Into the Great Wide Open – Part II – Adventures on St Brandon’s Atoll

Continuing on from Part 1, which you can read here: Into the Great Wide Open – Part1 – Adventures on St.Brandons Atoll

We returned to the Gryphon at the end of our first day out on the incredible flats of St.Brandons, to dinner on the back deck, and all of us bursting with tales of the incredible fishing we’d experienced that first day… the countless monster class bonefish, the Goldens, Thomas’s Permit, the GT’s spotted… many a Phoenix Beer was consumed, as we all sat drinking and laughing into the night… the pressure was off… we were finally here, after what had been a long journey for all of us, some more so than others, and that realization we were finally here, and the fishing was as good, if not better than we expected, loosened us all up even further… a damn good night was had…

 

Day two dawned, another beautiful day… there was some cloud about, with a fair breeze, but mostly sunny and with our spirits sky high, we bundled into our trust skiffs and jetted off in 4 different directions once again in search of glory…

_DSC2102

Thomas and I had been paired up, and fishing today with FCA Guide Chase Nicholson… Chase is a Cape Town born and bred fishing nut, and having been a member of both the Junior and Senior Protea Fly fishing teams, has been entrenched and engrossed in all things fish and fly fishing since a very young age… Having completed a fisheries degree at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, a natural progression of course would be into the world of guiding… for someone so young, his knowledge and skills are enviable, as is his calm demeanor in the face of , shall we say, “Interesting scenarios”, as played out not long into our morning together…

As with most of the first few mornings, we’d started the day on the last hour of the dropping tide, and as such started in very skinny water, and were wading and casting to shoals and small groups of typically tank size St.Brandons Bonefish, which were pouncing onto our flies like hungry hippos… Our morning plan had been to hopefully find, and tie onto some of the fantastic Golden Trevally action Chase had experienced with Jim and Barbara the day before in a similar area known as Boneyards…

As the tide started to push, and we got a little more water onto the flats, we started to keep an eye out for the tell tale flashing golden tails of tailing Golden Trevally over the sand and turtle grass flats… Chase spotted groups feeding a hundred metres or so from where we were and so the 3 of us started trekking across the flats towards the area… by this time the tide had pushed pretty hard, and we were in between knee and mid thigh water, with a few of the channels being waist deep… the Goldens were feeding in amongst a huge number of bonefish, which ironically became a bit of a problem….we’d spot a golden tailing, and cover it with a cast, and go tight almost immediately… only to find the fly had been smashed by another monster St.Brandons Bonefish rather than the intended Golden… Thomas and I tried all sorts of things like stripping as hard and fast as we could as soon as the fly landed, to up sizing our flies to massive shrimp patterns, normally way too big for bonefish in my experience, but time and again the Bones proved that rules don’t apply here on St.Brandons… So typically is it of human nature that we were starting to get frustrated by the annoying 6/7 lb bonefish that kept stealing our flies….

By know we found ourselves in an enroumous feeding area of Bones and Goldens… as so happens in these scenarios, with so many fish feeding hard on the flats, they had turned the water to a milky haze, known in the flats world as a “Mud”… due to the high currents acorss the flats typical of St.Brandons, these milky areas spread fast and we soon found ourselves in the middle of a milky feeding zone…

Thomas went tight again after casting at yet another tailing Golden, and as had happened a dozen times before we assumed Bonefish until it showed itself in a patch of clean water to be our target quarry, a beautiful Golden Trevally of around 8/10 lbs… not a monster, but our target species, very stoked!

Whilst Thomas was battling his fish, I laid a cast out at another tailing Golden, and fishing a 2/0 Shrimp, stripped hard and fast and with the fly just below the surface, as boil and thrash of white water on my fly soon had me tight as well… Double Up on Goldens!!!!

Chase netted Thomas’s Golden shortly afterwards, and immediately said “ we have to get a pic with the golden double” and so kept Thomas’s fish in the net at his side while I was fighting mine… by this time we were all standing next to each other in preparation for getting this shot…

At this point, a couple of things happened… they happened fast, so the order with which they happened in my mind may be a bit out, but here goes… And please note, while this goes to show Chase’s incredible calm in a pretty hectic situation, it also goes to highlight “ How to be a complete dickhead to your Guide” by me… fish fever can screw with your mind…

