It’s is very hard to describe how exciting the build up for a trip like this. Every year I head to Providence I know that she is going to teach me something new and exciting. Our team rendezvoused at the Eden Bleu in Mahe as usual and the excitement was tangible – those who had been before filling in those who were new on previous experiences and numerous shaggy fish stories over a couple of cold beers. After the long grip of winter in Europe this year I think we were all enjoying the warmth.
Stepping out onto the tarmac of the IDC hanger has become part of the experience, although they have added another Beachcraft to their fleet which we had for our 1 hour 45 minute down to Farquhar. As usual the guides were there to meet us off the plane and it was lovely to see them again. It was lovely to catch up with Gerhard who had been on the week before and find out how the previous group had done. Weather had been tough, but six fish over a metre had been landed along with 75 GTs so spirits were high.
As the tractor chugged along the sandy track towards the lodge I was pleasantly surprised to see how much clearing work had been done and how the vegetation was coming back. The boat ramp hove into view along with the new Farquhar Lodge. The last time I was down the lodge was but a shell, but now it was finished and fully functional. While the guides began to load luggage I took the opportunity to have a look around. The main lodge building is a dramatic improvement on the old guest house we used to stay in with a lovely bar area, proper furniture inside with a stunning solid wood dining table and all very nicely finished. The rooms too looked very comfortable, fully air conditioned, nicely appointed and the outside shower was a nice touch.
After saying hello to the pet GTs (they seem to get bigger every year, must be all those birds!) the group was loaded up and ferried out to Mayas Dugong to be reunited with more old friends. After the usual detailed safety briefing from Tim Babich tackle spewed forth from luggage to be assembled for the week ahead. I am always impressed how the guides check all the little details and correct anything they are not happy about. In some ways this is always one of the most enjoyable parts of any trip, comparing gear, seeing new stuff and finally breaking out everything that has been meticulously packed and repacked. Our guide team this year consisted of Tim, Wesley, Justin and Jerry.
Every time I come to Providence I experience something totally different and this trip was to be no exception. I think this is something to do with the sheer size of the place. To put it into perspective Cosmoledo is 17km long by 12.5km wide and is 145 km² whereas Providence Atoll is 44km by 12km and is approximately 345 km² of fishable area. With winds coming in the opposite direction from previous years we arrived on our mooring off the south east end of Cerf Island. Previous trips have always had Easterly winds, but this time westerly’s. This made me extremely excited as at last we would have the chance to really explore the east side of the atoll, and there is nothing that gets me going more than fishing areas that have very likely never had a human presence before. There are very few places in this world that you can make that statement about.
Day 1 – Winning Triggers
After a sleepless night I was up and about early in search of coffee. The team amassed after breakfast, we broke down into our groups and guides for day and like a bunch of ducklings departed from the mothership. I was fishing with Joern, George and Jerry as our guide. The tide was pretty much at full spring high that morning and we headed straight north up the east side of the Atoll for some 20 minutes before veering west and cutting in towards the flats. We fanned out pushing up the flat with the tide dropping towards us. Jerry took George right and Joern and I headed left. The flat was punctuated with small depressions and deeper holes, and on the edge of these Joern and I spotted some massive yellow margin trigger tails. He moved up into position, put a perfect cast out and the trigger immediately charged over and hammered the fly unhesitatingly before careening off down the flat with the two of us in pursuit.
A great start! It was a big fish too, but some five minutes into the fight the fly just popped out much to my dismay.. not such a good start. We carried on and spread out a bit. I had an 11# in my hand and began to throw a few blind casts into the holes, just in case a laid up GT was lurking. My fly remained unmolested, but then another two triggers began tailing in front of me and I quickly switched from 11# to 9# and began to work out some line. I was using the new Itchy Trigger fly from Fulling mill tied on a size 4 Owner hook. The fly plopped in just above in the moving current and sank serenely toward where I assumed the head to be. I gave it one small twitch and the fish immediately gave chase, nipping at it as I slowly stripped. Finally everything went tight, I set the hook and the large yellow margin did that surprised swimming backward thing they do before arcing line through the water and made my new Hardy SDSL sing. I was elated, as if you have read my previous reports I have always had issues with yellow margins. The battle was going well, I thought, when the line just went slack and the fish made off. My yellow margin curse continued, it had obviously just been using my fly as a toothpick! Triggers 2 – us 0…
Joern and I joined the other two and headed down tide as the water was becoming skinnier. We walked down the side of a channel, peering in and seeing much movement. A few distance cast produced some small bluefins, but we also saw some big bumpies in the depths. Not a great environment to try and catch them, but good to see them. George regaled us of a big black GT miss that had given him heart palpitations as it had charged in and missed the fly, but he was soon rewarded as Jerry found a couple of GTs hanging in the outflow on the channel and landed a nice one, his first.
