cant wait to go back, Ive got a few scores to settle 2nd time around!
That's one hell of a report. What a fantastic journey! One a time to spend with great friends on the open water.
The shish kabobs look tasty.
Seth Thanks man, its an awesome way to spend time with the lads. Better than poker nights anyday!
You and me both Tommo!
Over lunch the satellite phone delivered the news we were dreading. The 40Knt wind forecast a week back was now much worse and a full on weather front. Tornadoes had hit SA, which was unheard of and the system was moving north towards us! We had an estimate of it arriving sometime the next day in the afternoon. That may just give us a session on the flats but it was uncertain. 250 miles out and isolated we could take no chances and needed to get to the sheltered side of the atoll. You will hear me talk about massive seas and huge rolling breakers but in most photo’s you’ll see calm conditions and beautiful flats. This is because there are very different environments around the atoll. As you can imagine as the water and the current hit the structure you get huge currents and seas on the one side but then the structure acts as a shelter to the other side and you get very protected waters there. The bigger fish are typically in the rough side and this is where we did most of the blue water stuff. Access to the flats and anchorage was generally in the protected side. With the weather news there was no point dwelling on it and just sitting there kaking ourselves for an experience we had no precedent! Instead we soaked up Brent’s confidence and went fishing – Blue Water Style !
The session went much the same as the day before, fish after fish smashed into us but a few definitely stood out! A giant Barracuda Pengas got right to the washboard was one of the biggest I had ever seen! Unfortunately as the lures were running out we had switched to try a cheapo, it wasn’t up to the job... It literally exploded just before we lifted her out the water and she slipped back into the wash. We did manage to land a nice one though.
Tomo at the ready made a cast to a disappearing teaser and exploded a massive wahoo in the wash. She went easily over 60lb! I can still close my eyes and see that reel spinning. Tommo was giving it everything and held onto that fish for ages! Unfortunately it would not stop and run by run it stole chunks of backing. Eventually we chased her as close to the 20ft breakers as we could go and the tippet, sadly while a 150lb it was not rigged with wire and parted company. It was amazing it lasted that long but there were literally yards of backing left and with no mobility I’m not sure the result would have been positive anyway. The whole boat was gutted for Tommo, it was a great and long fight. We were also a little more scared each time we cast into the unknown. This fishery was truly remarkable.
Most anglers never get the chance to engage a 100lb fish so when I delivered my fly to the boil at the back and saw a tuna resembling a dolphin eat it, the adrenaline and shock was awesome. Strip striking wasn’t much of an option as the fish took at full cast so I kept my knuckles clear and hit is as much as I could with the rod. The hook was definitely set and not going anywhere. Clearly I was not going to get this in the allotted 4 minutes but Brent got me excited when he said the sharks don’t normally get them when they are that big. It makes sense when they are surrounded by a pick and mix bite size tuna bar.
There’s no doubt that tuna are awesome fighters, but compared to the GT’s and other big game they are pretty fair. Especially in deep water it’s just now down to the tackle and angler. Hear me out, I’m not saying it’s easy or take anything away from these awesome fish, just that it’s a different metric. I’ve lost hundreds of GT’s that have been properly hooked but not tuna. Take the Bassas Death squad out the equation and your chances of landing a hooked tuna are very high unless there is a tackle or angler failure. Sure you can get away with ok tackle on bonnies and smaller chaps but these dolphins and fish this size – these are the occasions where substandard gear just doesn’t work, it just farts and falls down. Thankfully I had the best tackle in the world, from rods and reels to lines and tippets. The tackle worry is now out the equation. So down to the angler, with big tuna and light tackle you simply cannot just sit there and let the tuna just swan around. My father used to say “If you’re resting, then it’s resting! And it’s a lot fitter than you!” It will take hours and the fish will sound and will most likely die, deep down, you’ll be left to lift a dead carcass - which is in my view a hollow victory. So you really have to get stuck in physically with these fish to give them every chance of survival. That means you are going to put an unreasonable amount of strain on the other angler metric, your knots. They aren’t going to have the normal to and fro of one directional traffic. They will be under serious strain and pressures for an extended period of time. I always find it amusing when people get into the argument about breaking strain and reel drag as though it’s a simple equation. The forces of stress on gear in these tussles are a lot more complicated than fish weight and real drag and anything else my mathematical skill can comprehend.
