“Thoughts on Roosters

Okay, first off, I’m a complete neophyte when it comes to hunting roosters from the beach, but I’ve logged a least three decades of beach fishing and two decades of targeting jack species con mosca. What follows is a combination of first impressions and said experience from the past week. Hey, I’ve got three hours to kill at the airport since I had to turn in my car early to avoid extra charges, and I cannot get this fish out of my head.

Like all jacks, roosters are brutishly strong. Anyone who’s fished jacks of any species or size can attest to that. They are essentially bulldogs. While they can be extremely reckless in their feeding behavior, the older and bigger fish, especially the fish that decide they no longer need the security of the pack, can be tough to fool. I’m not talking about those chummed up GTs out at Christmas Island, I’m talking about big Roosters, Crevalle, Golden Trevs and those amazing solo free range Geets I’ve seen streaking across an expansive South Pacific flat. The last time I was at Christmas, I could not believe the idiots who were catching monster GTs, a process that involved being taken out to a sandbar on an incoming, and standing there while guides hand feed chunks of freshly netted milkfish to huge Geets, working them into a feeding frenzy until they would eat a fly or a bare hook. Sorry, this isn’t what I originally was going to blog about, just had to vent.

Without a doubt, jacks are a redemption species that can salvage a tough day of fishing. I cannot even begin to recall how many times catching a few nice jack Crevalle at the end of an otherwise frustrating session of tarpon or even more frustrating permit fishing has saved my day. I absolutely love targeting the bar jacks or cohinua that maraud the flats of Los Roques, or the bluefin trevs of the Cook Islands and Socotra. Over the years, I’ve lost track of how many jack species I’ve caught on the fly, but it must be over twenty by now. Australia is arguable the Mecca of jacks. In a single trip around Cape York, I once caught over a dozen species of jacks, including Golden trevs, Brassy, Tea-leaf, Diamond trevs with their thready rooster-like dorsals, Big-eyes, Orange-spot, Blacktips, etc, etc. Jacks are without a doubt the most targeted saltwater fly fishing species in the world. They can be stalked on flats, beaches, reefs, estuaries, and open blue water. They fight like bloody hell, and most often will readily accept any type of fly. On surface poppers, they have no rival. And contrary to belief, most species make excellent eating-I’ll take a blacktip trev steak on a wood fire grill over tuna any day, unless of course you’re serving up a tuna collar. But I digress once again.

Roasters are essentially jacks, beautiful jacks, as pretty as they come, but jacks nonetheless. I kept having to remind myself of this fact during those long fish-less periods standing on a desolate stretch of hot sweltering beach. They’re just big jacks, they’re just big jacks, a mantra that while helps keep things in perspective, did nothing to quell the shaking in my legs each time a forty-fifty pound fish came within casting range.

As far as beauty, Roosters are right up there with the diamond or threadfins, the iridescent bluefin trevs and the colorfully striped Goldens. What sets them apart is their freakish size. Rosters can get over 100 pounds, which puts them up their with the Geets. As far as degree of difficulty, they’ve got to be way up there, I’d say almost, if not as tough as permit. Factor in the hours and physical conditions one must endure to get a shot or two off, especially when targeting big roosters solomente, sans quad and guide, and you’ve got a recipe for a real ass-whupping, which I was totally prepared to take when planing this five day trip.

There were mornings this past week when it felt like I was getting up to go to work. Early morning coffee, making my cheese sandwich, the long drive to the beach, the twenty minute slog from the car to the point over hot sand, setting up the shade, and then the hours of waiting, watching, punctuated with an occasional foray down the beach. The heat and humidity in late summer will suck every ounce of life out you. The mind wanders in and out, and then comes the late afternoon sleepiness. But when those huge shadows appear, it’s like a snort of pure adrenaline. Again, the mantra, they’re just jacks, as you frantically strip line and prepare for a cast, oblivious of the burning sand under bare feet.

And then the miraculous happens and the fish eats your fly. At this point, there are at least a dozen events that have to line up, a harmonic convergence that would rival any pagan ritual. The hook has to stick, the coils of loose fly line in the surf and sand have to clear your feet and toes, the reel, the fighting butt, buttons on your shirt, the guides. When the drag finally engages, the loop knot on the fly has to hold, your leader knots and loop to loop connections have to seat and lock, and then the backing has to come smoothly off the reel. All the while you’re thinking, did I pack the backing right? This is why you never ever allow a fly shop to spool your backing, or fix loops. Do it yourself, and then at least you know, or have no one to blame but yourself. And then, all of the above has to hold together for the next hour. I’m telling ya, standing there on the beach, all alone, just you and the fish for an hour is physically and emotionally exhausting. But you’ve asked for this, right? My first thought when that fish ate was, Lordy, Lordy, what have I done? But at this point, there’s no turning back, you’ve pulled the trigger and now you’ve got to deal with the situation, even when the idea of landing such a fish seems like a pure fantasy.

Normally when I land a permit, it’s only a matter a minutes before I’m hungry for another. They’re like potato chips. But big roosters? I have to admit, I’m not sure I was ready to go again the next day. I had a great shot at another fish the same size, if not bigger that next afternoon. It turned on the fly aggressively and opened its mouth, but then looked up and saw me and veered away. Yeah, sure I wanted that fish, but it didn’t break my heart when she changed her mind. Roosters! These fuckers seriously tested the notemapez moniker on my blog. I now have total respect for them, as well as all the jacks.

They’ve just announced my flight, but here’s two more photos. The first Is kind of blurry (water on the lens), but it’s a pretty shot of the ol girl (It had to be a female, as the two fish with her were smaller, perhaps only forty pounds-her cabana boys). I took this pic just before release. You can see she’s got her color back. The second is my first rooster, a much smaller fish caught in 2010 casting a plug with a spin rod.

I stopped in at East Cape tackle on my way to the airport to pick up a shirt for my Omani mate, Kamal. The owner, Cindy Kirkwood was there, so I asked if she would have a look at a rooster to help estimate the weight. I showed her all of the pics. Cindy immediately called over one of her employees. Have a look at this beautiful fish she implored. She told me for sure fifty pounds, approaching sixty. All up on the interweb I found that a potential IGFA fly record, a rooster just over sixty pounds was caught last June by Margaret Shaughnessy. She hooked and landed the fish from a boat which took four hours on 20 pound tippet. Stupid IGFA class regulations kill lots of fish due to the extended fight times, but I think this fish survived. Most jacks are a hardy species. So fer sheezy, this fish was record class. The funny thing, most of the roosters I saw this week were similar in size. Perhaps this is due to the smaller fish being somewhere else this late in the season? It remains a mystery. I will post some gopro video in the coming week, if I managed to get anything worth using.”

Awesome.  So incredibly Awesome.

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Peter Coetzee

Peter Coetzee

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