More photos coming to this entry in a couple weeks including feeding milkfish!
The boat was moving before anyone got out of bed this morning. Saltwater fly fishing wears you down. Plus, everyone knew we had about two hours before we’d arrive at the island we saw on the map. Once the sun came up we had nice breakfast and coffee in the cabin and got our stuff ready to explore a new area of the Nubian Flats of Sudan.
The place we fished first today is an island that as we got about a mile away reminded me of the one I fish in Baja with Sammy and Grant Hartman. I was gazing its shoreline when my eyes nearly popped out of my head. An enormous school of milkfish were milling along not far from our cruising boat. As I looked closer I noticed more and more. There were schools everywhere!
Milkfish are crazy grass carp looking fish that feed mostly on algae. They’re a rare catch on a fly but they are sought after, particularly in the Seychelles. I’ve run into them several times, once at Christmas Island and once in Baja. Both times I didn’t have the correct flies for them. I want to catch one badly so these days I always carry a few algae imitating flies.
The plan was to split up and take the pangas to some flats that bordered the island. After seeing the milkies the flats weren’t of interest to me. I tossed out the idea of trying for the milkfish and Mark and Fed (our boat manager) jumped on the idea. Before our captain even had our mother ship securely anchored we were stalking a school of milkfish from the panga.
The milkfish were everywhere. Once amongst them it seemed like we may actually catch one. They strategy we used was Fed drove the boat towards a school then cut the engine before we got too close. Then with the momentum we glided to the edge of the school and Mark and I got off some casts.
The milkfish were all huge. I’d say they averaged about 25lbs! Each time either of us got our algae imitating fly amongst them my heart jumped a few beats. I get excited easily when casting to an incredible fish but these milkies were swimming right past our flies with their heads out of the water. My knees were weak and my hands were shaking. Despite trying every milkfish fly in our boxes the milkies were not the slightest bit interested.
By now we learned that our mother ship couldn’t get a good grab with the anchor and our captain wanted to head for a different area at noon sharp. This meant if we were going to check out the island we needed to do it soon. After two hours and many unsuccessful casts amongst the finicky vegetarians, Fed suggested we head to the island and hunt for trevally. Honestly I wanted to keep up the milky pursuit but I went with the flow.
Along the way we ran into the biggest school of milkfish we’d seen yet. I was drooling. Luckily, Fed suggested we try once more. Mark and I got after it and suddenly the school blew up and Mark screamed fish on!
We’d been disappointed earlier this morning when I hooked up and the fish turned out to be a large orangespotted trevally. But this was different. The line and backing left Marks reel so fast it looked like an illusion. He had a big milkfish on!
Fed may not fly fish much but he has good feel and he had that boat in gear chasing the agitated milkfish in seconds. It’s a good thing because I’m not sure Mark wouldn’t have run out of backing. Marks reel was as close to empty as I’ve seen a reel in as long as I can remember. Fortunately after that first mighty run the milky was under control.
I won’t bore you with the minute by minute account of the 45 minute amazing battle. It was a tug-a-war and getting the milky on board was a thrill. Fed put on gloves and grabbed the beast by the tail. He got him half way out and his grip began to slip. Our local boatman jumped in action and they hoisted the bizarre looking fish into the boat. We had us a milkfish!
We couldn’t believe our own eyes. There was talk of milkfish way before this trip began during the winter but I certainly didn’t have the guts to put the species as my goal of the trip. Mark was shaking with excitement and we blazed off a heap of photos. Unfortunately the hard fighting fish expended itself and we couldn’t revive him. Not a bad thing really as milkfish are good eating and we dissected its stomach. Mostly what we found was green algae soup with a touch of orange that could be spawning coral. We also found some strange worms. Not sure the worms aren’t part of the stomach digestive track but you can bet next chance we get at milkies they will see a San Juan worm type fly.
Speaking of next chance – we brought the giant milkfish to our mother ship so the cook could take care of him. He weighed slightly over 30lbs – a magnificent catch. Unfortunately it was about 11:30 and the captain gave us strict orders to be back at 12. We found another school of milkies quick but after a dozen casts we had to “walk away” from feeding milkfish – a brutal thing because today may have been the best milkfish opportunity of my life. Maybe next year. . . .
We drove another three hours back to the flats where we started the trip. While most of the guys spent the late afternoon hunting giant trevally and teased the reef, I opted for solo walking and dropping crab patterns around the coral heads. I picked off numerous peacock groupers, black spotted emperors, black spotted snappers and a couple new species. One is a striped snapper that I’ll have to look up; the other is this extremely unusual catch of a sohal surgeonfish (Red Sea surgeonfish).
Tomorrow is the last day – ALREADY!