My 16# maxed and every inch of power and effort I had was being poured into her quickly and at the beginning. When the line flew back at me and I flew backwards, I was choked! I have lost many girlfriends but never had I been that heartbroken... It turned quickly to frustration and anger when my bimini loop came back without a fly line. I had nobody else to blame. I had replaced the line earlier and allowed myself to be lazy and just loop the bimini straight onto the line and omitted the cats paw which allows the load to be spead under these sort of battles. A mistake of keeping up with the Jones’s I will not make again on my return to basses.
It doesn’t take long to get over losses as the excitement just continued as fish after fish came and went all afternoon. Terry got stuck into a lovely wahoo which managed some pretty good acrobatics. I love the colours of the Wahoo as they hit the light in the sun...
IT was my turn on the big sticks committed with the marlin smokers.
I was sitting on the fighting chair and took the strike. Brian in a scene of deja vu to my left stood on the washboard. I tucked into the take and gleamed as a sailfish leaped across the evening sun. She tailed all along the horizon but managed to shake the hooks free. While retrieving all the line it had just run out I got smashed again and caught off guard as the rod lurched out of my bucket and I missed the strike. The wahoo came off after a dive and a splash. Amazingly, reeling in that slack I got smashed by another mammoth tuna, I felt it run for a few seconds but that came off too.... clearly my karma was finished on my King earlier in the day. Another bill and sail cut through the wake, the boat must have attracted her. Yes our not so virgin salt water virgin was there again and made the cast. 20 seconds of blur and haze showed just how much pace the fastest fish in the sea has. Unfortunately it asked us to let you know just how grateful you should be if you are one of the lucky ones who have landed one on the fly.
We averaged another few yellowfin each to finish off the day... Tomorrow would dawn an intimmidating challenge. We would take a 9am weather call again but we knew what was coming. We planned to hit the flats, if we could, even for an hour before she hit us but first things first...
Midnight rum snapper club time! After sushi and a braai that is!
Im still a little gutted about that Wahoo, it was a real hog!
You made up for it mate :-)
That morning we awoke, all anticipating the 9am sat call from base on the weather. Unfortunately there was no miracle and there would be no avoiding the front, it was coming! Knowing that we would not have good weather for at least a few days, we decided for a quick dash to a new bit of the flats. Frantically we all readied and piled into the tender. The dark front now clearly visible on the horizon was starting to take over the sky. As the tender carried us over the reef and into the lagoon, the front arrived. We were aiming straight for a shipwreck to target some GT’s but the lightning and thunder was all around. There was laughter and banter coming from all sides in the tender but I noticed every rod was as low as it could go. There seemed to be a non stated competition between making sure your rod wasn’t the highest point. Not that there was much point to this little game as we were all clearly the highest point next to the shipwreck. Through all the bravado an incredible lightning strike lit the sky with an almighty crash of thunder. It branched across the whole view of the now black sky. The heavens opened and visibility dropped fast. The laughter now gone and with it the smiley faces and rosy English cheeks! Nobody wanted to be the wuss that suggested that we head home... I even muttered the daftest statement I’ve ever made “Perhaps we can go and get shelter in the shipwreck and then wait for it to blow over and let us fish?” I remember Jon stating a telling answer to the question with a rather specific tone of voice... “What?!”
There was another remarkable strike. I looked back at Brent driving on the tiller steering and realised he had been completely silent through all the banter. “What do you think Brent?” I asked “I think you are all bloody crazy!”
That was an instant unanimous “LETS GET BACK TO THE SHIP!”
Through the torrential rain, lightning, thunder and boat filled to the gunwales, that ride back to the mother ship was the longest 4 minutes of my life!
We stepped off the tender and onto our floating home. Suitable drenched we resigned to our fate and the forecasted 3 days of 30 – 45 knot winds. No more flats for now.
