Trip reports

Maldives Season Opener

6 Nov 2023 to
14 Nov 2023

We had an incredible two weeks in the Maldives with two sets of guests. The first week of the trip was incredibly tough. The fish just were not on the reef and we saw a handful of GT’s with only 4 GT’s coming to hand in the first 5 days. We were anxious for the second week as we had a bigger group coming for an extended trip. The fishing did a 180 degree turn and there seemed to be fish everywhere! The Bluefin were around en masse and they were menacingly followed by the bad boys of the reef. The next 7 days were manic, sessions with 6 GT’s and 16 overall, with many fish dropped, among them a few GIANTS!

Our guest James trace put together a fantastic newsletter for their cycling club which we think captured the spirit of the trip perfectly. Here it is:

I chatted with Hugh on a ride back in June where he told me about his bucket list experience fishing in the Maldives earlier in March. This seems to be Hugh’s new hobby since retirement, fly fishing all over South Africa and abroad. During the chat and getting nitty gritty details of how this adventure was organised I might have mentioned “that sounds great and something one should do before the Maldives sink into the ocean”. On Monday following the ride Hugh sends me the email from the organisers with all the details and the comment that there was one space open for me. He then points out what I said. Being a man of my word and always telling it how it is, I booked for a trip that was 6months away. That’s so far in advance you don’t need to worry about it.

Next thing Hugh asks if I have all the kit, it’s a list from hell, six pages of fishing stuff, and he says I will see you on the plane in a week. Panic attack … Had to beg borrow and steel all the stuff from my brother in-law 28kg later we are on the flight missing our Sunday ride.

Thanks to SAA going under its not direct but via Dubai. We arrive in Male at 7am then a short flight north to another atoll and a boat ride to a locally inhabited tiny island. Not the tourist trap in the post cards and not a drop of alcohol for 10days because of its solely Muslim culture. We would eat the local food, sleep in local B&B and be woken up before dawn by the call to prayer. What friendly and helpful people the Maldivians are, they just genuinely want to help tourists without wanting anything in return. Wonderful place.

We were 5 fly fishermen, from all over the world including UK and USA, and 2 South African guides.
We were all up at 5am quick breakfast on a skiff to the selected deserted island reef where we are paired off with your friend or guide for the day and told to jump into the water up to shoulder deep with a shopping basket. You then wade a few hundred meters if you are lucky to the actual reef. We are wading with hopefully waterproof backpacks filled with spare flies, line, water and rehydrate plus two salt water fly rods and special reels that can handle the pull of a GT (Giant Trevally).

The GT is the target fish, they are very aggressive predatory fish that feed in the shallow waters and hence one of the most sort after fish to catch on a fly. After wading for half an hour, through beautiful coral bommies and weed beds, you can’t wait to get to the shallower reef to give your legs a rest, only to find the coral has been replaced by large slippery round boulders. These barnacle covered loose boulders have one mission, hurt the traverser. But here is where the fun starts. The water is crystal clear and after training your eyes to see the fish they are up for grabs, not just GTs but Bluefin Kingfish, Triggerfish and many beautiful others.

Anyone who has done fly fishing will know the energy required to cast a fly far enough to catch a fish in clear water where the fish see you trashing your arm backwards and forwards about like a madman or Englishman in the sun.

We cover every bit of skin because after 8hrs in the water no sunblock will keep out the overhead sun and the sun beams reflected multiple times of the water. Recognising your fishing mate is from his hat, after that is anyone’s guess. When your arm gets sour and your shins are dented enough and your feet are in pain you pluck up the courage to move over the reef crest into the surf. This is real GT territory but to have any chance you need to cast a 12 weigh rod and reel with a huge fly, not designed with aerodynamics in mind, over the back of the breaking waves into clear water.

The only way a novice like me could do this was to take the waves on and get deep. The reef surf side is considered flat rock compared to the crest, so what could go wrong? We are already wet head to toe so getting splashed was not a problem. You walk out waist deep, you start to flick that stick with a non-flying feather hiding a sharp hook on the end of a rope. On the second flick the fly, thunks me on the back of the head and is firmly penetrated my hat and slightly into my scalp. Did I mention a hat is essential, it’s not for the sun trust me. Everyone else is casting and retrieving flies with a chance of catching a fish while I am tangled in rope, a hook in my head, one rod clashing with the spare and surf knocking me over. “Well this is fun” I thought, so I retreated to higher ground and knew I needed to re-evaluate how the next 7 days of fishing was going to go.

