Jun 30

Week 4 – Nubian Flats Season 2016

Week 4 of the season we welcomed onboard the South African trio of Jay Smith, John Toich and Richard Gorlei. They were joined by German guest Steffen, and TF’s Tanzanian guide Greg Ghaui. Other than John, everyone had fished the Nubian Flats over prior seasons.

With the weather forecast still looking good, the plan for the week was to head straight north to Shambaia, then if the weather allowed, head even more north the Khor Shinab. An area we had not  yet been able to go to this season.

Upon arrival at Shambaia on the first morning, we were greeted by a really strong current that almost looked like rivers flowing around the coral heads. We wasted no time and headed for the pinnacles. It did not take long before GT’s in all shapes and sizes were coming in on the tease, angry and ready to crush everything in sight. Richard managed to hook into a real monster on the inside of Merlo and everything looked really promising but after a good fight, his knot on his fly came undone. Everyone managed to tussle with some more GT’s but these fish were getting the better of everyone. Jay managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over however as he put the heat onto the bluefin trevally, managing to land SIX very descent fish.

The afternoon session was quite slow compared to the morning as the wind started to pick up and blew our only shot of going to Khor Shinab right out of the window. Greg salvaged the afternoon for the guys and sight-fished a very nice bohar snapper right before the end of the day.

bluefin trevally, one of the most beautiful saltwater flyrod species on the planet

bluefin trevally, one of the most beautiful saltwater flyrod species on the planet

The morning of Day 2 we woke up to even stronger wind but still manageable. The current was still going but the wind and swell made the crossing to the pinnacle a very wet and wild one. John and Richard walked the surf side on Abbington hoping to spot some trevally while Jay Smith fished blind over the edge on the inside. His white NYAP got so much attention that guide Mark had to craft more NYAP’s on the go by cutting up bits and pieces if other flies and UV glued them together. GT’s, bluefin trevally, snapper and coral trout were attacking the fly with gusto. The hook up to landing ration was not looking so good though. The edge on this atoll is so fowl that you need the biggest dose of ‘good luck’ just to land a small fish. None-the-less, Jay was having a ball, which in the end, is all that counts. Over at Angarosh though it was slim pickings for Steffen and Greg as the weather was pushing the fish down.

The wind grew even stronger overnight and by the start of Day 3, we were forced to cancel our plans to fish the atolls as the wind made the sea to wild. Unfortunately these things happen. We took this opportunity to tie up some flies, re-rigged rods, and made we were 100% ready and prepared for our next session out.

Late in the afternoon the wind gave us a small break and we jumped onto the tenders. We headed out to the coral heads just north of the mothership, where a brute of GT appeared under the one tease. Both anglers made perfect casts behind the tease and before the flies even  started moving, a beast GT inhaled Greg’s fly and then raced off into the deep at a frightening pace. Italian guide Fede grabbed the boat quickly and soon the guys were offshore, fighting this fish from the safety of the boat. Trying to fight a fish of this size on terra-firma while he is swimming over the edge in the deep, is almost guaranteed to end in tears. After what felt like forever, Federico grabbed the fish by the tail. A real monster! The guys were lost for words, especially Greg-who on his first trip out in 2014, missed out on a photo of his then PB GT of 98cm, which got away while the guys were getting ready for the pic. However this time round, everyone made sure Greg got his photo as this fish deserved some real bragging.

Greg(left) and guide Federico with the monster GT

Greg(left) and guide Federico with the monster GT

What a beast

What a beast

For the second half of the week we moved a little more north to Ras Abu Shagrab where we fished for Day 4 & 5 before moving down to the island Magarsam for the final day.

The triggers were out on the prowl around Ras Abu Shagrab and the lads took full advantage of this. Steffan netted FIVE triggers in the one session (including a trigger slam consisting of a yellow margin, titan, and a picasso). Jay landed a very nice yellow margin right after he missed a shot at a really nice bonefish, while Richard and John also ticked off triggerfish on their species list.

On the second last day the fishing slowed down considerably compared to the previous day but the area around the lagoon mouth still produced  fish. Some small GT’s, bluefin as well as a big barracuda were landed.

On the last day on the flats around Magarsam the stars aligned somewhat for the guys. Split into two teams, Greg and Steffen tackled the eastern side while the others headed to the West. The fish were out on the feed and the guys had a really good hooking ratio, hooking almost every fish casted to, but the landing ratio was not in anyone’s favor, other than the fish. On the western side, the guys hooked eight triggers but didn’t land any! The flat was quite shallow so the majority of these fish were feeding right on the edge over very foul coral.

The trigger master Steffen. He really brought his A-Game to Sudan

The trigger master Steffen. He really brought his A-Game to Sudan

On the eastern side, Greg and Stefan were not having much luck either. They did not get many shots at triggers, but ran into plenty trevally. Loads of bluefin and small giant-trevally were making the most of the cooler water on this side of the island and kept the guys entertained. Greg had a shot at a good GT midmorning but the fished missed his fly completely. Not long after, Stefan’s had some misfortune as well, pulling the hook on a good GT, as well as losing an estimated 15kg barracuda that bit through his leader after a short explosive fight. Steffen manage to salvage his day by landing a good titan triggerfish right at the death, and in so doing bringing a week of fairly erratic fishing to an end.

A big thanks to all our guests this week. It was a pleasure guiding you, and great to share the magic of the Nubian Flats together again.

Tailing triggerfish, a sight that will get any fly fisherman weak at the knees

Tailing triggerfish, a sight that will get any fly fisherman weak at the knees

Richard with a nice Titan Triggerfish

Richard with a nice Titan Triggerfish

Spectacular GT Release

Spectacular GT Release

Jun 24

Week 3, Nubian Flats Season 2016 – Guest Blog

 

Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevally

GUEST BLOG BY CHARLOTTE CHILCOTT:

I’d been watching the Nubian Flats reports and teasers from the minute the first one quietly slipped into my inbox several years ago. I’ve always been a wanderer and the lure of travelling still runs strong so I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the fact that this intrepid group of anglers had picked such a seemingly random country to explore. Sudan has, to be blunt, a less than stellar appeal and (to me at least) wasn’t the most obvious place as a fishing destination. Fishing adventurers Tourette may be but they are also researchers and while they often seem to be going off piste, they do find gems in unexpected places (Gabon is another good example). Would they have gone on a whim? Not likely. Italians in particular have been heading to coastal Sudan for a long time, primarily to dive but a hardy few had been popping and jigging for trevally and reef species and for those in the know, the opportunity was there.

Two years in, and with the realisation that they could just keep on exploring this vast area, the first commercial fly fishing trips to Sudan ran last year with Peter and Lutz taking their respective groups and their feedback only fuelled the desire to get out there myself.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWhen my other half blithely announced he was off to explore Romania and Austria on his KTM with a bunch of friends, I needed no further justification for a holiday of my own. With Sudan in my sights, I called Geoff, who I’d fished with several times in the Seychelles and who is as fascinated by triggerfish as I am. With a fishing partner for the week, I settled down to wait. And plan.
Aside from fishing somewhere new, what made Sudan so attractive? Triggerfish. They are not the only target species here by any means; aggressive GTs prowl the drop offs and pinnacles and do maraud their way across the flats. Bluefin trevally hunt the edges, there are significant reef species to target, sailfish hunt between the pinnacles and permit feed on the flats. Very occasionally very big bonefish are seen and even more rarely landed, but triggerfish are here in huge numbers. My love/hate relationship started long ago now on Alphonse and had a significantly long “dry” spell, broken in March this year when the Alphonse triggers were being unusually co-operative. IMG_8415Triggers are picky and unpredictable and, in my view, are a vastly under-rated target species. When induced to take, they fight hard and dirty. The testing bit is to get them to take. Sometimes they come in hard and at other times the take is so delicate it’s akin to trout nibbling on a nymph. They might grind your crab into the sand before eating, they might just inhale the fly on their way past it. You can do everything right and they ignore you. You can get it totally wrong and they’ll take the fly. They will spook at something half a mile away or let you walk right up to them before casually heading off. They are absolutely fascinating and while I’m as keen to land a GT as the next person, that wasn’t why I was here. I had come for triggers.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevally

After a chat at the Sportfish Show, and having waxed lyrical about my passion for triggers, Tom Haskins very kindly tied me a bunch of crabs in varying sizes and colours to take and try. I have to be honest, I owe Tom a lot of beer for those crabs; they rocked. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyPacking without a Seychelles weight limit of 15 kg was novel and getting to Port Sudan was straight forward on Emirates via Dubai with luggage checked all the way through. Once in Dubai I hopped on the transfer bus, and headed to Terminal 2 to meet up with Geoff. Normally quite effusive, Geoff was a bit more restrained than normal, greeting me with a polite handshake and nod and it wasn’t until we walked off to find a coffee that he said quietly “I didn’t want to give you a hug in case I got arrested and I want to go fishing”.  Heading for the counter, I spotted Mark Murray, Tourette’s head guide who was joining us and, as you do, we had a greeting hug. Behind, sounding quite a lot like Grommit crossed with the prophet of doom, said Geoff “oh no I’ll be fishing on my own at this rate”.  The last time I saw Mark was in Tanzania the previous year when I had lost my voice and was trying to fish for tigerfish with a fever (not the fishing kind!).Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyTrying to spot the two Italians joining us, Ottavio and Filippo, we boarded Fly Dubai and four hours later landed in Port Sudan. Dry heat. A lot of dry heat. A very welcome change to the humidity to the Seychelles and the grey chill of England. Formalities were straight forward and very well organised. Luggage took a while but eventually we had it all and we headed off to our bus. Windows open, luggage loaded we rattled off for the three hour drive across the desert to the coast, picking up Adil (our Captain) Mohamed Ahad (Mr everything) and several big jerry cans of fuel on the way.
We also picked up a very big stone, having stopped and rejected some smaller stones. In Sudan, women on board are “not good” to quote Adil so to counter any bad luck I might have brought with me, they needed an appropriately sized stone on board to balance that out. Initially, I was a little put out that the chosen stone was so big but with my innate clumsiness, it probably was about right. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyMohammed Col, our embarkation point, is a rather bleak military zone so photographs aren’t allowed. The process of unloading the bus (and the stone) and transferring to home for the week sadly goes unrecorded but it was quick and smooth and before long we were on board the Scuba Libra.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWe settled down to unpack all the fishing kit on the upper deck. Each of us had a crate so we could stash spare reels and fly lines; saving having to hunt for bits and pieces in the cabins. Bags almost empty, we headed to our allotted cabins, found room for everything and regrouped for dinner.  On board as the guide team were Stu and Mark, both South Africans and both well attuned to these Sudanese flats and Italian Federico (Fede) who is one of the owners of the operation and the MV Scuba Libra. We were in good hands. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallySaturday’s start was unusual, both in time and manner. There was a time when 0530 was when I’d roll in on a Saturday morning, not get up to go fishing and I’ve never woken up to find a man with a big spanner leaning over me to secure a porthole!  We were shortly to be underway, leaving our mooring to head north east. After breakfast we had plenty of time to tackle up, check knots and choose flies before reaching our mooring and getting out onto the flats around 0800.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay one on the flats was easy underfoot, the wind was strong (about 25 knots) but visibility was good and I was stunned by the vastness. The flat we were wading seemed endless and on either side of us, around small points, were equally long flats stretching off into the haze. Team Italia with Fede, Ottavio and Filippo had headed out with us and we weren’t to see them again until we returned to the Scuba for lunch. I think we all enjoyed the respite from the wind and we headed back out late afternoon, fishing until roughly 1730. With Mark and Stu, Geoff and I tried to get our eyes in and get to grips with the wind – Geoff with more success on the later than I. By the end of the day, Geoff had landed a lovely titan triggerfish of about 5 lbs and had lost a bigger yellow margin trigger at the net. Ottavio and Filippo had caught some small reef species but triggers were scarce for them. We had seen more triggers in a morning than I normally do in a week on Alphonse. The yellow margins were plentiful but were totally uninterested in us. Possibly showing mating behaviour in a run up to – or during – spawning. They were more interested in one another than in settling down to feed. The titans, on the other hand, were feeding and I hope I never lose that breath taking moment when you spot a feeding trigger’s tail. As for me, well, I had been tested and found wanting; not managing to convert my opportunities but I was too overawed by my surroundings to be despondent, just more determined. Whilst I wasn’t expecting to see bonefish, I have to admit it was “odd” not seeing them on the flats but I couldn’t get over how many boxfish were on that particular flat. They were everywhere. Blue, yellow, brown, black they were there in abundance but with sneaky titans often hiding amongst them.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay two, Sunday, we headed out to fish further down the flat, heading back to the Scuba for lunch. Again a beautiful clear day but the wind had dropped to eight/ten knots and the water was cold and clear. We were heading up towards a small island, linked by a sand bar and behind which the water was a stunning turquoise. Munching the trees on the island was a family of camels and the night before Mark had said that he would love a shot of a trigger landed with the camels in the background. I sent Geoff off with Fede to fulfil Mark’s photo request. Mark meanwhile had wandered up towards the camels. They were moving down the sand spit with the smallest camel splashing and playing and trying to get Mum to join in the fun. Eventually, worn out, it slumped onto the sand and the rest of the group followed, staying in their mother/child pairings and settled in to watch these strange creatures waving sticks in the air.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyMeanwhile, Geoff and Fede had disappeared up towards the island in search of triggers and I was walking slowly up the flat on my own, occasionally using a rock or a boxfish as target practice. I spotted a trigger some way out, moving right to left from one area of turtle grass to another where I lost it completely.  Meanwhile, the boxfish was still hanging around so continuing with target practice, I put my fly right in front of it, gave it a twitch and then recast at the second boxfish which had appeared behind it. It didn’t follow the fly but something about it made me pick up and recast. Putting the fly, one of Fulling Mill’s Cuban Shrimps, just to one side I stripped veerrrrry slowly and watched it follow. I stripped again. Again a follow. A tweak. Nothing, my boxfish turned away. Again, something about it made me pick up and recast. Another agonisingly long, slow strip. Just as I started that strip I saw the shape properly and realised it was a titan. Thank heavens for small mercies because if I’d noticed that beforehand, I dread to think what disaster I’d have created.  The titan kept following, I saw the head go down, the tail came up, I watched it twist and bang. Fish on and running! I think I shouted for Fede but can’t remember. Watching my line, I wasn’t going to lose this fish to a tangle but it all ran smoothly and keeping tension and my line high to avoid the coral, I stopped breathing. Fede had quietly appeared and was close by as panic was beginning to set in. I REALLY did not want to lose this fish and after a short, but fraught (on my part) fight, Fede scooped it up, I could breathe again and we had a beautifully marked, pale titan in the net. Duck gone. I had my titan. Mark had his shot. All was well.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWe headed back to the boat for lunch and sailed as we ate. Post lunch I slept up on the upper deck, snoozing through two barracuda that team Italia brought in for the kitchen. Once moored, we were back on new flats for the afternoon and although we saw significant numbers of triggers, we had few follows. With hindsight, I think most of them were yellow margin triggers, still totally disinterested in anything put in front of them. Walking with Fede amongst big patches of turtle grass, and with the light now dropping, I cast at a dark spot that Fede had pointed out. I stripped slowly, had a short follow before the trigger lost interest. I picked up and cast again. It was a very dark titan which followed, nibbled then followed again. I saw the head go down. I felt the bite and struck.  Nothing happened. I had tension, my line was running slowly and Fede said, very quietly, “he doesn’t know he’s hooked”. As he said it, the titan took off, getting my line back on the reel as he headed out. Rod high, again to avoid the coral, it didn’t feel right. My trigger was shaking its head. Run. Shake. Run. Shake. It wasn’t right but the fight was done, the head was up, its nose and teeth just out of the water as I brought it towards Fede and the waiting net. Disaster struck, the hook slipped and the net remained empty. Happy nonetheless, I’d hooked and played my second fish of the day but the remainder of the afternoon was quiet. Thank you Tom, it was your fly and it had clearly been bitten hard but was intact and the hook was fine. Geoff had a few follows but no serious interest and we headed home. Filippo and Ottavio had had a tough day, with triggers behaving badly and they headed off for their nightly snorkel before dinner.  Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay three, Monday, dawned very still and very hot. Too still really and not enough current. Geoff and I set out to dredge and to pop the drop off, Ottavio and Filipo went off with Fede and Mark to fish the pinnacles.  We had little success and when Stu saw a sail inside the reef, we sacrificed a Brushy to for my big pink tube fly. The teasers went out. We putted up and down. Up and down and eventually called time. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevally

We sat in the deep water opposite the pinnacles where Ottavio and Filippo were snorkelling and taking some great underwater footage of the corals and the drop off on their Go-Pro. Watching that footage later that night, we were amazed at how clear the water was. Far below them, swimming lazily in the streaks of sunlight was a magnificent shark, far down but absolutely clear. Done with snorkelling, they returned to shore, rejoined Mark and Fede and headed out to the edge. Filippo hooked and lost two GTs, one quite quickly and one after a decent fight. Ottavio lost a big bluefin trevally at the leader. Meanwhile, away from the excitement of the pinnacle, Geoff and I were above a big and cheeky school of queenfish. Geoff was having a whale of time, bringing in one fish after the after; my tan and white clouser wasn’t as enticing as the chartreuse and white clouser Geoff had on and as soon as I swapped over, I joined in the fun. Geoff hooked and landed a small dog tooth tuna in amongst the melee of queenfish. For a small fish, no more than 1 lb, they put up a worthy fight on a 12#! Ready to move off and leave room for team Italia to hit the queenfish, the 12# with the sacrificial pink sailfish fly was disassembled and a popper put back on. The rod had just been set down when Stu spotted the tip of a sail and we were treated to the glorious sight of an airborne sailfish. It’s all about timing. A few minutes earlier and we’d have been in the game.  As it was we weren’t and we retired back to the Scuba for lunch (and a nap). Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyHeading back out to the flat we’d fished the day before, approaching from a different angle having dropped team Italia off on the way, Geoff and I both saw plenty of triggers (Stu saw a lot more). We both had plenty of follows and a respectable number of nibbles but both failed to connect. Walking on the left with Stu in the middle and Geoff on the right, the angle of the light made spotting fish difficult but I was presented with the dream shot. Two titans, far enough apart to both be valid targets, I cast at the fish furthest away. Stripped slowly and poof, spooked and off it went. The closest titan was still there, happily feeding and, rather peeved, I picked up and put my fly down way too close, almost on its head and off he went. I should have taken more time. I should have taken a deep breath and relaxed. I didn’t and I will be haunted by that scenario for a very long time. Full credit to Stu, he didn’t even sigh deeply. Were I him, I’d have drowned me. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWhat we did see that afternoon were several schools of milkfish. They were feeding, grubbing away in the sand; not feeding on the surface or daisy chaining as I’ve seen them do in Seychelles. There were enough milks to make them a viable target species (more in the south I’m told) and I have no doubt that they’ll work out how to target them; the general consensus being that they are feeding on worms. Something more to add to my fly box. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyThe sand hung thick in the sky today and we had lost sight of the distant mountains completely all day. The suspended sand results in a strange haze and with the sun low in the sky late afternoon, we called it a day as it was difficult to see. Filippo had landed a very dark yellowmargin trigger on a very small chartreuse and white shrimp while the rest of us had had enough chances but hadn’t made the most of them.  Back on the boat, I slunk down to the cabin, still sore at myself for my own stupidity. To my total astonishment, my little area had been transformed; I now had brilliantly colourful bedding, another pillow had appeared, something delightful had been sprayed around and my scattered bits and bobs were all tidy. When I tracked Amadino down to thank him, I got a small smile and was told that “it is all good. Women they like nice things you know”. The big stone was doing its job.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay four, Tuesday, was blown out. The wind had picked up overnight, pushing between 30 and 35 knots and with the best will in the world, the wind wasn’t going to be anyone’s friend that day.  The swell had been picking up all night and I think we were all feeling a tad unsettled as breakfast was a quiet affair.  We upped anchor and headed off to a more sheltered mooring behind Big Snake and we all settled in to do whatever it was you did when there was nothing to do. I slept.  Stu and Mark tied flies. Geoff watched, picking up tips. Ottavio and Filippo were snoozing on the upper deck, making the most of the wind.  After lunch and later in the afternoon, desperate to do something, Fede, Ottavio and Filippo went out with spinning rods and landed a nice barracuda and the remains of a big yellow spot trevally. The rest of it having been eaten by something on its way into the boat.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay five, Wednesday. The wind had dropped a bit but it was still blowing quite hard. Keento be out, we headed out a bit later than normal, with the two teams fishing opposite sides of the island, meeting eventually to head back to the boat to have lunch and move on. We all had several follows but nothing really determined; I think everything was unsettled by the big change in pressure. We had a big water crossing on which we were accompanied by a pod of dolphins, including a tiny little baby dolphin. As soon as we were safely moored at Marsharifa, we were back out on the flats. The wind was better but it was still pretty windy. Again, the two teams split up, fishing separately around the island. I had several really positive follows from yellow margins but each time they turned away. I tried varying my strip. Long and verrryyy slow, little short hops, a combination of the two and I just couldn’t find the necessary combination. Frustrated I changed my fly, choosing a small tan Flexo but had to discard it after one cast as it didn’t have a weed guard and was impossible to strip without it hooking up. The titan that had initially chased it down, spooked off. We saw no more triggers by the time we’d reached the end of our little island but over on the other side, Ottavio had landed a lovely big titan on what is now “Ottavio’s point”.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyFede, Ottavio and Filippo went off to spin for what remained of the afternoon (landing a very nice three spot trevally) and keen not to be back on board of as long as we could manage it, Geoff and I opted to stay and walk the areas we hadn’t previously fished. Geoff went off with Mark, Stu and I headed across the island to fish the side. With no warning, I crashed to my knees, one leg had gone straight through the sand crust into a cavity. I didn’t know if this island was also home to the constrictors found elsewhere but I wasn’t hanging around to find out. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyBack on the flat, we headed out and across, into the wind, initially looking for triggers and after a false start caused by a blue spotted ray. We both spotted birds diving at the edge of the flat accompanied by several large splashes, so we headed out across the flat in the dropping light to see what was what. Stu was carrying my Hardy Proaxis 11# and it made sense for him to get on as fast as possible; I’d already told him that if there was action up there he was to get on and catch something; no point wasting the opportunity because I had to go a bit slower over the coral.  The birds and bait fish remained reasonably static and by the time I got there, Stu was already casting into the melee. Straight into the wind, which was still pushing hard, it wasn’t an enviable cast and I kept my distance as I didn’t want to stuff anything up by falling over on the coral! With no reaction to the fly, Stu was just watching the birds when we saw three GTs, coming in immediately on his left. With too much line out, the chances for disaster was high but one hard strip and bang, he had a fish on. Shouting at me that it was my rod, I told him to get on with it and get the fish in which he did after some nifty footwork. I said I’d land it, grabbed my glove and after a miss, tailed his GT. I’m not sure who was more relieved. 83 cm nose to fork, it was a solid steel grey with a recent crescent shaped bite on one side. It would have been interesting to get a weight because whilst not long, it was a stocky beast and quite deep in the chest. Walking back into shallow water, the reason I’d given Stu my rod initially (wind aside) became apparent. I’m clumsy. I tripped over some coral, came crashing down on top of the fish, lost my glove, dropped my 9#, ripped my tights and embedded some Sudanese coral in my leg. All I was worried about was the GT but Stu still had him. Same can’t be said of the glove. Sorry Peter, it’s somewhere off the coast of Sudan. Can I borrow another one please?Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyPicked up by the transfer boat, we were on uneven coral and bit deep. Geoff hoisted himself in with admirable grace for a man slightly over 69 but sadly the same can’t be said of yours truly. Worried I would break Stu’s proffered leg I tried to get in as fast as I could and ended up sliding inelegantly over the side on my tummy, landing in the bottom of the boat like a large, blue clad seal. I was laughing so much I just couldn’t move and it was perhaps a fitting end to my rather accident prone day. As Stu helpfully pointed out, things happen in threes but we couldn’t agree on whether the seal landing counted or not. A great end to the day and with one day left, I was hoping the fishing gods were going to be kind to us when day dawned. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyDay six; Thursday. Last day out.  The wind was perfect, visibility ideal and the mountains were absolutely crystal clear. Our last flat of the week was very long and very wide. Not easy underfoot near the edge, a little further in it was hard sand, a little old broken coral but an easy wade. We spread out, going very slowly like a bunch of gunslingers in the Wild West. There were triggers galore; tails waving in the sun with the occasional flash of silver and blue as a bluefin shot past.  The bluefin had been around but were not keen to eat and had been a bit “off” but I cast, and stripped and bang. He was on and off and running. I never cease to be amazed at how hard they fight and whilst not a trophy fish by any means, it was a beautiful fish with stunning colours. All that excitement done, we carried on up the flat, now lagging quite a long way behind the others. I had several decent triggers to cast at but they wouldn’t take. They’d follow the fly up the rod tip and turn away so when I had one follow more aggressively than the others, I held my breath and hoped. Long and slow, the leader was in and I had visions of the trigger taking my fly and the tip of my rod but just before it got that desperate, the head went down, the tail came up, I felt the bite as it hit the fly and bang, it was on. And then it swam off. I’d hooked the coral. Urrrghhh! Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyOn we went, new fly on. We’d seen a very big tail waving away a long ahead so we slowly made our way up. Close enough, I cast and stripped but the trigger moved off. He hadn’t spooked, so we let him settle before following again. I recast, let it settle and stripped. Slowly. A couple of sharp hops. Slowly. Then all of sudden, he came in fast and hard, hit my fly and was off. Letting him run, I was grateful that he headed up and inwards with very little coral to interfere. Stu scooped him in the net and we had another, very nice chunky titan.  A little later in the morning, Stu spotted the sickle tail of a permit and shouted across to Mark and Ottavio who were heading directly towards a group of about fifteen permit, feeding happily but moving quite fast as they did so. Ottavio cast and recast, but to no avail and the permit kept moving, slightly ahead of them all the time before moving off and dropping into deeper water. Moving on up, still on the inside of the flat, Stu shouted and grabbed the 11#, I dropped the 9# and cast towards a group of what I thought was three GTs. They were moving down the flat at a reasonable speed and I popped my fly about six feet in front of the lead fish, stripping fast diagonally in front of them. They ignored the fly completely and I picked up and recast, stripping as fast as I could, but they turned in front of us and swam off, to pass directly in front of the others, ignoring their flies before heading over the edge. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWe carried on until lunch, hopped on board the tender boat and sat down for a much needed lunch.  While munching away, Stu and Mark spotted a rare Sudanese bonefish briefly before it vanished over the edge into deeper water. Back out on the flats, we all swapped around and Fede and I headed up the inside when he spotted a titan feeding in front of us. I had the line in the air when he grabbed my arm and pointed at a yellow margin right in front of us. It had been facing directly towards us and it wasn’t until it turned sideways that we saw it. I stripped in some line and put the fly a little too close to the fish for comfort. Both Fede and I hissed an inward breath and froze as the fly settled. One little twitch and that yellow margin pounded on the fly, inhaled it and took off across the flat, heading for the edge and running me right into my backing. It was a little powerhouse and it dived straight into a hole. Left with a tight line, a fish in a hole and lot of coral, really there could only have been a bad ending. Fede whipped of his hat and glasses, rummaged in his bag and brought out a pair of goggles and waded in.  I must have looked as astonished as I felt as Fede just shrugged and said it happens often. By now everyone had gathered as we watched Fede dive and have a look. After a couple of dives, his patience was obviously at an end when Mark shouted his name with some urgency, drawing his attention. “FEDE”. “You’ve got an octopus on your head”. We all howled with laughter as Fede’s dreadlocks were full of water and sticking out from his head like a lot of little arms. He was less amused and after that, the triggerfish didn’t stand a chance. One minute nice and snug in its hole, the next airborne in triumph.  Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyA lovely, if startled yellow margin triggerfish and bizarrely, it ended in a group photo. I’ve never seen that before around one fish. Anyway, we carried on, Fede and I moving into the much shallower water, and leaving the others to fish the better line. There were a lot of triggers but we decided to move on up and on the way. I detoured to have a look at one of the large osprey nests. Unoccupied, wedged within the walls of the nest were the skulls of triggerfish (it’s not uncommon to see the ospreys take a trigger off the flats) and parrotfish amongst the scattered remains of many a meal. Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyAs Fede was using the facilities, and I was looking the other way, we spooked a big bonefish and while bemoaning our fate, saw Ottavio hook a triggerfish pretty close to the edge. In horror, Fede and I watched as he played that trigger like a GT. I was shouting “careful, careful” and Fede, much louder than me “piano piano piano piano” with increasing volume. Ottavio’s rod went perilously close to the point of breaking as he wrestled the yellow margin in. It has to be a record landing. That fish was hooked and landed in what felt like 30 seconds. A very dark fish, it seemed that having ignored us earlier in the week, the yellow margins were ready to come to the party and Ottavio was a very happy man. Sadly for us, the party was nearly over and against a backdrop of clear mountains and almost violet light, it was time to make our way back to meet the Scuba Libra at Mohammad Col.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyWe broke up the tackle, hung our wet stuff up to dry and set off to pack before having one last dinner and getting ready to head home the following morning.

