Fishing Rod Decoration


By Graham Waterton

Astove, Geets and Goonbones

- By Graham Waterton

A few weeks ago I was reminiscing with Pete McLeod of Aardvark McLeod about Cosmoledo, one of the most wonderful SWF destinations. My one and only trip was one of the last before the pirates put these outer Seychelles islands well and truly out of bounds by hijacking the boat used for these live aboard trips and after the crew were released, sinking her. I wrote this article on my return, not knowing that very few have fished there since. A shorter version was published in The Flyfishers Journal in 2008.

To read more details on the hijack click here

Astove Geets and Goon Bones

Like a teardrop of coral dropped into the Indian Ocean, Astove lies 200 kilometres north of Madagascar and is the smallest of the four islands that make up the Aldabra group. Getting there is tortuous but for the handful of fortunate people who fish this most southerly of the outer Seychelles islands each year it is a most extraordinary, wild, remote, exhilarating, and prolific salt water fishing destination.

I have fished in the Seychelles a number of times and so should be used to the journey but this time it was especially grim. A two hour delay at a foggy Heathrow and a short flight to Paris led to a further similar delay at Charles de Gaulle. The next leg was the usual eight hours to Mahe.   As Charles de Gaulle is notorious for eating luggage, most of those eight hours was spent drifting in and out of a nightmare; trying to imagine how I could survive for ten days with no luggage or tackle. As I stumbled, half asleep off the plane and into the tropical dawn warmth of a newly refurbished Mahe terminal, it was a great relief to get it all back. Past experience of this journey encouraged me to have a day on Mahe to recover; the idea being to start the next leg of the journey, the flight to Assumption, wide eyed and bushy tailed. However I fell into bad company in the hotel and swapped fishing tales until far too late.

The following day and clutching my bottle of water I screwed 6ft 5ins into the cigar tube that is the twin engined Beechcraft and dozed dreaming up a torture for the seat designer. Rich Americans in the 70s must have all been snake hipped 5 footers.

Assumption is a low scrub covered uninhabited island, scarred by guano extraction with 4000 ft of Russian built concrete runway which looked ridiculously narrow as we dropped out of the low cloud and came into land after a 3 hour flight. For a while we stood in the warm drizzle and listened to some depressing tales from the frustrated out going team. Whenever you read the fisherman's pornography sent out by the tour operators remember that everywhere has bad weather sometimes. There is simply no fishing destination, whatever is promised and however expensive, that can guarantee sport. We were catching the end of a tropical storm which had ruined the week before. Wet and increasingly anxious we watched them dishevelled and a little dispirited load onto the refuelled aircraft and rise into the grey skies. A quick transfer by ancient tractor and trailer down to the beach and a splashy few hundred yards through the surf and we pulled ourselves onto the 70 year old former North Sea research ship which was to be home for the next 7 nights.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/indian-ocean-explorer-seychelles.jpg

After a very lumpy, sleepless 10 hour crossing to Cosmoledo we got ready to fish. A number of the party including the two Russians, due to their own travel horrors, had not slept for nearly 48 hours. Amazingly none of us had suffered from sea sickness but equally none had slept and the atmosphere over breakfast was subdued. The anticipation of the first day's fishing was balanced by the weather and the warnings from the guides that conditions weren't great but as the little rubber boats tore across the lagoon towards the flats the mood lifted and although tired and a little apprehensive,
Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/cosmoledo-fishing-transport.jpg as I swung my feet over the side of the Avon and onto the white sand and felt the warm tropical water on my legs I was completely revitalised. I just love flats fishing. The next 5 days were great. Not perfect conditions, in fact very difficult and frustrating ones much of the time but a joy to be back on those vast productive flats.