The first GT is always a special moment in everyone’s fishing career. We saw a few more GTs in the channel, but failed to capitalise before heading right down to where the channel narrowed into almost a river before pushing out to the surf line – a classic highway. The tide had fallen away by this point and although the push had started we did not see many fish sadly. We headed back, elated by our first day on the flats.
Day 2 – South Point
The next day dawned bright and still and Joern and I were to fish with Brummy with Tim as our guide. Kevin, our captain, had moved Maya’s Dugong to Midway on the West side the night before and with the big spring tides Tim had planned to head to South Point below Cerf Island. I fished this area the previous year and it was where some of the big beasts lived, so I was very excited to be heading back down there again. South Point is really wild, and huge white sand area that drops down from Cerf Island right down through a series of depressions, white holes, coral gardens before hitting a massive surf line and ripping off into the Ocean. GT heaven.. and no one had been down there yet this season.
As we still had high tides first thing in the morning we cruised down to Cerf Island and putted into the lagoon through a new gap in the island in to the shark nursery. We saw a couple of GTs and plenty of baby black tips, but nothing we could capitalise on, so Tim took us thorough the channel now cut through the island on the other side by Tropical Storm Fantala. This part of the Atoll is simply stunning.. azure water with palm trees dropping off a long white sandy beach. The tide continued to drop out and Tim had us stake out a channel often used by fish dropping off the flats. A few rays began to slide off, but none with little friends sadly.
Tim was mildly scratching his head, so we dropped out with the tide. I should also perhaps mention that this year, as well as the hat forfeit at dinner for discretions during the course of the day, a new penalty had been brought into to play… the banana suit. The rules were that if you were nominated as the big banana you could not remove it until you had landed a fish. Brummy had been awarded it the night before and wore it with pride.
Tim and Brummy were doing some deep wading through these coral gardens while I pulled the boat with Joern spotting for all of us from above to give us more warning. Coming through one area I spotted some massive napoleon wrasse hanging around some coral heads. Joern took some shots but there was no interest. Napoleons always seem to be on or off. Our little party of bobbing heads continued through the gardens and Tim switched with me taking the boat while pointing me in the direction of a large white hole. I waded across the heads and and could see some large shapes cruising the edges slowly. Not GTs… big grouper. Right, I thought, as soon as that fly goes in and they hit it the first thing they are going to do is disappear back into the maze of jagged tunnels beneath me. Lock up the drag, keep tension and pull. Right… ready… I cast the black and purple Magnetic Minnow and straight away a massive marble grouper came straight up and snaffled it… before tearing straight down and ripping my leader straight into a hole. It just goes to show, even if you are prepared sometimes the fish moves so fast you can’t react in time, even if you know what’s going to happen. I could feel it grating the 130 lbs mono against the coral until everything went slack… time for a new leader.
I began to wade back toward Joern, Tim and the boat, faintly aware in my peripheral vision that I was being followed by a giant banana with sunglasses on… marginally surreal. Tim putted us over the deep water toward the reef edge and the coral heads of the surf line as the tide began to change. Just as we arrived we spotted a large tiger shark in the surf line with its fin and tail out of the water in the shallows. Stunning to see a wild creature like that.. from the boat… until Tim told us it was time to get out and wade up toward the channel to watch for fish coming in on the surf. Okay then…. Joern and Tim headed left and I took the right hand side as we moved forward, picking our way through the coral heads and occasionally getting it wrong and submerging completely. We took up station and almost immediately Tim and Joern were investigated by a large shark that he then shouted was headed in my direction. As I balanced on top of the coral head up to my waist in water I flipped the rod round and grasped the blank ready to give it a big whack if it came too close, but the shark never materialised and slipped away. Back to looking forwards at the cut in front of me and watching the waves. Clouds had skittered across the sky and made visibility a bit rubbish, but I did get a shot at one fast moving GT across the surfline, but it never turned for the fly and probably did not see it.
