb). Among the physiological
aspects that distinguish these two strains
is their dental structure. Large specimens
of H. tanzaniae have a notably big and
heavy jawline, which, from an angling
and especially fly fishing perspective,
complicates their capture.
These tigers are not easy to hook,
never mind land on fly tackle. It really
does feel like hitting a truck on the freeway when a 16lb-plus fish grabs your fly
and continues up- or downriver with all
cylinders firing. There is no means of line
control and the fish dominates the fight
for at least the first minute. Add timber,
other big tigers and wild animals such as
hippos and crocodiles to the cocktail, and
you have a scenario of serious disasters
lined up. This is what we had to face on
a whitewater-rafting recce down a 40km
section of unexplored rapids on the
upper Mnyera River. Rapids that easily
exceeded grade 5 combined with encountering hippos that could slash the inflatable raft gave me sleepless nights before
our exploratory expedition!
A few days prior to Ed’s arrival, Rob
and I fixed the oar rig to the eight-man
raft with raffia string and completed
the paddles by sliding the broomsticks
they were attached to through thick
aluminium pipes and securing those too
with raffia. We loaded the food compartment with rice, pasta and some buffalo
meat from the hunting camp. Buffalo is
the staple diet out here – you eat buffalo
strips for breakfast, buffalo schnitzel for
lunch and buffalo stew for supper; the
next day it’s buffalo soup for breakfast,
buffalo burgers for lunch, buffalo steak
for dinner, and so on. A rough ride lasting several hours, dodging banana leaves
and tassel pods while balanced on the
back of a truck through narrow gorges
along a gravel road lined with tropical
rain forest finally got us to our destination. Tanganyika, a town at the foot of
the escarpment that separates Malawi
from Tanzania, came alive at the sight of
our three white faces. Like beings from
another planet, we were followed to the
river’s edge and finally seen off into the
unknown as we slid the raft off the dusty
After negotiating a number of small
rapids that would probably rank in the
low 0 to 1 grade and, like a group of
frantic meerkats on the front of the raft,
we just managed to reach the “safety” of
“like beings from Another plAnet,
we were followed to the river’s edge And
finAlly seen off into the unknown As we
slid the rAft off the dusty bAnk.”
Above: The lower Mnyera carving its way through miombo woodland before breaking up into a floodplain.
bush away from rural farmlands by sunset. Ed and I eagerly set off in the surrounding fast water in search of tigerfish
and other species. Ed was in first with a
barred minnow (Opsaridium sp.) that
has never been documented before, and
then a beautiful yellowfish that he suggested could be related to the rhinofish
from Kenya. This is an attractive yellowfish species, a predatory fish with a big
mouth very similar to our largemouth
from the Orange/Vaal, or the Clanwilliam
yellowfish from the Doring/Olifants
systems. It features a prominent bump
on the nose, just above the upper lip,
hence the epithet “rhinofish”. The abundant barred minnows reminded me of
plucking mullet from a harbour pier in
my childhood days and, although it was
fun, we were after something bigger.
The soft drone turned into a loud roar
with mist rising above a horizon of blue
sky and treetops as we reached the first
big rapid of the trip. Saidi Kalagamasi,
the camp’s most skilled skipper, just
stared with widened eyes at the mist and
then at me with a questioning look on
his face. “Nzuri sana!” (“Very good!” in
Kiswahili) I shouted over the deafening
roar, and he replied with a smile and a
headshake. By now we were fairly confident in our rafting skills and took on the
torrent like a beast by the horns. Tossed,
spun and drenched, we glided through
the last rocky bumps of what could easily
have ranked as a grade 4+ rapid. Not
far from here, we floated onto a beautiful
sandbar, which was covered in fresh
leopard tracks. The river formed a narrow,
deep channel through the forest and
looked seriously fishy, so we immediately
set up camp. The 350-grain shooting
heads sent heavily weighted baitfish
patterns gliding out across the channel in
search of toothy critters, but to no avail.
I eventually decided to try for yellowfish
and changed to Czech-nymphing tactics
with a heavily weighted control fly to get
down in the strong flow. Several minutes
later, I lifted into a gorgeous Labeo sp.
and added yet another unidentified fish
to my scientific database of fish species
recorded from the Mnyera and Ruhudji
rivers. We were fishing in an environ-
ment where large, colourful swallowtail
butterflies flopped about, trumpeter
hornbills soared, kingfishers dined on
strange and unique fish species which
dwell among rocks, and the odd cry of
“Hold on to your jockstraps, chaps!” from
a reveller broke through the roar of the
rushing river. All this in a remote forest
far from civilisation. On our own we
gave chase to silver demons haunting the
depths of rivers in tropical Africa.
Despite the lack of success, somehow
our hopes of hitting double-figure tigers
in the rapids were never dampened.
Tigerfish were mentioned at least 20
times a day and dominated dinnertime
conversations. And then it happened.
Out of confusion and frustration I held
out my fly box to Rob. “Which fly!?” I
asked and he pointed to a small pattern
I had tied to imitate the predominant
baitfish, njuju (the local name for a small
robber, Brycinus sp.), in the Mnyera and
Ruhudji systems. Earlier in the season,
the same pattern had rewarded me with
a 24lb tigerfish from the lower Mnyera.
Below: Saidi Kalagamasi keeps an eye out for crocodiles and hippos while Ed enjoys some fly fishing in one of the pools.
Ed had already reverted to spinning
tackle and was now fishing a Rapala
which was first to get swallowed; not by
a tiger, but another rhinofish, this one
estimated at 6lb - 8lb. Not long thereafter, my line jumped with a good take
and then it went tight. Seconds later, a
5lb tiger broke the surface and we were
ecstatic to land the first tiger of the recce.
This was by no means a trophy but, with
respect to our efforts, it felt like a trophy
nonetheless. More tigers soon followed
as we took fish of up to 8lb on fly.
“... you eAt buffAlo strips for
breAkfAst, buffAlo schnitzel for
lunch And buffAlo stew for
supper; the next dAy it’s buffAlo
soup for breAkfAst, buffAlo
burgers for lunch, buffAlo steAk
for dinner, And so on.”
Trickles of light from the break of
dawn woke us under a thick canopy on
the riverbank for the fifth day in the
rapids. Our food was running low and I
scavenged the last bit of meat off the bony
carcass of a cooked tiger, leftovers from
the previous night’s dining. We loaded
the last of our luggage back into the raft,
which had all been removed the day
before to carry it 2.5km past the most
devastating rapid section we could have
imagined. The fact that we had jumped
out of the raft and pushed it into a big
side eddy to have a better look before
running the gauntlet probably saved our
lives that day. Now, with a good night’s
rest and the worst behind us, we glided
through the last of the fast water to enter
an eight-hour stretch of winding Mnyera
back to base camp. Drifting through
miombo woodland, we took turns fishing
for as long as our energy allowed. It was
a scorcher of a day and the tigers were
hard on the feed, taking flies on almost
every cast. Rob was in first and pinned a
15lb tiger, which dragged the raft like
a wet sack across the water during the
fight. Then it was my turn, but I lost the
battle to an estimated 17lb tiger right next
to the boat.
The fishing is very different in the
main river. Instead of casting to rocky
drop-offs and tail-outs of pools, we
turned our focus to fallen trees, hard clay
banks and deep channels running along
rows of Phragmites reeds. While Rob and
I selected SF baitfish patterns for our
quarry, Ed had chosen to stick to a Black
Zonker Bunny. His pulsating Bunny was
too much to resist and an enormous tiger
latched onto it.
We covered good ground while being
towed downstream by a tiger skipping
like a porpoise at the end of Ed’s line,
the force of the fish so powerful it nearly
pulled him overboard! The tiring fish
breached a mere five yards from the boat,
giving us a good estimate of its size before
dropping back with gnashing teeth, leaving
Ed with slack in his hands. This one was
way over 20lb, but was neither the first
nor the last to be lost due to a lack of
hook penetration, a torn-out hook, tackle
failure, or some other typically clichéd
reason which formed the topic of heated
discussions during the course of the
“the experience left no doubt in my mind thAt AfricA is A plAce
of extremes; some delightful, others conflicting.”
“i concluded the seAson with 29 fish
species documented on my list; some were new
species never described previously...”
Above: The author with a 24lb tigerfish taken on an SF baitfish pattern
imitating the njuju baitfish in the Mnyera and Ruhudji rivers.
Later in the year, Rob and I returned to the lower
parts of the rapids with clients and managed to land
tigers of up to 22lb. Several yellowfish species,
including the mysterious rhinofish, were taken on
nymphs sight-fished in shallow water beside the
main flow. I concluded the season with 29 fish
species documented on my list; some were new
species never described previously, others possible
unique strains and two handfuls taken on fly. The
experience left no doubt in my mind that Africa is a
place of extremes; some delightful, others conflicting. It was a privilege to travel through a landscape
of such raw, unspoilt beauty. To say I do not feel a
slight bit apprehensive about my next visit would be
untruthful, yet I cannot wait to fly again on the wild
rivers of this Dark Continent.