If you can locate the many big shoals of bonefish it can be easy to catch very large numbers but I wanted to concentrate on the bigger bonefish and giant trevally (GTs or geets to the guides). Most of the time I fished with my 9wt loaded with a medium sized brown or green crab pattern which would tempt the larger bonefish but which the smaller would ignore. I was therefore also ready for the occasional permit and trigger fish both of which would leap on a crab. The 11wt, loaded with either a 'Flashy Profile' or a 'Brush', was stuck in a trouser pocket ready for a quick draw to a free swimming GT. A large GT is quite capable of taking a small bonefish but most of the smaller GTs on the flats feed on crabs or smaller bait fish. Many of them would follow the huge stingrays that feed on the flats, sifting sand to eat crabs and shrimps, the GTs picking up the leftovers. Spotting a stingray as big as a grand piano is not difficult and gives you enough time to switch rods and cast to the passenger GTs.  I needn't have worried whether this was the right tactics as the big bonefish shoals were absent but we did find some big difficult bonefish in singles or small groups and plenty of small free swimming giant trevally up to 30lbs.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/ten-pound-gt.jpg
Occasionally groups of 3 or 4 smaller GTs, up to 10lbs, would be present with the bonefish on the same flats and would jump on the crab before the bonefish; a real buzz on the 9wt.

Cosmoledo is vast. Ten miles by eight with four islands at its compass points it has vast expanses of sand and coral flats which surround the central lagoon. It is difficult to describe the scale of these flats; some of which are two miles wide. On a number of occasions I found that I had moved away from my two companions, concentrating hard to catch these big, fearfully spooky fish and it was easy to lose track of time. After maybe 30 or 40 minutes I would look up for the others and be aware that there was nothing but sea. As far as you could see in all directions there was nothing but sea. The small low islands that created the outer ring of the atoll morphed into the hazy blur between sea and sky. Eventually I could make out the others, pinpricks of dark in a vast flat blue green expanse. A most exhilarating feeling of remoteness.

Although we were sheltered inside the Cosmoledo atoll, the big swell outside threw crashing rollers against the reef. Slowly as the storm drifted towards Africa, the sea conditions eased and on the fifth day it was calm enough to go to Astove. That evening after dinner the big diesel engines were fired up and we got under way. We arrived just before dawn and breakfasted to a backdrop of another fabulous tropical sunrise.

Beyond the edge of the reef that surrounds Astove the water plunges to over 2000ft, a depth that offers no safe anchorage, so the mother ship drifted untethered while we fished. This lack of parking means that the chance of fishing Astove is completely weather dependant and in order to avoid too much disappointment it is not promised and indeed rarely mentioned in the sales literature but we were going to be some of the lucky few that were to get one day on paradise.  Even though the swell had reduced we had an interesting trip in as the Avon was manoeuvred between the long lines of Indian Ocean breakers delivering us, a little to dramatically for my liking, onto the jagged and razor sharp coral on the east side of the channel.

Astove in comparison to Cosmoledo is quite intimate. Three miles long and just under two miles wide, its unique feature is that the lagoon is shallow and connected to the sea at the islands southern end through a single short narrow strip of water, the Gueule Bras Channel, the width of the lower Spey. Twice a day the tide pushes in and out, a conveyor belt delivering vast amounts of food to all the waiting predatory mouths that loiter there.

Astove, technically a raised coral island, has rarely been inhabited. Its earliest settlers were shipwrecked; a common first occupation in the Seychelles. The Portuguese slave ship, Don Royal, struck the island in 1700. The crew led by their captain struck out for the African coast in an open boat, never to be seen again. The slaves were left behind and amazingly survived for 25yrs establishing what must have been the first free black republic. Eventually they were discovered and removed by another ship which was again wrecked. This time there were no survivors. I hope the slaves at least enjoyed their 25 years of freedom. The next inhabitant was a Major Stirling who's ship Tiger was shipwrecked in 1836. He kept a detailed ship's log within which he recorded the flora and fauna of the island. Between the wars guano was mined, as it was on a number of Seychelles islands, and those hardy workers had modest shelter, grew maize, introduced pigs, now feral and the ubiquitous rat. These invaders had the usual devastating affect on the local wildlife and few ground nesting seabirds survived.