The water by this stage was pushing hard and our position had become untenable, so it was time to move on. This time South Point it was not meant to be. Sometimes you are just not in the right place at the right time when the fish cross and that is just how it goes. We finished the day by wading the massive turtle grass flat to the west side on Cerf Island. As the four of us waded line abreast the water did feel a little warm. Suddenly a ray drifted towards me and I could see a GT on its back. I loaded up my 11# and threw a long cast to the right of the ray in the direction of travel. The fly settled and I gave it one slow strip. The fish came off the ray like a thunderbolt and charged the fly. I increased the speed of the strip and the fish hit the fly in a burst of foam and spray and …..nothing. It turned off spooked and ran for the deep water. I hung my head. The only thing I can think of is that the fish overran the fly as it was going so fast and straight towards me rather than an angle so it spat it out before I could set. Gutted. Time for a cold beer and home.
That evening over dinner the truth came out that Alexander had landed an absolute monster at 106 cm. Jerry was guiding and had spotted the beast in a channel off the bottom of Cerf Island on a Black and Purple streamer. What a fish!
Day 3 – Sail Ho
By day three the novelty is beginning to wear off and everyone was settling into a routine, including Fred’s early morning yoga class on the middle deck before breakfast. Joern, Gordon and I set out with Wes, and we had sailfish on our minds. The tides were just doing their jump between springs and neaps, so the high was mid morning and the water on the upper west side where we were going to concentrate would be too high to access the flats for a while. Wes prepared the belly strips and single teaser meticulously and after a 10 minutes run from Maya’s Dugong he put it out the back and we began to troll a pattern just off the edge of the deep blue. Within five minutes the teaser got hit and a bill was slashing behind the teaser. Wes expertly teased the fish in and Joern and Gordon took the shots. The enraged sailfish hit Gordon’s fly almost the moment it hit the water, turning backwards to take the fly perfectly so Gordon could set the hook in the corner of the mouth. Text book… the sailfish began to greyhound across the ocean in a series of leaps, and suddenly the backing looped up, wrapped around the bottom two rings and tore the top three sections of his Hardy Zephrus 12# clean off and into the deep. Not so text book.
Gordon was left to fight the fish straight of his Fortuna X4 and the butt section. That reel took everything the sailfish gave it and gave it back in spades and in not too much time I could see the sections working their way back towards us. I leant out over the bow, grabbed the sections, unwrapped the Recoil rings that sprang back into place and fitted the sections back together again.
Gordon then finished the battle and brought the fish to the side of the boat. Wes expertly grabbed the bill, tagged it and after a few pics it was revived and released to fight another day. Not a bad start to the day!
A little further up we encountered a football pitch size area of feeding milkfish. Their open mouths could be heard feeding hard on the detritus drifting off the Atoll. This time I was up on the bow. Wes manoeuvred the boat so it ran alongside the school and Joern and I began to cast, every minute feeling like we would hook up. I cast a long line and placed my fly ahead of the line of milks, maintaining tension with the fly. The line slowly tightened in an arc and I set the hook. Every time I hook a milky I forget just how strong they are. The fish began to pull line off rapidly, but I could see it was still swimming with the school. After keeping a slow steady pressure the silver torpedo woke up and the new Hardy SDSL I was using began to scream as line peeled off it.
If anything was to test if the drag was up to the task it would be a milk! I finally managed to seperate it from the school but then the line went slack and the fight was over. Just the way it goes.
By this stage the water level was dropping nicely and Wes took us up to one of my favourite areas, a surf area on the north point of Providence Island that runs over a white sand bar. It’s like heaven.. the joy of fishing the surf sets with no coral. The water was still a little high so we anchored and had a quick lunch. As we finished Wes said he would just go and check the sand bar. He jumped over the side up to his neck and made his way up on to the bar. A yell went up and he shouted for one of us to join him. The other two were still finishing food, so I grabbed my 11# and jumped over the side, part swimming, part bouncing up to the sand bar (Wes is a bit taller than I am!) stripping line off as I went. He had seen a nice fish surf in and come behind the bar so I began to scan. Suddenly we both saw it materialise and I threw a short cast just to the right. I let the fly settle before giving the magnetic minnow a slow pull. Immediately the GT charged, smashed the fly and I started to fight it hard. Dropping the rod in the other direction I began to pump and wind, using my legs to gain momentum. In short order Wes had tailed it and I was staring at my first GT of the trip, a stunning blue and silver ocean fish of about 85 cm. I let it recover in the current and then swim away strong. The whole battled had taken place in water just over my waist with the reel partly underwater.