Standing in now thigh deep water. My fish swam out of the milky water of the mud alongside us, and we immedietly saw it was in fact not the Golden I had though, but another large, and obviously ravenous Bonefish… a little disappointed it wasn’t a Golden, we thought it would still make a great pic with the Golden as a double…. I was horsing the Bone in pretty hard now, and when it got to within range Chase stepped towards it to net it , with the net that had Thomas’s Golden in it already… at this point a very angry, very hungry Lemon shark of nearly 2 metres materialized out of the milky slick alongside us and decieded he wanted either my bonefish, or the Golden in Chase’s net… Now let me tell you, standing in thigh deep water, with a thrashing fish less than 3 metres from you, and a thrashing fish in the net in your hands, and having a 2 metre Lemon Shark hell bent on eating something, is more than a little scary… Chase shouted “Free Spool!!” to me, which amazingly in the heat of the moment I had the precense of mind to do, so my Bonefish rocketed off away from danger… this left the still hooked Golden in the net in Chase’s hands the prime target for the pissed and hungry Lemon Shark… Chase is at least a foot shorter than the towering 6’9” Thomas, and I’d say a good 35 kilos lighter than me, but to his credit, stepped in front of both of us towards the shark to intimidate it, whilst hoisting the Golden in the net out the water… Amazing calm under pressure… at this point the Lemon was circling round us, thrashing about, looking for the meal it was just robbed of, or a replacement…. Our legs!

Now this was when Murphy’s Law stepped in, and I, in my fish fevered state, became “Dickhead Client of the day”….

Whilst keeping my eye on the circling Lemon, which kept rushing in on us, getting within less than 2 metres from us most of the time, and whilst trying to break off the still connected , but very tired, bonefish, ( that damn 20lb was working against me now ) I spotted a big dark shape with unmistakable pec finds barreling down a channel towards us… GT, and a big one… and he was coming at us down wind.. perfect set up… without even thinking I thrust my 9 weight into Chase’s spare hand, saying something like “ Hold this..” and grabbed my 12 weight off his back and proceeded to attempt a cast at this incoming GT…. Now bare in mind Chase still has a Golden in the net, and is busy defending his 2 sports from a Lemon Shark intent on eating something right around our legs in thigh deep water…. And what do I do? Stick another rod into his hands, which is still connected to a bonefish, and try and cast at a GT…. Bare in mind, this all took place within about 20 seconds…. So pretty much all at once…. To his credit, Chase never screamed or shouted at me or called my a fucking idiot, which he had every right to do… he merely said in a strained, but quiet voice when I shoved the 9 weight in his hand… “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this? “

Thomas thankfully being the consummate gentleman, and not in the crazed GT frenzy I was, and perhaps being a foot taller than the rest of us, had a better view of the situation, grabbed my 9 weight out of Chase’s hand and proceeded to deal with the bonefish, whilst Chase dealt with the shark, and carried on being a dick head trying to cast at the GT… Unfortunately I never really got a cast anywhere near the GT….. and by the time I turned round , Thomas had landed my bonefish, Chase had dealt with the shark, unhooked the Golden, released it safely, AND untied the wind knot in the leader on my 9 weight set up…

All of sudden my actions descended on me… after the flood of adrenalin of a Golden Double, getting attacked by a Shark and then casting at a monster GT, I realized what a dumbass I’d been… I apologized as best I could, and Chase thankfully took it pretty well…. If you reading this bro, my apologies again!

That night I was the rightful and deserving winner of the nightly award for “Tit of the Day”, an honour that was gifted to me twice on the trip and had to spend the evening wearing the trophy, an Alice Band with a pair of tits on springs bobbling around above it…

The rest of our day was filled with more amazing bonefish, and I managed to pin one smaller Golden in amongst it all as well to add to my species list…

_DSC2145
Baby Goldie as a consolation prize…
fish flop
fish flop

 

The rest of the party had similarly amazing days, and none more so than my cabin mate and fellow Saffa Rowan… who proceeded to make an absolute pig out of himself whilst fishing with FCA guide Craig Richardson… Not only did Rowan pin the first 10lb plus bonefish of the trip, he also pinned himself a beautiful Indo Pacific Permit to round out an incredible day…

IMG_3828

IMG_3843

IMG_3860

10 lbs of speed for Rowan
10 lbs of speed for Rowan

DAY 3 and beyond:

Our skipper had warned us that there was a serious weather system on its way, and that from day 3 we could expect some very windy, and cloudy conditions.. and he was right… for the next 4 days we experienced winds averaging at 25 knots, and gusting up to 37 knots.. with patchy cloudy skies, interspersed with classic tropical squalls withy howling winds and sideways driving rains… all in all probably the most difficult conditions one could ever experience when fishing the flats, and relying on sight fishing..