The most determined attempt to live in this seemingly idyllic but extraordinarily harsh place was by an Englishman and his American wife. Their story starts on the tiny RemireIsland, one of the scattered Amirantes group. Here Mark and Wendy Veevers-Carter farmed turtles and coconut palms with their young family. Having established a tenuous but workable community the island was taken back by the newly formed Island Development Company. The Veevers-Carters then bought Astove in the late 1960s, determined to continue there island settling experiment. Here with the help of twelve Seychellois workers they grew sisal and produced copra from coconut palms. Tragically having caught a lift from a passing supply ship which took him to Mombasa in Kenya to treat an abscessed tooth, Mark died in the dentist's chair. He took the islands only radio with him for repair, which meant the tragedy went unreported to Wendy. Despite Mombasa transmitting the news, without a radio Wendy new nothing of this for months until the ship returned; soon after she and the children moved on. Their deserted and fading bungalow and a few bleached timber and stone outbuildings survive at the north end of the long western shore, known as Grand Anse. In 1970 she published 'Island Home,' an account of her family's extraordinary lives on the islands.  She now lives in America and is still writing. Their endurance, resilience and determination to create a community on this island were quite remarkable. No one other than the odd scientist has lived on Astove since and now, as part of the Aldabra Reserve, no one is ever likely to again. Perhaps that's how it was always meant to be.

Despite these doomed occupations the island is full of life, the remaining coconut palms stand tall amongst the casuarinas and milkwood scrub; mangroves proliferate around the lagoon. There are many birds, including terns and a number of waders in the lagoon but only four breeds of land birds including one, common only to the Cosmoledo group, the Abbots Sunbird. Green turtles are common and there are still a number of the large land tortoises, also found on Aldabra. The lagoon and the sea around are bulging with fish ... most predatory and hungry and very rarely fished for.

Having landed on the island the three groups of three fisherman and their guides split up; two taking a beach walk and us getting the longest straw by fishing the channel. As we walked up the eastern side, the tide started to run hard and the lagoon started to empty of its characteristic bluey white water. At the channels narrowest point we started fishing by down and across blind casting. Occasionally GTs could be seen holding in the current or flashing close to the bank as they cornered their prey. The contrast to the Cosmoledo GTs was huge. These fish lunged and chased the fly as the tide whipped it towards the bank. One of my companions, an Italian heart surgeon, hooked up first. The fish ran to the middle of the channel and with his left hand on the upper fighting grip he leant into the fish. The 12wt snapped an inch above the grip with a crack like a rifle shot and we were entertained by him playing a 20lb GT straight off the reel. As he ran down the channel chasing his fish, the third member of our team, a Belgian banker, also got hooked up and soon after so did I. One of the commonest flats predators is the lemon shark and one of the biggest I had ever seen ... maybe 12ft ... decided that my 20lb GT was looking good for breakfast. I loosened off the drag and allowed the fish to run. It swerved and twisted like a coursed hare, the line went slack, it threw the hook and escaped. In the next 90 minutes we hooked and lost fish almost continuously.Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/fishing-astove-channel.jpg

 Frantic, chaotic and huge fun.

As the tide ran out we walked across the sharp dead coral pavement that lined the channel up to the lagoon. Although many bone fish move in and out the vast majority are resident in the lagoon. They are small; a three pounder is good, difficult to catch and known by the guides as goon bones. We split up and fished the falling tide. It was very enjoyable and very challenging; bonefish are difficult to see at the best of times but these fish seemed to hover motionlessly and in the slow moving, skinny milky water were really tough to spot. However slow and diligent the search, we were often spooking fish from under our feet.  As well as the bones there were a number of small stingrays often with their own resident small GT or bluefin trevally riding on their backs. These hungry aggressive little fish would take a bonefish fly with great enthusiasm and once again, a 7lb trevally on a 9wt in 9 ins of water is hugely entertaining. Seychelles flats fishing in miniature.