Will I go back? Absolutely. We had a bit of bad luck with the wind but I feel that I’ve had a little taster of what Sudan has to offer.Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevallyAs for “other stuff”, well …………

• The MV Scuba Libra has bags of personality if not bags of room. She’s clean, comfy but she’s basic and at 50, a bit creaky in places but safe. The six guests share two cabins, each with three beds and each forward cabin with its own shower/loo/sink. While the cabins have fans (some nice new big ones) it can get warm; there are plenty of mattresses if you want to take your sheet and pillow and sleep up on deck (as the crew do) and catch the breeze. I didn’t feel the need to but wish I had; the night sky was beautiful and you really can’t beat sleeping under the stars. Earplugs are good thing to pack, primarily against wave noise.

• The lack of room isn’t really an issue as, tackle and fishing clothes aside, you need to pack very little. A couple of pairs of shorts and t-shirts, something to sleep in and you’re done.

• The food, prepared by Hady the cook, in what has to be the hottest kitchen on the planet was plentiful and with an Italian influence; plenty of pasta to fuel the fishing. Fresh fish, chicken, salads, cheese, local flat bread and plenty of fruit. It is simple fare but well prepared. Days began with a big breakfast, lunch is either eaten on board or on the flats depending on what works best on the day and your evening meal is always accompanied by desert, often in the form of a freshly baked cake. I was grateful for the energy bars I’d taken; it’s a long time between breakfast and lunch.

• Days on board the Scuba Libra start early. Awake (if not up) around 0530 with breakfast at 0630. Waiting for the light, there’s plenty of time to change flies or leaders before heading out at around 0800.

• Don’t flush the loo if the head guide is out having a swim. He’ll get cross (it wasn’t me by the way).

• They use two big fiberglass boats to move around the flats; deep sided, they have a very shallow draft and Abu Grab and Moamod (the two boatmen) are both experienced Sudanese fishermen and move their boats around with a deceptively easy skill.

• You need to have a valid yellow fever certificate; the vaccination is valid for 10 years and once you have it you are sorted for a variety of South American and African countries including Tanzania.

• A visit to Sudan does mean that the American ESTA visa waiver programme won’t apply to you (whether intending to travel to, or transit through the USA) assuming you are coming from a country to which it applies. You will need to apply for an American visa and that necessitates form filling and an interview at the nearest American embassy. For those with British passports, the form takes about 20 minutes, the visa costs $160 currently and it is valid for 10 years. The interview date is set automatically (London or Belfast) and once accepted, it takes four working days for the visa to come through. You can either collect your passport or pay for it to be returned to you (currently £18.95).  Is it worth the actual cost and time? For me, absolutely it is. Undeniably, it is more hassle and yes, there’s an accompanying cost but on balance, to be able to fish those extraordinary flats it’s a price well worth paying.

Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevally

Sudan, triggerfish, titan triggerfish, yellow margin triggerfish, GT, bluefin trevally

Jun 14

Week 2, Nubian Flats Season 2016

For the second week of the 2016 Nubian Flats Season we welcomed onboard an all American group. Returning guest Mike la Sota was joined by his friends Russ, Matt, Mike, Josh, and Wade. A reall great bunch of guys with an even greater sense of adventure. So after the briefing everyone got settled in and marked the start of a ridiculously fun week.

After some careful consideration and planning according to the weather forecast, we headed north on the first morning to our first anchorage for the week at Ras Abu Shagrab. This area has some huge coastal flats and can produce some world class fishing.

