Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fly Fish with Mel: Return to Paradise (Maldives) Day 3

Day 3:

We were supposed to meet up with Mario, our italian friend who runs a fishing charter service out of Kanu Huraa Resort. 10 minutes after we set sail, Mario called and told us to go to Dhidhdhoo, which happened to be just couple of islands away from us. He would meet us there and fish with us for a couple of hours.

Dhidhdhoo is located northwest of Kurendhoo, just before Maavaafushi. Past trips to this island had yielded numerous bonefish and bluefin trevallies. However, we had never had to pay to go on the island to fish. This time though, we were told that we had to pay an 'entrance' fee of US$1. Ibrahim tried calling the owner of the island and after a few attempts, got the clearance for us to proceed.

A unique local dish, Mashuni, was served at breakfast. A flavourful blend of freshly dried tuna flakes, fragrant grated coconut, chopped spicy hot chilli, chopped onions and a splash of lime juice; it is eaten wrapped in a flour shell, not unlike our local chapatti. The nutty flavour of the coconut complimented the oily tuna while the acidic lime juice prevented the oils from overwhelming the tastebuds. The spicy chilli and sweet onion added more bite and rounded up the flavours of this very simple, yet delectable dish.

After breakfast, we began our usual ritual of gearing up while the crew launched the dinghy. “First five, get ready!” goes the call. Soon we’re back on the fine sands of Dhidhdhoo.

Michael, William, Lee, Andy and I spread out towards the left side of the island, while the rest of the team found their own niches on the right. Not long after landfall, over the horizon, we saw a sport-fishing boat heading towards Mashibaru.

It was Mario’s Keyolha. Wahab took the dinghy back out and brought Amin back to receive our guest. An exchange of greetings later, the pair was back on the beaches, rod in hand.

In the pristine waters, with only a slight ripple, we were able to spot a few bonefish but when presented with our flies, they merely turned away. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some movement and there was Michael with rod bent and definitely onto a good fish.

Making my way across the hundred odd meters to him, Michael was just beginning to bring the fish in. Taking out my camera, I put it underwater and awaited opportunities to take a few underwater shots.

We were both guessing that it could be a bonefish from the way it was taking line but as it turned out, it was a fair-sized bluefin trevally. After the customary poses with our model, it was released safely back into the water. We relished the sight of it swimming strongly away, back into the depths.

Having covered the flats, Michael, William and I turned towards the surf on the other side of the island. There was a flat area of rock that offered us good footing. The line clip that I had hanging at my waist was giving me a hard time in the surf, with water pounding me every few seconds. I had my line pulled out so often that I hardly had any time to cast my line.

Michael, on the other hand had his line out beyond the breakers. Again, he was to be the one to latch on to a mother of a GT.

This time, he had his rod bending so hard that he was literally using only the butt section of the rod to apply pressure on the fish. Foot after foot of backing kept peeling off the whirring reel. All he could do was to hang on and slowly turned up his drag 2 clicks at a time. Then, with the last 2 clicks, the GT stopped pulling line off the reel.

Sensing it was his turn to throw punches, Michael switched to high gear. Alternating with steady pressure from his rod and reeling in line, Michael made up for lost line in a short time. As it came closer to shore, the GT must have sensed danger and went on a long run across the rocky surf. Somehow managing to avoid getting cut off, Michael turned the GT’s head and proceeded to drag the brute in. Again, with camera ready,

I started snapping picture after picture above and below the water. Removing the 15lbs Bogagrip from Michael’s backpack, I tried to grab the lip of the tired but still unyielding creature. The jaws of the Bogagrip was barely wide enough to grip the lip of the GT.

Only by forcing one jaw of the Bogagrip into the bottom of the fish’s jaw and then over the lip, was I able to finally to get a firm grip of the fish. Lifting it up proved difficult with one hand as the scale was way over the 15lbs it was rated for.

A few quick snaps and we let the gangster return to its wayward, bullying way.

I had my share of fun too, though it was only short–lived. The rampaging bluefin trevally made 3 dashes across inches of water and finally cut me off one of the numerous sharp rocks strewn generously across the lagoon. A familiar growl in our stomachs reminded us of the time and we made our way gingerly over the rocks and then, the sand, to the beach to our waiting ride.

Back on the boat we found out that Gerard and Mah had had a fantastic time over on the right side of the island. After walking the stretch of beach, Gerard spotted a whole school of darts, a tremendous school numbering in the hundreds. Both anglers let loose a cast at the school; Gerard with a crab pattern and Mah, a crazy Charlie. Letting the crab sink, Gerard employed a slow retrieve, dragging the fly on the bottom. Mah, on the other hand, used a fast retrieve.

Gerard was first to connect. The fish made short work of the drag, taking Gerard into his backing in mere seconds.

Mah felt the Charlie stop in its tracks and then he too was into his backing.

"This has got to be a huge dart!" Mah thought. If it was a dart, it would have to have been on steroids?

Both anglers skillfully played their quarry and landed their respective fish only to discover, they had a double hookup on bonefish! The bonefish had been feeding beneath the school of dart. Now who said that you had to strip slowly for bonefish to take a fly?

Walking further, Gerard saw a whole area full of turtle grass. Turtle grass is synonymous with bonefish as they feed amongst the grass for crustaceans and shrimps. In the midst of changing his fly, Gerard caught glimpse of a sight that would make any grown angler cry. There, a mere few feet ahead, amidst the grass, the unmistakable shape of a bonefish feeding. However, instead of the urge to finish tying the fly and casting. He simply stopped whatever he was doing and lapped up the phenomenal sight before him.

After lunch, we all held the hope of coming across that school of dart and perhaps, a chance at hooking one of those feeding bonefish. However, it was not to be. Not only were the dart not in sight, there was hardly any sign of the other species as well. By the end of the day, the only silver lining was provided by William with his first fish on fly, a small Honeycomb Grouper (Epinephelus merra).