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swoffing safari 2009

06/10/2009  There's only one Peter Brown
A couple of years ago while browsing through the classifieds of the Australian Fly Life forum, I stumbled upon a 12wt rod that I convinced myself I needed for an upcoming trip to far North Queensland. A phone call was made and in the following few minutes were spent talking to the seller about the condition of the rod, what it had been used for etc ... little did I know that the foundations for a great friendship were being laid down. At the time I was visiting friends in Brisbane and the seller agreed to make the drive from Noosa to Brisbane to drop the rod off, on the day after Christmas. Not many people would go out of their way like that, but then again, there's only one Peter Brown in the world.

Over the years we remained in contact and Peter subsequently invited me to join him in New Zealand where we spent 4 days hunting trout, hiking around the back country of the North Island. Some of you may also know Peter from the 'Green Tide' dvd that was released a few years ago where Peter and his good mate Frazer are humerously targetting Kingfish on poppers around the channel markers in Auckland Harbour. Needless to say, he knows his stuff and has been throwing flies at fish for longer than I've been on the planet so it was only natural that the favour was returned and he was extended an invite to join me in WA.

'I want us to fish from sunrise till sunset, I want the most f#cking extreme fly fishing action ever .... eat, sleep and think fly fishing', his own words. What a perfect fishing buddy! Recently Peter was welcomed into the 'billfish on fly' ranks after landing a sailfish while fishing with Capt. Gavin Platz off Mooloolaba on the SE Queensland coast. Peter was hooked and this laid the groundwork for our pursuit to target billfish on fly. We're both serious novices at teasing billfish, let alone casting to and landing them on fly. We've both only caught one billie each from behinda boat and to date I've cast to and landed more free swimming billfish than those that have been teased up behind a boat so my knowledge of dragging teasers around the ocean is very limited. But hey, it's new ground, new territory and new techniques - pushing the boundaries, exploring the unknown and embarking on another exciting chapter of the Safari.

All good and well until the steering system completely failed us right at the boat ramp on day 2! The entire steering helm unit literally exploded thanks to the cable that had become overly stiff from contstant use over the past months, therefore rendering the boat unusable for 2 days. So while Peter was out diving the beautiful Ningaloo Reef and wading the shoreline with a rod in his hand, I was under the console removing the old steering and installing a whole new hydraulic steering system.

Steering glitches resolved, we decided to focus our attention on sight casting to fish on the flats. It's October, the weather and the water are getting warmer by the day and this is bringing new species onto the flats. The resident queenies, golden trevally and rays now have the odd accomplice who follows them around, some grey in colour, some as black as night, all seem nervous and spooky. We're talking about none other than the formidable Giant Trevally. Often referred to as 'ferocious predators' or 'pit-bulls of the reef' or 'busses', these are names that are earned and should be respected for good reason. Many articles have been written about GT's with every angle covered from the best locations to ideal flies, rods, reels and leaders so they need no introduction at all. Most conventional fisherman target GT's using use 80 - 130lb braid loaded on reels with monster drags and rods that can almost dead lift a small car. As fly fishermen, the approach is a little more subtle but still serious enough with 12wt rods as the bare minimum and reels that have drags with massive stopping power. In the Seychelles the standard approach with a fly rod is 80lb leader straight to the fly, anything less and there's a good chance that your expensive fly line ends up decorating the nearest bit of reef in the same way as silver sparkly tinsel gets wrapped around the family Christmas tree.

Tides weren't ideal, the water was very low and the majority of flats we had intended fishing were still too shallow to approach in the boat and the chances of having a shot at a GT on the flats was slim until more water had pushed in. But that doesn't necessarily mean there's no fish about! We kept our distance from shore, waiting for the water to start moving onto the flats and it wasn't long before we noticed a few long dark shapes starting to move across the skinny water - queenies!

Things don't always work out as planned.

On goes another fly and the very next cast it's engulfed - aah revenge is sweet!

We'd seen a few tailing goldens over the past few days and Brown was determined on getting one on the flats. Patiently we waited and like clockwork as the tide started to push in, things started to switch on. Two yellow tails simultaneously waved at us from across the flat as two golden trevally were head-down rummaging around on the bottom. As we approached to take the shot, a third shape materialised next to the two goldens - a big GT. Brown made a cast at the three fish and one strip later, the GT accelerated towards us and exploded on what he referred to as 'the most beautiful popper you'll ever see'.

In 2 feet of water, there's only one place for fish to go and that's away from you across the flat as fast as possible - check out where the backing is pointing to in this shot.

Half an hour later, still connected and pulling hard. This fish was towing us around the flat and all Peter could do was hold on and apply 'down and dirty' angles in an attempt to slow things down.

An hour later and a mile away from where Brown had originally hooked the fish, we got our first glimpse of it.

Using a Sage Xi2 10wt, Abel Reel, 20lb leader and a 2/0 popper, plus a lot of patience and some delicate boat handling, the fish was eventually landed. A bloody fantastic effort!! Well done Peter.

The most beautiful looking popper you'll ever see!

While brown was resting his weary arms, I couldn't resist the temptation of casting to a large tailing fish. Check out the beautiful markings on this golden!

Only one way to celebrate such good times!

On our last day we ventured to the ocean side where we spent the first 3 hours fruitlessly dragging teasers around the ocean for zero reward. Moving back onto the flats we went in search of the elusive WA bonefish but on the way noticed a mother a calf dolphin lollowing in the shallows. As with the goldens, there was a grey slab swimming alongside - this time an even bigger GT - but it was spooky and one cast with the popper and it bolted. We would have seen 10 GTs between 15 - 35kg on that day, plus milkfish, 30 or more permit and a 6ft barracuda. A new species and novelty capture for me was this chinaman cod. These fish have the ability to change their colour patterns from a light to a dark when they're threatened. See how light the colourings are in the first pic compared to the second pic.

Well that's it! What a fantastic last day to end off a great tip with a good friend, thank you Peter.

What a fantastic journey it's been for me. Over 700 hours have been spent on the water in the past 6 months and I've lived for that time in a hot and dusty tent in a campsite. There's been so many good things happen over this time, most memorable has been sharing the best times of our lives with my friends and family doing what we love.

So for now, the swoffing safari comes to an end, but in reality the real journey is only just beginning.

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