One of my fly-fishing dreams has always been to fish a tropical paradise , to stalk GT’s and Bones on pristine white flats and to sip a rum and coke on the deck of a yacht while bearing witness to another idyllic sunset, nursing sore muscles from doing battle with some tough adversaries during the day. As I suffer from the AIDS syndrome as Mark Yelland calls it (annual income deficiency syndrome) and a trip to the Seychelles was beyond my current financial reach I believed it would not be a goal which would be realized sometime soon.
When the phone rang in November 2007 and my friend Paul Weingartz asked me if I would like to partake in an exploratory trip to the Northern Atolls of the Maldives in January 2008 at a price which was within my reach, I did not hesitate in grabbing at the opportunity. The trip was organized by Ben Pretorius of the UFUDU Fly-fishing experience as he wanted to explore the fly fishing potential of the Maldives as an alternative to the Seychelles.
From there onwards things became hysterically hectic. I don’t think I spent a single evening not tying flies. I also tried to find as much information as possible about the Maldives and fly-fishing there in particular. I managed to find only one article which was interestingly enough written by a fellow South African, Richard Schumann in the Fly fishing magazine in 2000 .Richard and a few fellow South Africans did a few exploratory trips to the Southern Atolls and it was evident that they had found large numbers of species and also a few GT’s and very few Bonefish. They did find lot’s of big Triggers which I was very pleased about.
We also discovered a blog spot by a fly-fisherman called Mel who hails from Singapore who had made a few trips with some friends to the Northern Atolls. They had experienced similar results as Richard’s group but they were light tackle fly fishermen with a 9 weight being regarded as heavy fly fishing tackle by them. Our lightest outfit would be a 9 weight and we were predominantly going to focus on 12 weight GT fishing. The blog did however stir the interest and raised our expectations to a record high.
It became evident that we could truly be considered pioneers even in this day and age as it seemed that a group with our levels of expertise and in some cases years of experience fishing similar areas had probably never set foot on some of the Islands and Atolls we would visit. Most fishing in the area takes place from boats for various game fish and some popping for GT’s was also evident. This was an exciting but also daunting prospect as it could well have turned out to be an expensive blunder.
But before I rush to the saucy bits, some more information about the Maldives.
The Maldives is an island country situated South of India and approximately 700 km south west of Sri Lanka .The Maldives consist of 26 Atolls which in turn consist of approximately 1192 islands although this figure does change. A piece of land is only designated as an island if there is evidence of permanent vegetation. The highest point in the Maldives is only 2,5 meters above sea level, making it the flattest country in the world. If global warming predictions are correct it is in danger of totally disappearing beneath the ocean.
The main island on which the capital Male is situated is an amazing spectacle. The island is very small and you could probably walk from one side to the other in half an hour, but every single inch of land has been developed and it seems to be sinking under the weight of all the buildings. Almost everyone owns a motorcycle and there are a lot of motor vehicles which creates congestion and chaos in the narrow streets.
Although Male harbors the vast majority of Maldivian citizens (90 000) most of the outer Atolls have smaller fishing villages. Approximately 200 islands are inhabited excluding the islands with tourist resorts. Resorts are built very unobtrusively and buildings may not be taller than the tallest palm tree, only one resort is allowed per island. Flats’ fishing is also not allowed at many tourist resorts.
Commercial fishing makes up a very important part of the Maldivian economy but no netting is allowed in the Atolls except for small baitfish and commercial fishing is concentrated on Tuna in the open ocean.
A recent International survey on various aspects affecting Countries rating as a tourism destination rated the Maldives the second most beautiful country in the world after New Zealand. Renowned internationally as a honeymoon/vacation venue , the Maldives has not received much attention from a fly-fishing perspective.
Below is an excerpt from a recent article on a Maldives blog:
The Maldives’ newly-elected president said in an interview Monday that his government will begin saving to buy a new homeland in case global warming causes the country to disappear into the sea.
Beloved by tourists for their white sandy beaches, palm trees and clear waters, the 1,192 coral islands that make up the Indian Ocean country risk devastation by rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, who won the Maldives’ first democratic presidential election last month, told The Guardian his government will start putting aside part of its billion-dollar annual tourism income in case the worst happens.
“We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome,” he told the newspaper.
He added: “We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades.”
Nasheed said he had already broached the subject with a number of countries and found them to be “receptive”. India and Sri Lanka are targets because they had similar cultures and climates, while vast Australia was also an option.
He told the newspaper he intended to create a “sovereign wealth fund” from the money generated by tourism, much like Arab states had with oil revenues. “Kuwait might invest in companies — we will invest in land,” he said.
Outgoing president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving leader, launched a book in April to highlight the threat to the Maldives posed by global warming.
He said at the time that they could only adapt to the problem by relocating citizens to safer islands. The alternative, building protective walls on the 193 inhabited islands, was too expensive
And we thought we had problems!
Northern Atolls – Flight and arrival
After flying via Dubai the first early morning view from our Emirates Boeing sent my heart racing in anticipation. We witnessed some of the beautiful islands and sub surface reefs of the Southern Atolls as we descended and landed on the runway which consists of two islands joined together. We hastily boarded our Safari Dhoni’s smaller support Dhoni and after a brief introduction to Claudio our Skipper and the crew we headed for our final destination. On the way we were enthralled by the beautiful islands and the scenery in general.
In the afternoon our Skipper Claudio decided to stop and overnight at a small unnamed spot without any vegetation on the way North and we got our first opportunity to set foot on Maldivian soil with fly-rods in hand.
It was immediately evident that global warming has already made a big impact on the coral reefs as we were walking on dead coral marl which resembles a moon landscape. Apparently the El Nino phenomena had heated the oceans up to such a degree that coral died off on a massive scale all over the tropical regions of the world. Claudio assured us that subsurface the coral life was still beautiful and improving as time passed. I decided to fish a small size 2 tan over white Clouser minnow on my 9 weight and I soon latched onto a small white Snapper. My first Maldivian fish and I was ecstatic .The action soon heated up as a nice rip was forming off the point of the reef we were fishing and Ben and Paul each got small GT’s and Bluefin Kingfish while I nailed an assortment of fish which included a yellow Goatfish, Rainbow Wrasse and eight smallish Bluefin Kings. I was pleased as this hectic action was beyond expectation and I could only imagine what piscatorial treasures our final destinations would hold.
Day two and we are still steaming along at what seemed like a snails pace, we decided to stop just off the resort island of Kuredu. As Derrick and I disembarked from the small dinghy which is used to ferry us to and from the islands we saw a huge bonefish cruising along without a care in the world but by the time we were on solid ground it had disappeared.
Paul later latched onto the mother of all Bones which promptly ran straight over a reef with unstoppable power and severed the 25 pound tippet on the sharp coral. We all managed to land an assortment of species with the most unusual being an amazing Unicorn fish by Paul. A red Snapper I was hauling in was followed up to my feet by a big Southern Pompano which had my heart racing.
Next day and we finally reach the outer Atoll and we disembarked on one of the islands that was identified as a possible hot spot. On arrival I were amazed at the grey eels that are everywhere in very shallow water as well as the skates and rays feeding in the shallows.
A big school of Blue Parrotfish had me frantically throwing every fly in my box at them but to no avail. This was old hat to some of our group but I found it exciting as it epitomized this kind of fishing. Sight fishing at its best. I decided to walk along a beach and to scout for cruising GT’s and soon saw a decent one approaching rapidly .I managed to get the 6/0 Olive Semper a meter ahead of it and commenced a fast two handed retrieve. The GT attacked the fly furiously, turned and flew away in the opposite direction. I held on for dear life but unfortunately the hook pulled after about 30 meters.
I was busy lining another small GT up when I turned around and my eyes almost popped out as coming towards me at a rapid pace and barely 15 meters away were two huge sharks closely shadowed by two massive GT’s , “Bokkoors” does not aptly describe the sensation flooding my whole body at that stage but I managed to get the fly in the water and the biggest one actually came up to look at it before it saw me and swerved away.
The whole entourage then swam off in a surprisingly leisurely and nonchalant fashion and left me shivering and almost at the point of hyperventilation. This was awesome fishing! We all managed to close the day off with a few good Bluefin Kings and an assortment of species including a few Bonefish for one lucky angler.
The next morning we were off to another island and one that looked most promising from our Google Earth images. From a distance we could see nice waves breaking alluringly on the point and as we set foot in knee-deep water I learnt a very valuable lesson! Always have your fly line in your basket the right way round and fly in hand ready to make a cast the moment you set foot in these areas. As we landed Ben, who was slightly ahead of me, made a short cast and was into a 90cm GT before you could wink an eye. The fish had a partner which was also eyeing the fight from a distance but it was wary and didn’t want anything to do with us.
We all caught big Bluefins and then I decided to look for Bonefish. I was following three other anglers and the glare and heat was taking its toll on me. The sand on the flats is almost pearly white as it consists of pulverized dead coral. Everything looked like a Bonefish because I had never seen one on the flats and I was casting a Pink Puff at anything that moved. Out of desperation I even managed to entice a small black tip reef Shark to take the fly and he bit me off after a few nice runs.
I saw Keith Viennes who was with the group about 50 meters ahead of me hook up on at least two good fish of unknown origin and after they had moved on I decided to scout the area they had just vacated as I was sure that he had located some Bonefish.
All of a sudden I saw a group of fish appear like ghosts about 40 meters away and I knew instinctively that this was the moment of truth. This is where my experience with sight fishing to big Largemouth Yellows and Smallmouth Yellows and Trout came in extremely handy. I kept my cool and made a good cast which landed just ahead and slightly to the side of the school. I saw one fish break away and dip downwards as I commenced with a jerky retrieve, next moment I felt the fish on the other end and I strip strike gently.
The Bony hesitated for a split second, realized it was in trouble and took off towards India at a blistering pace (they can probably reach India from here!). I eventually turned it and it made a few more impressive runs before I managed to bring it to hand. It wasn’t a particularly big fish but it sure did the species’ reputation proud. I was disappointed that I was alone so I would not have a decent picture of my first Bonefish but I attempted to take a few snaps before I released it. I knew instantly that I would never be the same again!
Barely a minute later I saw a huge individual approaching. I was now able to more clearly identify these Bones as they had a distinctive blue/green back .I made a good cast again and this fish tore even more line from my reel and when it eventually coming to hand it probably would have tipped the scales at around 8 pounds. I managed to take another two Bones and was snapped off by another big specimen before the end of the day. Another of my long time fly-fishing dreams came true in memorable fashion.
There followed a host of other small species before we headed South again. On the way we would fish a small island called Faadhoo which had deep channels linking the sea and the Atoll on it’s Southern and Northern side. As we approached the island it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever been blessed to witness and I captured it on film for posterity.
Whilst we were some distance off I noticed a big commotion on the Northern lagoon side of the island with baitfish fleeing in all directions and I decided to head in that direction first. Derek joined me and the rest went South. There was nothing to be seen where the chase had taken place but when we neared the end of the island I noticed two dark shapes crossing a white sand spit and at first I thought they were Sharks but soon realized they were big GT’s. I was trembling as I placed the fly ( dark olive grizzly saddle tail with a peacock SF on top and grey belly on a 7/0 circle) two meters in front of the leading fish. The fish charged the fly ferociously and missed it, I picked it up and placed it down in front of him again and he latched on flew off in the opposite direction. I was a total wreck and hyperventilating at this stage but I managed to gain control and keep the fish away from the coral bommies in the lagoon and reef on the seaward side and landed it after a tiring battle. I forgot my tape measure on the boat and we measured it on my rod, it later proved to be 99cm long which was fantastic, my trip was made. We later saw a few big GT’s but they were very weary, Derek landed a big Bohar Snapper.
The last days were largely uneventful but we did visit a nice island where I caught a huge variety of species including a 72 cm GT on my nine weight after an epic fight!
Follow up trip – October/November 2008.
Of course a trip like this had to be followed up and I immediately began enquiries after my arrival back home.
The boat we had used was unavailable as Ben had reached an agreement with the Agent not to allow any South Africans to make use of it. I then consulted the Internet and started e-mailing and communicating with various Safari boats. There were many options but most were luxurious and prohibitively expensive. The whole thing turned into an administrative nightmare at times as the Airline I wanted to use ceased all direct flights, the other Airlines necessitated date changes and this caused two clients to cancel. In the last month before departure the rand/dollar exchange rate sky-rocketed etc. Needless to say I was a wreck when the five of us eventually departed.
We originally planned to go south as this seemed the safest bet for this time of year. The owner changed the plans shortly before our departure for various reasons and although I was happy to visit familiar territory again we were fearful of the weather conditions.
On arrival the wind was still evident and the sea was fairly rough but it was the best day in 30 according to the ships Captain. Little did we know it would only get better. Our first fishing day after a full days travel North was mostly uneventful with lot’s of species and small Bluefin Kingfish.The next day we would visit Faadhoo.
When approaching Faadhoo I noticed that the channel on the Northern side where I caught the big one has been replaced by a sand dune and I was slightly disappointed and pessimistic. As we disembarked from the dinghy I however reminded the guys to get their lines ready for immediate action and as we reached the top of the dune and I looked into the sea on the other side I was stunned to see GT’s everywhere in the small surf hunting in packs close inshore.
My first cast was eagerly pounced on by a smallish GT and almost everyone immediately jumped into action but when I landed my second fish there had already been at least two break offs. Upon inquiry it was evident that my fellow anglers were inadequately prepared, fishing with 9 weights and 30 pound leaders. Needless to say there were many disappointed guys at the end of the day!
When the action subsided I decided to walk to the Southern tip of the island and I saw two Rays feeding actively when I rounded the corner. I immediately scanned the somewhat murky water for a GT who are almost always in close attendance to feeding Rays and I could vaguely distinguish a very nice fish loitering in the vicinity. When I presented the fly there was no hesitation as he pounced and I landed a 75 cm fish shortly thereafter. Everyone experienced a great day with a few GT’s, two Bohar Snappers, a Kaakaap from shore and some tear jerker stories thrown in.
This was an awesome start and everyone was exited, to make a long story short we visited a few other islands and every single one produced a large number of GT’s and other fish, the weather remained fantastic albeit very hot and humid and we totalled more than 30 GT’s landed with many lost and a large number of other species thrown in for good measure.
The true potential of this Island paradise was revealed on this trip, apart from the fishing which I cannot really compare objectively with anything I have seen or experienced but which surpassed all expectations, the breathtaking beauty of this area made it even more worthwhile. To top it all we only fished one Atoll and about five islands, we have not even scratched the surface!
After 8 full days of non-stop fly-fishing we were a very tired but happy group of fly-fishers who returned home. A lot of us had broken rod’s and broken ego’s but we were unanimous that this was a special trip and it would be very difficult relaying into words what we had been blessed to be a part of.
Article first published in 2008.