There was a huge north current pushing over the flat and this was textbook GT conditions in the Red Sea. For some bizarre reason though, we did not bump into any on our walk but as luck would have it, a shoal of 30 odd GT’s came swimming along where our trusty boat driver Mahmood was waiting for us on the flat. But this did not faze us as the flat had a couple more tricks up its sleeve.  About two hours into our walk and numerous shots at triggers, we spotted some bonefish moving out of the shallows. We managed to hook one at our first attempt but sadly broke off on the eat.  Shortly after though, Russ hooked into and absolute brute of a bonefish, which gave him a spectacular fight.  Lady Luck was not on our side and this fish, estimated at +-13lbs, came unbuttoned right at the net. This defeat was taken well however and the guys gave each other a strange mixture of high-fives and comforting pats on the back. Loosing a fish at the net is sort of a win but in hindsight, managing to get the eat and watch that fish rooster tail into the distance was a victory on its own and more than satisfying. We saw one more massive bonefish that we miss-took for a GT in the deeper water, but did not manage to show a fly to.

After lunch we thought our luck might make a turn for the better and soon Mike la Sota hooked into another 10lbs bonefish. He got a very good hookset and soon this fish was racing over the flat. Lady luck was still not with us. Somehow Mike managed to bump his spool with his hand halfway through the fish’s first run, which sent the fish quite spectacularly into the air before snapping the tippet. In-between all the bonefish chaos, Matt kept the team’s score ticking over and landed himself a very beautiful yellow margin triggerfish and some snapper on the tease.

Josh with his new PB Sudanese bonefish

Josh with his new PB Sudanese bonefish

By day two the current slowed down and so did the fishing. The difference was like day and night but the guys were undeterred and carried on with the job at hand. The lads managed to land some nice triggerfish. Matt, Wade and Josh all went tight into triggers and converted. The story of the day had to go the Josh. He decided to turn the tables on the bonefish very casually and hooked into a 9lb bonefish, but this time round, pulled it right into the net. Everybody was beyond excited and this moment served as the turning point of our luck.

The morning of Day three, Team America got a full introduction into just how incredible and intense the offshore pinnacles can be! Or as fellow Italian guide Federico puts it “being rape-ed”. As per usual we split into two teams with Mike L, Josh, and Matt on Angarosh while Mike, Wade, and Russ headed to Merlo.

After a giving the guys a very thorough briefing on what to expect, the guys on Angarosh waded cautiously out for the first tease. With a strong current from the south we had high hopes and we were not disappointed. On the second tease we had 10 Geets (all over 90cm) come racing up the wall in a V-formation behind the teaser. Like pro’s, the guys kept their cool and everyone presented perfect casts which almost instantly turned into organised chaos! Josh hooked the biggest GT, in access of 100cm, which immediately popped his flyline on the hookset. Both Mike and Matt managed to turn theirs before the edge but Mike’s fish tried one more rush and just managed to get its head over the edge and parted his 150lb Seagar leader like it was cotton. From over on the left came a loud high pitch singing noise which wasn’t Matt but his line on full lock down being pushed to its limits as his fish was trying the same tactic. As he turned the fish again, he received massive applause from the beaten anglers to his right and an even bigger applause when the fish surrendered and got tailed grabbed. This is where teasing turns into a team sport as any fish landed is a team fish. The rest of the morning we sighted 8 more big GTs cruising the flat on Angarosh while staking out the waves on the wild side. We had four shots at them but unfortunately didn’t connect with any.

The team on Merlo’s story was just as savage and dramatic as ours. They returned with all their fly lines broken by GTs. After putting his head under water and looking over the edge with his mask, Italian guide Federico actually made the call to stop fishing on Merlot as the fish were just to big to land under the circumstances.

Giant Trevally on the Nubian Flats

Giant Trevally on the Nubian Flats

So at lunch we had a 1 in 6 conversion rate, which we all agreed was perfectly acceptable given the terrain we were fishing on. After lunch we hit the flat we call Shambaia for some more civilized trigger-fishing. The wind proceeded to die down through the course of the morning and by mid afternoon the flat looked like one giant mirror. Needless to say, the guys had to get their ninja on as triggerfish in these conditions can be close to impossible. Mike la Sota stepped up to the plate however and almost immediately ended his Titan drought by landing one right out the gates. We also got some really good shots at milkfish shoaling on the flats, as well as some bonefish. No conversions but incredibly exciting close quarter stuff.

On Day 4 we woke to pan-flat glassy conditions and incredibly high temperatures. It was so hot that it felt the sun was within walking distance from us.  With no wind and current, and given how educated triggerfish become in these still conditions, we decided to go try for some sailfish offshore where we’ve been seeing them hunt the last couple days. Sadly nothing came up on the birds and we ended the day off species hunting over the deep reef edges with 9wt’s and small flies for all sorts. This turned into a great deal of fun with the guys racking up about 10 species, from queen fish to peacock grouper.

The team admiring their catch out on the pinnacles

The team admiring their catch out on the pinnacles

The wind was playing ball on the second last day of the trip and blew just enough to keep us cool and not effect the guys casting. The current also picked up again and there was a fierce push from the south. It was a no brainer and soon after breakfast we made our way back out to the pinnacles. This proved to be an excellent choice as straight off the bat, Wade landed a very respectable Geet. The action died down immediately for some reason and we weren’t sure what was going on. Tease after tease nothing, but then on a tease, that went quite far out, a big dogtooth tuna came out of the deep blue in hot pursuit. It was so big it could dwarf a dolphin. This clearly created some FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out) under the surface and within a second, GT’s were coming from everywhere. There must have been 30+ fish coming at us like torpedo’s ready to crush everything in sight.

The guys were ready though and as the angry mob reached the edge, we fed them three sempers and yes, Tripple UP! De-ja-vu two days ago! With anglers all hooked up right on the edge of a 50m drop, plus one guide dancing around trying to keep everyone on their perches, the ocean decided that this was not enough entertainment and decided to put a huge oceanic white-tip shark into the mix.The hungry shark came right onto the flat and ended up almost on-top of Rus, who in the process lost his footing and was flat on his back, while still connected to his GT. Then to make matters even more exciting, 2 big reef sharks crashed the party as well and quickly turned this cluster into something that needed some really quick, careful decision making. Matt quickly snatched his fish by the leader, and pulled the fly. Then proceeded to help Wade keep his footing on this gnarly mix of sharp uneven coral and deep holes, before loosing his fish to reef. Meanwhile Rus managed to get his fish over the edge about two minutes later, which then surged again into the deep once more before cutting his line on the coral edge.

We were completely man handled by absolutely everything but will go down as the most exhilarating few minutes of our lives. After some tremendous laughter and head shaking, we composed ourselves again and carried on fishing. Straight away Rus hooked something massive again, but this time round it was fighting more like a big dead weight than a trevally. He would gain some line and then the fish would just go stationary on the wall again for a while before moving a couple meters. After a quick inspection with some diving goggles, we realised he was hooked into a massive malabar grouper that was perched on the reef and had zero plans of coming up to the surface. In the end, this giant won the battle and snapped Russ’s leader on the coral. A very eventful morning!

After a quick lunch and sail over the middle of the day, the team set out to tackle the Snake Islands before sunset.

Mike la Sota with a beautiful Nubian Flats titan triggerfish

Mike la Sota with a beautiful Nubian Flats titan triggerfish

Little Snake Island had some very obliging triggerfish and Josh landed a very nice yellow margin triggerfish. The guys on Big Snake Island came across a big geet while still making their way to the island. They quickly intercepted the fish, but the fish missed the fly and spooked after seeing to the tender boat.

The final day of the trip we got greeted by big wind and rough seas. We fished the northern section of Magarsam Island but by midday the wind started pushing close to 35knots and made conditions unplayable. We called it a day and headed back to the mothership to celebrate an extremely eventful but fun week.

 

Trigger happy on the Nubian Flats

Jun 09

Week 1, Nubian Flats Season 2016

DSCF2904For the first week of the 2016 Nubian Flats season, we were blessed to be joined by a number of great characters of every corner of the planet. We were joined by Bruce from Scotland, Tom from the USA, and Johan from RSA. An interesting mix of cultures but all three of them had one thing in mind, fish!