Trying to forget that we were all sitting on a rather high point with lovely outriggers straight up in the air, I grabbed my heavy sinking fly gear in shear disapproval and dropped a fly to the depths. I was immediately rewarded with smashing take close to the boat on my first cast! Line and backing started to disappear and I forgot all about my drenched clothes and disappointment. I remembered that even though we were confined to the ship it was anchored smack bang in the middle of what has to be the some of the best fishing grounds on the planet. We tussled, I was losing some line and gaining it. Bent hard into the fish, with the hit and hold Bassas style, I kept my fish from the ever present wall of snags. This was a powerful fish and a great fight. I won and lifted another first on the fly for me and the trip... A Black Jack. A trevally species with all the bells and whistles and finally confirmation of a fish I’d hoped we would have a shot at... This was a baby but still an ok fish and he made a real account of himself. As I landed my fish I watched a few more swim pass the transom and they were a lot bigger, a hell of a lot bigger... We had a new target!
Terry not to be outdone by Junior was dropping the jig down in a flash. True as nuts he goes tight and the torque reel does its thing. They tussle and dads enforcing a change of direction to keep the clearly decent fish from swimming between the tender rope, holding the tender and the other side of the boat. I was amused and laughing to myself about the incredible shift in fishing techniques we have had to adapt to fishing in this place. Normally a fish like this would take a while but nope, on light rods and with pure strength against strength these battles were brief but brutal. He lifted a gorgeous coral trout from the water. This was another spectacle of a fish and a reinforcement of the amazing array of species in this place. These are just the best farther and son moments... And yes, his was bigger than mine.
such pretty fish, the colours are amazing!
Like an air raid siren, a ratchet shattered the silence and dictated battle stations for all. The line was tearing off at an almighty pace. Terence was in the chair in a heartbeat and the clicker was disengaged. Frantically us scrubbers were reeling in the other lines and while I put away one of the sets I could still hear line peeling off. This thing hadn’t stopped once in the time it took all of us to put the other rods down.
After a coffee and breakfast duly provided by Brent and Lucky, Brent had enforced a trolling session to lighten the weather wounds, and we had headed off again. The lures must have looked tantalising diving in and out the white horses as we pushed through the swells.
Terry had settled into a rhythm now, that’s the rhythm of watching line disappear, catching his breath, and then tucking back into the beast with the drag well past the recommended health warning. Sweat beads dripping from his forehead, I could tell he was drifting back to the memories of our conversations earlier that year. “Dad, you’d better do some push ups before this thing man! You’re going to need those guns”
He was well and truly into the fight now, pumping the rod and reeling to get those precious inches. The extra pressure forced the fish into another strategy realizing swimming away from the boat wasn’t working. The line angle started reducing and she was clearly sounding. No time for a jolly as he worked the head into an upward angle. Fish like this are a 100% commitment. Spurred on by the line gaining he pushed on and the whole crew were behind him. There were shouts of encouragement and lots of “Come on Terry, Good work! PULLL HER IN” We could sense a victory here and after losing so many fish of this size in the last couple of days we were eager to see her. We all hoped the encouragement would keep the pressure on.
I grabbed my gloves as the battle neared the end. Staring into the water I could the see the colour and the sheer scale of it. Here we go, another daunting moment on the washboard. A fish means so much to me and a fish of this size is just off the scale in most lifetimes. I would be devastated to mess it up. You have to keep those pressures out of your mind when you are about to grab the leader and hope you don’t make the slightest error that could end a friendship ;D The size of some of these things really test your mindset and I have to admit wondering if I was strong enough to lift it safely. There was no time to debate it as the fish was in the wash, still swimming.
Terry had done his job now it was mine, there’s always that moment of deafening silence when you grab the leader. It’s a caught fish now but we all know that’s not the case for the angler who never got to see his fish because the hook popped out during the landing. Nobody said a word, that is until I managed it onto the dash and secured the fish –this one would not be getting away!There was a lot of noise! There was a lot of jubilation and an expression that tells a thousand stories.
It didn’t take long for the celebrations to be interrupted by another leviathan heading for home. This was the moment Steve had been waiting for and set hard into the fight. And what a fight. Almost 2 hours later and we finally had a fish “close” to the boat. More than an hour earlier Steve was tussling a mighty tuna. The fight had changed but Steve was committed. I was in his ear reasurring him it may still be a fish. Deep down inside we all hoped it hadn’t happened and Steve couldn’t risk passing over the rod in case it was just another epic fish. There was a lot of sniggering going on out of sight :-) He battled through truly exhausted he had no energy left, all our sniggering of the boys in grey where confirmed as the shape that materialised was clearly a shark, a big one.
He was gutted, we all felt a bit disappointed. In truth though a majestic animal and a true beast was below us, Credit where it’s due as it’s no easy feat to hang on to a monster for two hours and Steve did that holding onto a possibility... Thing is other than swimming down and slapping it n the face, Steve was done with this fight and I really understood that. This gave the rest of us all a chance to give it a bit of stick. We wanted the lure back if possible but at least to get back as much of the line as possible. The hook would rust out quickly but we didn’t want to leave line trailing and risk causing damage. It would still be some time before we managed to get her close enough to the side to get our gear back. It would have taken 1 angler a very, very long time! She sure does bring clarity to the challenges we were having landing smaller fish though.
I looked out to the horizon and was suddenly aware of the size of swells we were navigating. The Cat was showing it’s true ability here, this was a massive sea! My thoughts were with the sailors of the past and the treacheries they must have faced. I was very glad for the shelter the atoll provided at night for without it there would be no sleep. In the holes of these swells all around our views were blocked. I couldn’t image what it would be like sailing for days through this. Even now there were probably round the world yachts’ trying to cross this very channel. I decided to stop pondering. It was easy change of focus as Tomo was up.
He took a good strike and was into a different fish. We could tell by the battle between them and the headshake on the rod we wasn’t playing with a tuna. Even with the drag down he couldn’t stop the short bursts of explosive power. Great fun to watch the down and dirty dance between them. It was no surprise when Tomo triumphantly landed my favourite species of all. A respectable GT and our first for the trip.
Tomo could have doubled up but was too stubborn at a younger age to realise that you are supposed to wind big fish with the right hand. He took a great strike but the fish was just too much for a Kak hand winder. He started the job but gave me the rod to finish it. It’s a great story because we both spent so many hours talking about catching a big GT. To share the experience was irreplaceable.
An incredible fish came next, It leaves little to tell as I’ll let the pictures do that but when the biggest GT I’ve caught to date was in the wash during that critical moment, I stopped breathing. There were a few guys on the board helping to land him. They had the leader but she wasn’t coming quickly enough for me and I hated that moment. I wasn’t about to risk being able to blame anyone for this getting away. No time for the glove I tucked the rod and pushed my way past. I grabbed hold of him with all my strength and did not let go. Even if I went over I would have not let him go. The colours reflect the true image for me. The bully of the sea, a brute of our oceans! If you haven’t tussled with a GT then I really recommend you do. I’ve lost more than I can count but most of my epic battles on fly or conventional have belonged to this fish. I love this species and have a complete respect for them. We only had it out for seconds, attached the bogas and lowered him back into the flow. Then it was gone, but another memory forever.
Pratty and Steve caught a few more yellowfin all over 20lb and terry had a nice Boha, Brian finished the session with another Wahoo. Yes this day wasn’t one for the fly. Cast and switching in swells higher than a house and 30 – 40knott winds just isn’t ideal and the flats where out, but it didn’t matter to us. It was just another day we would never forget.
Last edited by Fryfly; 03-01-12 at 05:57 AM.
That night the watch was taken very seriously. We were anchored just off the atoll as always but the wind was pumping. Any change in direction and we could swing round and be dangerously close to a fate suffered by the sailors of days gone by. The reality of the exposure was ever present in the dark hours of that night. Not much of the midnight rum was consumed but just enough to steady the nerves. All eyes were on the finder and wind direction so I was pleased when it was finally time to get my head down. We didn’t wake early that morning as we knew there was no hope of the flats. The gorgeous smell of the fry-up made its way through the boat and I headed from my cabin to the coffee. The wind was still present but the sun was out and it was really beautiful. I think the initial shock was over and the stiffness and line burns were definitely beginning to make themselves known. The lack of urgency was strangely enjoyable and we settled into a few admin tasks of sorting gear and traces.
