Three Years. It has been three years since I last travelled to Providence and fished its extraordinary waters. That is a long time to have to wait and when the Pandemic finally subsided to the extent we could travel again, the anticipation was tangible. The time leading up to departure was filled with apprehension as PCR test were completed, but finally the group boarded Emirates and once more we were winging our way towards the Seychelles and Providence. It was somewhat surreal to be finally sitting around the bar at the Eden Bleu on Mahé, catching up with members of the team who I had not seen in so long. It took a while for the reality to finally sink in that we were actually here and the following day we would be heading for Providence.

Eden Bleu Hotel, Mahe, Seychelles

Everyone was buzzing the following morning. Unlike the usual herding of cats the whole team was ready to jump into the cars and head for the IDC hanger. Even this had changed in our absence with smart new bathroom facilities and a singular efficiency that we had not experienced before. As we stepped onto the tarmac and began to wander out to the Beachcraft gleaming in the morning sun, it finally hit me that it really was happening and everything felt normal again. A couple of hours later we arrived at Farquhar to be greeted by old friends. I was greatly impressed by the new seating area that has been put in place at the airport, a welcome addition.  As we were driven along the path to the lodge in the new long wheel-based golf cart (considerably more comfortable than the old tractor that the luggage was now consigned to) I was hit by how healthy the atoll looked.

The whole island looked immaculate, a far-flung cry from my last trip in 2019 when the wreckage of Hurricane Fantala was still strewn everywhere. As the boat ramp hove into view and the aquamarine water materialised, so did the Farquhar pets. What a welcome sight it was! Quickly the team were ferried out to Mayas Dugong to yet more long overdue greetings with Kevin and the crew. Cabins were quickly assigned, Tim’s safety brief completed and at last it was time to get under way. This is almost my favourite part of the trip as a huge quantity of tackle explodes onto the rear deck and rods, reels and lines for the coming weeks are assembled. All those latest purchases that will ‘make all the difference’ proudly displayed and put together.

Some six hours later Cerf Island appeared on the horizon. I felt a little thrill run through me as I gazed over the rail, pointing out areas and reliving long quiet memories of adventures of previous years. That night after dinner the group sat on the back of the deck, had a few drinks and made a plan for the following day. This week was to be a full spring tide week, fast and furious with the focus on GTs and hopefully some big ocean-going fish making use of the opportunity of big pushes and high water to hunt the flats. We savoured where we were and looked forward to the first day as the sun exploded in an orange ball across the sky and slipped from view.

Day 1 – Off the Mark

The first morning I was up before sunrise totally over excited. I found I was not alone as I took a steaming cup of coffee up to the rear deck. The sky was a tapestry of blue holes and small squalls, so the weather looked like it would be a little mixed. I was to fish with Peter Moylan and Piers Smart with Nic Isabelle as guide. Although Nic has a long and distinguished guiding carer I had not had the pleasure to fish with him yet and was looking forward to it. Our plan for the day was to head north and fish some of the drainages on the west side of the atoll. The weather was temperamental with a few squalls coming through here and there making visibility a little tough. Straight out of the gate Nic took us to a large ramp of white sand in the middle of large turtle grass flat on the edge of one of the channels. It was team stake out, looking for bow waves dropping off the flat and coming across the white sand in the poor visibility. I stayed on the boat to keep high and gain as much visibility as possible, but aside from some packs of bluefin trevally we did not see anything. Nic called it and we moved one.

Nic motored us a little further up the west side before jumping out and wading across a wonderful area of mixed bottom and white sand holes beside a channel. We saw a couple of fish quite quickly, but the water was still waist height. Another good call by Nic as the mottled bottom helped give away the position of moving fish. Sure enough, a little further on, I caught sight of a large black object that just whipped over the corner of the one of the white sand fingers. I fired the cast instinctively, three years of pent-up excitement flowing through me and the line sang out in the direction I anticipated the fish to moving. I gave the olive and white split tone brushy one long strip and almost immediately the sea boiled and the fish chased it over the white sand before engulfing it half in and half out the water.

Oh, how I had forgotten that feeling of being attached a maniacal piscatorial bull, careering off towards the ocean at break neck speed as I held on for the ride.. It is very hard to describe, but either way I had to stop it. Leaning into the Hardy Zane Pro 11# I began to go through the pump and wind motion, constantly throwing the fish off balance and in fairly short order regained some sense of control. Nic took his time and moved quietly out towards the fish before slipping a well-practiced hand around its tail and bringing it finally to heel. It was a stunning fish of 92 cm and I finally felt at home again.

It was time to move again with the tide and we moved further into the atoll to another large turtle grass edge beside a white channel moving east. The light was not on our side, but Piers had a couple of casts at triggers while Peter took up station in the deeper water scanning for GTs. Suddenly Nic pointed out the large broad greenish tails of a pod of bumpies tailing on the edge. Piers grabbed a 9#, stripped some line off and made a long cast to the edge. The fly sank and he began to take up the slack. Just as he did the line tightened up and the herd of flats bison took off along the edge, Piers in tow. It should be noted at this point that the bumphead parrotfish was Piers’ nemesis. He had hooked…. many…. and it had never gone well for him. I watched, quietly, hoping that this one might be different. Finally he separated it from the herd and Nic expertly sidled up with a net and it was done. The look of elation was all over Piers’ face. I have to say I have NEVER seen anyone hook and land a bumpy first cast.

After lunch we followed the tide further into the atoll still, and as the tidal height was getting too deep to wade Nic made a bee line for a small sand island. I recognised this from previous years, but in the time I had been away it had grown from a small sand bar submerged at high tide to what is now a small island covered in patrolling herons. It is a perfect GT snack bar, its bays a nursery for baby lemon sharks and its promontories a haven for quivering mullet trying to stay out of the deep water. We staked it out and waited to see what might come a calling. There was some excitement with various species taking advantage of the “drive through” but we failed to connect with any GTs.

I did accidently hook a large shark that came nosing in close to shore, but thankfully it let me go. Moving down to the lower end of the island the fast-pushing tide had created an area of turbid and cloudy water that a group of GTs were piling in and out of smashing bait. I left Peter casting furiously in amongst them with Nic pointing them out and wandered further up the long thin island. Down towards me meandered a large guitar shark and on his tail was a GT. I cast out the Sandy coloured Olly’s Pink Sneaker and the GT immediately flew off the sharks dorsal and smashed it! It was a lovely angry fish that gave me a good battle. As soon as I had finished returning it Peter Moylan finally connected with one of the other marauding fish. Everyone was off the mark and despite conditions it had been a great day’s fishing.

Day 2 – The Inner Lagoons

The following day I was to have the pleasure of fishing with Jim Haspel and Brendan as our guide, both of whom I have shared most excellent adventures with in the past. As per yesterday we were sticking to the western side of the atoll and we began fishing a drainage not far from the Dugong. The light was kinder and we were hunting over large open turtle grass flats looking for bow waves and rays dropping off the central area. Before we had even thought about slipping into the water, Brenden spotted a GT cruising the edge. We passed Jim’s big stick to him and he stripped off line and made a great cast, kissing the surface just beyond the fish. It whirled around and slapped the fly which was an excellent way to start the day.

As the sun climbed into the sky the light improved and we carried on wading across the flats. Although we saw a couple of other fish it became apparent that there weren’t the number we had hoped for and Brendan made the call to bounce to the next area. We ran further up past the Dugong into a large channel that drains one of the internal lagoons. Brendan had become very familiar with this area well and as we proceeded up the channel I caught sight of an orange tail with a bar across it.. Titan trigger fish. He was rootling around in the turtle grass next to a white hole. I grabbed a 9# and cast an Trigger flexo crab at the point I thought he was lurking, but nothing doing. The tail was gone and all was silent. By this time the tide had dropped out significantly, so Brendan moored the boat and the three of us marched over the apex into one of the interior lagoons.

It was a little like walking the edge of a gin clear lake watching the teeming life below the surface. I had a shot at a single bumpy, and a trigger, neither of which wanted to play.  We station ourselves on the highest points we could find on the sides of the channel entrance as the tide began to flood quite quickly. I had very fast shot at a GT that come sliding down the side, but I only succeeded in spooking it. Brendan went to go and get the boat as the tide was now flooding very quickly and the visible flat around us had vanished. Some large sharks began to appear, but sadly none of them had any GT mates hanging around. Brendan picked us up and we grabbed some lunch on the other side of the lagoon as the sun pocked its head out.

The tide began to flood this edge and very soon the spangled emperors were replaced by tailing triggers. Sadly they were the yellow sickle tail of the yellow margin. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have never had much luck with these canny little guys and this was no exception. As soon as I cast the crab the fish spooked immediately. No dice. Just then Brendan spotted a ray coming up out of the lagoon and sure enough he had a GT buddy hovering over him.  Jim put out a quick cast and once again the fish powered off his ride and hit the fly, just like he should. He was quickly released as the promise of a short window of tidal depth spurred us to keep hunting.

Sure enough as I lined up on another trigger a ray came skimming out of the depths of the lagoon with a friend in tow. Damn.. wrong rod.. and my 11# was in the boat some fifty yards down the flat. Ah well, there was nothing for it, I whipped the Trigger flexo crab into the air and dropped it just to one side of the ray and gave it a long strip. The black GT steamed forward and I just had the glimpse of a massive mouth close over the crab before all hell broke loose. With only 20 pounds leader it was highly unlikely this was going to go well. The fish tore line of the Hardy Carbon Zane heading for the edge and dove over into the lagoon severing the connection on the coral. It was highly exciting and good fun but I suspect was only going to end one way.

Our little band continued down the edge of the lagoon, Brendan pulling the boat between us. About three hundred yards further down we came upon a large school of bumpies that we very successfully spooked. The tide was ripping across the flat by this stage and trying to catch them on a spring tide is always going to be really challenging. It’s incredibly difficult to present the fly properly as the tide takes the line and pulls the crab up to the surface. We pressed on. Finally Brendan spotted a ray moving in our direction, although with the light it was tough to see if it had company. You should always shoot first and ask questions afterwards, which is exactly what I did.

I was still using Olly’s Pink Sneaker and I made a long cast, dropping it just to one side of the ray and began with a long strip. There was an explosion of water as it was immediately intercepted. Even though it was not a massive fish it gave an excellent account of itself in the fast pushing water until finally Brendan grabbed its tail. It proved to be a lovely fish of 80 cm. By this time the water was too deep to wade so we moved onto one of the internal turtle grass flats. The water was still high, so I jumped overboard and pulled the boat along so Brendan could stay on the front of the deck and get a better view. It was not long before he spotted a nice fish on a ray. I positioned the boat according to instruction from above and Jim made a cast across the fish. By this point I was up to my armpits and as it charged the fly the GT broached half out of the water giving me an incredible perspective of angry eyes and mouth. Jim connected and the fish tore off into the deeper water, but all to soon came unbuttoned. Time had run out so we grabbed a cold beer and turned for home. Although Jim and I might not have caught a huge number of fish we really enjoyed the day as we had seen a good number of GTs on rays which is one of the best way to fish for them.

Day 3 – GT Heaven

As the team assembled for breakfast dark clouds had departed and a gorgeous blue sky greeted us as the sun rose. It looked like clear skies at last and I was very excited about the day ahead. I was to fish with Joern and Wesley as our guide. We are all old friends and I knew the day would be filled with harsh banter and laughs. Little did I know that Joern and Wesley had been plotting behind my back… The day began still on the west side south from Mayas Dugong on a large open ocean side flat. The tide was dropping and so we moved up the flat until we hit the optimum depth, although we knew it would not last long. The three of us wading along our depth line, looking for bow waves or rays dropping off the central lagoon area. The turtle grass was interspersed with white sand holes and immediately we saw large bow waves criss crossing the flat and finally we managed to catch up with one.

As it came across my path I made the intercept cast, pulling the fly away from the fish at a diagonal and it gave chase and as I stripped the fish lunged at the fly. I did the unthinkable. I trout set the rod in the air and pulled the fly out of its mouth… horror… Wes looked at me mouth aghast. I bowed my head in shame and Wes looked the other way. Three years of trout guiding had obviously had a worse effect than I had known. Visions of the banana hat (our forfeit for making mistakes) floated before me and I knew I had committed a sin of the greatest magnitude. Luckily just then Wes spotted another fish on a ray entering Joern’s vicinity. Joern put out a short cast and the fish charged over some ten feet to hit the fly and he was attached. It surged off towards the ocean, but Joern being the pro that he is quickly brought it under control and Wes carefully waded out and grabbed it by the tail. Not a monster, but a solid fish of 80 cm. It gave us a few irritated grunts as we photographed it before carefully sliding it back to play again.

More bow waves, a chance to clear my head! I cast, stripped, hooked up and….. promptly fell over backwards.. while hooked up to a bluefin. Hmm, this was not going well… Wes again gave me “the look” so I shuffled away quietly out of the way to deal with my bluefin. The water had now reached ankle depth, so it was time to move. We ran north up one of the big white sand drainages towards the inner lagoons in order to intercept any fish dropping back to the ocean from the interior. Areas of the flat had now appeared out of the water and the channel was rapidly beginning to resemble a small fast flowing river. All manner of life was being pushed down the channel, but we only saw one GT that shot past before we could get a shot off. Fishing the spring tides was very illuminating as it was now possible to see far more of the topographical structure of the flats than on a neap tide when everything appears featureless to the untrained eye.

The current was pushing down the channel hard and I felt like I should be swinging a fly across it salmon style. Finally we reached the bottom of the channel just as the tide had turned and was beginning to push back in again.  Now this is the time that the edges come alive. The real benefit of fishing the big springs tides is that at the bottom of the low it’s possible to get much further out toward the drop off than normal. Why do you want to do this? This is where the beasts live. It is the domain of the ocean going GTs which are normally considerably bigger than those living in the lagoons.

Wes moved us down onto a series of crescent shaped coral heads where we could get a vantage point over the deeper water as it slips down to the drop off. Joern went left, I went right with Wes stationed with the boat in between us. Although it’s possible to venture further out during the springs, it also means the tide charges back in much faster which can leave you stranded fast if you are not careful. I edged round to a small promontory and began to scan the water in front of me. Some 35 yards ahead to the right was what looked like a dark coral bommie. As I concentrated on it soon the outline of a massive GT sitting on a very small coral head popped out at me, a little like one of those 3D images. Holy cow it was MASSIVE!

I began to shake uncontrollably as my fingers found the fly in the first ring, unhooked it and swung out the first cast with line streaming out past me. It was a long cast standing up to my waist in water, but after a couple of hauls I launched it and the new Rio Elite GT line sung through the rings to target. The black and purple brushy landed about three feet left of the fish. I gave one long strip and with my heart in my mouth the fish lazily come up in the water column and moved over to it, gathering speed as it came. Only really big fish exhibit this behaviour. I increased the speed of the strip and the fish charged, there was spray and then it was heading out to the right… unattached. Either it had missed the fly or figured out it was an imposter. Big fish = clever fish. Gutted. It was massive, easily over 120 cm.

I slunk back to my coral boomie with my tail between my legs. Moving right a little further another fish hove into view, also perched on a coral head. Another chance! Now that’s something that does not happen every day.. I gather my wits stripped out more line and again made a long cast out to the right. The fly landed with a gentle plop and as I commenced the first strip the fish charged with absolutely no hesitation. All I saw was massive maws chomping out of the water before it turned sideways and I set the hook. The power was unbelievable. Wes was shouting at me, but everything had slowed down into slow motion for me. The fish was charging left, my rod went right and bent over at an impossible angle. The reel handle spun furiously and I vaguely registered backing before with a jolt time reverted back to normality.

I tried desperately to fight this beast up to my waist in water as the line snaked out through the coral bommies. I was suddenly aware of Wes charging up alongside me with the boat. For those that don’t know Wes, he’s a big bloke.. considerably larger than me and before I was really aware of what was happening he had grabbed me and unceremoniously boosted me into the footwell of the boat. I held the rod high as my head stopped my motion against the cooler and I struggled to my feet before hopping up on the front deck to get some height. The biggest issue with hooking large fish in the surf line is that your low angle allows the fish to weave your line in between the coral heads and cut you off. By getting me in the boat rapidly Wes had circumvented this allowing me to keep tension from above.

He gunned the engine and we began to gain on the fish as it slid its way through every white depression it could find, me frantically winding to keep pace with Wes calling instruction from behind. At this point I had no idea how long this process had taken, I could do nothing but concentrate on maintaining connection with the fish and moving the angles to exert as much pressure as I could. Finally we could see it ahead of us and unbelievably the beast was beginning to tire. In a final act of total heroism Wes grabbed the net and jumped overboard into the deep water and made his way to the direction it was moving. Like poetry, the hulk of a fish swam gently into the net and it was over. My legs buckled underneath me and an uncontrollable roar escaped my lips.

What many are unaware of is that I had, up to this point, never succeeded in landing a fish over 1 metre. I have always in the past stepped away from the shot in favour of whoever I have been fishing with and the only times I have hooked fish of that size in the past it has ended in tears. 21 years I have been fishing for GTs, could this finally be the moment? Suddenly I had a moment of clarity. Joern and Wes had very kindly planned this. They had put me in a position where I could take the shot. Wes showed me the tape…. 104cm! At last! I felt shattered, elated and overcome with the generosity of these two. That was my week done right there. I climbed into the water to take a grip on this beast and after some photographs I watched this big silver ocean fish slip away.

The day was not done though. Not even slightly. Wes had a plan. We moved location to a set of storm ridges much further south on the west side. I had fished these years previously and remembered the area. Aside from the hard coral ridges on the front the whole area was dark turtle grass peppered with white sand holes with crystal clear water. With the tide pushing in hard our window would be quite limited, so the three of us slipped out of the boat and hopped into the deliciously cool ocean water. Immediately we saw fish. I spied the outline of a GT crossing toward the outside edge and made a short cast with the black and purple brushy. As I increased the strip the fish gave chase and hit the fly, immediately making the rod buck and line rip through my fingers. The joy of casting at fish in clear water was only surpassed by being attached to a big angry fish. Wes tailed it, released it and we moved on.

Wes and Joern went left across the deep water pots and I took a right up onto the surf line. A shout went up and Joern had also hooked a fish, but it sadly fell of, so I continued along the surf edge looking for any GTs surfing down the inside off the ocean waves. Some ten minutes later I was scanning hard when suddenly a group of large bluefins accompanied by a single black GT appeared at my feet from behind. I literally swatted the fly down at my feet and to my huge surprise the GT accelerated ahead of the charging bluefins and attacked the fly. Not a massive specimen, but nevertheless a GT which I quickly brought to hand. Any GT is a delighted!

By this stage the water was beginning to crash to a height I was on the point of being knocked into the deep pots behind. Time to move…. Wes had anticipated this, gone for the boat and appeared to pluck me from the deep water. We putted along over the deep water with all kinds of fish from snapper to grouper around us. The water was so clear it looked like an aquarium. We did find another pack of GTs keeping a big nurse shark company and Joern had a couple of shots but no hook ups. We were certainly seeing plenty of fish, but the water was now at a depth it was only possible to fish from the boat.

Wes moved us over to the top of another white sand highway which was simply stunning. A small channel came off the side that he wanted to stake out, so we hopped out and took up station. A couple of large sharks appeared, including one big silver tip that was perhaps a little bit too interested in us, but finally a ray appeared with a lovely black GT on station over the top of him. I handed the rod to Wes and told him to take the shot. He looked at me quizzically but I insisted. He punched a lovely long cast out and dropped the fly expertly just to one side which the fish took without hesitation. The GT had been black as the ace of spades, but as I pulled out the camera only its lips remained black.

There was just enough time for one last spot and Wes had another cunning plan. There was a flat not far from the mooring at midway that had the previous day harboured an incredible phenomenon of a huge pack of rays feeding together covered by a swarm of GTs. Those who had encountered them had had some double hook ups, so it seemed like a good plan to go and investigate. After putting around for a while I saw a large sand slick that I point out to Wes. Sure enough we had found them. As Joern is a left hander and I am right, we attacked it loch style, both punching flies into the cloudy area. Almost immediately a pack of rapid GTs attacked Joern’s fly but failed to hook up before I also went tight and landed not a monster but another decent sized GT. Time was against us so we finished this incredible day with another fish to the boat and a cold Seybrew in our hands. It was a day that will forever be baked into my memory banks. That evening celebration was in order and although I was indeed awarded the banana hat, I finally earnt the hat for a metre GT.

That night it was also time for Jack, Peter Opperman’s son, to have his right of passage to hook one of the big bull sharks that tend to hang around the back of the boat. The agricultural gear was prepared and music and beers taken to the back of the boat. After a short while Jack hooked a monster, the big multiplier reel screamed and Jack discovered what it’s like to be attached to a 450 lbs bull shark. Sadly after a short while of back breaking endeavour the shark bit through the steel trace and release him. He was not keen to have another go…

Day 4 – Bluefins And Rays

It’s normally by this stage of the week that it’s slightly harder to spring out of bed in the morning as parts of your body that have not been used in a while have had a good work out. I was really looking forward to it as I was to be fishing with Brummy and Steve with Brendan as our guide. Fishing with these two is always highly entertaining as the banter is unbelievably harsh and unrelenting. As the water levels first thing were too high to wade, we had to wait for it to drop to access the flats. Brendan felt it would be a good use of time to have a crack at the milkfish schools off the edge of the atoll as their numbers had been increasing daily.

We found a long line of feeding milks and put Steve on the bow. The milks were munching all the algae being swept off the atoll and Brendan expertly position us for Steve to have perfect access to them. 9 weight in hand and milky fly attached, he put out cast after cast through the oncoming stream of fish. It felt like any minute he would go tight, but sadly today was not the day. After some viscous taunting from a Brummy and no hook ups we finally quit in favour of moving back onto the flats in search of GTs.

The weather had changed for the better and had given way to bright blue skies and with the lack of a breeze, the temperature was rising. Brendan took us over to a huge flat of white sand interspersed with turtle grass. As the tide dropped, scanning commenced for any targets, rays or bow waves. We put Brendan on the cooler as he had the best eyes and took it turns to pull the boat. It did not take long to start seeing some bow waves and I took a shot at fish in one of the white sand holes. As I stripped everything went tight, but it transpired to be a big yellow lipped emperor which put up quite a struggle despite it being on an 11#. I have often thought these stunning fish are massively under valued and can often provide a huge amount of fun.

We wandered slowly through the white holes and found packs of large bluefin trevally hunting in the shallows. Brummy cast at a pod of fish and immediately “Attaaaack!” a bunch of bluefins swarmed his fly and he managed to hook a good sized one out of the pack. The glassy surface of the flat gave us an excellent view of the take and Brummy quickly release it before we moved on. Many of the white holes were swarming with bluefin and yellow lips that kept us entertained for some time. Rays slipped past us, but we did not see any GTs keeping them company unfortunately. Steve also hooked up and landed a nice bluefin as the rest swarmed about it trying to take the fly out of its mouth. After we had our fun and we had not seen any other GTs Brendan decided it was time to bounce to another spot. There was a particular white sand channel he had in mind to fish the push on so moved us along an edge of flat close to the ocean edge which looked promising.

As we putted along the edge towards the channel we came across an old wreck that was literally swarming with life. Clouds of boha snapper came to investigate our flies from the coral encrusted boiler and propeller shaft along with some good sized Napoleon wrasse. The Napoleons were not playing, but suddenly Brummy connected with a big camouflaged grouper which gave him an excellent fight. Grouper are another massively underrated species and will also give a serious battle. After this little excitement we continued up towards the area we were heading for.

Taking up position on either side of the channel we waited as the tide began to push. There were some heart stopping moments as big pods of milkfish appeared, which not for the first time were mistaken for GTs, but were a pleasure to watch as they meandered around us. The tide came in fast, very quickly pushing us out of depth so we continued to move up the channel in hopes of intercepting some fish using the highway to access the lagoon. Soon we drifted up onto one of the large open flats on the inside. The water depth increased very quickly, but we found that the water being pushed up was bath temperature and although we saw a couple of GTs that were obviously on a mission to get somewhere cooler, the flats were pretty empty. The only way to keep cool was cold beer from the cooler, so after a long wander we decided to move over to a flat nearer the Mayas Dugong to look for the ray brigade again.

Brendan chatted to Wes on the radio who was also looking from them further up. Having putted around the place for a while Brummy and I came up with a much better idea – deploy the drone! We located the rays in fairly short order from the eye in the sky and moved over to them. Wes immediately figured out what we were up to and headed in our direction. The GTs were still present and it was only when we could see from above that the full scene unfolded. In front of us were some 30 rays mudding around one another. Around and on top of them was a school of at least 40 GTs! Wes and Brendan slipped over the sides of their boats and began to walk them in. Lines went in and flies were attacked. The other boat hooked up straight away and shortly afterwards another fished attacked Steve’s fly but did not stay pinned. The two guides clung to the bottom of the boats to prevent stepping on a ray. It was an extraordinary thing to witness. After all that fun we called it quits for the day and headed back to the mothership.

Day 5 – The East

The day dawned bright and hot, even early in the morning. It was going to be a scorcher. Today I was to fish with Peter and Jack Opperman with Tim as our guide and he had made the decision to make the most of the high tides and run straight across the atoll to the east side. The large tides made this possible as normally to access the east side we would have to run all the way around Cerf Island in the south and up the other side which takes a significantly long time. I was very excited to get over there as it would be the first time during the trip. It’s a very different world to the west side. Tim had found a new area he wanted to investigate and fishing whole new areas is one of the things that makes Providence so exciting. This was Jack’s first trip to Providence as well, so it would be wonderful for him to experience a whole different facet to the fishery.

We made our way over there quickly before the tide dropped any further which would have prevented us from reaching the east side. Once through the lagoons and over the apex of the flats Tim dropped us down to some large coral heads at the bottom of another white sand drainage. I was positioned on one coral head still at waist depth, and then he placed Peter on another coral head on the other side. Jack and he then anchored up in the boat in the middle so we could keep a good look out and cover the area visually. I found a small coral bommie and manged to gain a little more height to thigh depth. Almost immediately I had found my footing, a very large shark meandered out of the deep lagoon in front of me and slid past no more than six feet away, perhaps attracted by my movement, but luckily it ignored me and carried on towards the ocean. In the low light it had slightly taken me by surprise and certainly woke me up from my morning lethargy. No friends though.  Peter saw a big GT slide down the channel from his coral bommie but could not get a shot and then Tim also spotted a big fish out of range. It was a good sign. The tide was dropping quickly and already my coral head was four to five inches shallower than it had been on arrival.

The dropping water would make the area more defined and hopefully channel the fish in our direction. I saw some movement just below me so swung out a long cast blindly to investigate. As I stripped, the fly was attacked, but to my horror it was a big needle fish. I have to say I am not a fan of these evil things. They are a real nuisance as their maw of needle-sharp teeth become totally tangled in the dressing of the fly, often trashing it and often cutting up the leader. Hateful creatures. After some time I managed to extract my Cosmo critter from the needle teeth and sent it on its way. The water continued to drop and as we had seen no other action Tim called it – time to move out to the surf line for the push. We passed over some internal coral heads and had some fantastic bluefin and snapper action, but as it was necessary to get over another flat to reach the surf line we moved on quickly before becoming trapped.

On the other side of the flat, Tim slid us into a white “River” channel that drained the inner lagoons to the surf line. The tide was still dropping and over time it became more defined. We drifted over a lovely coral head on the side of a raised area of turtle grass and along with some groupers that called it home, a Napoleon wrasse peeked out. Tim directed Jack to cast his fly over the coral head and let it sink down. The fly drifted down towards it and as it dropped, the Napoleon made its way out to investigate. Jack gave the fly a tiny twitch and the wrasse moved up and just engulfed it. Jack set the hook and then all hell broke loose. Napoleons are incredibly powerful and their first move is always to charge back into the safety of their coral house, which normally ends in tears. Luck was on our side as the drift of the boat helped Jack pull it away from it house. The effort was making him grunt, but inch by inch he pulled it into open water. Tim grabbed the net and as we drifted over another slightly shallow area he hoped out and expertly netted it. Landing one of these things is a major achievement and we were all elated for Jack. Having snapped a quick photo it was gently slipped back and sulked off back to its house, a little older and a little wiser.

Drifting down one of these channels is a sight to behold as all sorts of fish call it home. Suddenly another coral head hove into view and around it were two massive Napoleons and a horde of good sized bluefin trevally. The Napoleons quickly vanished, but I was pushed forward to make a cast at the bluefins. I launched a long back hand cast from the corner of the boat and immediately began to strip as fast as I could. The blue tide surged as one, and after darting around the fly, finally one of them smacked it hard. I am always taken aback by how hard these fish pull and after couple of really hard surges I locked up and managed to bring it to the boat. It was a good sized fish and the colours simply gorgeous. This seemed to be a good moment to stop for lunch and we took it in turns while keeping an eye out for GTs dropping down the channel.

As the tide had bottomed out, Tim took us round to a long sandy edge that was simply beautiful. The light was perfect coming from behind, lighting up the surf like a spot light some twenty metres away from us. The tide had already turned and was building as we arrived. We saw GTs immediately, so we piled out the boat rapidly and made our way out as far as we could. Straight away Jack hooked up to one of a pair cruising the edge which gave him a good battle before being quickly released. Shortly after, Peter also hooked up to another GT coming in the opposite direction so it was looking really promising. I was on the far left and I spied a large shark traveling along the edge. Hanging off its tail were two very large GTs which got my heart racing. I came off my coral head and charged across the deeper water, stripping line as I went. The cast sang true and the fly landed just to the right of them and immediately I began some long strips. The fish immediately accelerated and they competed to hit the fly, but in the turmoil they over ran it and neither hooked up before they came too close, saw me, and tore back into the ocean. I have to say I was pretty gutted as they were BIG.

On the far-right Peter intercepted another fish and I watched from the height of my coral head as the battle played out. Just then I caught sight of another electric blue fish floating in on the waves. I sprang into action and put a long cast out in the flat water between the two sets of waves. The GT came screaming in from ten yards away and I thought this was it. Instead of smashing the fly though it continued charging straight towards my feet before spooking as it saw the rest of my body above the water. Mildly unnerving, but more frustrating. Just then a large cloudy patch came across the sun robbing me of visibility. The water too was rising rapidly and already up to my waist while standing on the coral head. We did not have long left at this spot before being driven back up onto the flats.

The interior flats and lagoons were already to deep to wade, so we made a plan to hit the coral heads in the deep channels. This is one of the joys of Providence as its possible to hit all the reef species without having to head outside the surf line and dredge in the deeper water.  What then ensued was nothing short of hysterical mayhem. The red tide of aggressive boha snapper was punctuated with all kinds of big grouper, all of them testing tackle to the limits. We caught marble grouper, camouflage grouper, many other kinds of grouper I could not identify and countless big boha. It was seriously good fun and I think its really important to take advantage of when the GT fishing is not firing. The highlight was Jack playing a boha that was then smashed by a big barracuda that in turned was annihilated by a good sized silver tip shark. There is always a bigger fish in the sea… Jack played it for a while as his reel protested massively before it finally bit through his leader and they parted company. It had been a phenomenal day with huge variety and varied fishing and we headed back to the Dugong that evening feeling battered but hugely satisfied.

Day 6 – The Napoleon

The last day is always a little sad as the end of the week always seems to vanish so fast. For this last episode of our adventure I was to fish with Joern again and Tim as our guide. Once again the plan was to head over to the east side and investigate some areas that Tim had not had a chance to fish before as they could only be hit on certain phases of a big spring tide. The tide was a little further on than yesterday, so this time we made a bee line for the other side as rapidly as possible. We started in the same surf area that I had fished with Peter and Jack the previous day, but this time we could make it much further out to the edge of the atoll. Here a white sand plateau kicked out from the edge before dropping off into the blue. As we putted into the area the three of us immediately laid eyes on a colossal GT cruising around the edge that was well in excess of a metre. It moved off as we approached, continuing on its way of destruction and mayhem, but the sight immediately had everyone fired up. As Tim moored the boat another large electric blue ocean fish floated in on the waves and before even stepping out of the boat Joern took a shot.

He fired out an expertly accurate cast, dropping the fly a couple of feet ahead and the fish just hoovered it. As the boat skipped in the swell,the fish charged around, deeply unhappy about having its morning routine so rudely interrupted. While I grabbed a camera and fired off some frames Joern steadily gained line until it was nearing the boat. Tim slipped over the edge to his armpits and half swam, half hopped over to where the fish was. He grabbed its tail in the deep water and hung on as it continued to try and beat him up. It was a really beautiful GT of about 85 cm. A very promising start to the day.  

While Joern took up station in the boat as he had a clear view on at least three different approaches, Tim and I went to investigate the promontory on foot. It looked perfect, a shallow area with waves criss-crossing from both directions and deep water on three sides. Tim and I waded around it and although we did not see fish there that day, Tim vowed to come back and investigate further. As this was a new area and we had caught a fish on it, we were given the privilege of naming it. We named it “Pike Point”, in memory of our friend Tim Pike who had fished with us at Providence on several occasions but sadly is no longer with us.

The end of the week brought some of the largest tides of all, so once we were pushed off the front our options for hunting GTs were a little limited. It was either go and look around the deeper water flats in the interior or do something completely different. There is one fish that has eluded Joern for some time, the Napoleon. He had had many encounters, but they had all ended badly. As he had been so kind in setting me up with Wes to hunt a big GT it seemed only right that we go and hunt his white whale.

We motored back towards the interior of the atoll to another series of lagoons and ridges that Tim thought might be suitable. This time Joern and I changed tactics to some heavier dredging clousers to see if we could get underneath the red tide of boha snapper and grouper to where the Napoleons might be hanging out. The flies were also really big in the hope it might ward off some of the smaller fish. We did a number of drifts through the area, marvelling at the ball of fish species hanging around under the boat. After countless boha snapper and a few grouper, another silver tip shark incident, finally a big napoleon showed up. When I mean big I mean 100 lbs or so. Joern’s rod cranked over and that fish tore away from the boat. Joern had to immediately switch his rod tip under the boat to prevent snapping it, but just this one release of pressure was enough and the fly line went slack. The fish had either broken the fly line or cut it on some coral hideaway in the depths. A simultaneous groan came from all of us and Tim slumped on the gunnel. So close.. Joern rerigged and we began the process again.

As before I kept smashing boha and grouper to create a disturbance as we waited for another napoleon. A little while later Tim was leaning over the side watching below. He quietly said,

“Napoleon” and pointed below. A massive green shape slide out of the gloom, considerably larger than the previous one. Joern slide his fly over the side and let it drop in the water column slowly towards it. Tim was eyeballing the fly and the fish. Suddenly the two became one and Joern’s rod was nearly yanked out of his hands. He frantically hand-lined the fly line and pumped on the rod, immediately winching the fish up from depths and allowing it no time to power into the rocky outcrops. Trying to put the line on the reel would only have given it respite. Slowly, foot by foot the fish began to come higher in the water and soon we could see a giant body reflecting in the sunlight, now only six feet down. The hard work of keeping it away from the coral heads was done, the line hummed and Joern continued pulling. Tim was reaching for the line and just as we thought we would finally crack this one the fly line parted with a crack and the gleaming hulk vanished back in the gloom. Silence.

Joern put the rod down, sat down and dropped his head. Tim layout on his back on the front deck. There were a few moments of quiet, then Joern began to giggle hysterically. That fish was not a cm under 150 cm, it was huge! The fly line had just snapped in the middle of the belly, and not the tool for this kind of tug of war. We all looked at each other and laughed, what an experience! Time for a cold beer as sadly the last day’s fishing was finished and we had to run back over the centre of the atoll to get back to the Dugong. Joern vowed at that moment to come back with different equipment and do battle with these green beasts again.

That evening it was time to get packed and begin the process of detackling all the gear. The deck hands and guides had already broken all the rods down and washed everything with freshwater, so before dinner the majority of bags were packed. Dinner was a jovial affair with some heartfelt  speeches to the guides and crew for looking after us. It had been a hell of a week with some really notable catches. On the GT front the group had landed 72 GTs. Andrew on his first trip to Providence landing a fish of 103 cm in the surf line, Steve had managed a monster of 119 cm, I had landed my first metre fish at 104 cm and Jack had landed his first ever GTs and was now a brother of the afflicted. Piers had landed his first bumpy and Fred had landed a monster bumpy over one metre bringing the total to four. Peter Moylan had landed two Napoleon wrasse and Jack also had one. Two trigger fish had also succumbed along with some 400 other mixed species. There had also been some very close calls on sailfish around the drop off. Due to the tides this particular trip did not give up any bonefish or many triggers and bumpies, but the full springs allowed us to venture into areas that have never seen a human being.

The End of the Adventure

Every time I step onto the flats of Providence I am simply blown away by its shear wildness. It is without doubt one of the most extraordinary saltwater fly fishing destinations on the planet and I feel privileged to have been such a frequent visitor since the atolls reopening in 2016. Aside from the huge population of unpressured giant trevally, it has the most incredible variety of species and I would urge those who venture onto its flats to take full advantage of the whole experience. This year we saw some absolute monsters cruising the edges and venturing onto the flats in the high water. What is staggering is that there are still huge areas of unexplored channels and flats and every year the guide team learn more of its bountiful secrets. Aside from finally landing a beast fish I think the highlight might just have been the Napoleon wrasse. I have come away with a burning urge to land one of these behemoths and there is definitely unfinished business there – I know Joern feels the same way. I am already counting the days to my next adventure. If you would like join this great adventure then please contact us for availability.