Early on the morning of Day 1, the mothership steamed out of the harbour and set course for the first anchorage just south of Snake Island. The plan for the day was to fish the western side of the big Island for the day, looking for triggerfish and trevally. The morning started off well and not long into the walk Tom had a good shot at a permit with-in the 20lbs range. The fish showed good interest and followed the fly but then in true permit fashion, it decided that this was not the day, before spooking off into the distance.

Tom got given a second chance and soon after he was presenting his fly to another smaller permit. Again the fish showed plenty interest, but this time round Tom’s fly got snagged on the bottom. Needles to say, the fish lost interest and went in search of food elsewhere. By midday some clouds(very unusual for this time of the year) rolled in over the area and made sight-fishing a nightmare. With the low visibility, we changed tactics and ended off the day with some teasing along the outside reef of Snake Island. The lads landed some really nice bluefin trevally and ended the day in the high spirits.

Triggerfish Sudan

Titan Triggerfish heaven

On Day 2 the clouds disappeared and the guys got treated to some good fishing. Landing some good titan and yellow margin triggers on the flat, as well as some big bohar on the tease and one big GT lost.

On the morning of Day 3 we moved the mothership to the next anchorage to the north of Snake Island, where we planned to fish the last couple days of the trip before making our way back to Magarsam for the final day.

The massive sand flat that we call Shambaia had a good variety of species which included milkfish, some triggerfish, and trevally (both giant and bluefin), but the glassy conditions were just to calm and we landed very few fish. Most would think that glassy conditions are perfect, but try drop a fly in front of a weary fish without disturbing the water and making a noise. Almost impossible. Outside on the pinnacles however, the fish were on the feed and we tried to capitalize on this. The flats on these pinnacles had some really big GT’s on them and we got handled by some brute’s! Tom hooked into a monster that somehow unhooked itself, and straight after Johan got cut off by a meter-plus sized fish that was unstoppable and swam him right off the flat and over the edge. On the tease it was even worse. Countless big GT’s were exploding like grenades behind the tease, and tearing through leaders like there was no tomorrow. Like fellow Italian Guide Federico would say, it was a “massacre satanico”. These pinnacles hold some spectacular fish but on this terrain it is almost impossible to land fish. Extremely sharp coral with crazy drop off’s is enough to even shred the best of tackle.

The lads kept the scoreboards ticking over and managed to land some small bluefin but the GT’s were clearly leading the scoreboard. GT’s Hero – Flyfisherman Zero

flyfishing for trevally

Bluefin Trevally taken on a black brushfly

Snapper fishing

Bohar snapper, the dog of the Nubian Reef

On the final day we were back on the northern side of the big Island and things were looking up. Bruce opened up the scoreboard by landing a very nice yellow margin triggerfish . Tom followed up soon by hooking into another nice yellow margin but this fish managed to chew through his light tippet before he could get it to the net. Next up Bruce, who was clearly on a good day, landed another beautiful yellow margin triggerfish. If the previous couple day’s hiding by the GT’s weren’t enough, we came across a good 90cm fish in super skinny water, hunting with his back sticking out of the water. Tom quickly got his 12wt ready but it was not to be. He placed the fly right in front of the geet, but got denied. Another victory for the trevally. But thats fishing

It was a week of many highs and certainly a few lessons in what it takes to land fish in these conditions, but it was a week that was thoroughly enjoyed by all the guests and guides.

GT fishing in tropical saltwater

Johann Kuhn with a lovely Giant Trevally

Red Sea dolphins

A common sight in Sudan, dolphins surfing infront of the skiff

May 16

Makhangoa Community Camp: 6 – 12 May 2016

MCC (11)The sun had already tucked itself behind the hills and dusk was creeping in along with the cold. There was no sign of the guests arriving and the last light had now faded out completely. I was just about to head back and phone the boss when two headlights appeared in the distance. It seems that car trouble found them long before they found camp and they had to make a tactical stop in Fiksburg to get a fix. It was a great relief to finally welcome Deon, Andrew and Matthew to camp, the only problem was that their other two mates had not yet arrived. We were speculating about the reason for their mates being m.i.a. but it wasn’t long before they too rolled into camp. As it turns out Reese forgot to pack his passport, so he and his cousin Kyle had to make a ‘little’ three hour detour. There is a lesson in this folks; check your car before you leave and double check for your passport.

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There is an advantage to arriving so late on your first day. Everything is a surprise the next morning, and what a pleasant surprise to wake up in a place like this. Needless to say the rods were setup in a flash and they hit the water like a flock of coots. Andrew was on form. He was using his go-to-fly, the Viva Tadpole and it was proving irresistible to the yellows. On their second night the guys were joined by Kyle and Reese’s uncle, Roger. It was a jolly night with no shortage of banter and jokes.

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The next morning the guys headed upriver in search of some fish, despite some superficial injuries and throbbing heads. They worked their way up onto beat 3, checking every run and pool, leaving no stone unturned. As luck would have it, Kyle took his eyes off the water for a couple of seconds and spooked three massive fish that were chilling in the skinny water of the skate park section. Unfortunately those fish were not going to give them second chance, and no other fish gave them a chance either.

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We made a trip down to the Malibamatsu to go and tease out some big lunkers below the dam wall. While the others were focussed on going deep, Reese was keen to entertain himself with a dry fly and a couple of small trout, and he was not disappointed. Reese proudly explained to us that one of his victims was the smallest trout that he had ever caught in his life and used his index finger to give us an idea of scale. Although it provided amusement for the group there was something admirable about his attitude towards the tiny trout. He was as happy about the small fish as he was about big ones that came out and that is a trait that all fly fishermen should have.  Despite the fact that Reese got his personal best ‘smallest fish’, the rest of the day out on the Malibamatsu went quite well, everybody caught a couple of fish and the guys came back to camp all smiles.

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The rains came on the morning of their third day, it was proper rain and much needed. Kyle and Reese returned home, this time with their passports nearby. Matthew and I braved the cold and took on the pocket water of beat two. It was not too long before sanity took over and we retired to camp. Deon and Andrew on the other hand were sticking it out on the estuary, with some good results I might add. That evening Andrew spent time behind the vice restocking his box with Viva Tadpoles while I was turning out orange Zonker Minnows for Matthew.

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Andrew’s faith in the Viva Tadpole was commendable. Despite the fact that there were no tadpoles around he fished it with confidence and it worked for him. The tadpoles had the yellows going mad, but the trout were not as interested, so I suggested a change. A change sometimes makes all the difference. I tied up one of my Double Strip Dragons for Andrew, told him to try it and the result was a beautiful brown trout and the cherry on top of a great trip. Viva!

Tight loops

Johann

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May 06

Makhangoa Community Camp: 24 April – 2 May 2016

Over the last week the fishing in Lesotho was slow and the ongoing pressure of the drought is taking its toll on this world-class fishery. There is no need to sugar-coat it, conditions are tough, very tough and without some serious changes in the weather these conditions are unlikely to improve. Despite this bleak picture that I am painting there were some real highlights for the last two groups. It was a week of personal bests for our guests.

Neil and Jeremy were the first to cash in on the riches of the Katse Dam. In general they had some slow fishing sessions on the estuary, the fish were not smashing large streamers like they did the weeks before. The tactics had to change. Neil was determined to crack the code so he tried just about everything from baitfish to buzzers, but in the end the trusty old bloodworm did the trick. Neil fished it statically below an indicator and it got swallowed by a brute of a rainbow trout that tipped the scale at 9lb. This slab of a fish was released in good health after a quick photo and is lurking in the deep waters of the estuary once again.Neil 91b1

On their next session it was Jeremy’s turn to fool the fish. The fish were no longer interested in tiny flies, but were feeding on larger prey again. With a large black SF Minnow, Jeremy succeeded in landing a couple of lovely fish, they weren’t anywhere near 9lb but it was good enough to put a smile on his face. Neil and Jeremy left in good spirits and have already made plans to return next season.

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Cobus and his wife Jil came all the way from Maun, in Botswana, to tame the trout. Cobus was keen to catch a new personal best river fish and I was keen to give him the chance to do so. They had a fruitless first session on the estuary so we decided to head out to the Malibamatsu River the next morning. A recent landslide had changed the river drastically and some of the finest pools were silted up, but luckily the plunge pool below the dam wall was still as good as always. Jil was struggling to cast her setup so Cobus offered to give her his rod to fish with and as he was stripping his line back to hand her the rod a river fish of note attached itself to the other end of the line. It was a 5lb rainbow trout that nearly pulled the rod out of Cobus’ hands. It was by far the best river trout that he had ever caught; it was in perfect condition, beautifully marked and a wild as can be. A personal best in all aspects.

