This is an exploratory fly fishing trip with my friends at Tourette Fishing – Fight it in Africa to what is called the Nubian Flats of Sudan. A year ago Rob and his partner Keith Clover invited me to help explore this spring. Obviously new places this exotic are rare so without even looking at my 2014 calendar I said yes. In return I’ll spread the word through my blog with stories and photos as well as in my future presentations at clubs and fly fishing shows. If the adventure goes well I may even host a few adventurous Americans back next spring.
This is not the first trip to the Nubian Flats. We’ll certainly visit some areas that have never seen a fly rod, but for owner Rob and guide Ed Truter, it’s the third trip to Sudan. In fact today’s staggeringly beautiful flat, scattered with a few islands and bordered with miles of coral reef, is one they fished last November.
The report from last November is that the wind blew harder than normal. If you haven’t wet a line on the flats, they’re almost always windy. This is why everyone should practice casting beforehand and be absolutely sure you know the double haul. But in November the Red Sea was tortuously windy. They caught fish, including some nice bohar snappers and bluefin trevally, but overall the flats were frothing in whitecaps and the fishing was hardly touched.
It’s too hot for sleeping down below the deck so I slept outside up top of our boat with the crew. At first, even outside was too hot and I tossed and turned, however soon after I fell asleep, I awoke freezing from the cool breezy desert night. I always pack my light sleeping bag so I jumped in and slept till the first glimmer of morning light.
Our “mother ship” isn’t a ship at all. It’s more of a 60 foot cabin cruiser. It’s a beautiful old boat that coincidentally was built the year I was born, 1965. And despite the fact that Sudan is a mostly desert covered country of Africa, there’s no doubt our crew is sea worthy. Our captain, Adel, is calm and cool and his mates maneuver around this boat like Belizean fishing guides.
I was the first up this morning and well before sunrise. Put me on new water 7,000 miles from home and I wake up like a kid on Christmas. With the help of my headlamp I set up a couple of Winston’s. My rods of choice were the 9 ½ foot 8-weight Boron III SX for the flats and a 9 foot 12-weight SX for the coral reef and giant trevally on the flats. On my 8-weight I attached my long-out-of-action lava colored Super 8 Abel Reel with the new Scientific Anglers (SA) Sharkwave Saltwater WF8F line and a tan shrimp pattern. On my 12-weight I latched on my Ross Momentum LT #6 with an SA Intermediate Tarpon Taper WF12I and a size 4/0 purple and black streamer.
By sunrise everyone was up chomping to get on the water. We slept closer to civilization than we need be so as we ate breakfast our crew fired up the boat and headed south to where they fished last November. The sea was calm so kicking back and catching up with Rob and Mark as well as getting acquainted with the rest for about two hours was relaxing.
Once the flats were in sight everyone lit up. As Rob and Ed discussed a game plan based on their November visit the rest of us stepped into our flats booties. We’re towing two pangas for eight of us and the idea is to split up, get dropped off and walk. Today I matched up with Ed. Although I don’t know Ed personally, he guides and helps with the Tourette business and I’ve seen him in photos on their website for years. It’s great to finally hang with him.
It took only a few minutes on the water to realize Ed knows his stuff. First off he helped me manipulate a way to carry a second rigged rod on the flats. The way I had my 12-weight hanging off my pack was a nuisance for casting and I couldn’t get to it quick. With Ed’s tweaks I can switch rods in seconds without taking off my pack.
Ed’s also passionate about all species of fish. His knowledge goes far further than the salt as well; Ed is a geologist and has found himself stationed in nearly every corner of Africa at least once. And yes, he always packed fishing stuff making him an invaluable source for African fishing.
We began on a flat around three small islands. It was unusually calm so we could spot waking fish and nervous water from a mile away. There was action immediately and I couldn’t get the line off my Abel fast enough. Two strips and I had a fish. A fish on the first cast certainly makes a statement about the Nubian Flats! I caught these in Madagascar in 2011 and the cute fish is likely a baby Malabar.