My very helpful guide, laughing under his breath came over to give me some useful advice. There were lots of words of wisdom that he had gained from years of experience. I listened hard asked some questions and set about solving one thing at a time. It was soon lunch time which required a walk back to the boat. For many reasons this seemed like a good idea especially to get more water because by now your water bottle is long empty due to being immersed in salt water for 5 hrs it has sucked all the sweat from your skin. Dehydrated we all made the trek back through the stunning corals, watching the small coloured fish hunt and hide as we pass. Lunch is a prepacked hot high carb meal and cold water or coke on a anchored bobbing vessel.

You will not be sea sick nor worry about any discomforts due to thirst and hunger.
30mins later Rob says: “Hugh and James come with me, we are going to find the cut in the reef.” Today the reef was kilometers long and we had walked plenty without seeing cuts left or right. It’s a third coral crossing back to the reef, we can’t decide if walking the coral at an angle or the reef will be least strenuous so we follow Rob like sheep. He has an eye to see fish and points out a few which we cast at furiously. Each time we thrash the water into a foamy hole and scare the fish he would effortlessly throw a cast or two and catch a fish or two just to make sure we knew it was all our own fault. It can be done we had no excuses. We noticed how the fish is king, every effort to make its ordeal less harmful was most important. Pull it in quickly, don’t play it too long it tires the fish out to much. Handle it with care, quickly take a picture for evidence and release it like the loving captures we are. We are sure the fish felt the love as they gently swim off back to their world. Strangely they do not fight as soon as one hand is placed under them, it’s like tickling their belly somehow makes them relaxed.

After a few hours heading north west and some Bluefin causing tight lines for us, we could see the cut Rob had spoken about. He called a briefing and explained the hunt. We each had a job that sounded easy enough, but executing it over the slippery rocks and through the beastly waves was no walk in the park. Hugh got his cast in first at the top end while I was just a few seconds behind at the bottom. Hugh hooked a GT and Rob was delighted, even more so than Hugh I think who was being rolled over by fish and waves while trying to adhere to Robs instructions. I was giggling and laughing at the sceptical when bang, I was into another GT. Rob had told me, from previous fish, you just hold on to the line while pointing the rod at the fish, don’t lift it or it will break the rod. The game is to try and get the fish onto the reel so the reel can do some of the work. They have well designed friction breaks built in and that takes the chance of line burns away from your fingers. We strap our fingers and have gloves for this occurrence. I was basically on my own because Hugh had stolen Robs attention by catching his GT first. It was hilarious and was very close to GT 1 James 0, call the ambulance. Eventually Rob had Hugh’s GT under control and he looked at me getting wrapped up by a fish. He saw it was also a GT and so now he wanted me to also survive the ordeal just so he could get a picture of two GTs at the same time. This is unheard of for two novices to catch two GTs and so the stake were high.

We somehow did it and I can assure you the pictures do not explain the difficulty of holding a docile fish, that can cut your hand to pieces, two rods and line getting more and more tangled by every wave that knocks us over, and two shopping baskets (what were they for? we didn’t even put the fish into them). It was a gala and we loved every second of it. This is what we had come for, the bucket was full with smiles for the rest of the week. OK this did not all happen on day one but it’s a day license in the Maldives.

The sun was getting low and we had a wading trek back to the boat. The war stories got bigger and better and by the time we could recall them to the others it was amazing. The other fisherman were jealous as there catches were slender in comparison. We had two fish taken by sharks, this had not happened on previous trips before, just goes to show even the Maldives has unexpected taxes. It’s not so funny for the fisherman when the shark decides that was just the snack and it looks at you next for the meal.
We had a relaxed trip back to our island as the sun sets, washed our kit down, repaired our tackle for tomorrow, had dinner and slept until the call for prayers again. We did this seven days in a row, getting better and better and finding new ways to cast out beyond the breakers. Each day was different with its new spots and new challenges, 8hrs in the water puts a different slant on granny fingers. Make no mistake its hard work and all the training we did before hand was well worth it. Memories we will talk about for the rest of our lives.