“Would Mr David Lewis travelling to Paris please contact the Air France information desk as soon as possible for a message.” It was going to be bad news; it had to be, why else would anyone try to contact me via the public address system in the departure lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 2?
So far my trip had gone smoothly and I was sat in comfortable chair in one of the terminal café’s, enjoying a decent cup of coffee while reading through the itinerary for my coming trip. A short flight to Paris, a couple of hours lay over while waiting for an overnight flight to Mahe, Seychelles, then a third flight aboard a small plane for a short 150 mile hop to remote St Joseph’s atoll to meet up with the mothership I’d be based aboard. I was looking forward to experiencing the magnificent flats fishing for bonefish, which at the time had only recently been discovered in these remote paradise atolls.
It was indeed bad news. Annie Ayton, who runs Safari Plus who had organised my trip, had left a message telling me there was a problem with the twice weekly internal flight in The Seychelles; namely it had been cancelled. As a result short of paying for an expensive private charter I’d be stuck in Mahe waiting until the next scheduled flight left in three days time, which at best gave me two full days of fishing before I had to start my trip home: The trip was off.
Getting back through customs and reclaiming my bags was, as you can imagine, something of an ordeal, but when finally I got the chance to speak to Annie she confirmed the situation and said I should return home but not to unpack, she was “working on something else.” And sure enough when I got home a couple of hours later there was a fax waiting from Annie, advising that I was booked on the following nights South African Airways flight to Johannesburg, from where I was to fly to somewhere called Vilanculos in Mozambique. There I would be met and transported by boat out to the Bazaruto Islands and somewhere called Benguerra Island Lodge.
That trip went like clockwork and to my delight I discovered the lodge was a 5-star luxury beach camp, with a huge range of fishing options that were available to clients. I was introduced to Andrew Parson, head fishing guide, and over several cold beers we discussed these options, eventually deciding that the following morning we’d go fly fishing for trevally. Apparently 18 different species of trevally had been recorded locally, including a species that at the time I was getting more and more interested in, Caranx Ignoblis, the giant trevally, GT, or kingfish as they are known throughout southern Africa.
The following morning we left the beach at first light, yet already it was stiflingly hot. Three of us boarded a fast ski-boat, Andrew had brought along Tammy his Jack Russell terrier, and headed towards the northern tip of Benguerra Island, where we rounded a prominent spit of sand then sped offshore to fish ‘Two Mile Reef’, yes it’s located 2 miles offshore! I was still jet lagged, and I fully appreciated the cooling ozone enriched sea breeze and an occasional invigorating splash of spray as we headed offshore towards the reef.
At the reef we enjoyed a couple of hours fishing, catching various species of small trevally and a few queenfish. As the day grew hotter the wind steadily increased, eventually reaching the point where trying to stand let alone cast a fly aboard a small boat was nigh on impossible. Andrew suggested we head back to Benguerra to try fishing from the beach; which is another story.
The next day we found the wind had eased, but we could see conditions offshore were still very rough, and that at best fishing would be uncomfortable. Over breakfast Andrew suggested we try an inshore reef that is located a few hundred yards off the northern tip of Benguerra Island. It was a small reef, he had said, but there was a chance of a GT.
We would be fishing with Andrew’s 12wt fly rod, using it to cast an enormous great surface popper into the surface rip, a distinct line of agitated water that stretched for 100 yards. This turbulent rip was created by the flooding tide forcing it’s way around the sand spit, then being deflected sharply upwards as it pushed against the reef; it was as perfect a fish holding spot as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Casting that popper was hard work but under Andrew’s guidance, I later learned he was one of the top saltwater fly fishing guides in Africa, gradually I got the knack of first casting and then working that hefty lure fast enough to make it gurgle, plop and splash as I stripped it quickly back. For half an hour we saw no sign of a fish, then just as I was starting to think we would not catch anything, the fly disappeared in a hefty splash, and I found myself tight to the strongest fish I had ever hooked on a fly.
On its first run the fish ripped many yards of line from the reel, while Tammy stood at the bow yapping excitedly. “There are no rabbits on Benguerra”, Andrew explained, “so Tammy diverts her terrier instincts towards hooked fish!” A properly set up 12wt is a formidable fly fishing outfit, and the powerful drag on Andrew’s big reel quickly took a heavy toll on the fish, and within five minutes he was reaching down to lift a 10lb green-spot trevally into the boat for a quick photo-session and release. As we slowly headed up current for the next drift over the reef I was ecstatic, a 10lb trevally on fly, does fishing get any better than this?