I couldn’t resist the urge, even before a shower to drop a fly and made a few casts off the back. I wasn’t really awake yet as I was really just getting the line out and hadn’t enjoyed the benefits of the full cup of coffee yet. My state of calm was rudely interrupted as I moved the fly. The line was pulled sharply out of my fingers, sending me more into a trout striking fumbling mess which served me right... Luckily I managed to grab the line again sort myself out but missed the vital seconds you get when you hook these brutes which is normally a rather large scale tipper in their favour. The reel spun like mad and woke everyone’s attention with the ratchet sound we love so much. The boat was anchored and the fish ran straight down. I reached the rod over the side to stop it breaking and the fishes first run came to an end. It's really interesting fighting these fish from such a large anchored platform. It gets so deep right under you and you have to deal with all sorts of directional angles and runs that just on a problem on the flats and shallows. I put the power on trying to turn her head back at a manageable angle. She turned and hit the afterburners again. I did all I could to keep the pressure on during the run and as soon as it stopped I worked it hard up in the water column. This stubborn determination from both sides eventually turned in my favour. Chuffed to bits I landed a great black jack on the board. I couldn't help but admire her in the morning sun, her shimmering almost glowing deep black flanks were incredible. I have never seen such a haunting colour on a fish I lowered her into the water and held her in there for a few seconds before she kicked off back to the blue.
I was barely back on my feet before the boys were hustling me out of place. Tomo was already stripping off line and sending it to the depths. Pratty had taken place on the other board and was doing the same. Tomo went solid on the way down and by pitch of the reel, it was big! Meanwhile Pratty's retrieve was rudely interrupted as his fly must have hooked the back bumper of the bassas express. This was the first of the many double hookups we had that morning. Pratty was loving the power of the fish and soon held up another specimen fish. Tomo's was taking a While and was clearly putting up a rather decent account of itself. It's a fine line between putting the hurt on enough to stop the bullies hitting the reef versus snapping a blank and it's every bit as entertaining watching it as it is trying to pull it off yourself. Obviously with all the practice we were getting better at it. Normally with this kind of fishing a 12# is fine but over here we were only just getting to grips with the 14#’s. I smiled as I watched Tomo boat the biggest so far.
We had anchored in a sheltered cove and a gap in the reef was funnelling huge quantities of water out from the centre lagoon into the depths right passed us. The storm would have loosened extra bits and morsels that were all getting dumped out the crater into the rip and the fish were all around us. I had muscled my way back in the lineup and was on the board after Tomo. Brian was into a big fish. I struck into a take and looked over to see a very wide eyed focused Bri. I bet he still gets woken by the sound of that reel in his dreams. I boated probably the smallest fish I caught that morning at about 6lb while Brian was still losing braid to whatever was terrifying him. It wasn’t too long before he started getting the upper hand and A monster black jack went passed the stern. Unsurprisingly he was stoked to boat another fish of a lifetime.
We had a scary moment then, Brian and Pratty were on the left of the stern and Tomo was alone on the right. I was catching my breath on the fighting chair watching Tomo cast out the mega clouser. He had stripped in a fair amount of line and had a huge take. The line running line on the deck disappeared in seconds but somehow the line got wrapped around his thigh it upended him and he fell onto the board. I dived off the chair and grabbed him. He had the sense to get his leg straight and the luck that I had seen it happen and knew exactly what was going on. I managed to get it off in a second but we were very close to a man overboard in a bad rip attached to a bad ass fish in extremely hostile waters. We laughed it off but it was an interesting moment.