_DSC2268
Chase grinning through the chaos

 

Thankfully the combination of the incredible fishery that is St.Brandons, with the willingness of our entire group to ignore the conditions, and get out there and fish as hard as we could no matter what, and lastly the dedication of the FCA guides to find us fish, and put us in areas that we could fish in those conditions, meant we continued to experience some of the best fishing of our lives despite the adverse weather…

I’ve highlighted a few of the stand out moments for me throughout the rest of the trip, below, as well as shared a few from others… as you’ll see by the images, and all of us bundled up to the max despite being in the tropics, the conditions were extreme,… but I loved every minute of it.

I fished day 3 solo with Chase again.,.. we had a superb day, dodging squalls, rescuing skiffs that had lost their anchorage, and in between smashing some amazing fish… most notably the first I pinned for the morning, a beautiful Batfish… There are loads of these on St.Brandons, often in huge schools of 20 or more on the flats, but despite not being very spooky at all, they are incredibly difficult to get to eat a fly… prior to this morning I’d cast at dozens, with not even a reaction.. So it was with half hearted intent I put a cast just ahead of a school approaching us shortly after stepping out the boat on the first stop of Day 3… two short strips of the Spawning shrimp and one of the Bats smacked the fly and we were away… Pretty dogged fight in the current but Chase soon had her safely in the net, we high fived and snapped a couple pics before sending her on her way again… I was super stoked, another new species for me, and one not often taken on the flats..

Batman
Batman

_DSC2186

_DSC2200
The beauty of St.Brandons… miles and miles and miles of this…

 

I had a perfect shot at a beautiful Permit as well,… perfect set up, fish over pure white sand, tailing hard, down wind, gap in the clouds, everything lined up perfectly… except for my casting… Chase had spotted the fish come in behind us at a spot called The Herm… as I was making my first false cast I hear a “crack” and noticed half my rod lying in the water…. Mortified I thought it had snapped, but thankfully the lower ferrule had just come loose… But it flustered the hell out of me and I rushed the cast, which was a bad one, and probably 2 or 3 metres off target in the wind… the Perm slid off into deeper water without even noticing us… fucker..

_DSC2207

 

Rowan had another cracker day later in the week fishing with James, landing not one, but two lovely GT’s in the day…. Whilst James got his revenge back on one of the resident Lemon Sharks by getting one to eat one of his famous NYAP poppers..

GT No 1 for Ro'
GT No 1 for Ro’

5DD_3057

5DD_3071

James and his Lemon
James and his Lemon
Say "Aaaaaaaaa"..
Say “Aaaaaaaaa”..

IMG_0111

 

Jim also managed to tie into his first GT, continuing his streak of smashing big fish…

Jim's first GT
Jim’s first GT

I spent another day with Thomas with Matthieu guiding us which had us battling some extreme conditions, but some which I enjoyed the most… fishing in an area known as Snatch, just inside the eastern barrier reef of the Atoll. This is a wide hard pan area just inside the crushing surf zone of the barrier reef, and on the pushing tide, the current rips through this area at an incredible rate of knots…. This is GT country, and its what we were after…. Wading in this thigh to waist deep water, that’s moving at a couple of knots is not an easy exercise… 12 weight in hand, Brush Fly at the ready, one is now on the look out for sharks again…ironically not for safety, but rather because in this area, the GT’s follow and swim with the sharks… So when I heard Matthieu, who was wading AND towing the skiff in that current shout to me in his French accent “Shark, 12 o’clock, 60 metres, GO! “ I had to look at him for a second before realizing he was serious…. We had talked about this on the trip across, but when it happens in front of you, it’s a little different…

With the events of the friendly Lemon Shark from 2 days prior still fresh in my mind, mixed with the countless stories of close encounters from the guides, a started “ running” as fast as I could in the raging waist deep current to try get ahead of the shark and in a position to make my cast… Out of breath and struggling I got to a place where I felt confident I could get a cast in line with, and about 5 metres ahead of the Sharks path and laid out the cast… amazingly the cast was perfect and I remembered to let the fly settle briefly before starting a slow steady strip as the shark got within 2 metres of the fly… I was casting across the current so the fly was swinging, almost Steelhead style ( or so I’d like to imagine ) and when the fly was perhaps a metre down the length of the shark, and a metre my side of it a large silver shadow materialized from underneath it and rushed my fly… I was now stripping hard and all I remember seeing was two pitch black orbs either side of a very large white mouth rushing up behind my fly… this was the GT I’ve been chasing on fly for a long time… a metre plus I was sure… I watched that giant mouth open like a vortex, the pectoral finds flare and the blunt pit bull head push a massive bulge of water behind my fly as the fish engulfed my 6/0 brush…. I was stripping for all my lifes worth and as I felt the resistance of the fish clamping down on the fly I was screaming to myself “ keep stripping keep stripping”… TIGHT!