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After a lunch at Katse lodge we were back on the river and worked our way downstream. There were hundreds of juvenile trout and it wasn’t long before Jil landed her first fish on the fly. It was a proud moment for both husband and wife. We continued to fish until the last light faded and the cold drove us back to the car. They caught more fish than they care to remember and fish so big that they will never forget.

To them the highlands of Lesotho will remain a place of firsts and personal bests for a long time to come.

Tight loops

Johann

Neil 91b 3

24- 27 April 2016

It was a quiet week in the hills. There were no near death experiences or struggles with poachers, so I think it is safe to say that it was pretty good one too. Byron, Paul, Jason, Tyron, Brandon and Howard arrived on the day of the first big frost of the season and there were high hopes that this would put the trout into migration mode. Tyron made the most of his first session and landed a lovely trout of 19 inches. A couple more trout and a few yellows was enough to put them all in a great mood. It was the first of many cheerful evenings in camp.

On the first morning the valley was laced with glistening crystals and a thick blanket of mist floated up into the mountains. A familiar chat was flitting around, snatching the unsuspecting insects out of the crisp air while some baby trout were stirring up the glossy waters of home pool. The hopes of fooling some big fish were high and the boys were on the water as the first rays broke over the hills. Although the trout were a bit scarce the yellow fish were happy to eat their flies and even the mudfish came to the party. It was a good day for Paul in particular, he landed his personal best muddy and not long after that he got stuck into a bus rainbow trout. It put up an aerial display that would put any tarpon to shame, tail-walking and jumping all over the show. Paul was holding on for dear life and finally got it to the tube. As with so many trout just when you think you have won, it finds a way to spit the hook. Paul was inches away from another personal best fish, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. That evening clouds rolled in bringing much needed rain to the Bokong, not enough to push the dam up but enough to provide some good fishing on their second full day.

 

The burst of fresh water seemed to activate the fish. The slow-go of the previous day was over and the guys were fishing with more confidence. The Mrs Simpson that did the trick for Paul the day before was once again at the wrong end of the food chain. It go smashed up by something big and nasty and was left in tatters. Rumour has it that it was a brute of a trout, we will never know for sure, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Howard was also having a pretty good day on the water, even though he didn’t even realise it. It was only that night at the dinner table that he became aware of his achievement. He showed me pictures on his phone of a pair of jackal buzzards that were feeding on the bank. I then scrolled onto a picture of a brown trout and when I asked him about it he didn’t know that it was a brownie. As it turned out, he had a Lesotho-slam in the bag. Just like that a good day, turned into a great day!

These guys had a good trip despite the ongoing pressure of the drought. There are scores that need to be settled with a couple of big, so a return visit to this lovely place is in order. As winter is setting in I hope to tell more success stories in the very near future.

Cheers for now.

Johann

Apr 29

Makhangoa Community Camp; 19 – 23 April 2016

The most memorable fishing stories are often the ones where we have frightening encounters with Mother Nature and this story is just one of those. Well, it was one of those trips for Chris. He came up to Lesotho with his mates, Rob, Andrew, Gert, Peter and Jan in search of adventure, and he sure found it.

It was a pretty peaceful trip the fishing was good, not exceptionally good due to the warm waters and lack of rain, but good enough to satisfy these old friends. They had fished all over the world and caught beautiful fish in many beautiful places. For them this trip was more about the camaraderie and having a good time in the great outdoors than catching heaps of trophy fish. To be honest, I think all fishing trips should be like that (especially at the tail end of the worst drought in living memory in the Lesotho highlands – but not sure I will feel the same when the fishing is back to normal next season;). Anyway, they were all happy to fish the estuary and take things easy, but I was keen to take a horse upriver in search of some resident fish in the upper beats of the Bokong. Chris was also keen to make the journey to the top, so I arranged the horses and the following day we were heading up.

IMG_3836 CopyAfrican-time is a concept that most Africans are familiar with, for those who don’t know it, it simply means that everything in Africa happens at a pace that is more suited to the tortoise and not the hare. Up here in Lesotho however there is a phenomenon that I like to call Basotho-time. Basotho-time means that everything happens even slower than in the rest of Africa, and that’s pretty damn slow. Life up in these hills happens slowly and rushing it would be a futile attempt and possible just upset the balance of life, so it’s best to just go with it as long as patience allows. The day started with one such delay,  instead of  the horses arriving at 06:00, they arrived at 09:00. This cut down on our fishing time, but we were undeterred and at 09:30 we were off. You are probably wondering why I’m putting so much emphasis on this whole Basotho-time thing. Well, it’s probably because Basotho-time saved Chris’s life, but we will get to that.

Our aim was to ride up to the village of Matoele and if we saw any proper fish on the way up we would stop and have a cast. In most places you have a good view of the river from the donkey path the only problem is that you are about 50 meters above the water and being on the back of a horse complicates things slightly. It still is pretty effective though. Peter was on his mountain bike and he would tell you it is much harder to spot fish from a bike without falling down a cliff so he left us at beat 3 and fished from there up. Chris and I were not seeing much, in fact we didn’t see any fish at all until we arrived at Matśoele. There is a massive pool below the village, as clear as glass and blue as the sky on a summer’s day. It has a gravel bottom peppered with rusty red and amber stones that drops off onto dark basalt bedrock. The edges are laced with yellowing willows and in the distance there is smoke rolling out of the stone huts on the hillside. It was the perfect setting and just to sweeten the deal there were three trout cruising up and down the pool.

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Chris went down onto the sandbar while I scouted from the cliff-side. A slight wind picked up and it was making it hard to see these fish. While Chris was making casts out to where we last saw one of the fish the chief of the village, Morena Makalo, and his family came down to see what we were up to. Lesotho custom requires that you ask the chief permission to fish on his land. I was explaining to them, in very poor Sesotho in might add, that we came from Makhangoa and meant no harm. After a long conversation they were very happy to let us fish. In fact, the chief and his son, helped us to spot the fish and pointed it out. Chris couldn’t see it from his side so he made a blind cast into the general direction, one strip, two strips and the fish was on! Screams of excitement echoed down the valley as the chief and his son ran down the hill to see this fish. It was the smallest of the three, but a lovely fish of 22inches and about three pounds. It was a truly magical experience for Chris and the chief who happily posed for a couple of photos after which we released the fish.

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It was getting late and we had a 12km ride back to camp so we packed up a headed home. I was getting anxious to get back to camp before dark, and to my great frustration my horse was also on Basotho-time. It was a lazy beast and no matter what I did it seemed to stay in first gear, but this was not a bad thing. The donkey path can be a little daunting in places and one must always be careful when hiking or riding on it. We came to a waterfall where a small feeder stream runs into the Bokong and below the fall is a steep bedrock crossing that drops another ten meters towards the river. As we were crossing it I thought to myself that it was a terrible place to slip. Before you could say ‘be careful, it slippery’, Chris’ horse lost its footing and slid down the slope. My heart stopped for a second as my client and his horse slid down towards the edge of a long drop-off. In spectacular fashion Chris kicked out of the saddle without even breaking his rod. In even more spectacular fashion the horse also found its footing again. Against all odds both man and horse managed to get back on their feet, and avoided disaster. If we hadn’t been moving at Basotho speed, it might have been a different story. So I guess the moral is this; when in Lesotho, do as the Basotho’s do, it might just save your life.

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The next day Chris re-joined the group and kept to the safety of the float tube. Many more fish were caught, but none as memorable as beast from Matśoele. It was yet again an eventful and heart stopping trip in the Lesotho highlands. It is sure to be repeated, hopefully with a little less drama the next time.

Until then, cheers!

Johann

Apr 29

Makhangoa Community Camp: 16 – 19 April 2016

IMG_3759 CopySometimes a fishing trip is just not long enough. I believe this was the case with Peter, James, Quintin, Jonathan, Andrew, Nic, Mike Wilson and Mike Blackbeard who came in for a weekend to the Makhangoa Community Camp. It was a trip of personal bests, ‘new species’ for some and a strange encounter with a fearless trout.