I landed a stunning coral trout, the array of colours never cease to amaze me, with a few other jacks before the tide flow started to slow and I surrendered to a break of coffee and a chance to reflect on what was all around us. I had woken that morning resigned to the thought that we would again be skunked on our fly-fishing for the day. I couldn't have been more wrong. The wind was still heavy and the flats would be a waste of time but we had definitely experienced some wonderful fly-fishing. That afternoon it was impossible to cast effectively with thw heavy conditions, so we spent it doing some trolling with the conventional gear, occasionally chucking out a heavy fly rod just for fun. With the biggest flies we had and it worked really well together with the heavy lines. Clearly not fly fishing but we all took a lot of fish on the really light fly gear and it was serious fun! Which afterall was the point. Tuna and Wahoo actually seemed to prefer the flies to the lures. There’s something really exciting about physically holding a “fairy stick”, as Brent had affectionately termed them, and getting hit at full taps by a fully committed fish. While originally we had wanted to spend most of our time on fly the weather and sharks had really affected our results. When we return to Bassas we will do a lot differently but that’s what explorations are about and one thing for certain was that we had learnt a few lessons about the place
That evening the Braai was centre stage and we soaked up the atmosphere and experience. The conversations were flowing of the recollections of experiences, memories and impressions of the few days gone by. It was as though we were talking about all our lives fishing experiences and not a few days. Incredible Place.
"Let's go now!"
"We’re leaving in 10 minutes!"
I flew out of my bed and grabbed one of the coffees. There was no time to sit back and enjoy it as the race was on. The boat was alive with action - fly rods and backpacks everywhere, pass me this chuck me that! The clunk, clunk of the winch was in the background as the tender was lowered and then the engine put in place on the transom. I was trying to sort myself out but clearly the others had a head start and I was the last into the tender as I couldn't find my dam stripping glove.
The scene must have been similar to young soldiers getting ready to go to battle. We were fighting against time and by the urgency around us we were running low on it.
The tide was running out and the water level dropping quickly. Not only would this mean we'd have less time to explore the flat, our journey over the outer reef into the lagoon would be interesting. Today we were really going exploring! We were hunting the monster GT's of this water which get over 100lb’s.
The tender left the security of the mother ship and headed out to the unknown. Slowly Brent edged the little boat as far as he could over the reef towards the centre lagoon but eventually we had to bail out. Step by step we pushed and pulled and routed the boat forward. "My god," I thought to myself, “This is a true adventure! What the hell were we in for today? What would Bassas do next?"
Just then, two really big blue spots darted out from our paths. I was desperate to have a cast but managed to resists the urge. Man, this place never lets you relax!
Finally we find a way and broke through the barrier of the reef. We piled back into the boat and drove on. The view in front of us infolded as we approached, a scene of darkness it was eerie and ominous filled with unimaginable tragedy. As we drew closed the devastated remains of a huge ship swallowed your attention.
We pulled up close, about 1km from where we entered the lagoon. The coral flat was different again here. Simply put it was a maze. As you looked out there were channels running every which way. Fire coral everywhere, there were deep holes and ledges that could never hold a man’s weight. As you walked across ankle deep water, one wrong step and you were over your head at best, sliced to pieces and stuck at worse. The coral was razor sharp and care was essential. We did not want a medical emergency now. Bits of the ship lay all around us, the steel orange, brown and red with rust. The dark clouds scattered the sky and the huge breakers crashed on the outer reef, huge barrels of power behind the ship. Everyone was silenced by the awe of it. This was a god forsaken place, what had these people been through.
Sure I took a shot at a blue spot, it pounced on the fly and then proceeded to cut me off even faster but really our focus wasn’t there and we just forgot about the fishing for a bit and tried somehow to take it all in. We slowly walked around what lay in front of us. There were broken propellers bigger than a wagon wheel and a massive anchor chain. The links were as thick as a man’s trunk and lay running from the outer reef to the broken bow... a failed attempt at saviour.
I remember standing with Tomo on a piece of the ship staring at the wreckage as the waves pounded the reef. We were consumed the reality of what had happened here. There can only be a handful of places on the planet as wild, incomprehensible and unforgiving as this. We stood there for ages and didn’t say a word. I remember thinking back to the wonderful memories of my life, my friends, my family. I felt such a contrast of emotion, that of sadness for what had happened here and that of happiness for all I was lucky enough to have. The rest of the memories for that day remain mine, what we found there will never leave me. Moments and days like this make any expedition or adventure worth it all.
The tide flooded us off and we made our way back to the mother ship. It was most definitely time for a beer.