After such a good start the group fanned out onto the sand bar and scanned the wave sets, eagerly awaiting more visitors. Nothing beats that heart pulsing moment when the wave lifts up and you see a big shape shooting down the inside. There were a couple more fish, but none we could get a fly in front. Time to bounce as it was not happening, so we hopped back in the boat and ran down the side of the island to an area of white holes and turtle grass. The water was still pretty high, but absolutely flat calm. The water was clean and blue, almost like an aquarium, but we did not find anything so Wes called it. With conditions and tides like this it was perfect to go offshore again.
Five minutes off the edge of the flats the teasers went out and again, almost immediately, it was attacked by a pack of sailfish. I was not really ready so ripped line off the reel and began frantically casting as the pandemonium of teaser and thrashing bill came in. I dropped the pink sailfish fly just behind the bill and the after a couple of seconds the bill and head arched backwards and slammed the fly. I set the hook and then… oh horror of horrors… the reel spun wildly as in all the excitement I have committed the ultimate school boy error and not retightened my drag! The pressure released and the line went slack… I hung my head. Wes gave me THAT look, but did not have to say anything. I saw a giant banana in my future.
Luckily the wolfpack of sailfish were still around us and hit the teaser again almost immediately. This time Joern put a perfect cast in, the fish hit and battle was resumed. I ws amazed that we could get a bite like this out the back of a smaller tender boat with just one small teaser. It is just testament to the fruitfulness of the ocean around this atoll. Joern fought that saily like a pro and had the bill to Wes’s waiting hand in short order. Wow, what a day! But now it was time to head for home.
That evening over dinner Gordon was awarded the silly hat for losing his top three sections, and as suspected, I was dutifully awarded the banana suit. Tim quoted from my own book the section that states “As soon as you hit the flat, strip a comfortable distance of line off the reel (maybe 15 yards) and cast it out. Retrieve until you can hold the fly in your left hand (if you are right-handed: vice versa for left-handed) and still have 9-10ft out of the tip guide. Then ensure you reset the drag to prevent overrun. More fish are lost like this than any other error.” There was much mirth and I dutifully took it on the chin.
Day 4 – Barracuda and monster GTs
Day four dawned, the yoga crew dutifully stretched and looked annoyingly fresh, and I was feeling a little beaten up from the battles the day before. After breakfast I donned the banana suit, quite fetching I thought. I needed to catch something fast or I was going to cook in this! I was fishing with Alexander, Igor and Wes again. The plan was to head east and explore some of the giant flats and channels on that side, skipping over the centre of the lagoon on the high tide. As we ran across the middle of the lagoon I had a sense of just how massive the atoll was. We arrived to find the flats still too deep to wade, so Wes took us to the edge of the drop off to some white holes in the rolling ocean waves outside the surfline. A few cast quickly produced a lovely bluefin trevally and thankfully the banana suit came off.
This little side show allowed the tide enough time to drop to a level we could walk and we jumped out. It was still pretty deep though so I asked Wes to stand on the front of the bow while I pulled the boat so that he could spot and the other two would have the best chance. Put the guy with the best eyes as high as possible.
The turtle grass seemed to span as far as the eye could see as I pulled the boat along. Wes called out a ray about 200 yards at 1100 next to small depression. Igor moved up into position and as we got closer he began to cast.. Wes called there was a GT on its back, the fly went in and the black GT flew off the ray and smashed the fly before flying off across the flats with Igor clearing his line in the deep water. It was a great start! We proceeded down the flat and after a little while of watching and waiting a long shape loomed out of our field of vision heading straight for us. GT? No.. too long… Big cuda! It was obviously wondering what the commotion was about and it might be something nice to eat. Wes yelled at Alexander to get ready and by the time he had figured out where it was, it was nearly on us. A short cast, a couple of long strips and the cuda accelerated like a toothy missile and hit the Olive Semper.
We could see immediately that the fly was clear in the scissors but rather than take off like they normally do it unnervingly hung around mine and Wes’ ankles. I don’t think it had computed that it was hooked and it was still in hunt mode. Then things changed and right in between Alexander and Wes it suddenly went vertical coming nearly three feet clean out of the water.. Ooohhh that was a big fish.. and a large proportion of it head… and teeth. At last it got the message and began to run, Alexander’s reel screaming in protest. Like most cuda though it was more of a sprinter than a distance athlete and having regurgitated half a grouper in protest Wes carefully grabbed it by the tail. What a fish!
The tide was dropping fast now and our little band began to fast move down to the edge the white sand highways that drained this flat. Almost as soon as we showed up the rays began dropping off the flats, many of them accompanied by friends. Igor waded out, I heard a yell and he was in.
Ten minutes later Alexander intercepted another fish dropping down the white sand edge, exactly as they are supposed to. It was a classic charge, hit and heading for the blue, but Alexander had other ideas and tamed it to Wes’s waiting hands. I had been running around taking photographs, but thought perhaps I had better exchange camera for rod at this point. I moved into the channel. Wes called out as in his field of vision he could see a ray and GT dropping towards me in the white channel on the other side. I waded across, stripping line off at the same time and began to cast.
The line sang through the rings and the fly dropped neatly on the downstream side of the ray. The GT was looking the other way, but as it turned round I gave the fly one strip. Its body language changed in the flicker of an instant, flared and charged as I increased the speed. Just as it was about to engulf the fly it turned away and headed out of the channel. Wes looked at me and I looked at the swirling water left behind. What happened? I retrieved the fly and inspected it and I saw that some of the holographic material had become entangled and caught up so the fly was not swimming correctly. Ergh! Mental note to self, check fly dressing in the future. Very frustrating! The flat was getting skinny now, so we switched from 12# to 9 # for a bit before piling back into the boat to the next plan. We made our way off the flat and out through a coral garden, a series of white holes with higher grass covered coral mounds around them. I love areas like this, the crystal clear water gives a you a window into another world teeming with life. Hanging in one of these like trout in a current, were three GTs, one of them being a super-sized model. Igor and Alexander covered them a number of times but apart from a slow meander in the direction of the fly they seemed disinterested entirely. It just goes to show that just because they are aggressive by nature does not meant they eat every time.
As we putted over the middle lagoon to the far eastern edge there were flashes of light from tails, showing the presence of a herd of bumpies feeding lazily along the edge. Wes moved the boat around the edge and he, Alexander and Igor slipped out and began to stalk the herd. Every time they moved up and put a cast in the herd would drift along the edge just out of reach as is their way. Finally they started getting some crabs in amongst the herd, but it either came down to hard or they just became aware of the presence of strangers. They slid off into deep water and vanished. The tide at this point was just beginning to push again so we headed up onto the surf edge to see what was occurring. I had some fun playing marco polo with triggers. In the glare a tail would come up, I would cast blind in that direction, nothing, and then another tail would come up a little further away. I could easily waste my life away doing this. Igor played around with another group of bumpies but could not get an eat and Alex and Wes patrolled the deeper inner edge for GTs. After a while it was time to head back to the mothership after a really interesting day exploring the east side.
That evening over dinner we discovered that Joern had attracted yet another monster. He had been fishing with Tim on the edge of the inner lagoon south of Providence Island right at the bottom of the tide. They had spotted a beast sitting in a hole which had smashed the fly before heading out to all the coral heads in the lagoon. After manoeuvring the fish round them it finally tried a last ditch effort to cut him off on a coral head. Tim saw what was happening, swam out to the head, detangled it, and then grabbed its tail to incapacitate it. Joern had then pulled them both back in landing both Tim and the fish.
Providence 2018/2019 Season Openings
With fishing of that calibre and limited trips on offer each season, it’s understandable why spots on Providence are so highly sought after. We do however have a few openings during 2018 & 2019 still up for grabs:
- 13 – 20 November 2018: 4 rods open
- 27 November – 4 December 2018: 6 rods open
- 26 March – 2 April 2019: 2 possible rods open, Peter’s Hosted Trip
- 9 – 16 April 2019: 10 rods open
- 16 – 23 April 2019: 4 rods open
If you would like discuss Providence or receive further information, please contact Peter McLeod. Alternatively, please contact the office on +44(0)1980 847389.