And almost instantly nothing…. I kept stripping vainly hoping that somehow the fish was still coming towards me… but no.. all I saw was my Brush fly skimming along towards me, and the memory of the GT all but vanished, returning presumably to his shady spot under the shark he was cruising with… I was gutted… I’d done everything right… Only thing I can think of was that the GT has not swallowed the whole fly, that I’d stripped at just the wrong time and that as he clamped down, I stripped and all he’s got was the trailing fibers of the fly between his teeth, that was the briefest moment of tension I’d felt…. I was gutted… but I have made peace with my GT demons long ago… I have come to terms with the fact they are a fish that won’t come easy to me, and so I allowed the raging current to wash around me, and take with it my disappointment….

The tide now was getting too deep for us to safely stay wading, even for Thomas, so we hopped into the skiff, and soon had another shark shape off our bow which Thomas covered with a great cast, and had a beautiful Bluefin Trevally onto his brushfly in a heart beat…a great eat, solid hook set and short brutal battle had a lovely Bluefin to hand for Thomas..

_DSC2365
Thomas the Human Poling platform..

 

Matt grappling Thomas's Bluefin
Matt grappling Thomas’s Bluefin
few fish prettier in the ocean than Caranx Melampygus...
few fish prettier in the ocean than Caranx Melampygus…

Shortly after that we decided to hit a spot called Bi – Polar to see if we could pick off one of its resident Permit… we drifted across some bommie filled water between Snatch and Bi Polar, on the look out for GT’s, but saw none… Just as we pulled into the lee of the tiny sand spit marking the northern edge of Bi Polar, I was standing on the bow, 12 weight in hand and looked down into the small deep depression alongside us… I noticed a large grey shape hanging towards the bottom and thought “ Christ that’s a big bonefish..”… And said to Matthieu “ Is that a Bonefish?”… at this point he was hanging off the bow walking our anchor in, so up to his armpits in the water, so couldn’t see, but I decided to flick my brushfly out anyway…. Matthieu pulled himself up onto the bow for a better look and as he did he spotted the fish and called “Trevally”… I was going to lift the fly to put it nearer the fish but got no chance… before I could the GT turned off the bottom and smashed the sly less than 4 metres from the boat… YES!! Redemption…. The GT, not a big fish, maybe 75 to 80cm I guess , took off hard across the flat next to us, into shallow water, and I proceeded to set the hook a half dozen times.,…. TIGHT…. And then once again, nothing… he spat the hook… I couldn’t believe it…. But such is the way of the world sometimes…

beautiful bonefish for Thomas under leaden skies
beautiful bonefish for Thomas under leaden skies

 

Team work...
Team work…

The following days were highlighted by some incredible captures, namely Tim’s two Permit, on two days back to back… he kicked it off with a smaller model, maybe 6/7 pounds but followed that up with an absolute beauty of around 12/13 lbs which gave him the fight of his life… and worth the ¾ of the way round the world trip from Victor, Idaho!

IMG_6914
Tim’s first St.Brandons Perm
IMG_4014
and his trophy from the following day… reckon he’s happy?

 

I fished my last full day with FCA guide Craig Richardson… at 21 years old, the youngest guide, but certainly not without an envious amount of experience and skill behind him… like Chase, Craig has been ensconced in the flyfishing and guiding world from a very young age, and has been hell bent on making his career out of helping people chase fish in remote parts of the world and it shows..

We set out to try put me onto a 10lb bonefish on what was probably the windiest of all out days on St.Brandons… Craig and I ran up to a very shallow, dry sand and turtle grass flat… we chucked anchor and walked our way up wind a couple hundred yards just as the tide started to push.. what followed was probably the best 2 hours of sight fishing I’ve ever had… as the tide pushed, the Bones would come into the tiny channles between the high points of the flat… as soon as there was enough water to float them, they would be in… singles, pairs and small groups… amazingly it seemed the big fish would come in first… and they came in hungry… it was incredible to be able to fish to these absolute pig 7lb to 9lb bones in literally ankle deep water… being the push, they were hungry, and even a cast that was sometimes 2 metres off the mark would have a 9lb bonefish exploding through shallow water to crush your fly and then take off for the horizon upon feeling the hook…

_DSC2508
Hook up!
_DSC2421
In water this skinny, these big bonefish go a long way FAST….