On their day of arrival Peter, Quintin and James were still fishing the Malibamatsu River while the rest of the pack rolled into camp. As with most groups, it was a mad rush to get the heaps of luggage carried down from the cars, and to get the gear sorted. Once settled in they were flying down the gravel road toward the estuary to get lines in the air and flies in the water. Mike x2 were in their inflatable raft along with Jonathan (Cat) patrolling the cliffs across from the woolshed and getting into a couple a fish straight away. As the last light was fading they were still out flogging the water while the troops from the Malibamatsu had had enough of the baby trout and finally made their way to camp. It was a good start to the trip and it ended with a world class braai by Andrew.

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On day two there was another boat on the water and a healthy competition was on the brew between the two teams. The only problem was that the Seahawk 2, captained by Peter, had a slow puncture and had to be pumped regularly to prevent it from becoming a lob-sided death trap. Regardless of the deflating situation it was the Seahawk that took home the honours with the most fish.

As part of the community tourism project, we also train community River Rangers to help us police and protect the fishery, and offer assistance to guests where possible.  For one of them, Ngahle a.k.a. Martin it was a special day too as he cast a fly rod for the first time. I showed him the basics and without too much hassle he soon got the hang of it. Hopefully one day, with a bit of patience and hard work, he will be a fly fishing guide.

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Anyway, back to the fishing. Andrew, James and Peter were keen to do some river fishing so I took them up to Ed’s pool where we found a trout with a bit of an attitude problem. He was hovering in the glassy water over a piece of bedrock, sticking out like a sore thumb. First Peter had a crack at it, casting at the fish that simply refused his offerings time and time again. We changed flies, tactics and still it wouldn’t budge. Then we decided to see if it would spook if I went closer, but this little guy wouldn’t go. Eventually I waded in, took some pictures and put my hand right underneath its belly and lifted him up. It was only when it broke the surface that it decided that maybe it was safer to run and hide. This little guy was either deaf or dumb, but definitely the most unfazed little trout I had ever seen. For Andrew it was an awesome session, he stared off by harassing some small trout, then landed a very nice fish of about a pound and shortly after caught his personal best river trout of two pounds in pocket the size of a bathtub. He was not the only one to get a personal best that day. Jonathan fished the village pockets section that afternoon and caught a lovely four pounder on a hopper, it was truly a great day for these two gents.

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In the meantime Mike2 was fishing the estuary and Mike ‘Willows’ caught his very first smallmouth yellowfish, well at least that’s what Blackbeard told him. I later identified it as a Mudfish. Mike was rather disappointed that he didn’t get his prized yellowfish, but at least he was in the right family.

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Although the trophy fish eluded them and the yellows outsmarted them, it was a ‘lekker’ trip with some ‘lekker’ guys and I hope to see them return to this magical place in the year to come.

Best wishes boys!

Johann

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Apr 29

Makhangoa Community Camp: 10 – 15 April 2016

It was a pleasant sight when a couple of familiar faces rolled into camp. Uncle Colin and Mars made the long journey from Maclear and were joined by Jeff, Rodney and Andrew. These seasoned fly fishermen were in for a proper challenge on the fishing front, but they stepped up to the plate and did well under difficult circumstances.

On their first day it was a leisurely affair as the guys settled in a made themselves at home. Andrew and Jeff broke the ice and went down to the river to fish Diepgat. Due to the seemingly endless drought the river was not allowing fish to migrate thus resulting in a fruitless venture on the first day. Luckily there were plenty of drinks in camp to cheers the boys up and we enjoyed the first night of world-class banter around the fire.

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On the second day no time was wasted in getting to the water and Uncle Colin was first on the scoreboard with a lovely rainbow. It has to be said that these chaps were not looking for any small fish, especially Mars who was dead keen on catching the mother of all Lesotho trout that the MCC has become known for. Although the mother didn’t come knocking, Mars and Andrew both caught more than ten fish in their first session and there others were not too far behind.

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On the third day things got a little more difficult as a problem with some fish poachers arose. The poachers were fishing a prime piece of water on the estuary where the fish congregate in waiting for their spawning, this was obviously not ideal for our guests, and it is times like this that the years of preparation in drafting a legally binding fishery management plan are most welcome . After some long negotiations explaining the community camp fishing rules and regulations the poachers packed up and headed home. Later that day we were joined by Gavin, a very lucky Irishman who is taking sabbatical and fishing all over Southern Africa. It wasn’t long before he was sucked in by the group and taking part in the fireside banter.

The following day we headed a couple of kilometres down to where the guys saw some good looking water on their way in to camp. It was an exploratory session and we soon found out that the water was much deeper than anticipated. Jeff however found his form and was floating the margins along some rocky drop-offs and picked up plenty of fish. After a late lunch everybody became pretty sluggish and decided to head back and enjoy the comforts of camp.

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On their last full fishing day the guys were back at the estuary, but to our disappointment we were joined by the same gang of poachers once again. They were a band of ‘non locals’ from a nearby village who fish the dam without the necessary permits that are issued by the LHDA (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority), who disregard the laws of their country and the community camp fishery management rules and regulations. These rules were set in place by the LHDA and TF to protect and preserve the fishery and tourism in the area, while still allowing local subsistence fisherman, with the correct permit, the ability to harvest a set limit of fish.   Fortunately, the very helpful and passionate Mr Phallang Lebesa (LHDA Environmental officer) came to the rescue via boat with his well-trained officers who then poached the poachers – confiscating all gear with the warning of arrest should it happen again. They poachers were sent home with a final warning and the  fish were taken from them. This incident should not be seen as a blemish, but as a sign that there is hope and a bright future for this wonderful fishery due to the passionate support from local law enforcement and the community.

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Through the hard work and dedication of the LHDA, the Tourette Fishing staff and our River Rangers we will continue to protect and preserve this wonderful fishery, even in the toughest of times.

This is Africa, and we love it!

Cheers, Johann

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Apr 21

Makhangoa Community Camp: 3rd – 6th April 2016

 

Six members of the Jacaranda Fly Fishing Club namely Paul, Brian, Alfred, Tiaan, Ivann and Nic came fish the Katse Dam in the picturesque Lesotho highlands. Tiaan, Ivann and Nic are also the founding members of an organization called the Barbus Clan; basically a group of keen fly fishermen who are passionate about catching yellow fish and even more so about the conservation of the species. Well, the traded their caddis flies for streamers in search of Lesotho trout.

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Their first stop was the very special Semonkong Lodge where they caught a couple of wild brown trout on the Maletsunyane River. They were keen to catch some rainbows, brown trout and a couple late season yellow fish on their trip and the Bokong estuary did not disappoint. The river was in near perfect condition after the good rains from the week before and some fish were starting to make their way upriver. The migration of trout from the dam to the river was not happening in its full glory though. Because of a below average dam level the some of the obstacles in the river proved to be a little too exposed and daunting for most of the fish, so most of the fishing had to be done in the estuary.

Paul and Brian were in the thick of it and getting some good numbers of fish. Unfortunately two of the Barbus Clan members, Tiaan and Nic were struggling with a stomach flu that they picked up on their way in. It was so bad for Tiaan that he hardly picked up a rod all weekend and it was getting gradually worse for Nic too. However bad the illness was Nic was determined and fished close to camp, in case of an emergency. Despite the un-pleasantries everybody succeeded to fool a couple of fish.

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On the second day river fishing was on the agenda for Ivann, Alf and Nic. We worked the lower section of beat one, from the footbridge back up to camp. I spent some time guiding Alf while the other two headed upstream. After a quick demo, Alf found his rhythm and caught a beaut of a rainbow. He had done some steelhead fishing so the concept of swinging flies ‘clicked’ well with him. Ivann and Nic deceived some trout on their way back to camp. It was all going pretty well until a bus of a rainbow appeared out of nowhere and took Nic for a proper boxing match, in the end the fish took home the honours and spat the fly out like it was never even there.

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By day three both Nic and Tiaan were starting to feel the fatigue of the illness and decided to pack it up and head home. Alf, Brian and Paul worked the estuary that day and had some good fishing. Alf was even tormenting the parr from last winter’s spawning with tiny dry flies. Paul completed his Lesotho slam with a lovely brown trout that evening and was well content and ready for home.

I hope to see these gents again next year. Same time, same place.

Tight loops

Johann

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