Running with the Buffalos and defending your Stumps – Part II

The back deck of a mothership is a holy place… a field of dreams, a stadium of hope, a shrine to triumphs, a monument to failures..

Maya Dugongs back deck is split into two playing fields… the bottom deck is .. the training field, the strategy room, the war room…
The top deck is the Locker room after the game.. its where wins are celebrated, and losses are consoled.. moments from the game, good or bad, relived and retold a dozen times..

12 eager souls now onboard, bags and tackle transferred from the tenders, all introductions to crew made.. we’d been briefed on the next 8 days plan by Tim, whilst getting food down our necks, and the great hunk of steel that had held Maya Dugong in place had been lifted, skiffs craned onto the back deck, and the warm blue water under us was slipping by at around 12 knots…

All and sundry now gathered on the lower bottom deck.. the war room.. weapons needed preparation. Joined by the 4 other FCA guides – Wes, Justin, Gerry and Peter, 12 anglers, with enough tackle for 48 anglers are sticking over priced shafts of graphite together, mounting reels, threading lines through guides, attaching leaders, and pouring over fly boxes loaded with enough fur, feathers and synthetics to keep an arts and crafts circle busy for a couple lifetimes..

At times like these its easy to spot high quality guides… there is a fine line to walk for a guide when dealing with a client.. invariably every client thinks he’s a better angler than he is, and that his gear/skills are more than sufficient for the task at hand.. none more so than on trips like these… most anglers making these trips, and certainly the case with our group, are not new to the sport.. we’ve spent some time with rods in hand, in locales far and wide… we’ve caught fish, we’ve lost fish, we’ve won battles, we’ve lost battles.. so we all think we know our shit.. and don’t like being told we don’t.. or that our arsenal is perhaps not quite as impressive as we believe it to be.. A good guide can read water, and spot fish, and how to put their clients in position to reach that fish… but their ability to read people, their personalities , their skills and how to deal with them, comes into play long before getting anywhere close to actually casting a line.. and the FCA crew are all masters at this… encouraging, subtle advice for the most part, but firmly corrective when needed.. I’m always impressed by this.. Able to make sure every angler is as prepared as possible, without bruising any egos along the way, even if it means stripping an entire rig which has been lovingly crafted, albeit incorrectly by the client, all the while with a smile on their face, and instilling in the client confidence and stoke… If you know anglers, we are an arrogant bunch to a fault, so achieving this is no mean feat…

An hour or two later, a forest of carbon now ready for battle, beers in hand we set to with the heathen gear off the stern to see about putting some meat on the deck.. we trade off the screaming ratchets between anglers, putting a number of delicious small yellowfin, a decent wahoo and numerous monster Greenjobfish on the deck… Sashimi taken care of for the next few days.

My first hook up of the trip…. 🙂
Monster class Green Jobfish…. Get in my belly!
This sight greeted us every evening on return from the flats.. fresh Sashimi..

6 hours later towards the last light of day we are dropping that giant chunk of steel into the depths a couple hundred yards off the west central coast of Providence Atoll..
Looking out over the vast Atoll, with the tiny Providence Island in the north, and way out to the South, the little broken collection of islets known as Ille Cerf, I’m struck by a wave of nerves and anticipation that is all too familiar and foreign as always, all at the same time…

Once darkness falls, the Buffalos start to congregate at the watering hole… Precious bottles of rum are broken out and tongues loosen… I pour myself that large tankard of the Inverroche 7 year old Rum I’d so lovingly smuggled over… and the herd moved in.. led by the Daga Bull himself, the Oz… Wayne Osborne… “Buffalo boet… drink up!”
Anyone not familiar with the “Buffalo” concept, was now well and truly brought up to speed… drink with your right hand.. you get buffaloed… which means you finish whatever is in your glass/cup/can/bottle in one go… no cheats, no escape, no excuses… you wanna run with the herd, you run with the herd… The Buffalo herd on our trip consisted of 4 good friends in Wayne, Dean, Jeff and Peter… this herd has been together for a long time.. they are a well oiled, and brutally unforgiving squad..the herd would grow throughout the trip, and a few rookies made a serious name for themselves along the way…

My head is now spinning, and throat screaming as  I meekly pour myself another much smaller drink of Rum… I’m not getting bitten again… wishful thinking that…

Just when I thought that I had gotten into the herds groove, keeping pace with the Alpha, the bowlers arrive… in all formats.. Fast Bowlers, medium paced seamers, conventional spin and even the odd tricky leg break… working in tandem with the Buffalos, these ball slingers take no prisoners and will exploit any weakness in your defense… aiming for that prize, your middle stump… if your defense is shoddy, you’re done…
The only way to maintain a solid impenetrable defense is to keep your wickets protected at all times… and this means you quickly learn to ALWAYS have your left pinky finger, the smallest appendage on your body ( well for most of us anyway ) firmly planted underneath your drinking receptacle at all times.. protecting your wickets… this is your only protection when surrounded by so many quality bowlers… If you get lazy, or forgetful, and your defense slips you will almost instantly hear “Wickets!” from one of the herd, and that full beverage in your hand is going down your gullet in one long burning gulp…. Run with the herd, learn quickly…

Light is everything… on the flats, if you can’t see, you are dead in the water… the upside of this being that we were afforded a relative lie in on our first days fishing.. rising at 6:00am on the first morning, with a Buffaloed head is far easier than 4:00am.. anticipation had most of us up before that anyway, and wolfing breakfast down at 07:00am meant we were in skiffs and leaving the nest by 07:30am.. split into 4 skiffs, 3 anglers and a guide to each craft, loaded with tackle, water, food and hope..