“it wAs A privilege to trAvel
through A lAndscApe of such
rAw, unspoilt beAuty.”
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We stop fish!
barefoot in the baja
Think Mexico, and immediately your mind conjures up images of sunshine, surf and good times.
GRAEME FIELD makes the journey and catches more than just a tan.
hen the cult film Running Down The Man hit the fly fishing world in
2007, it hit hard. It smacked of adventure, remoteness and a generous
helping of hard-core. Embers that had long been smouldering in the
back of my mind were fanned into a fiery blaze that could no longer be ignored.
I made my decision. I was heading halfway across the world to stake claim to
my rooster. The mission: to tackle the notoriously difficult roosterfish on foot
from the beaches. Oh, and to gorge myself on tacos and tequila, of course.
“with its booming surf culture,
mexico drAws surfers from
All Around the world to its wArm
wAters, consistently
good wAves And scAntily clAd
mexicAn surfer girls.”
In addition to the incredible fishing, Mexico’s
Pacific coast also boasts some exceptional surf. It was
imperative, therefore, that my quest started with a
surf trip to the legendary Puerto Escondido, aka “The
Mexican Pipeline”. With its booming surf culture,
Mexico draws surfers from all around the world to its
warm waters, consistently good waves and scantily clad
Mexican surfer girls. I met up with good mate Ryan
Hart, and we quickly slipped into the mellow surf vibe
in Puerto. Ten days later, after discovering some of the
best waves of our lives at a secret location well off the
beaten track, roosterfish were furthest from my mind.
I could quite happily have tossed away my passport,
lived on raw fish and beer, and surfed myself stupid
for the rest of my days.
We finally managed to drag ourselves away from
the perfect surf, and were soon on the road less travelled,
deep in the cactus-coated deserts of the Baja peninsula.
The parched, dust-covered landscape whipped past the
window as we ate up the miles towards the coast, before
a lush oasis ringed by a luminous blue-green ocean
suddenly appeared in front of us. The lodge was bigger
than expected and beautifully situated overlooking
an expansive bay. A group of six anglers, we would be
alternating between fishing the beaches from fourwheelers (ATVs) and offshore from boats.
The first thing that struck me as we headed out the
following morning was that this area certainly wasn’t
as desolate and deserted as it seemed in the movie.
There were villages and clusters of beach houses dotted
along the coastline, and plenty of long, open beaches in
between. The second thing that struck me was just how
many roosters there were – literally thousands. And
the third thing that struck me was how damn hard they
were to catch, but this is part of their appeal, just like
permit. However, with permit, you generally don’t get
too many legitimate shots, which is why they are
regarded as such prized fish. With the Baja roosters,
you get hundreds of chances and heaps of aggressive
follows, but more often than not, they refuse to hit the
fly. I reckon if you had to compare the number of
strikes against actual numbers of fish cast at, your
percentage of strikes on permit would be considerably
higher than on roosters.
Ryan and I had drawn the boat on the first day, so
we were offshore... well, if you can call 50m from the
beach offshore. The boats cruised the sandbars and
beaches, slow-trolling a live mullet or sardine close
behind it. This elicited some spectacular chases, and
seeing those combs slicing through the water definitely
got the adrenaline pumping. Casting the fly either side
of the live bait and stripping fast resulted in countless
chases but no fly hookups on day one. However, they
were smashing the sardines with gay abandon, and the
conventional tackle anglers literally hauled them in all
day. Personally, I don’t see the point of fishing to these
fish with live bait – it’s totally mindless, far too easy and
requires absolutely no skill whatsoever.
A line change, fly change and tactical change was
required overnight, and, ignoring the set method that
the guides used, we employed a slightly different technique the following day. It worked, and we were soon
rewarded with our first roosters on fly. And so it went
– troll the beaches, find the fish, spot the combs cutting
through the water, watch the live bait getting smashed
to the shouts of “Roooosterrr, roooosterrr!”, cast, strip,
chase, miss, start again, and every now and again enjoy
a powerful fight as a fish succumbs to the fly. Rooster
fishing using this method is successful, but is not without humour and frustration of a different sort.
Let’s just say that there is only one creature that
likes a trolled live sardine more than a roosterfish, and
that’s a common brown pelican. I don’t know what it
is about finicky fish and pelicans. They seem to have
some sort of symbiotic relationship whereby the pelican
harasses anglers to protect the fish, and the fish in
return herd baitfish into the shallows to allow the pelicans to feed. You can’t blame them though; they simply
can’t resist what obviously appears to be an easy meal.
However, they just don’t seem to cotton on that this
easy meal, although free of hooks, is connected to an
invisible line, which is in turn connected to a moving
boat. Needless to say, we had a number of pelican
encounters, which, although quite frustrating at times,
certainly kept us entertained.
“... the third thing thAt struck me wAs how dAmn hArd they were
to cAtch, but this is pArt of their AppeAl, just like permit.”
Another interesting aspect of this fishery is that less
than a mile offshore is a serious blue-water drop-off
with a very healthy striped marlin fishery. Not to
mention dorado and tuna at certain times of the year.
If the rooster fishing turned off for a bit, we would
quickly shoot out and within minutes there would be
some marlin action. Most anglers in our group saw,
teased and hooked a marlin on fly, but unfortunately
none were landed. In addition to the blue-water species,
small jacks, ladyfish, snapper and even the occasional
permit turned up, filling the gaps between the roosters,
so it was usually a fairly fish-filled day.
“the pArched, dust-covered lAndscApe whipped pAst
the window As we Ate up the miles towArds
the coAst, before A lush oAsis ringed by A luminous
blue-green oceAn suddenly AppeAred in front of us.”
The beach fishing was a different story. The odds
were immediately increased and the number of opportunities reduced, but in turn the challenges and
rewards were far greater. And, whether or not we
caught fish, cruising the beaches was so much fun! Two
sayings were relevant to our beach-fishing escapades:
“If it’s a rental, go mental” and “If you can’t beat them,
join them”. Throw together two fishing hooligans, a
sand highway with endless undulating dunes (ramps),
a rented ATV (all-terrain vee-hee-kil) and a video
camera, and there is always going to be some form of
chaos. This involved a lot of yelling and shouting, wild
casting while running down dunes, and leaping into
the sea in an attempt to gain every inch of distance in
the wind and surf. Ironically, in between our mad,
high-speed, ramping, revving, flying-down-the-beach,
movie-making escapades, we actually caught some
decent fish. Tides, time of day and luck play a big role
in finding them, and a lot of patience is required.
We spent hours and hours staking out likely looking
channels and cuts between the sandbars, and spotted a
few good fish. But if finding them is tough, getting
into position and casting to them is even tougher, and
hooking them near impossible. It’s percentage fishing:
the greater the numbers, the greater your chances.
What did happen, though, was that later in the
afternoon on the higher tides, schools of tiny baitfish
congregated right up against the shore in the sandy
bays, and were pretty easy to find. Fishing the edges
of these schools produced a number of decent roosters,
as well as loads of ladyfish and small jacks that were
periodically ploughing into them. We also enjoyed
some epic evening sessions on our own after the official
day’s fishing, which made up for any earlier beach-fishing
All in all, the Baja is jam-packed with roosterfish
and they really are awesome quarry on fly. They’ll drive
you mad one day, exhilarate you the next, and always
keep you guessing. Fishing for them from the beaches
is exactly like the movie Running Down The Man – it’s
fast, frantic and involves a fair amount of sprinting,
leaping and swearing, but it’s incredibly satisfying
when it all comes together. It’s a long way to go for just
a week, so I would definitely tag it on to another trip of
some sort, or do two weeks. Best of all, it’s affordable
and well worth the mission. Baja rules!
“tides, time of dAy And luck plAy A big role
in finding them, And A lot of pAtience is required.”
Costa Rica
home to monster tarpon
If you want to catch a giant tarpon, look no further than Costa Rica.
Find out why MURRAY PEDDER keeps going back for more.
B40’s Kingston Town broke the silence
as Andy and I were drifting out on the
Caribbean side of Costa Rica in front
of the Sixaola River mouth that forms
the border between Panama and Costa Rica. The
fishing that day was slow, very slow, the sea was
flat calm and it was really hot. Just as we were
preparing to settle into a slow session and a cold
Imperial (the local brew), chaos erupted and in a
space of less than a minute we connected with and
lost seven tarpon! Not possible, I hear you say,
so let me explain. Andy was first to connect and
seconds later I did. We lost both fish to hooks
being thrown, or so we thought. Frantic casts
followed with our guide Deli screaming in half
Spanish, half English and half who knows what,
“The tarpon are going mad Maaaaan!”