After an hour or two we followed the tide back down to the channel, this time on the west side. As we waded down, sometimes subject to inspection from inquisitive lemons, we bumped into gangs of pugnacious 10 to 20lb GTs and smaller bluefins and caught several before we reached the high coral bluff at the bottom of the channel.

We lunched over slack water but soon the tide started to 'push'. Between our outcrop of sharp dead black coral and the channel edge was a flat of about 100yds wide which extended for a few hundred yards up the channel. This was a hard bumpy coral flat, made up of large chunks of coral both dead and alive, weed and small patches of white coral sand. It was like wading over builder's rubble. As the tide moved in so did the fish, in singles and small shoals; blue and green parrot fish, emperors, surgeons, sweet lips and small bluefin trevally.  The first parrot I hooked, on a shaggy shrimp pattern called a 'Will's Skettel', (well done Will - whoever you are - it's great fly) ripped off 30 yards of backing and snapped the leader round a lump a coral. The next, about 4/5 lbs I landed but I needed to replace the frayed nylon again. Next I took a matched pair of bluefin from a shoal of a dozen or so. Soon the flat was alive with foraging, tailing fish searching the cracks and crevices for crabs and shrimps. Between me and the channel small groups of big ocean going bonefish were moving in. These are bigger than the average, broader, darker backed than the usual flats loving bones. They seem to live in the deeper water offshore but come on to ocean facing flats occasionally. They are hugely strong and the two we hooked went straight back to sea very quickly. I guess they were both double figure fish.

After a hectic hour or so this little piece of coral flat was fully flooded and we were pushed back to rocks. It was now early afternoon and true to form my continental cousins wanted to swim, cool off and rest. Whilst the preferable and most satisfying way of catching big GTs is to sight cast to free swimmers on the flats, when you find yourself on the edge of a flat and the GTs are just out of range in slightly deeper water, as a last resort they can be 'teased' in . The guides carry a stout spinning outfit with a large hookless popping lure. These are cast out to over 100 yards and retrieved as fast as possible. Often a GT will chase in the popper and as it is pulled from the water they will search for something else and snatch at your fly if you can get it in the right place at the right time.

As the tide flooded the GTs returned to the channel and the deepening adjacent flats. As my two companions swam I asked our guide to try and 'tease a few in'. The first few casts brought nothing and then a group of small twenty pounders came in and I hooked, landed and released one of them.
Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/twenty-pound-giant-trevally.jpg GTs, if allowed to, fight themselves to an exhausted standstill and should be fought forcefully and quickly; they then recover quickly and swim off well. To help this we use flies tied on strong 5/0 and 6/0 Gamakatsu hooks, 120lb straight through leader (for abrasion resistance as much for strength) and large Tibors attached to 11 or 12wt Sage or Loomis rods. These fish are extraordinarily strong. Even with the drag screwed down to the point where it is difficult to hand pull line; a big GT will strip all your fly line and 30/40 yards of backing in a flash. With this setup not many fish break you and most are safely released.

The next cast brought in an enormous GT. I could see its dorsal fin ripping across the flat towards the popper and the guide standing above me on the rocks shouting 'It's a bus, it's a bus'! I now know that in the jargon filled world of the South African guides that means a very, very, very big fish. The GT ignored my fly but swam between me and the guide and passed so close to my right leg I could feel the water push against me, and then it shot off back to the channel at such a speed its dorsal fin fizzed through the water. He said it was a fish of about 130/140cm. That's about 130lbs. Wouldn't that have been fun.

Soon we needed to head back to the mother ship and the Avon gave us another white knuckle ride out through the surf. That night we headed over a calmer sea back to Assumption and after a mornings fishing on its pristine eastern beaches, we flew out back to Mahe.

I've caught more and bigger fish in a day on those prolific Seychelles flats but that day on Astove was just very special. A truly remote and harsh place; spoilt perhaps but still wild and rugged and untamed.  Fantastic, thrilling fishing and I can't wait to go back.

First Salt Water Trip

- By Graham Waterton

Many have asked me where to take their first salt water trip. I tried to answer this with an article published in the excellent Eat-Sleep-Fish ezine, no 15. Have a look.




- By Graham Waterton

In 2002 I went to New Zealand for a family holiday that included many memorable days fishing. I only wrote about one. This article was published in The Journal of The Piscatorial Society in Spring 2004.


I've had another one.  You know one of those extraordinary piscatorial events that only happen a few times over decades of fishing are never forgotten.  It happened in New Zealand.  Not a trout, nor a salmon, no,  a sea fish.  My affair with saltwater fly-fishing continues.

It was a family trip.  A once in a lifetime, of course we deserve it, before the children get too old, if we don't do it now we'll never be able to afford it, sort of trip.  Took a year to plan, all on internet and involved every type of thrill seeking activity.  We traveled by most types of available transport, stayed in a wide variety of accommodation and saw, day after day, one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  I also experienced the best trout fishing ever.  Whatever you've heard about the quality and challenge of New Zealand trout fishing, believe me, it is all true.

I had also organized a few days saltwater fly-fishing in the Bay of Islands.  Although they do not have 'flats', SWF has become very popular in New Zealand.  They do occasionally catch marlin and tuna but the more common quarry on a fly is trevally, snapper, kahawai and yellow tailed kingfish.  At that time of year, before the summer heat brings the warm blue water from the north of Australia, the target was the latter group with kahawai being the most likely.

Having 'done' the South Island where I caught my two biggest ever wild brown trout, our route to the Bay of Islands took us from Wellington around the east coast, through Napier, Hawke Bay, Gisbourne, the East Cape, Bay of Plenty, The Coromandel, Auckland and to the North.  A journey planned to take us a leisurely eight days.  Plenty of time to potter, sightsee, explore the beaches and, perhaps, a bit of fishing.

Six months earlier I had been surfing for places to park our campervan, (no, no ... on the internet ... please keep up) and came across a website for a fishing guide called Mark Draper.  His website intrigued me.  I had found dozens of guides' sites before, but this was different.  Why not break the journey, give the children a day on a beautiful, empty beach and have gentle day fishing off the rocks?  Sounds good.

'Don't expect too much,' said Mark in his email, 'it all depends on the weather and it is a bit early, but we'll give it a go.  There's bound to be a few kahawai about and they can be fun.'

'Any chance of a kingfish?' I asked.

'Possibly mate, but they play by their own rules ... '

I met Mark at about 7:00 am, he having driven an hour and a half to get to me.

'No problem,' he said

We then drove up to Cape Runaway on the East Cape.  It has one of the most remote coastlines in New Zealand and is very reminiscent of the wilder rocky coasts of South Wales, Cornwall or the west coast of Scotland.  Instead of granite, however, it is knobbly, rough, black volcanic rock of which most of the North Island is composed.  Once off the road, 30-minutes on a good farm track, and another 30 cross country brought us to a grassy meadow by a small rocky bay.  In the distance a promontory of black volcanic rock poked out into the Pacific Ocean.  

When we met that morning he looked me up and down saying 'good' as we exchanged pleasantries.  Apparently it was good that I was not overweight, looked fit and seemed capable of lifting heavy weights.  I was about to find out why.

Mark's rather effective way of attracting these predatory fish to within casting range was to throw out berley, a 'stew' of mashed tuna and other unknown ingredients.  This came in two large plastic tubs, each weighing 20 lbs.  Then we had another 20 lbs of fresh pilchards, a vast range of fishing tackle, bags full of lunch, water, a long handled gaff and the biggest landing net I'd ever seen.  This was split between two large rucksacks and we set off.  Thankfully the second half of the 40-minute walk was downhill, or perhaps down cliff would be more accurate, but the first half was very up.

I sat by the sea and recovered while Mark started mashing tuna stew, several loaves of bread (well I thought it was lunch) and sea water in a large plastic bucket.  As soon as the first ladlefuls went in the little fish appeared from nowhere.  Soon would come the bigger ones.

I set up my 9-weight and then his 14-weight.  'Just in case a kingie turns up ... things look good for a kingie today,' said Mark.  He insisted that I practiced casting with the 14-wt.  Then it was placed to my side with a dozen neat coils and the 5-inch deceiver all ready to go.

Yellow tail kingfish are members of the trevally family.  Found also in Australia and less commonly on the East coast of America, they are probably the most respected and sought-after game fish in New Zealand.  Because of their strength they are traditionally caught on heavy big game tackle using drifted live baits.  Their normal reaction to being booked is to dive for the bottom, whether rocks or reef, where they are often lost.  A big kingfish is 100 lbs but on a fly rod only 10-30 lbs fish are normally landed.

The first hour or so passed with a few kahawai.  They're great little fish, 7 or 8 lbs is  a big one, and very fit, a cross between a bass and a tuna.  I then hooked a good one of about 4 lbs and had him almost at the net when Mark shouted 'Kingie'.  At the same time I was aware of a huge fish coming into view to my right.  It is difficult to describe my shock at seeing a fish of that size.  Having been used to seeing fish of a few pounds and about 18ins long, this massive creature looked very out of place.  I was rooted to the spot, transfixed by an uncommonly big kingfish.  One thing I knew:  that net was too small.

Mark grabbed my rod and told me to put out the deceiver.  I grabbed the 14-wt but before I could put the fly in the water the kingfish had grabbed the kahawai and was off.  After a few seconds of my little Tibor fizzing, Mark clamped his hand over the reel and the leader snapped like cotton.  Better to lose a fly than the whole fly line he told me later.

Suddenly the whole concept of catching a big fish on a fly rod started to dawn on me.  That fish was 5ft long and weighed an estimated 75 lbs. 'You don't stand a chance of landing a fish that size, they're brutes, street fighters, if you'd got that one it would have been a world record on a fly,' said Mark.  'You're farting against thunder,' he added colourfully.

We sat back on the black rock and roared with laughter at the folly of what we were trying to achieve, when to my amazement off to my right, the kingfish was back.  After his comments I could see no point in casting to that fish but Mark said, 'Have a go, it'll be good for a laugh.'  I was beginning to really like Mark.

The huge kingfish swam in and out of the area of water into which we could see.  You had to guess direction and speed, and try to get the fly to the right place and depth to intercept it. My fifth cast was good, he swaggered in, nosed the huge fly, and sucked in.

The traditional raising the rod strike to hook big saltwater species is not the way to put rod makers out of business, so a big pull with the left hand and my new opponent was hooked and off like a speedboat.  The reel attached to the 14-wt was a Billy Pate Marlin with 350 yards of 30 lb Dacron backing.  The disc drag was screwed down pretty tight but that fish took the lot and nearly wrenched the rod out of my hands as the fish hit the spool knot.  My heart stopped and the 20 lb IGFA tippet snapped.

'I told you so,' said Mark.

The next few hours were fun but most definitely an anticlimax, I caught trevally up to 4 lbs, more kahawai but I could not, and still cannot, forget that wonderful, huge fish.

The power and the strength were quite awesome.  But this huge fish had been at my feet sipping down small pieces of pilchard as gently as a trout supping caenis.  And I had been casting a fly to a huge fish I could see only yards in front of me.  It was really very, very exciting.

Later in the afternoon I had another chance.  Another good kingie arrived, which even with repeated casts and fly changes I couldn't tempt but a second joined it after 20 minutes and snaffled the deceiver on the first cast.  Another strip strike, a massive lunge and within seconds about 200 yards of backing was gone.  After 40 minutes of real fighting (you fight these fish, you don't play them) Mark slipped the big net under my first big yellow tail kingfish.  It weighed 35 lbs and after measuring and tagging, was released.

As you can see from the photo, it is a fish built for speed not comfort.  Just think what one double the size would be like ... I can, I've seen one.

I shall remember the one I caught for a long time but I shall never forget the one that mugged me.

Have a look at Mark's website at