Opening Week Blues
Tough weather conditions challenge anglers and guides alike. I was out on Providence Atoll to shoot some images and being March I was expecting blue skies and puffy white clouds! Sadly this was not the case, we were dealing with the aftermath of a massive tropical depression that passed south of us. The systems (Dumazile) hung south of us for most of the trip, sucking in moisture from the north resulting in thick band of clouds hanging over Providence for the entire trip.
Over the years I have learnt to deal with the weather and to be brutally honest in 99% of the cases I don’t even look at the forecast. If its not life threatening then whats the point? We can’t do anything about it and once on location we are going to fish every day anyway and make the best of it, its just what we as anglers do. We are the internal optimists!
Sometimes overcast conditions can actually play into your favour, low overhanging clouds tend to keep the fish calmer, especially on shallow water sight fishing fisheries. When the skies are blue and the sun acts like a massive spotlight overhead the fish can be very nervous, often they are a lot more comfortable when there is some cloud cover around. Sure its a lot more difficult to see them but the ones you do see seem to be happy and relaxed and can be a lot easier to catch.
This week guest included some regular anglers with whom I have been fortunate enough to fish with all over the world. Tony has a beautiful farm on the North Island of New Zealand where I was fortunate enough to spend some time over Xmas. His river is by far the best piece of trout water I have ever fished and is filled with big hungry rainbows. Not since my first exploratory expeditions into the Indian Ocean almost 20 years have I fished virgin waters like Tony’s river. I looked forward to spending some time on Providence with him and hoped that the weather and tides would play along and I can somehow “repay” him for the incredible time I had on his farm.
He is a very good angler, dedicated and hungry to catch fish, which is why he has managed to successfully chase everything that swims. Huge Atlantic Salmon, big migratory Tarpon, GT’s, Golden Dorado, Alaska, Mongolia…you name it he has been there and successfully caught it. On this trip he was partnered up with Jim Allen from the Bear Claw Lodge on the Kispiox River in British Columbia. It was Jim’s first trip to the Indian Ocean but he is an accomplished angler and just an all round great guy. Over the first couple of days they caught some really nice fish and I had a great time photographing them. There is however one fish that stands out.
We had fished the pushing tide and they landed around 10 GT’s for the session, all good fish in the 80-90cm fork length category. Eventually the tide got too high and pushed us of the flat. It was getting towards mid afternoon and after the excitement of the session everyone was hungry. GT whisperer Tim Babich got everyone onto the skiff and told me that we must go and look for a “donkey”. He slowly motored down the flat and dropped the anchor on the edge of a small drainage a few hundred yards from the edge of the atoll.
“They’ll come in from there” he said as he pointed towards west whilst handing everyone their lunch. We were anchored over a section of turtle grass about 100 meters up from a football size lagoon. There was a section of white sand about the size of an olympic swimming pool between us and the small lagoon, the perfect backdrop for spotting the fish on. They will creep up the sand and once they are over the turtle grass it will be easy to feed them, they always eat better over grass. Behind us the flat continued for probably half a mile before reaching another lagoon.
We enjoyed our lunch over some friendly banter, stories of fish caught that morning were swopped and everyone was in a good mood. At one point I looked up and saw Tim standing on the bow of the skiff, he was intently looking down the flat and I realised he has been up there for probably twenty minutes already and hasn’t touched his lunch. This must be serious I thought, a guy with this much experience won’t stand there like this if he wasn’t pretty sure of the situation. I looked back towards Tony and Jim and noticed that neither of them had a 12# ready. I took one of the rods from the rod rack and put it behind me where I could get to it quickly if needed.
Everyone continued eating and we were just about finished when Tim said “here he comes, big fish, someone get a rod”. Tony and Jim both being courteous gentleman offered the other the shot. I looked up and saw the massive fish drifting in over the sand flat about 50 yards from the boat. The fish was fresh out of the ocean and glowing bright blue, slowly floating in on the swell of the rising tide. “I don’t care who casts, someone just get ready”, I could hear the urgency in Tim’s voice, this was a very very big fish. I reached behind me, grabbed the rod, flicked the fly into the water and stripped 50 feet of line from the reel. The fish was going to pass about 40 feet from the boat on our 9 o’clock. Tony turned towards me and I stuffed the rod in his hand, as he gripped the rod the command “cast now” came from Tim.
Tony laid the cast out on 9 o’clock, slightly overshooting the line of the fish. “Long strip” said Tim and he instructed Tony to get the fly in front of the fish. Tony obliged and the stage was set for a massive showdown. When the fish was about 12 feet from the fly Tim said “slow strip, show him the fly”, Tony obliged and the fish reacted immediately. When really big fish eat flies it always seem as if they do it with so much ease and confidence. There is no mad rush, its almost as if their momentum carries them forward and they do it without burning any unnecessary energy. As the fish saw the fly it turned towards the boat with one forceful kick of its tail and tracked the fly. The next moment the massive mouth shot open as the fish lunged forward and engulfed the fly. Tony kept stripping to stay tight and the fish just kept drifting towards the boat. No panic, no explosive takeoff, no frothing. It was as if it was completely unaware that it was even hooked.
We all stood there gobsmacked by what we had just seen happen 25 feet from the boat, the massive blue body of the fish shining like a beacon over the green turltegrasts bottom, just lying there for a second. Tim and I both knew what was about to happen, he reached for the anchor rope and I focused on making sure that the loose fly line clears without hitting any snags. Then it was over. The hook never found purchase in the mouth. We stood there in disbelief. I had to sit down, my knees were week and had to take a few sips of Coke to get rid of the taste of bile that was now in mouth. I handed the can to Tim and he took a few sips.
On reflection Tony said he could feel the hook scraping around in the mouth of GT looking for something to catch onto as he kept stripping the fly. How big was it I hear you ask? Well that’s hard to say, but probably somewhere between 55 and 60 inch fork (140+cm). The truly sad thing about this was that if ever there was a chance of landing a monster this was it. We were high up on the flat, there was nowhere really treacherous the fish could take us and we were already on the boat if it got out a fair way. Sadly it was not meant to be, but proof again that despite some tough weather chances at the fish of a lifetime are always present…especially on a place called Providence.