We’d been sorted into our squads of 3 for the week, and I had the fortune of drawing Peter and Zenon as my fishing partners for the week.. couldn’t have asked for a better team to share this with.. Zenon the young gun, and Peter the experienced old hand… both with an enthusiasm and energy and stoke the matched mine… Wes de Klerk our guide for the first day… safety briefing out the way, we ran no more than 10 minutes before drifting up onto a turtle grass flat on the last hour of the dropping tide…

Legend Peter Whittaker…. This dude is never without a smile on his face… such a pleasure to fish with..
FCA Guide Wes De Klerk in pilot mode on the first morning..

Providence is very different to any of the other Seychelles Atolls i’ve fished… it has little to no barrier reef system surrounding it, unlike the other atolls… it gently slopes up from the depths to form a giant twisting mass of channels, turtle grass flats with deeper lagoons spread throughout, coral bommies and a sprinkling of sand and hard coral pan flats throughout… its intimidating for its size, and disorientating for its lack of land marks… stepping out of the skiff for the first time looking around, and other than the mothership a mile or two away, and the speck of Providence Island on the horizon to the north, there is nothing but water and flats everywhere you look… standing in ankle deep water in the middle of the ocean is both a weird and invigorating sensation…

We didn’t have much time to ponder this, or much else as Wes was already pointing and saying “12 weights.. we’ve got Geets coming in on a couple Stingrays”.. Fuck sakes I had barely even started appreciating my surrounds and we were already called into play…

Immediately all 3 of us started trekking up current on the flat, picking up the dorsal finds of a half dozen Geets lazily following their morning Gravy Train…

12 years is a long time between casting a fly at a GT on a knee deep flat and my nerves were pretty shot… only thing in worse shape was my casting.. practicing with a 12 weight in windless conditions on grass field is great, but doesn’t help much when the reality is wind in your face, and slightly from your right, while walking fast in 3 knot current at a fish you’ve been dreaming about for a decade… in a nutshell my cast was horrific… thankfully the Geets on these flats are an incredibly forgiving bunch at times… and as soon as my fly landed, 2 of the fish peeled away at incredible speed and rushed the fly…

Well my fuck ups didn’t stop at the shitty cast… feeling like I had 27 fingers on two left hands, I struggled to get my strip going.. and at this point its all about speed… instead of ripping that beautiful Jono Makim GT Semper through the water, I was grabbing wrong parts of the fly line, slipping in my fingers and basically making a hot mess of everything…

The Gets took pity on me and one of them ate the fly anyway…

Once again my fuck ups didn’t stop there… I made the fatal error, even though for weeks I’d been telling myself not to, that I would stay focused when the time came, that I would strip strip strip set… I didn’t.. I trout set like a bitch… when I saw that Black Semper disappear into that wide white maw, I lifted my rod and set as hard as I could.. which worked about as well as paper airplane in a Force 5 Hurricane…. I felt Wes cringing before I even heard him say ” Nooooooo…. !”… A brief moment of tension and my fly then came flying pathetically back towards me, landing with a dejected splat on the water about 5 meters in front of me… Fuck.. I turned to look at Wes, towing the skiff up the flat about 20 meters away..

“Sorry bru..” I said..

He just grinned back at me, and said “Day 1, first fish bru, can’t be expected to smash it straight off the bat… but remember… these aren’t trout… leave the trout setting for back home when you chasing those smelly Carp… these are real fish boet, you gotta stick them hard.. Strip set that thing next time.. and HARD!” He chuckled while I cursed myself..

Redemption of sorts came not long after… in this place you learn to carry a 12 weight and be ready at all times… I was about 50 meters from the other 3, and spotted a mess of smaller Geets pushing across the turtle grass fast… I slowed down, got the line in air and managed to get the fly in front of the 3 fish, who charged immediately.. my stripping, while not great, at least got the fly moving and when I felt the eat and tensions I was screaming inside “STRIP STRIP STRIP!!!” and somehow, managed not to trout set and 5 seconds later was attempting to manage the flying coils of fly line ripping through my hands and guides… YES… I was back…

3 minutes later, Wes tailed the GT for me.. I slipped on a glove to safeguard against those bastard Scutes and grabbed my first GT on fly in many years round his tail.. Only a little guy, maybe 70 centimeters worth, the feeling of connecting with one of these creatures again had me pumped… His coloring had him marked as a quintessential turtle grass fish, Olive backed with yellowing fins, and the hallmark white sun bleached dorsal tip…

“Want a pic?” asked Wes.

“Fuck yes!! I’ve waited too long for this shit!”

First GT of the trip…

PART 3 to Follow

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