We went on to connect with another five fish
only to lose them. When the ocean settled, we
pulled in our lines only to reveal Andy’s hook had
opened and my hook point had rolled over. The
first fish probably did the damage and we had no
chance with the rest. As quickly as the action
started, it went quiet again. Kingston Town was
still blaring out of Andy’s state-of-the-art, hurricane-proof sound system and our beers were still
cold. You’ve got to love tarpon fishing in the
This happened in September 2015, but as to
how Andy and I found ourselves on yet another
trip to this magical place, we first need to go back
to 2006. Between 2002 to 2006, Ricko Cronje
and I had been running regular trips to the
Seychelles. The Somali pirate problem was at an
all-time high by 2006 and, since our trips were all
live-aboards, we had to look at an alternative.
Ricko suggested we look at offering tarpon trips
since no one at the time was offering tarpon trips
out of South Africa. Ricko called a mate and client
of ours, Paul Andrews, who had done a fair bit of
tarpon fishing over the years. Paul first suggested
Holbox, Mexico for the more remote experience
but called back ten minutes later to give us the
inside track on a destination he had been to on
two occasions. Costa Rica, Manzanillo, he said,
reluctant to share his little piece of Caribbean paradise. He had one condition, however, and that
was that he join us there on each trip. It was a deal.
Most in the local fly fishing industry know
Charlie Strachan, aka the “Strachan Striker”.
Charlie was a founding member of the Transvaal
Fly Tyers Guild and chairman for as long I can
remember. He contributed a great deal in teaching
fly-tying to many youngsters and was a passionate
Scotsman who loved the outdoors and all things
finny. He was also a close friend of mine for over
30 years, before passing away in September 2016.
Now Charlie had the uncanny knack of always
catching the biggest fish of the trip. True to form,
on our first trip with Ricko as host, Charlie
hooked and landed a fish with a length measurement of 81 inches and girth of 42 inches, that
placed the big girl at between 198lb and 202lb.
We settled on 200lb and the measurements are
still marked off at the lodge and, to the guide’s
knowledge, it is still the biggest fish that has been
landed in the area to date. Charlie and his close
fishing friend Roger Upton previously acquired
the name “17-second platoon” as, up until then,
the two of them were always hooking the most
fish but never managed to stay connected for
longer than 17 seconds.
Charlie was an honest gent and he told us
how Roger had to step in and help him with the
fish, which took over two hours to land in the
cooler, deeper Costa Rican waters. Funny thing
is Charlie was never too fussed about how big the
fish he caught were, which is probably one of the
reasons why he did always catch big fish! He was
more interested in the experience he had with his
good friends and the camaraderie they shared
while fishing.
Below: Charlie Strachan
with his 200lb tarpon.
“tArpon, mAAAn, Are like humAns mAAn, yA get dA weAk ones
And yA get dA strong ones.”
Over the last ten years, we have fished
Manzanillo for a solid 150 days! Every year we
complete a trip I can’t help wondering if I will ever
have the good fortune of seeing the place again.
Our trip for this year is set for end September, and
I am happy to report that it will be Paul’s 13th
trip – good on our word we have been! What
keeps making us go back is without a doubt the
experience as a whole. Naturally, catching a giant
tarpon is the reason for our journey, but the
familiarity of the people involved, the beauty and
remoteness of the area and very little fishing pressure have all contributed to our fondness for the
place. When we arrive at Maxi’s, the local bar,
we’ll see old Uncle Willy, and Carlos’s dad is
always there to welcome us and wave us goodbye
when we leave. Dolphi the lodge manager and
Mammie and her daughter make sure we are
properly fed.
Getting to Manzanillo is no walk in the park I admit. For
South Africans, it involves around 30 hours door-to-door
travelling. It is literally situated at the end of the road in a
reserve and the last leg of getting to your room involves
Dolphi and the guides crossing a tidal creek with your luggage
in wheelbarrows. The wildlife in the reserve is awesome:
sloths, howler monkeys, Jesus lizards, poison dart frogs and
some of the biggest spiders you will ever encounter, as well
as the odd Boa constrictor are all par for the course. The
lodge is encircled with coconut trees and palms and is less
than 50m from the crystal-clear Caribbean ocean. On all of
our trips, we have only ever come across the odd boat from
the Panama side on two occasions with a guest or two fishing
the mouth, so we like to call it our spot. Last year, Andy and
I visited the Nicaragua side and fished some small rivers
and estuaries in that area and it was epic. Large fish in real
confined spaces is pretty special, so this year we are mixing
things up a bit and we are doing our first recce with a group
for three days and then down to Manzanillo for six days.
A guide is critical to the success of any trip and when you
have been visiting a venue for so many years, they become
like family. These five guides will move mountains for us
and fishing into the dark only to land or lose a tarpon after
a long fight is part of the job description for them as they
share in your pain and gain. Their boats are self-owned, so
they are well appointed and looked after, and perfect for fly
fishing. Their sense of humour is also on point. I asked Peck
once why it sometimes takes so long to land a fish of 80lb 100lb and then other times a fish the same size would take
under 30 minutes. His answer was quite simple: “Tarpon,
maaan, are like humans maan, ya get da weak ones and ya
get da strong ones.”
“A guide is criticAl to the success of Any trip...”
Peter (above) and Kevin (left) Whittaker make a
devastating father-and-son team, and have had much
success fishing in the surf for giant tarpon.
Carlos we call “One Grab” because the standing
joke is that it takes him at least three times that
to get hold of a fish as no lip gaffs are used at all.
Deli (Delroy) has a stutter and a gold tooth and
he is the most meticulous about his boat. Andy
won’t fish with anyone but Deli – must be the
Swiss German in him. Peck is the ladies man and
when we do reggae night with the guides (one
night every trip), he is smoother than the coating
on a brand-new 12-wt floater. Chun probably has
the oldest boat, but we often seem to hook the
most tarpon with him. He is also one of the best
I have seen at handling large fish. Mushi is the
old man, wiser than the lot and I once witnessed
him hand-line a fish of over 120lb in less than 30
minutes! What has been really cool to see over
the last decade is Mushi’s young son grow up on
the boat. After school, he would do the afternoon
session with Mushi and is now guiding full-time.
“tArpon fishing is A little like going to wAr
And there Are AlwAys cAsuAlties. broken rods,
snApped fly lines, strAightened And broken
hooks, rods pulled overboArd, etc.”
“these five guides will move mountAins for us
And fishing into the dArk only to lAnd or lose A tArpon
After A long fight is pArt of the job description for
them As they shAre in your pAin And gAin.”
These guides will stay out well after dark as
long as two boats remain and this often happens
when someone hooks a fish late afternoon. Fighting large tarpon in the cooler Caribbean waters in
daylight is hard enough, doing it in the dark is
really tough! I experienced this once and since
then I stop fishing at 5pm.
In Manzanillo we have a few locations. In
front of the Sixaola River mouth, as well as north
and south of it, in front of Gandoca – a small blind
estuary – and in between the Sixaola and
Gandoca. Constantly looking for feeding fish or
rollers is where it’s at for us. You can also canoe
up the Gandoca to target small tarpon and snook
and, although this fishing is inconsistent, it’s
worth it just for the experience. Occasionally we
get a fish to the beach. Peter Whittaker has bragging rights to the most fish on the beach, closely
followed by his son Kevin. Kevin first visited
Manzanillo when he was 19 and has been there
nine times to date. Kev is strong and fit and I
clearly remember his first tarpon. He was shouting and screaming and going down and dirty on
the fish as hard as he could, determined to land
the fish in record time to prove to us older bullets
that we were making a biggie out of the power of
these fish. Forty-five minutes later and he was
not so vocal any more and he had to admit that
it was the toughest fish he had ever encountered
on fly, and he has caught many different species.
Tarpon fishing is a little like going to war and
there are always casualties. Broken rods, snapped
fly lines, straightened and broken hooks, rods
pulled overboard, etc. Paul likes to fish off the
nose of the boat as it gives him a higher vantage
point to fight big fish. He has taken a dip in the
ocean on more than one occasion while fighting
these spectacular fish. We fish with floating and
intermediate lines and dark contrasting flies
that push water. Purple and black are the go-to
colours accounting for more fish than I care to
What’s the average size of the fish? Well it
does not matter much to us any more. But if you
must know, the fish average 60lb - 80lb with
triple-digit fish coming out on every trip. There
have been many 100lb fish, quite a few 130lb and
the odd fish of around 150lb. We have lost bigger
fish – our guides are very conservative when it
comes to guessing. The only way to get an idea of
their approximate weight is to actually measure
them and we have managed this about three or
four times at the beach.
Below: Llewellyn Claven with a beast!
Tarpon are incredible fish and I don’t care if you are
sight-fishing to them, taking them in front of a river
mouth in off-colour water, chasing juveniles in estuaries,
or targeting them in the surf. When you connect with
that fish you are a changed person in the world of fly
fishing. But you don’t have to take my word for it, go and
experience it yourself!
fishing the railroaD ranCh
Henry’s Fork
Of all the trout water available to anglers in the US, there is one section of river
that is revered by experienced anglers as the most challenging trout water in the
continental United States. GERHARD LAUBSCHER made the pilgrimage.
he waters of the Harriman Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork in
Idaho have been revered by the upper crust of fly fishing masters for
the last 50 years. In the early ’70s, Ernest Schwiebert referred to this
water in his book Trout as “Perhaps the best stretch of fly water left
in the United States”. Joe Brooks echoed that sentiment in his book
Trout Fishing. Doug Swisher and Carl Richards used it for most of the research
in their iconic book Selective Trout, as did Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi in Hatches.
Vince Marinaro used it as a research base for In the Ring of the Rise, and Gary
LaFontaine for his book Caddisflies.
However, right now for us it was perhaps the words of John Gierach in
The View from Rat Lake that most echoed our sentiments:
“The Henry’s Fork is as much an idea as a trout stream.
To the rest of us, it’s Mecca.”
To say that this section of river is not only steeped in folklore but also deeply
rooted in some of the most iconic works on fly fishing ever published might be
an understatement, as we were soon to discover.
The laminar-flowing, crystal-clear, weed-infested Harriman Ranch section
is the Sistine Chapel of the trout world. This 15km stretch of river resembles a
spring creek more than a river. At places almost 200m wide and filled with more
aquatic life than one can imagine, The Ranch is the ultimate habitat for trout. It
holds more food than they can eat and more hiding places than there are trout,
and therein lies the challenge. Because of all the weed, you can largely forget
about fishing a nymph, and if you do, it had better not be more than four inches
under the surface or you won’t get any drift. Couple this with the complexity
of aquatic life and selective nature of trout, and you have an extremely difficult
section of river. And if the physical challenges presented by the aquatic weeds
and laminar-flowing, complex currents are not enough, the real challenge lies in
trying to figure out what the particular fish you are targeting is eating. These
fish are especially selective and certain fish will lock onto and only feed on certain
insects in a specific life stage.
The high number of aquatic insects calling this section
of river home means that at times it can be extremely
frustrating, if not impossible, to determine what a particular fish is feeding on.
“And if the physicAl chAllenges presented by the AquAtic
weeds And lAminAr-flowing, complex currents Are
not enough, the reAl chAllenge lies in trying to figure out
whAt the pArticulAr fish you Are tArgeting is eAting.”
“for ryAn hAmmond And
myself, the journey to the rAnch
wAs A pilgrimAge we hAd
been wAiting And prepAring
for our entire lives.”
The roof of this Sistine Chapel is the complex yet simple selection of flies
created by the Michelangelo of this canvas, René Harrop. René is widely regarded
as one of the most influential anglers to have spent time on this section of river,
and having called it home for his entire life he is a wealth of knowledge and
experience. His contribution to fly fishing and, in particular, fly-tying is recognised
by fly anglers worldwide and his work has helped anglers from around the world
successfully fish the fabled Ranch and other complex spring creeks.
For Ryan Hammond and myself, the journey to The Ranch was a pilgrimage
we had been waiting and preparing for our entire lives. After spending some
time on an amazing selection of rivers in Montana and Wyoming, it was finally
time to head down to Idaho. The invitation had come months earlier on St Brandon
Atoll in the Indian Ocean, halfway on the other side of the planet. Rich Paini was
onboard the MV Gryphon, fishing with us and assisting the Confluence Films
crew in the making of Waypoints. Rich is René’s partner in TroutHunter, a fly
shop and guide service on the banks of the Henry’s Fork about 500m upstream
of the Harriman Ranch in a small town called Last Chance, Idaho. It didn’t take
long for the conversation to veer towards fishing the Henry’s Fork and when Rich
extended an invite and added, “I’m sure René would join us”, I just couldn’t
ignore this opportunity of a lifetime. That’s it; we’re going to Idaho.
Nine months, six flights and a three-hour drive later, Ryan and I found ourselves sitting on the veranda in front of the TroutHunter in the company of René
Harrop and Jim Klug from Confluence Films, waiting for the drift boats to pick
us up. I honestly couldn’t be bothered with celebrities, presidents or sports stars,
but this morning I found myself on my best behaviour. We had limited time
on The Ranch, and Rich had decided that it would be best for us to see it from a
drift boat; that way we could see the entire section of the river. We had two boats,
and joining us for the day was professional fly fishing photographer Bryan
Gregson. Ryan and I would fish, Rich and René would provide flies and guide,
and Bryan and Jim would photograph the spectacle.
“No pressure,” I jokingly said to Ryan as we climbed into
the boats.
About 500m downstream, René spotted a fish that was consistently rising. He
gave me a #18 CDC Rusty Spinner and
nonchalantly instructed me to tie it on
and “go catch that one”. You have to be
kidding me, I thought. Surely they’re
not going to just send me in there? For a
moment I realised the irony in this: the
guide/client shoe was now on the other
foot. Ryan, Jim and Bryan had stopped
against the island, and while I headed
into the main stream, Ryan went after
a fish on a section called Bonefish Flat
(see Stu Apte’s sidebar – Ed). I slowly
waded through the heavy water grass into
position and, when I was close enough, I
took my time to clear all the weeds from
my waders and boots. Then I quickly
glanced over my shoulder. Bryan had set
up a camera with a zoom lens on a tripod
and had it pointing in my direction; René
and Rich were patiently watching me. No
pressure, I thought…
In total, I had seven fish eat that day,
I missed another one on the strike, and
the rest managed to either break the 6X
tippet in the weeds or wiggle loose.
I made a couple of casts and quickly
got into the rhythm of the river. The 14ft
leader Rich had given me earlier that
morning performed beautifully and presented the fly with pinpoint accuracy.
After a couple of drifts, the fish came up
and ate the fly, but I was too quick on the
strike and pulled the fly out of its mouth.
Shortly afterwards, like a true master,
Ryan hooked up into his first fish and
successfully managed to steer it clear of
the weed and land it. He had come to
a sacred section of water and within
minutes stamped his authority on it. I,
on the other hand, was cursed, it seemed.
In between all the fishing action, I
tried to spend some time capturing this
magnificent piece of water on camera. At
one stage, I walked the bank with René
and we spoke about the industry, his
love for this section of river, and all the
places in the world I have been fortunate
enough to fish. He spotted a fish behaving
the way he wants them to and expertly
positioned himself to have the best shot
possible. I lay back on the bank and
took some pictures. He made one cast
at the fish, and on his final forward cast
he expertly mended the line upstream
midair to ensure a drag-free drift.
Page left, above and below: René Harrop in action landing and releasing a good rainbow.
After a couple of seconds of drift, he tightened into a good fish, and fought and
landed it. In its heyday, this cock fish would have been over 4lb, but it was an old fish
and probably near the end of its life. René is not a particularly big man and he could
almost close his one hand around the body of the old fish. In his deep, husky voice
he slowly said,
“I’ve probably met this one before.”
He revived and released the fish, and as it slipped out of his hand, it went down
and held tight against his leg, as if it understood that this grand master had nothing
but respect for it and posed no threat.
“Yes, I guess you have met him before,” I said as the fish eventually
slowly swam off. I doubt that they will meet again.
“... the river showed us one of her treAsures
As some cAllibAetis mAyflies stArted hAtching.”
The following day, we fished the lower
section of The Ranch. I quickly landed a
fish and was relieved to get the monkey
off my back. The weather was upside
down all day and we ended up moving
around a lot, trying to find shelter from
the wind. Just as we were about to give
up at the end of the day, the river showed
us one of her treasures as some Callibaetis mayflies started hatching. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, fish appeared and
began feeding on the insects. I spotted
one fish feeding hard subsurface and on
Rich’s recommendation tied on a #18
mayfly nymph with a split carapace. Two
goose biots are used for tying the carapace, leaving a 0.5mm crack between
them, and under the biots the smallest
hint of yellow thread shines through.
This nymph represents the first stage of
emergence. That’s how technical it gets.
On the second or third cast, the fish broke
out of its lie and followed the fly downstream for about 4ft before eating it. I
tightened into the fish and landed it a few
minutes later, a respectable 21 inches.
Fly fishing legend Stu Apte
remembers the Harriman Ranch
and Bonefish Flat
Henry’s Fork, a tributary of the Snake River, meanders
along a private property that used to be known as the Railroad
Ranch, so called because it was left to Averell Harriman by his father,
a railroad baron. Averell Harriman served, among others, as Secretary
of Commerce under President Harry Truman and was also the
governor of New York. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the
only way you could fish that portion of the Henry’s Fork was to float
in a boat and then wade without getting on land above the highwater mark. I can remember having some awesome days there with
Will Godfrey, the first outfitter in Last Chance, Idaho. One fourth of
July, floating with Will, we had an unseasonable, fast-moving cold
front appear almost out of blue skies, and the temperature dropped
to about 4°C in half an hour, with snow flurries. Like magic, a green
drake hatch popped up out of nowhere, most likely the result of barometric change. As we came around a bend in the
river, there was a slick, shallow area that looked like
a bonefish flat with lots of tailing bonefish. These
were big rainbow trout head-tailing, feeding on
green drake emergers. I will not go into how many
20-inch-plus trout I caught that day, but I told Will
that it looked like a bonefish flat, and ever since, that
has been the name of that particular stretch of
water. A year later, Will came up with the idea of
presenting a trophy, the Green Drake award, for the
largest trout caught and released on fly. Guess
what? The following year, I was the proud recipient
of that award, with a 26-inch rainbow.
As the day came to an end, I stood
on the bank overlooking the river and
experienced mixed emotions. I suppose
part of me was nostalgic, another part
melancholic and another part filled with
the excitement of a little boy. The past
couple of days on the river in the
company of some of the finest guides,
photographers and fly fishing masters in
the modern fly fishing world was a lot to
process. I looked up at Ryan at one stage
and he had a distant look in his eyes, no
doubt experiencing similar emotions. He
looked at me and just smiled.
It was only back home in South
Africa a few weeks later, when going
through the photos, that the entire
experience started sinking in. I
could finally understand the melancholy. We had been privileged enough to be exposed to a hallowed section of river,
one that no doubt had a similar effect on some of the greatest trout anglers ever.
Knowing that it exists and having experienced it firsthand meant that we now understood what we have to live without on our side of the Atlantic.
I realised that I will forever be connected to this river and
started making peace with the fact that I will have to return on
a regular basis.
golDen mahseer of the
BRENDAN BECKER travels to the foothills of the Himalayas in northern
India to make a dream come true – golden mahseer on fly.
he wait was over. After two years (and a 36hour trip from South Africa), I was back in
India, on the banks of the Saryu River at the tented
camp run by The Himalayan Outback. The following
day we would be presenting flies to the mighty
golden mahseer, a subcontinental cousin of our yellowfish, and
this time I was adamant that I would connect with one. I fell
asleep smiling.
“if there were fish thAt big swimming Around, i wAs
going to try my dAmnedest to cAtch one.”
After a quick breakfast, we were ferried off down the river by our ever-enthusiastic guides, Bobby and Mr Singh. The
excitement was palpable. I would be fishing the junction of the Mahakali and the
Saryu with Bobby, The Himalayan Outback’s head guide, while Nic Isabelle and
Mr Singh, a local guide, would fish the
pool above the junction pool, named
“PJ’s Pool” after the Editor of this magazine, PJ Jacobs, who enjoyed an amazing
session of mahseer fishing on this beat
back in 2008. At this time of year, the
Mahakali’s water turns dirty from the
snowmelt before the monsoons, while the
Saryu retains its slightly silted but clear
colour. These waters meet in a constant
battle with each other, forming large
eddies above and below the junction.
Finally it was time to throw the fly. I steadied my nerves,
listened to Bobby’s instructions and started to shoot out the
300 grain with unrivalled vigour. I was fishing one of The
Himalayan Outback’s small tube flies and got into the foreign
concept of swinging the fly. The morning went well and about
half an hour later I had a hit and connected with my first
mahseer. I can’t describe the happiness I felt at eventually
catching one of these fish.
Just when things started heating up, I heard Nic calling
from our breakfast spot on a set of stairs between the two
pools, so Bobby made me move slightly upstream of my position and make one last cast. “Mend, mend, rod tip up and
swing,” was all I heard as I felt a hit on the fly. I dropped a
knee and set the hook into what felt like a solid fish. The fish
responded to the pressure by turning and heading straight
downstream and into the Mahakali, but I managed to turn its
first run and guide it into the eddy above the junction. Bobby
sprinted off to get the BogaGrip, Nic sprinted to us with the
camera. I, meanwhile, was involved in a battle with a determined golden 2x4 that refused to lift its head and give up.
After some nervy minutes tussling with the fish next to the
bank, Bobby landed it. It was big – the biggest fish I had ever
caught in fresh water. At 22lb, I had landed the biggest fish
of the season on the first morning of our trip. I was stoked!
We took some pictures and I released the fish back into the
river. It was a profoundly humbling experience to see a fish
of that size in a fresh water environment.
Nic also enjoyed a good session on
PJ’s Pool, where he landed his first
mahseer. He was buzzing. Breakfast was
a jovial affair that morning. With the
weather heating up, by midmorning the
mahseer had completely turned off the
fly, so we made our way back to camp
where we were welcomed by a brigade
of The Himalayan Outback staff, who
peppered us with questions about the
morning’s fishing. And then we lay low,
trying to keep ourselves out of the unrelenting heat of the day. It was hot, heat
like I have never experienced before. At
about 4pm, we were served a cup of chai,
and rerigged to head back to the river.
We hit the water hard. I was rewarded
with a 9lb slab of gold, and Nic garnered
a bit of interest on some South African
patterns that we had brought along. A
classic, classic mahseer fishing day, as
Bobby would say.
We got into the rhythm of continually
putting the fly in the zone, which resulted
in some good fish. While fishing on the
junction, Nic landed a solid eight-pounder
and followed that up with another of 14lb
– two really good fish that kept him on
his toes. I was having a blast trying to
fish every square inch of PJ’s Pool and
landed some aggressive fish ranging from
3lb to 6lb.
Then came a day that I had never
before experienced in a fresh water environment. The morning started quietly for
both of us, so Nic made his way down to
join me at the junction. I had been casting
for a good three hours and my arm was
about to fall off, so when Nic casually
asked if he could send out a cast where the
two rivers meet, I gave him the go-ahead.
He stripped off some line, shot it out, and,
while stripping off more line, his fly was
engulfed midstream. He set the hook
and the fish responded by taking all of
the fly line and some backing upstream.
“Big fish, big fish,” whispered Bobby
and Mr Singh in hushed tones as they
appeared at our side. The fish had meanwhile done a U-turn and was now taking
line into the Mahakali, but Nic kept up
the pressure and didn’t let the fish dictate
the fight. After a few tense minutes, it
came up to the surface, and we saw the
head, tail and huge boil left by a truly
massive fish. I was shooting photos at a
furious pace while Bobby slowly slipped
into the water. He took his time, much to
Nic’s dismay, but when he went to land
the fish, there was no hesitation.
“New world record, new world record!”
screamed Bobby with the enormous
mahseer in his hands. Nic’s face summed
it up: a mixture of relief and disbelief
joined a stunned demeanour at what he
had just landed – a 42lb fish, the biggest
recorded mahseer caught on a fly rod.
After many pictures, Nic released the fish.
“it wAs A profoundly humbling
experience to see A fish of thAt size
in A fresh wAter environment.”
I must admit that there was a lot of fish envy running
through my veins, but it was a worthy fish for a worthy person
and it was an unbelievable experience to be a part of. I’ll
always remember it.
That afternoon, Bobby and I headed back to the junction
with a renewed sense of vigour. If there were fish that big
swimming around, I was going to try my damnedest to catch
one. About an hour after we arrived, I stripped once at the end
of a swing and connected. It was an aggressive eat and the fish
blasted off into the Mahakali. Coming from working the flats
of Farquhar, I applied all the rod angles I so rigorously brief
my clients about and managed to stop and turn the fish, guiding
it back to the eddy above the junction. The fish was determined and strong but eventually relented, and Bobby, now
used to this process, slipped down into the river and landed
another golden slab. Again, a 20lb+ fish. I was on cloud nine.
After the excitement of that fish, I got back into the routine
of swinging the fly, and with Bobby keeping my fishing in line,
I swung the fly to my heart’s content. Just before the sun
dipped below the foothills of the Himalayas, my fly stopped
abruptly, halfway through the swing. I set the hook but the
fish didn’t move. “Fish? Rock?” asked Bobby. “Fish, definitely
a fish,” I replied and with that the fish beat its tail once and
took all the line through my hands. I jammed the reel into
gear. After seeing my backing knot whistle through the guides
on the first run, I knew this would be another titanic tussle
with a mahseer. I managed to bring it back into the eddy
above the junction as the last rays of sun were disappearing.
We struggled to see the fish when it came to the surface but
Bobby moved into position and I guided the fish into his
hands. It was big, 24lb big. I couldn’t contain myself and filled
the valley with a lot of wild screaming. As I released the fish,
I gave a silent fist pump for victory and we headed back to find
Nic and get back to camp. What a day, 86lb of golden mahseer
on the fly! We were both buzzing and enjoyed a few whiskies
around the fire that night. We had just experienced some of
the best mahseer fishing the Saryu River had ever produced.
On the last evening, Nic and I decided to fish the junction
together. We laughed, joked and absorbed the final few
moments we would have on this truly incredible river. Nic
landed a 12lb fish at the start of the session and I managed one
of 6lb. Near the end, I was watching Nic retrieve his fly when
he went tight, literally at his feet. The fish stripped line off
the reel, first heading upstream but eventually turning and
heading back downstream. Nic regained every inch that he
lost and, with the ever-reliable Bobby on hand, the fish was
landed, another of 20lb. This was the fifth fish of the trip of
20lb or more. Big high-fives were dished out and we took
some pictures before Nic released the fish into the darkness.
And with that we closed our first chapter of mahseer fishing
on the Saryu River.
“it cAme up to the surfAce,
And we sAw the heAd, tAil
And huge boil left
by A truly mAssive fish.”
Everything in India is a cultural experience, and the
hospitality was unlike anywhere else. The camp and its staff
were unbelievable in every aspect, and I must commend Misty
Dhillon and his staff on the operation they run. For now
though, we can only live with the memories until we create
some more when we once again take up the battle with the
mighty golden mahseer. India is an incredibly diverse place
and this added to the fishing. We were humbled by the raw
humanity we saw but equally uplifted by the sheer joy and
pride in every Indian’s eyes.
“i couldn’t contAin
myself And filled the
vAlley with A lot
of wild screAming.”
Christmas Island
halfway arounD the worlD
Situated half a world away, Christmas Island is revered as a top
bonefish destination. But its triggers and GTs provide world-class
fishing too. DERRICK BELING made the trip.
y passion for GTs started like any badly
written story does: “One dark and stormy
night...” Well, strictly speaking, it was
evening and it was back in 2000 at Kosi Bay.
I did not land that GT, but some three years
later I did, a fish with a fork length of over a metre, and it was
a dark and stormy night (OK, early morning, 4am). I have no
idea why I want to pit myself against surf conditions, throwing
huge flies on a 12-wt, but I do. So, when browsing a Web
photographic journal, there was a picture of a fly fisherman
standing in the surf at Christmas Island casting for GTs, and
I just knew I had to do that. Then the fickle finger of fate lent
a hand, and soon after, I received an e-mail from fellow fly
fishing aficionado John Dreyer, suggesting a trip to Christmas
Island. This hand of fate continued to play out, for in the next
edition of a salt water fly fishing magazine was an article
on Christmas Island that, although it is known as a bonefish
destination, promised something special in GT fishing.
Time moved on, and in 2013 fellow fly fishing junkie Grant
Dunbar started quizzing me about Christmas Island. Not
satisfied with my answers, Dunbar did a bit of digging around
and left a rather ominous voicemail saying I had better phone
him in a hurry if I wanted to go to Christmas Island. The truth
was revealed: there are two Christmas Islands (actually three).
One has a red crab migration and there is no fly fishing, and
the other is situated between Fiji and Honolulu where there
is fly fishing on the Pancake Flats. This article is about the
latter, one of the largest coral atolls in the world and part of
the Republic of Kiribati. It lies roughly 2600km northwest
of Perth.
The majority of fishing clients go to Christmas (Kiritimati)
Island for bonefish. However, if your bonefish reference is the
Seychelles, then you may be disappointed. Average fish are
smaller than in the Seychelles, around the 1kg mark, but the
difference is that you are hunting the flats. You also don’t get
those big shoals of bones that you get in the Seychelles, which
is a good thing because fishing for shoaling bones can get very
one-dimensional, hence my emphasising the hunting on
the flats. There is, however, every opportunity to pick up a
double-digit bone (measured in pounds) on a high tide.
But the hidden gem of Christmas Island is its triggerfish.
Neither the Maldives nor the Seychelles has anything like here.
Yes, the titans (a species of triggerfish) give full credibility to
their name, and the yellowmargins, well, they are built like
Fijian rugby players. If you have never fished for triggers, then
know this: they are one of the most frustrating fish to target,
other than permit. Watching a trigger chase your fly is like
watching a spaniel follow a scent trail, nose down, tail in the
air. As to their enthusiasm in chasing the fly, they are the
Jack Russell of the flats, harrying the fly as you retrieve it. The
exciting thing about trigger fishing on Christmas Island is that
they come up on the flats – and you can easily spot a dark titan
against a white sand flat! But where you really get them is
on the coral flats. And forget the crab flies; fish with stockstandard bonefish flies. You could target bonefish and triggers
at the same time, except that the bones can get quite finicky
and you fish with 12lb tippets. On a 12lb tippet, the average
duration of a fight with one of these triggers is 1.5 seconds.
Three seconds would be a long fight. You are almost always
popped as the drag attempts to respond.
Here’s the thought process of a trigger on a bonefish fly:
Geez, whazzat?
Lemme see, lemme see
Mmhmm, is it alive?
Geez, it moved
Can I eat it?
Dunno, lemme see, lemme see
Can I eat it?
Dunno, lemme see
(this will be repeated any number of times)
Hey, stand still will you;
I wanna eat you!
Most times the trigger will eat, and if you have fished for
triggers you will know that eating the fly does not necessarily
translate into a hookup. There are two schools of thought on
the retrieve. One is to retrieve in short, 6cm pulls; the other
is long, slow strips. Both work and neither is the definitive
approach to trigger fishing, which really just adds to the
mystique of triggers. How good is the fishing? One of the
guests, Calvin, had 15 fish follow in an afternoon session. Six
snapped him up and he landed three. In my experience of
triggers, that is, like, wow man!
“the hidden gem of christmAs islAnd is
its triggerfish. neither the mAldives nor the
seychelles hAs Anything like here.”
“... your heArt rAte immediAtely shoots into the red zone,
cAusing those electric impulses in your heAd, those thAt mAke
your brAin work, to totAlly short-circuit.”
I had only one opportunity to surf crash for GTs. This was
out at a place called the Korean wreck, although there was
no evidence of a wreck, nor any Koreans for that matter. The
venue is wild and beautiful, and it looked fishy, with plenty of
bluefin trevally and then some big ones. I have come to the
conclusion that, when fishing for bluefin in surf conditions,
you are better off standing in the water and casting towards
the shore. Bluefin come surfing in on the back of a wave and
grab anything that looks edible – and most flies look edible
when they are in the zone behaving like baitfish. That’s the
other thing; I have moved away from the super-fast strip for
bluefin. My reasoning is that bluefin use the surfing tactic
as an element of surprise, which means the baitfish are not
fleeing but are going about their business of foraging for food,
or whatever baitfish do in the shallows.
The big bluefin I did catch, I slowed the retrieve as the
wave hit my fly so that I just kept in contact with the fly. I also
started timing my cast so that I would pick situations where
there was a good head of water coming in over the shallows. I
do hope this is not the definitive definition of how to catch
bluefin trevally in the surf, because it is when fishing becomes
entirely predictable that I know I will take up another sport.
Did I get my GT that day? Nope, due to angler error – lifting
the rod to a fish in salt water is the kiss of death. To add to
this, I prefer circle hooks in the surf. They don’t snag as
easily as J-hooks, and when two-handed stripping, you just
keep the tension on the fish and it hooks itself. There is one
golden rule with circle hooks for all fishing situations – do not
strike. In this instance, I was fishing an 18cm red-head
Semper tied on an 8/0 Owner circle hook. I named it CD18
after that very effective Rapala lure with the product code of
CD18. The point of this is that it is not your load-and-go fly.
As we were moving from one spot to the next, I was thinking,
Hey Doffie (that’s me), rule number one is never approach
the water without being ready to cast at a fish. That thought
was still happening when the guide started getting really
animated about two GTs coming towards us, cruising the
shallows. These two fish of around 80cm each were swaggering
down over the flats just looking for trouble. An encounter like
this is better than an ECG test to ascertain whether you have
any heart problems – your heart rate immediately shoots into
the red zone, causing those electric impulses in your head,
those that make your brain work, to totally short-circuit.
I eventually lobbed a fly in the general direction of the GTs
and it got clobbered. And what did I do? I stripped and lifted
the rod as if a bonefish had just eaten my fly, leaving one big
GT wondering what had just happened to his meal…
I must mention that fishing the Korean wreck was a waste
of time for the rest of the party, so make sure you go out with
three other people who have the same taste in fishing as you
do. I would be remiss in not thanking my fellow fishermen –
especially Graeme, Ray and Graham – for giving up a day in
their trip to allow me to surf crash.
That evening, while chatting to trigger-happy Calvin, I
asked about his trigger fishing and he about the GT fishing.
He said he believed that with GT fishing you got two chances
at a fish. I thought about this for a while and responded that
if I got two shots at a GT where I could see and cast to the GT,
then that would be a good day. That is what contributes to the
pain and pleasure of GT fishing – the pain when you bungle a
shot, and the pleasure when it converts. And when you go GT
fishing, go GT fishing. Taking two rods and then trying to
swop when a GT pops up just leads to too much heartache for
an already overstressed heart. On the first day of fishing, with
only a 7-wt bonefish rod in my hand and a box of bonefish
flies, I was taken to a spot where there were only triggers,
bluefins and GTs. It had perfect structure with cuts and a
shoreline to push baitfish onto. Unfortunately, I didn’t get
the opportunity to go back (six days is never enough to cover
the fishing).
I would define Christmas Island as a
good GT fishery with the potential to be
a great GT fishery. The first day out on
the flat looking for GTs was just awesome. I had four shots at GTs – in clear
water, cruising structure, but no takers
for what I was doing. I even had one
cruise up to my popper and turn away. I
have hit similar situations before, both
when rock-and-surf fishing and when fly
fishing. They seem to occur three days
after full moon when the wind drops
and there is no real water movement –
fish just don’t eat!
The fishermen who were bonefishing
complained of the same problem: seeing
fish, but no takers. It was on the last day
of GT fishing that I had an encounter of
the great kind. The guide estimated the
fish to be over 50lb. We were walking the
coral flats towards the drop-off, and there
was just no visibility. Then, only three
rod-lengths away, the GT popped into
visibility. This time I did it right: great
cast, strip, strip, and the GT came at the
fly. The image of that big head, mouth
open, bearing down on the popper is
burnt in my memory. I slowed the strip
down just enough to feed the fish the fly,
and it was ( ' ! The sheer power and
ferocity of GTs is what impresses anyone
who goes GT fishing. Another great
session I had was with a 9-wt. Seven GTs
in the 48cm - 50cm class. I started off on
a Crease Fly until the second GT crippled
it. The rest were on a chartreuse Clouser
(and I seldom fish chartreuse). It is, however, possible to catch GTs without all
this drama. John Dreyer got a proper
fish of 30lb without the fuss attached.
Compare my experience with what John
did, which was simply to cast a fly, fish
ate, fish landed, fish photographed and
released. Nothing more to tell.
“this time i did it right: greAt cAst, strip, strip, And the
gt cAme At the fly. the imAge of thAt big heAd, mouth open,
beAring down on the popper is burnt in my memory.”
“the creAse fly is Another greAt popper, which, like the nyAp,
is more streAmlined And creAtes thAt ‘eAt-me!’ Action
(Although sometimes i think it is A ‘hit-me!’ Action, As the fish
seem to hit the fly in Anger).”
The NYAP, designed by James Christmas (purely coincidental I can assure
you) in the Seychelles, is just a great GT
popper. The Crease Fly is another great
popper, which, like the NYAP, is more
streamlined and creates that “Eat-me!”
action (although sometimes I think it is
a “Hit-me!” action, as the fish seem to
hit the fly in anger). One thing about
poppers is that you also see the results
of your strip. I managed to get on top
of the “hammer strip” which creates an
eat-me/hit-me action with a distinct
surge and pause. It is a jigging action that
triggers takes, and this is why Clousers,
Whistlers and jigs catch fish. There is
another two-handed strip that is just the
opposite: in essence you cause the popper
to wake (comes from waking flies for
steelhead and salmon). This seems to
annoy fish and the take is violent. It
works really well with the Crease Fly. I
had a huge GT in Alphonse hit it so hard
that I actually got a fright (no, that story
did not end well either).
All the literature will point you to one
fly, the Christmas Island Special. And
so it was that I ordered a bunch from
Murray Pedder for John and myself. But
my fishing journal always starts off with
“Things I forgot…” and, after much effort
on the part of many people, I forgot the
flies – sorry Murray, sorry John. What
did work was really sparse, small flies; a
small version of the Golden Knight fished
in the Seychelles did the trick. I like
Gotchas, and a sparse Gotcha was the
go-to fly. In deeper water, I just have
to fish that shrimp imitation tied by
SciFlies; it has a splash of pink in the
thorax, and long feelers and eyes.
Christmas Island is situated near the
equator, about 2000km south of Hawaii,
and some four hours on a flight from Fiji.
The barren island served as a stopover
point for a flotsam of whalers, fishermen,
itinerant traders and guano diggers
before being annexed by the British in
1888. In the early 1900s, a large coconut
plantation was established and the first
permanent settlers arrived. During World
War II, the United States used the island
as a staging post and in the 1950s as a
nuclear testing ground. Radiation levels
are now apparently lower than in NY City.
The island is the largest coral atoll in the
world, about 390km2 of land, some 30km
long. It contains innumerable coral and
sand flats. The flats are tidal and easily
wadable, although you will need stout
boots to cope with the coral. A reef surrounds the rest of the island.
Accommodation: The island is mainly flat, sandy with brackish lakes,
palm trees, scrubby vegetation, simple houses and several schools, rusting
sheds, a field of windmills providing drinking water for the 8000-odd
residents, plus a few basic shops. Our accommodation for the trip, Ikari
House, fits somewhere between your standard live-aboard yacht and a
Seychelles-style lodge. The rooms are large and geared for fishermen. Ikari
has the best rod racks I have come across, and there was a hose to wash
things down with, tables to put our gear on, a washing line and wash rack,
hot water and decent water pressure, and a good loo (very important things
– good water pressure and loos). The food is good, and it is amazing what
the cooking team churn out given the size and limitations of the kitchen.
Guides: In general the people of Kiribati are exceptionally polite and
friendly. Remember, a guide wants you to catch fish, so if he thinks you are
better off doing something other than what you want, then it is to provide
a better opportunity to catch a fish.
When to go: Winds on the island are calmest in June, July and August (although tell that to the group who were there before us; they would disagree).
So, was Christmas Island worth fishing? The problem is the travelling.
As my Afrikaans buddies say, it is an FLP (flipping long path), and the
layovers in Sydney and Fiji make for a long time to be away. Will I go back?
For the GTs, triggers and surf crashing, oh yes!
ime and again I cursed myself and my stupid obsession. Why couldn’t
I just let Danubian salmon (Hucho hucho) be Danubian salmon and
focus on some fishing that actually involved a regular probability of
hooking and landing fish? Why spend limited amounts of time and resources
chasing an extremely rare and shy fish, one that is nigh on impossible to catch
on a fly, and one that can only be fished for in the coldest months of the year
– in chilling and frozen mountain terrain, where everything from the coming
and going along the river to the wading is hazardous and exhausting? What
was wrong with catching some good old trout on a temperate summer
evening or stalking tropical speed devils on a sunny flat? What was the core
of my obsession and why did I even bother continuing my weary quest?
salmon on fly
RASMUS OVESEN faced severe challenges to catch his first trophy Danubian
salmon on fly. This is the story about how his dream finally came true.
Maybe it was the warmth and glow of
hopes lit at an early stage that kept me
going year after year, because everything
started off promisingly. My buddy Klaus
Boberg Pedersen and I left for Slovenia
in 2009 to live out a common dream:
that of catching a big Danubian salmon,
or huchen, on a fly rod. And the dream
came true – at least for Klaus (and without us knowing how big an achievement
it really was). Both of us had been fasci-
nated by this resolute predator since
childhood, but what the fascination was
really all about, I had never managed to
fully understand. It wasn’t the fact that
it was extremely difficult to catch and
very scarce, because I knew nothing of
this when I first came across the fish in
my dad’s worn-out fish atlas and was
spellbound. It wasn’t that it was primarily nocturnal and had an affinity for
holding spots that were almost impossible to fish with a fly rod.
Nor was it the fact that it mainly lived
in clear and beautiful mountain rivers
or that it could reach weights up to 40kg.
I basically knew nothing about all this
back then. No, it was probably something
about the depth in this creature’s eyes
that hypnotised me, tickled my imagination and nourished a sudden fascination,
one that would propel me from one country and one river to the next in a stubborn
search for a fish that became increasingly
unapproachable and ghostlike.
“the fAct thAt this fish wAs simply incredibly difficult
to lure And to lAnd never even crossed our minds.”
Without us realising it, our first trip to
Slovenia offered something reminiscent
of optimal conditions. The Sava River
tributary that we were fishing was starting
to flood because of heavy downpours, and
we managed a full day of fishing before
the normally gin-clear mountain water
assumed a turbid cocoa-like colour and
cascading amounts of leaves, branches
and grass rendered the fishing practically
impossible. We had barely fished for five
minutes this bitterly cold late-November
morning, and it was still pitch dark,
when Klaus mechanically lifted his fly
rod and felt the weight of a big fish. For
the next ten minutes, we stumbled up
and down the river trying to get a
glimpse of our opponent in the light of
our headlamps that flickered across the
surface of the water. The fish, all 97cm
of it, finally surrendered. Klaus carefully
lifted the embodiment of his childhood
dream out of the water for a few quick
snapshots, after which it slithered back
into deeper water. It was a magical
moment. We had been at the river since
before sunrise, and had hardly placed
the first handful of casts across the water
before the pull from beyond moved up
through Klaus’s fly line.
Over the next couple of days, we
covered one stretch of the river after the
other, fished one pool after the other – all
to no avail. Naturally, we wrote it all off
to adverse conditions: the rain and the
flooding had obviously ruined the fishing,
the lunar phase was wrong and the
temperatures and atmospheric pressures
were unfavourable. The fact that this fish
was simply incredibly difficult to lure and
to land never even crossed our minds.
Full of confidence, I headed back to
Slovenia one year later to settle the score
and catch me a big huchen. It was the
middle of January, the jagged Slovenian
mountains covered in snow, and four days
of fishing lay ahead of me. Expectations
were high, but then a massive low-pres-
sure front brought lukewarm downpours
and rising temperatures, and in a matter
of a single day all the ice and snow melted.
Under normal circumstances, this would
spell good fishing. However, when massive amounts of icy water are flushed into
a river, it is something entirely different.
I had four days of fishing without a single
Things deteriorated when, one year
later, I decided to continue my hunt for
my first Danubian salmon in Bosnia and
Herzegovina, and Croatia. In Bosnia
and Herzegovina, I was met by a record
drought and rivers with such minimal
water flows that they seemed lifeless. In
Croatia, on the other hand, I was unfortunate enough to experience the worst
flooding in 50 years. On most of the
rivers I visited here, I struggled to even
find something resembling a regular riverbed, and after having fished in people’s
backyards and on flooded parking lots
for three days, I headed back home with
unfinished business.
Below: Klaus Boberg Pedersen with his 97cm
huchen from Slovenia’s Sava River.
“... our heAvy And bulky flies collApsed
onto the wAter like wounded birds...”
In Austria, I later joined forces with
one of Europe’s best huchen fly fishermen, Clemens Ratchan, and was lucky
enough to fish three of the country’s –
and perhaps Europe’s – best Danubian
salmon rivers: the Enns, Mur and Pielach.
On paper, this was a bulletproof recipe
for success, but this trip too proved futile.
Yes, Clemens caught a beautiful 6kg fish
on spinning gear, but other than that, we
struggled unsuccessfully for five days,
with rapidly decreasing temperatures,
snow and fish that seemed to be hugging
the bottom for dear life. The fact that
we had two full days of futile fishing on
the Pielach – a river where Clemens had
never experienced a full day of fishing
without at least a strike – was testament
to my poor luck. Slowly but surely, I
came to the conclusion that my dream
fish probably wasn’t meant to ever close
its jaws around my fly. Maybe the time
had come to finally return to the comfort
of trout fishing, tie some flies that didn’t
involve 10g - 20g jig heads, precision cast
with fly rods that didn’t have double-digit
classifications, and fish some waters
where you didn’t need a minor climbing
course to get within casting range of a
Above: The ice is finally broken – the author with a well-deserved 5kg huchen.
Then, in January 2012, my buddy Klaus had a
business meeting in Slovenia. He invited me for
a couple of days to fish the exact same Sava tributary where our dubious huchen careers had
started, and even though I initially insisted that
huchen fishing was so last year, I ended up caving
in just the same. I had absolutely no confidence,
but perhaps the mere presence of the huchen king,
Klaus, could appease the wrath of the fishing gods.
Not surprisingly, the trip was rather uneventful.
We fished intently in the twilight hours with a
good Slovenian friend and guide, Jure Ramovz,
and we rushed hastily from one spot to the next
searching for actively feeding fish. In pool after
pool, our heavy and bulky flies collapsed onto
the water like wounded birds, but all to no avail.
And yet!
On the second-to-last day, something threw
itself at my fly as I fished it close to an undercut
bank. I lifted the rod intuitively and suddenly felt
the weight of a solid fish. Using the frothing water
of the main current to gain momentum, it surged
downstream with me in hot pursuit – in the water
one moment and across big, rugged boulders the
next. Some 100m further downstream in a relatively calm back eddy, I finally managed to gain
the upper hand, and soon after, I salvaged a handsome huchen of approximately 5kg.
The last day arrived, Klaus was at his
business meeting, and at around noon a
plane would be flying us from Ljubljana
to Copenhagen. At dawn, Jure and I went
to the river one last time in the hopes of
a solid hookup. I fished with renewed
confidence, bombarding pool after pool
with expectant casts, each time retrieving
the fly with trembling nerves. By the time
the sun rose, we had reached the pool
in which Klaus had caught the huchen
that started this whole journey. An
hour’s worth of fishing was all we had left
to squeeze out of the trip. This time we’d
try to fish the pool from the opposite side,
and from under some dense shrubbery,
I clearly saw a deep channel along my
own bank.
Cast by cast I worked my way downstream, and suddenly – as I was about
to lift the bulky fly out of the water for a
new cast – a big fish rushed up from the
depths and clamped its jaws around the
fly. Startled, I lifted my rigid 10-wt rod,
the fly bit home, and I was now attached
to a big fish. It was all over in a matter of
seconds. I leant back on the fish as much
as I possibly could, it rolled and splashed
around at my feet, and out of nowhere
Jure jumped into the water, grabbed the
fish by the tail and towed it ashore. Wild
scenes of joy and relief followed. My
dream fish, and it measured a whopping
102cm! Solidly built, with grey flanks,
orange fins and big spots, it was one of
the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
We took a few quick pictures, released the
fish, hugged each other and, shortly after,
I was on my way to the airport to meet the
dethroned huchen king.
I later found out – after having carefully examined and compared pictures
from the first trip and this one – that I
had caught the very same fish Klaus had
landed three years earlier. Now that my
dream had finally come true, I could let
go of my foolish obsession. I could put all
this madness behind me and focus on
new fishing adventures.
At least that’s what I told myself as we
hung in the air between Ljubljana and
Page right and below: Elated and relieved – the new huchen king posing with 102cm of muscle.
“solidly built, with grey flAnks,
orAnge fins And big spots,
it wAs one of the most beAutiful
things i hAd ever seen.”
“now thAt my dreAm hAd finAlly come
true, i could let go of my foolish obsession.”
Our philosophy is simple...
Provide the best possible
Alaskan angling adventure
for a small number of anglers,
in a truly unique setting.
ocated in the heart of the Alaska Peninsula on a rare parcel of private property, surrounded by over 4 million acres of
Federal Wildlife Refuge, Painter Creek Lodge has been providing small groups of guests with exceptional fishing and
hunting opportunities since 1983. Our home waters, 100 miles south of King Salmon, Alaska, is a 40 mile stream and
river system draining into Bristol Bay that supports a world-class fishery. There is no other access to the system, making
it, in essence, a private fishery. The vast majority of our guests have never seen another angler; At Painter Creek you can truly
have a wilderness stream all to yourself.
At Painter Creek you can experience a full range of river and stream fly fishing,from trophy char in a crystal clear creek winding
through tundra beneath glacier clad peaks, to 30lb king salmon fresh from the ocean. We access our home water - tidewater
to headwater - by jet boats based at the lodge, destinations determined by seasonal runs and guest’s desires. Our home water
is also one of the best fly rod fisheries in Alaska for king salmon, one of the world’s premier game fishes. Fish start entering
our system in late June, and arrive in ever-increasing numbers throughout our summer, culminating in a surge of silver salmon
into the river in mid to late August, and lasting through September. We specialise in top-water flies for most species. Waking
flies for bright silvers, chums, and big char is hard to beat – and the visual takes are an anglers dream! There is guide and boat
for every 2 anglers, giving us the ability to move around at will.
Painter Creek Lodge is owned and operated by Jon and Patty Kent. Jon has been guiding and exploring the waters of the Alaska
Peninsula since 1984, and has intimate knowledge of the rivers and its fish. The large, main lodge with its adjacent duplex
cabins provide a welcome retreat for relaxing after a day on the water, and our chef will ensure that you have hearty, homemade
meals to look forward to. Along with the Painter Creek crew, guests will enjoy an unforgettable experience!
For further info, contact +907-248-1303, e-mail:, or visit
Quality wine
in harmony with nature
brought to you by
Our full weight is behind wilderness preservation
rooiberg has since 2006 been graham beck’s partner in the Rooiberg Breede River
Conservancy Corridor Project in collaboration with various other property owners
in the vicinity. today, by means of its custodianship and production of the premium
game reserve range of wines, rooiberg Winery is making a significant contribution
to sustaining the South African wildlife and wilderness treasures in association with
the Wilderness Foundation. the WF focuses on protecting endangered species and keeping them in their
wild habitat, by preserving ample intact wild land and seascape wilderness areas for the benefit of all species.
Ch a rd onnay, Sau v i g n on Bla n C, Ch e n i n Bl a n C, Sh i r a z , Ca Be r n e t Sau v i g n on, M e r lot a nd Pinotage .
the award-winning game reserve Wines are now owned and sold by rooiberg. Distributed in South Africa and across the globe.
not for sale to persons under 18
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