It was the third or forth cast during the next drift that the next fish hit. Again we were working the rip edge, ‘on the money’, as Andrew had accurately described it. The take, if you can call it that, could not have been more explosive had someone dropped a fridge out of a helicopter hovering overhead. There was no need to strike as in the blink of an eye the fish had ripped all of the loose line out through the rod eyes, and already many yards of line were being ripped from the reel, despite the substantial clutch setting. “GT!” Andrew shouted, while I screamed something unprintable. Perched at the very prow of the bow, Tammy was positively apoplectic!
In classic style the fish was heading straight back towards the most jagged section of reef, and had it got there it would have been game over the second either the taught fly line or tippet came into contact with coral. Under Andrew’s constant guidance and instruction I pulled as hard as I dared, as he skilfully used the boat to manoeuvre us out into open, deep water, both of us desperately attempting to get the fish swimming where we wanted. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined I’d experience a fight such as this while using a fly rod, and fight was very much the operative word. You may well use a fly rod to ‘play’ a salmon or a trout, but you physically fight a GT.
That fish gave me an impressive display of its immense strength and raw aggression while using every trick in the book to break the leader, characteristics I now know are entirely typical for the species. Despite the considerable pressure I was exerting with the 12wt, which at times I honestly thought it was going to shatter, about 15 minutes later I somehow I brought it alongside the boat where Andrew tailed it. He estimated it weighed somewhere around 40lb, a modest specimen for the species but for me it was truly the fish of a lifetime, a fish that 15 years later I still classify among my top three all time catches.
A FEW YEARS LATER: LINENE ISLAND:
I’d seen the look before and now, sat at the bar at Linene Island Lodge, I found myself staring at it yet again. It’s a look that’s very hard to disguise, and now it was written all over Earl’s Strydom’s face. I was standing in front of him holding a selection of ‘jigs’, the sort of lures that I’d brought along on this particular trip to cast and ‘spin’ with for kingfish from the beach using my heavy beach caster. “I’d like to try jigging them over the reef, I’ve heard they can be very effective,” I had explained to Earl. Viewing my lures with obvious scepticism Earl couldn’t hide that look of doubt from his face that look that all to clearly said; “Use them if you must, but when you’ve had enough we’ll do things my way.” Less than seven hours later we were sat back at the bar celebrating what Earl described as one of the most productive offshore sessions he’d ever witnessed; and where precisely could he obtain some of those jigs from!
I wrote these first two paragraphs twelve years ago, and that first days tropical jigging still ranks as one of the most productive I have ever experienced anywhere. Aside from many GT’s and yellow spot trevally, it’s hard to think of a species of commonly caught Indian Ocean reef fish that we did not catch that day.
Linene Island Lodge is a low lying tropical paradise that you’ll find tucked away in a sheltered lagoon within the lee of the San Sebastian Peninsula, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn in Mozambique. Known as the ‘Island of Kings’, Linene and the adjacent Bazaruto archipelago are widely regarded throughout southern Africa as being an excellent place to do battle with the various species of trevally, or ‘kingfish’ as the various species of trevally are known in southern Africa. These include the undisputed king of inshore Indo/Pacific game fish caranx ignobilis, the giant trevally or GT, along with countless other hard fighting tropical species, many of which can all be caught here from the beach.
In Nov 2012 I got to revisit Linene for a second time with a group of clients from Anglers World Holidays, and not surprisingly I was very keen to run back out to the reefs to see if I could in any way relive that magical day. Now with many years of tropical jigging experience beneath my belt, plus the advantage of modern tackle that has been specifically built for the job, I was sure we would once again enjoy an amazing session over the reef.
However when we arrived in Mozambique the weather was not good, with a persistent 30 knot plus south easterly wind battering the coast. The outlook for the next few days were not good either, if anything, we were told, the wind looked more like increasing rather than dropping off. Clearly any chance of getting though the narrow pass at the tip of the sand spit, a turbulent patch of water that on a calm day will test the boat handling skills of the helmsman, was not going to be an option.
Fishing from the beach was pretty much the only choice we had, and from this perspective it was fortunate that we were based at Linene, a lodge where the emphasis is very much on fishing from both boat and beach. While the rough conditions prevented any thoughts of boat fishing, they were absolutely perfect for fishing for trevally from the beach, as with a lively surf fish move right inshore to feed on the abundance of baitfish getting washed about by the vigorous wave action.
What’s more, unlike at most other locations where I have fished for trevally, on the tip of this particular sand spit we would be fishing over clean sand. The nearest reefs and structure were a long way off, so if we hooked a fish we knew we could enjoy the fight without having to worry about the line getting cut by coral.
The wake up call came a 03:30, and following a quick cup of coffee we boarded one of the lodge boats for the short run across the lagoon to the sand spit. Stepping ashore I could see the faintest hint of dawn just starting to lighten the eastern sky, but I could not look too long as overnight the wind had increased and now was blasting us with stinging sand. It was a few hundred metres walk to the tip of the spit, and I was pleased to note that here at least the wind would be coming from directly behind. Apart from being a lot more comfortable, it would greatly assist casting into the foaming maelstrom of confused waves that lay in front of us.
Now it was getting lighter by the minute, dawn in Africa is a brief affair, and we were thankful we had rigged our tackle the night before we could immediately start fishing. The break of dawn is one of the most productive times of day to fish for many species at many places around the world, and here in Mozambique it is the absolute prime time for hooking a GT from the shore. The best time is invariably before the sun climbs above the horizon, giving us perhaps a 40 minute opportunity of optimum fishing time.
During my first trip to Linene one of the most successful surface poppers we had used was the Yo-Zuri Surface Bull, indeed back then this was one of only a few large poppers that were generally available. Still the Surface Bull is a firm favourite of mine, as not only does it cast exceptionally well, but it can be worked effectively at various speeds in both rough and calm conditions. I’ve caught a lot of fish with this lure, but like all shop bought lures you need to replace the hooks and split rings that come fitted to the lure as standard. The Surface Bull I launched into the surf that morning was suitably rigged with a single Owner ST76 5/O at the tail end of the lure, secured with a super strong split ring.
I loaded my favourite Shimano Caranx Kaibutsu Long Cast popping rod and launched the lure seawards, the wind carrying it out beautifully. I placed the rod butt in my belt butt pad and started to retrieve the lure, trying to pick it out in the still dim light amongst the mess of white water in front of me.
Moments later an excited shout to me right confirmed one of our crew, Ray Jennings, had hooked up, and I could from the bend in his rod it appeared to be a decent fish. I recast a second time and was stood enjoying the spectacle of watching Ray getting pulled along the beach by his fish, when a powerful smash on my line indicated I, too, had hooked a fish. We had been on the beach for less than five minutes yet already two of use were hooked into good fish!
After about ten minutes Ray managed to work his fish to the beach, a solid slab of bronzed muscle that measured out at 30lb. Minutes later I pulled my fish clear of the surf and onto the wet sand, another superb GT of a similar size. Both fish were quickly photographed and released, and the two of us resumed popping. Now it was almost fully light, the sun steadily clawing its way into the sky, but soon to be lost in dense cumulous clouds that covered most of the sky.
It was exciting fishing and I was watching my lure dance through the surf fully expecting another strike, when an explosion of white water 50m to the left followed by a scream from John Shervington confirmed he, too, was tight to a fish. The severe bend in his rod and the screaming clutch of his Stella confirmed he was hooked to a substantial fish.
Initially it looked as if John might actually get spooled by this fish, such was the power and endurance of the first run, but eventually it slowed and kited to our left in the tide, and John was able to start working his fish towards the beach; just as I hooked a second fish.
This fish I could immediately feel was noticeably more powerful than my first, and just like John’s it ripped a substantial amount of line from the reel on it’s first run. There was nothing I could do but dig in and allow my tackle to do the job it is designed for, that is to apply maximum pressure over a sustained period of time while connected to one of the worlds most powerful species of fish.
John worked his fish for the better part of fifteen minutes before finally two of the camp crew waded out into the foaming surf, grabbed a hold of it and carried it ashore; I could see it was very big. My fish, too, was now very close to the beach, doggedly swimming back and forth just beyond the first breaker, but the crew were busy dealing with John’s fish. So I waited for what I hoped was the right moment to beach it, and when it came I added just enough extra pressure to glide my fish through the wave and into shallow water on the beach.
The tactic worked perfectly and at the first attempt the fish ended up all but beached on the sand; and the hook fell out. Before I had chance to run down and grab its tail the next wave surged over it, and just like that the fish was gone. I’ve caught enough GT’s to be able to confidently claim that fish was all of 50-60lb, but I could see it was dwarfed by John’s fish, which at a ‘measured’ 90lb+ was the GT of a lifetime anywhere, let alone when fishing from the beach. John had caught his fishing using a Jigstar 180s Starwalker, sinking stick bait, which is undoubtedly the most productive lure currently used in these waters, especially in the pink ones. The lodge runs a well stocked tackle shop, but needless to say all of the Starwalkers sold out pretty quickly!
We fished from the sand spit the next couple of mornings, and we caught a few more GT’s. With conditions offshore still too rough to contemplate any hope of boat fishing we were restricted to fishing the beach and lagoon, where we enjoyed reasonable sport catching bonefish in the 4-6lb range, plus an assortment of other species. This coastline produces a lot of very big bonefish, and we were told a fish of 20lb+ had been caught here. Various other species of trevally along with some very big shark and ray are also caught from the beach around Linene Island.
After the third day the wind finally eased, and as the surf started to moderate so the shore fishing off the sand spit began to get quiet. Luckily now we were able to safely venture out into the open sea, and the wait was certainly worth it!
Once out through the narrow pass off the sand spit and clear of the bar, we were in relatively calm water beyond the surf line. Conditions looked very good, especially when we found flocks of feeding birds. Casting our poppers and stick baits amongst these and along the very edges of the back surf line produced a lot of rod bending action. Mostly we caught yellowspot and bludger trevally in the 15-30lb range, but mixed in amongst these were some nice GT’s. School size yellowfin tuna and kawa-kawa along with several big king mackerel added variety.
Finally I got to drop a jig on the reef I had fished all of those years ago, and yes we caught some good fish, again mostly yellowspot and bludger trevally, along with a few species of snapper and grouper. Luckily for us the weather for the second half of our week was excellent and conditions were perfect for casting surface lures, and we were all beaten up more than enough by big fish throwing poppers from the lodge boats and from the beach, which was absolutely fine by me!
GT ON FLY?
These days more and more anglers target GT’s on fly, but not surprisingly this is a highly specialised technique; actually there are two techniques. Both require at least a 12wt fly rod matched with a strong saltwater fly reel rigged with a tropical grade weight forward fly line terminating in a leader incorporating a 100lb monofilament shock tippet.
GT’s do not have sharp teeth like a barracuda, but they do have incredibly strong jaws, consequently thin monofilament tippets will not last long given the abrasion they will undoubtedly be subjected to during the fight. Hooks used to tie flies for GT fishing or any other form of GT fishing absolutely must be of the very highest quality. Personally I favour the excellent Owner Aki range to tie my flies for GT’s and other powerful fish such as tarpon.
The first technique fly fishermen targeting GT’s use is to blind cast in those areas they are found, including reef edges, drop off’s, tide rips and water above deeper reefs, usually casting from a drifting boat as I had done on my first trip to Mozambique. Almost always surface poppers are used as not only are these the most exciting way to fish for these amazing fish, but nothing seems to attract the attention of a hungry GT and induce an attack more effectively than a popper. Another advantage in using a surface lure is that by inducing the GT to rise to the surface to eat that popper, you are drawing it as far as possible away from tackle destroying coral heads they will surely aim for as soon as they feel the hook.
The second technique used to take GT’s on fly, which is widely used in most of the very best areas where they are caught, is to use a popper cast from a spinning rod as a teaser. The popper, which has no hooks attached, is cast by another angler while the fly fisherman stands alongside ready to cast with your fly. The popper is used as a ‘teaser’ simply to attract and excite the GT’s, and then induce them into casting range for the fly angler.
As the fish attacks the hookless lure it become increasingly aggressive, with the trick being to prevent the fish from fully taking the lure by ‘trying’ to keep it working just in front of the attacking fish. As soon as the fish is drawn to within casting range for the fly caster, the popper is jerked out of the water, and at that same instant the fly is cast as close as possible to the point where the teaser was last working in the water. Almost always the fish will immediately turn its attention on to the fly, and eat it.
This technique is used by anglers fishing afloat, and also by anglers wading flats that are adjacent to deeper channels, areas where GT’s often hunt. It’s a very exciting form of fishing requiring good teamwork, substantial tackle, and plenty of spare fly lines and flies!
I regularly organise group trips where GT’s are our primary target species. For more information check the link to hosted trips on my home page or contact Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717 or visit: www.anglersworld.tv