_DSC2547

not all St.Brandons bones are huge...
not all St.Brandons bones are huge…

_DSC2531

IMG_6911
This fish was hooked about 50 metres to the left of the upper left hand corner of the screen and Chase and I had to chase it all the way down the little channel to finally land her.. last fish of an epic day, and one of my favourite pics of the trip..

I also managed to get my 10lb Bone, which I was very stoked with… and dozens of fish between 7 and 9lbs as well… a fantastic last full day…

_DSC2628

 

last evening drinks...
last evening drinks…not exactly tropical sunset and cocktails weather!

Day 7 was our departure day… and of course it dawned cloudless and windless… we had a quick 2 hours to fish before we had to get loaded and turn the good ship MV Gryphon South for the 28 hour steam back to Port Louis…

James and I decided on one last chance at GT’s, while the rest shot off to fish Boneyards for a “Bone Off”… biggest Bone, smallest bone, and most bones being the titles up for grabs…

James and I stayed close to the mothership, wanting to maximize our fishing time and hit a spot called Yellow Dog less than a minutes run from where the Gryphon was anchored..

Under a brilliant sunny sunrise, I pinned a couple last beautiful bonefish, and we saw one bus size GT rush in and out of a channel before we could even unhook a fly… was a great last little show off to see the power and speed of these brutes..

_DSC2699

We also found an enormous Mantis Shrimp that had probably just finished moulting, so was very docile, and James was able to net it and we chucked it in a cooler to take back to the Gryphon to show the others… over a foot long, and reportedly possessing the fastest movement in the animal kingdom, the things have a set of stabbing/punching claws on their front end which can do an unbelievable amount of damage… we took some pics and dropped her back off on a flat to breed and make more bonefish food…

_DSC2713

And so it was with sad hearts and tired bodies that we climbed aboard the Gryphon one last time… an adventure of epic proportions all but over, barring the last crossing back to Mauritius…

Looking back it was one of the best trips of my life… the quality of the fishing, the quality of the company and the quality of the guides and operation all blended into an exceptional trip, one which built memories I know I will hold dear, reminisce about and laugh about for many many many years to come.

I want to say an enormous thank you to all those on my trip… Florian and his crew on board the MV Gryphon for taking such great care of us… My fellow anglers – Rowan, Thomas, Jim, Barabara, Tim and Mike – it was an absolute previledge and an honour meeting you all, getting to know you all, and fishing alongside you… thanks for the laughs, the stories and the drinks shared along the way, I look forward to fishing with you all again in the future..

And lastly to Flycastaways and the amazing guide team of Matthieu, James, Chase and Craig… you guys were amazing, looking after us, putting us on the fish, protecting us from sharks, dealing with wind knots, tying on flies, laughing with us, not at us, and working your asses off 24/7 to help make our adventure all the sweeter… thank you!

I hope the planets align again one day and I am once again able to visit this incredible place…

A couple more images:

IMG_6900

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mike Dawes, as always, on the look out for Permit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mike on Permit Stalk..
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Eat it eat it eat it…. fucker
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mikes topwater Bonefish that ate one of his floating permit crabs..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_6251

IMG_3906
Rowan with his 10lb plus Bone… magnificent fish

IMG_0119

5DD_3018

_MG_0279
James and Dre – Getting serious as only Red Beard Vikings can…

_MG_0256

_DSC2301

_MG_0269

*** Images courtesy of all the anlgers on the trip, most shot by our guides***

 

IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE INCREDIBLE ST.BRANDONS FISHERY, GET IN TOUCH WITH GERHARD OR RYAN AT WWW.FLYCASTWAY.COM

6 thoughts on “Into the Great Wide Open – Part II – Adventures on St Brandon’s Atoll”

  1. Craig says:

    Thanks for the read Dre, really a privilege to fish the remote islands of the Indian Ocean. I could not agree more about the the FlyCastaway guides, they sure a world class team and outfit.

    1. Andre Van Wyk says:

      Thanks Craig…you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it more than most bru… it is magical… FCA certainly are top of the game when it comes to Indian Ocean Islands… pretty amazing having possibly two of the finest guiding outfits in the world in the form of FCA and Tourettes coming from little South Africa… proud as hell of that!

  2. Liam Surridge says:

    Great report Dre and thanks for sharing – St. Brandons is on the bucket list for sure…

  3. Conrad Botes says:

    Great story and photos. I absolutely love the airborne bonefish pic!

  4. Taylor Roberts says:

    St.Brandon’s is truly the most magical fishing of anywhere on the planet.I feel privileged to have been there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *