|Nothing like a good fish for a group photo.
My first foray into big game fishing began with a rather casual invitation by an ex-colleague in 2015. We had just developed the Bluewater Craft Limited series of lures under the Zerek brand and he wanted to take the Zappelin 220F stickbait model and some prototype popping rods for a spin on the newly launched Seagal Sportfishing Charter skippered by Captain Ibrahim. Although i was hesitant at first, i succumbed to the temptation of adrenaline pumping action. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions i had made as we had a successful expedition that got me hooked on chasing the bite for Giant Trevally. You can read about it here or check out the promo video. Ok. Enough of reminiscing.
I decided to revisit the Maldives a couple of weeks after i returned from my trip in April to Lombok. My friends Jith, Lemuel (both of whom i also work with) and Stephen aka Lala, were getting intrigued by this whole GT popping business and decided to give it a shot. I contacted Lili from Seagal SportFishing Charters and after a short consultation with Captain Ibrahim, the dates were selected, leave applications were submitted and the flights were booked. The next phase was to prepare ourselves and procure the equipment we would need for the trip.
|Lala's fancy camera settings to capture his casting.
After a few casting sessions, The guys had decided on their equipment and it came as no surprise to see a selection of Carpenter and Rippler Fisher rods paired with Stellas and Saltigas. I suppose it's hardly shocking that when you are going after trophy fish, that only the very best tackle in the industry will give you peace of mind. Not that other equipment cannot work, as i have personally seen big fish landed on lesser known brands. But here in Singapore, where our disposable income is high, we certainly opt to go with the bigger, more well known brands that are constantly pushing the envelope with R&D on the latest technology. But i will also emphasise that using these products does not magically create an "equaliser" effect that compensates for the lack of technique or skill. If anything, they are just tools in the hands that wield them.
In the final week before the trip, we had one run through to make sure we had everything that we needed. We had an allowance of 30kg for our flight on Singapore Airlines to Male. However, the domestic flight carrier from Male to Hanimaadhoo only allowed 25kg per person. Our rods were packed into two rod tubes with a combined weight of 15kg and we each had a check in luggage that carried our reels, lures and terminal tackle along with our clothes and toiletries. Do not forget Sunblock, Insect Repellent, Pain Management Medication. ;)
|Beer and Burgers before the flight.
We left for Male on a Saturday evening. After the routine check in at terminal 2 and some duty free shopping for cigarettes for my 3 amigos, (I don't smoke, but i got some Marlboro Reds for Captain Ibrahim) we headed to the closest beer serving establishment for a pint as you are not allowed to bring duty free alcohol into the Maldives. We took off at 8.45pm as per schedule and had fishy dinner on board. It would be a 4 hour journey to get to Male and i kept myself entertained by watching the new Baywatch and King Aurthur movies as my companions dozed off after dinner. There was a little bit of turbulence as we encountered some rain but the flight was uneventful otherwise.
We landed in Male at almost 11pm local time and were greeted upon arrival by the Captain's uncle. We made our way from the international terminal to the domestic terminal and a lot had changed since my last visit. The Maldivian government had gone to some length to beautify the area around the airport. Uncle got us checked in and we hung about waiting for our flight. We would be making one stop at Ifuru airport before heading to Hanimaadhoo. The plane was a small one and there were maybe 10 other passengers other than us. We were told that the flight would take 45 minutes.
It was almost midnight when we arrived. Captain Ibrahim was waiting for us at the airport and we were ushered into a car that took us to our accommodations for the next few days. Captain followed in a truck with all our equipment. We arrived at a newly built house, which was much different from the previous guesthouse i had stayed in. We were greeted by a middle aged man who introduced himself as "Chef". The house had three bed rooms and Lemuel and Lala took a room each while i had to bunk with Jith. We setup our tackle and had a quick bite of tuna sandwich before we hit the sack.
|Setting up our tackle.
|Supper of tuna sandwich and juice
I woke up at 5am and the sun was already rising. I don't sleep well in air conditioned rooms as my sinus acts up. That combined with my sleep apnea which always seems to get worse when i am not sleeping on my own bed with my own pillow makes me a really light sleeper when i am away from home. I took a quick shower and went into the living room as the others were still asleep. Chef was in the kitchen cooking and the others were still asleep so i went for a walk. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the beach. I passed several house that were newly built and saw some older ones with more established fauna growth. I found some passion fruit and some kind of vegetable that seemed so familiar yet unknown to me.
|Unripe Passion Fruit.
|The Maldives in all it's morning glory.
|Captain chilling out with his coffee and ciggies.
With the preparation that we had gone through for several weeks, the guys settled in quickly. The Captain fine tuned the casting and sweeping method within the first rotation and the group had hit a few naughty sized GTs, some Red Bass and an unfamiliar reef fish for Lala who had the heaviest setup of the lot. He was using a Ripple Fisher F-Stick with a Saltiga Expedition 8000H reel. Ibrahim had to spend a little more time with him to ensure he was hitting decent distance on the cast and working the lure properly as he tired quicker than the rest of the group. Eventually he got the hang of it, although i had to warn him to pace himself as the trip was more like a marathon than a sprint.We were so focused on our target fish that most of smaller fish were released without pictures. Only the Captain took selected shots for his Facebook page. This would be something we would come to regret later during the trip. My trip started off with a naughty sized GT and it was quiet until after lunch when i connected with a decent fish. Working a shallow reef area off an island i was casting with Jith when he hit a big Red Bass. The Captain signalled me to make a long 45 degree cast parallel to the reef line and as i worked the lure back, it was chased by a school of hungry reds. I quickened the pace of my retrieve to evade the small red bass and as soon as the lure passed the reef into the drop off, a silver flash appeared and i was on. I set the hook a couple of times and waited for the fish to run before slotting the rod into my belt whilst maintaining tension on the line. It wasn't very big and i had it at boat side pretty fast. A quick picture and it was released.
|Ok photo before you go home.
|Species ID anyone?
|Well Hello There You Silver Streak.
It went quiet after that but there were still fish landed by the guys here and there. We were fishing near some islands as it sheltered us from the wind. I was surprised that these areas did not produce the Red Bass in more significant numbers as my last trip yielded an unrelenting number of these critters in a single day. I landed another GT later. The day wore on and before we knew it it was 5pm and we were at our last spot casting at bait fish schools. The guys were pretty knackered from a full day of casting under the Maldivian sun. Captain told me one last spot and we'll head back as he gunned the boat towards an island.
The next couple of casts drew blanks and he told me 3 more casts as i launched another cast in the direction of the bait fish school. I slowed down my retrieve and used a longer stroke as i passed the bait school. Boom!!! Something hit my lure and i could not see what it was. I set the hook and the fish shot off only to stop when Captain gunned the boat. I was muttering under my breath that it was probably a small GT when someone yelled, "Blue Fin". I got the fish boat side and looked at an unusually large specimen that was probably in the 5kg range. (or less. you see the picture and decide.) Lala took a couple of photos and we were told that the fish would be kept for consumption. No complaints, we respect the locals way of life and as long as nothing is wasted we were fine with it. This would be the last location for the day and it did not produce anymore fish.
|Sashimi it was for him.
|Maldivian Curry in all it's goodness.
The next morning, i was up early again and after washing up i headed to the living room to catch up on the news. A pile of opened Salonpas and Tiger Balm heat patches were strewn on the sofa. You need to bring these if you are one of those who does not think that keeping fit is a priority when you chase trophy fish. (i am guilty too. :P ) Chef was whipping up something in the kitchen and he called out to me 10 minutes later. I sat down to a hearty breakfast of toast, eggs, sausages and some spicy tuna and coconut mixture that was to be eaten with some crepes. We headed out shortly after our breakfast to a new location.
|Lemuel launching another cast.
|Short and Hard strokes.
|Double hook up.
|Can't complain if you are smiling about it.
|My favorite photo of Lala's night shoot.
|For the folks on the island, he claimed.
|The reef gangsta
The big waves made balancing difficult for the guys as they were used to more stable ground when casting. I hit my second shark of the day as we patrolled the reef. A smaller one that got my lure after a pack attack from a bunch of juvenile GTs missed several times. Jith pulled up a pair of juvenile GTs and Lemuel hit a a Red Bass subsequently before Lala had his lure bitten off. Lemuel took over casting and also lost his lure. I had just landed a small blue fin, and lent my setup to Lemuel who connected with something big. As he fought the fish it became apparent that we had another shark that had taken the lure deep in the mouth. Once it was boat side, it took the Captain, Deckie and Lemuel to try and free it.
|Dunno what happened to this little fella.
The whole boat was focused on the fight as the fish came boat side. The Deckie scooped the fish into the net and it was too small for the fish. The Captain grabbed the tail of the fish and together they lifted the fish into the boat. It was a magnificent Beast. Cheers erupted and Hi-Fives were exchanged as we prepared the fish for a photo. A pipe was put into the fish's mouth to maintain the oxygen flow to it and it was lifted and put on Lala's lap for a picture. It was a genuine moment of happiness for all on the boat. No envy or jealousy. Just happy to witness the process of fighting and landing this majestic fish. A couple of group photos later, Captain told me to take a picture with the fish for a memento. (Also because i was the only one who could stand and hold the fish. Barely.)
The next morning we headed to the GT highway. i had tremendous success here on my last visit. Everyone was sore from casting the last 3 days and the big waves made the task at hand even more daunting. I volunteered to go first and spent the better part of the morning casting into the sun. This is where polarised lenses offer more compared to the transition lenses i was using. The reflection of the sun in the water made it difficult to track the lure and i missed a couple of hits because i could not react in time to set the hook. Captain reassuringly told me to watch the line and set the hook when i could not work the lure. It worked and i landed a juvenile to start of the day. Several more followed before we moved on to another part of the reef.
|On a roll.
|Happiness is the cure
|You smile when luck is smiling on you. :P
|Guess who caught a GT all by himself!
I was awoken by a text from my Dad the next morning. It was still dark and after my shower i headed outside. The sun was just coming up and Chef had just arrived to make breakfast. i took a stroll to the beach and took in the sights of a glorious sunrise. I guess it's normal to have high expectations when you travel to a location that has produced consistently before. But if it were so easy, everyone could do it and where is the fun in that. You can't pay more for a bigger GT, you simply have to work your butt off and hope that the stars align and the fish chooses you. A difficult pill to swallow but if you are able to embrace it then, you really will begin to enjoy the process of chasing the bite. Easier said than done, but a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work right?
|Into the shallows and out to the drop off.
|Some form of entertainment.
|Fins up! Who wore it better.
|Some how he enjoyed the company of the red dog
|He did not want a photo.
Before anyone could react, our deckie (Who is also named Ibrahim) dove in and went after it. He got it back to the boat but i guess the damage had been done and the drone was out of commission. What a bummer!!! Jith and Lemuel went back to casting as i tried to console my friend who was visibly upset. We heard a commotion in front and it looked like Lemuel was hooked onto a good sized GT. Lala whipped his camera out and filmed the fight as the Captain told me to go to the front to cast. After what seemed like an eternity we heard someone at the back of the boat say, "foul hooked'. It was a smaller specimen that was hooked on it's belly and had run deep. Lemuel chuckled as he exclaimed that he thought that he had hit the jackpot. Jith hit a Green Job Fish after that.
|Reds never walk alone it seems.
|Cheated his feelings, this sly bugger.
|Well he wasn't in the mood to smile.
We headed back a little disappointed but also relieved that we wouldn't have to make another cast the next day. Chef had prepared a fabulous last day dinner for us and we sat talking late into the night re-capping the events that had unfolded in the last 5 days. Our bodies were sore and our faces sun-kissed, but we were already planning for the next adventure. We had to pack up our stuff and have an early night as we had a flight to catch the next morning. Captain dropped by and he was apologetic about the catch rate during the trip. I smiled and told him, "Captain, it's alright. We'll get em' another time." He chuckled and gave us some tips on choosing our next dates and left.
Overall i wouldn't say that it was a great trip but one that certainly made us work for results. We had to improvise on our lure presentation, adapt to the challenging conditions and overcome our expectations and enjoy the trip for what it was. The boys are definitely hooked on GT fishing and are definitely looking forward to return. But i would like to try something different the next time. Staying on the mother boat and fishing on the sport fishers will maximise fishing time as well as allow us to do a little bit more jigging. If you are keen to join us, contact me at any of the links below. I've got a couple of day trips lined up next to Malaysia next followed by Southern Island Trips for the Sagai season. Please subscribe to read all about it when it drops.
Til then, tight lines.
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Carpenter Endless Passion 85/36
Hammerhead Faube 78ML
Ripple Fisher F- Stick
Ripple Fisher F- Stick GT80 Reversal Nano PE8
Ripple Fisher F- Stick GT78 Flex PE10
Shimano Stella SW14000XG
Daiwa Saltiga 5000H
Daiwa Saltiga Z6000GT
Daiwa Saltiga Expedition 5500H
Daiwa Saltiga Expedition 8000H
Shimano Ocea Pencil 220F (must have)
Shimano Monster Drive 220F (Stock hooks work well)
Shimano Wild Response 240F (not recommended for choppy conditions)
Carpenter Gamma 140
Carpenter Pandora 150
Hammerhead Cherry Boy 240
Hammerhead Border Deep Chaser 190S
Hammerhead C Cup
Native works Napalm 220
Braid : Varivas Casting SMP #8
Leader: Sunline 210lb
Owner ST66 4/0, 5/0
Decoy YS82 4/0
Gamakatsu GT Recorder 5/0, 6/0
BKK GT REX 5/0
Owner Hyper Wire 9/0, 10/0
Decoy Heavy Class 9/0, 10/0