The nervous water continued and all kinds of neat fish turned up. My favorite of the morning was this spectacular peacock grouper (blue-spotted). This little guy isn’t a baby; the species just doesn’t grow big. I simply couldn’t get over the fact that his spots were exactly like the electric blue/green spots in the tail feathers of a peacock. He’s truly a fine piece of art in nature.
Nine times out of ten when we hooked up it was a black spotted emperor fish, another species I met in Madagascar. These scrappy little fighters can be a pest because they steal the fly from the fish you’re actually targeting. Nonetheless they’re a fish on the flats and were a welcome tug as I worked out the kinks on day 1.
We regrouped for lunch on a small island. With the exception of small species, the flats were slow for all. The most action was when Mark teased in some trevally and bohar snapper for Alexey and Nicolay but they didn’t connect with any on the fly. The teasing sounded like fun so Ed and I set up for a session in the afternoon.
Walking a reef requires some endurance. First of all, you always want to do your best not to walk on the reef which means you navigate around it on sand patches. When you do this the reef often catches you in the shin and I’ll tell you it hurts like heck. You’ve heard the saying “sharp as coral” before? Toss in the waves rolling in from the bluewater and it’s a struggle to stay on your feet. Fall down and the stuff tears you to shreds.
Ed loves teasing so he chucked a large chartreuse teaser while I waited with my 12-weight. There’s a lot of different ways to present the fly behind a teaser. Ed likes to bring the teaser all the way in then I cast less than 15 feet into its wake. Normally the fish charge right to Ed’s feet. He yanks the teaser and as the fish returns to the deep upset that whatever he was chasing disappeared, they run right into my fly. The idea of a short cast limits the amount of exposure for the fly line and leader to the coral. Coral has cost anglers many a big fish and severed more than enough fly lines.
Action was slow the first part of the afternoon. This was surprising because we could see hundreds of reef fish swimming in the waves. Most were surgeons and parrotfish but there were some colorful little guys as well. We even saw many turtles. Where were the big fish?
During our last hour the predatory fish began to show. First, a few small bluefin trevally chased the teaser. I’d drop a cast but no eat. I changed flies a couple times from black to white to various combos but the speedy strikingly blue colored fish wouldn’t seal the deal. We also had several bohar snappers chase, but they too weren’t aggressive.
The sun was getting low and we were getting ready to pack it in. As you know if you read this blog, this is when things happen. Ed teased in two large bohar snappers and finally I hooked up. We cheat when we fly fish the reef. We fish four feet of straight 150lb test for a leader. Anything less in strength doesn’t stand a chance when it brushes against the coral. The other strategy is to literally stop these freight trains from taking any line. I mean clamp down and point the rod at them and see if they can break the line. Snappers, grouper, coral trout and trevally pull so hard it’s shocking and holding the line is easier said than done.
My first snapper of the trip won the battle in less than two seconds. I don’t care how mentally prepared you think you are for the first strike on the reef from a bohar, chances are you probably aren’t. Despite clamping down with all my might, my first bohar snapper line burnt me bad and stole about ten feet of line and snap! The end of my fly line lost about three feet off the end.
I re-rigged – and it wasn’t pretty – a perfection loop in the end of the fly line then the 150lb leader. Then Ed teased. Not three casts and in came another bohar. This bohar was bright red and looked like a meteor whizzing towards us. Ed yanked the teaser and I cast to the agitated snapper. He too ate the fly and the line slipped from me again and even my Momentum #6 with the drag cranked 100% couldn’t hold the fish. This time the 150lb leader brushed against too much coral. Snap!
The feed was on and about three more teases by Ed and this time we had a baby giant trevally (GT) chase in the teaser. My fly landed and the undersized GT grabbed it and ran. This time I didn’t let any line slide . . . at least for the first few seconds. About the time we identified the fish as a GT the line slipped away. Unlike the snapper and grouper that dive for the corral every time, some of the GT’s fight you high in the water and you can survive the coral. I lucked out and five minutes later I posed with this baby (yet respectable) giant trevally.
Day one was magnificent. Yes indeed, I got my butt handed to me. But that’s what fuels me. Tonight I’ll sleep on it and be ready in the morning.