May 17, 2022
This article was originally title "Date with a Gangsta" in the April-May 2015 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.
Rigging for giant trevally is like preparing for war. The leader is straight 130-pound-test Maxima, the fly line is a specific-purpose Airflo GT with a bolstered 75-pound-test core, and the backing is 400 yards of 65-pound gel-spun braid. It’s not a finesse game, these beasts push the limits of what may be considered fly tackle, and what sounds like overkill still breaks half the time. The fly line itself is the weakest link, and even with that big-game core, it often snaps on the initial run. Coral heads shred leaders, cut backing indiscriminately, and peel the coating off your line like sunburned skin. The nearest fly shop is on a neighboring continent, so bring several spares.
The giant trevally, often called “geets” in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are clearly the kings of the flats. They seem fearless or at least completely indifferent to lesser fishes. No one messes with them as they ride on the backs of 10-foot sharks, or patrol flats and ledges looking to cull the herd of any bonefish that may slip out of line.
They hunt in packs and if you can get your fly in their line of sight, they become hypercompetitive with each other. They light up when they see prey, their pectoral fins stiffen, they perk up in the water , rising slightly and almost puffing their chests out as they hit the afterburners to destroy your fly.
The eat is almost scary. Standing in water just over your knees you strip your fly quickly with a two-handed retrieve and move the fly as fast as you can. Easy to say, but tough to execute under pressure. If permit give you the shakes, then expect your composure to crumble as a pack of voracious GTs light up and rush your fly full speed.
A meter-long GT is almost as tall as the water is deep, and that huge mouth is down on the bottom. Before it crushes your fly, its body pushes a bow wake, and its entire head rises out of the water. Moments before your fly disappears in that cavernous mouth, you get to look the fish directly in the eye. You set the hook with a series of hard stripping strikes, and then hold on for the ride.
One-Meter Giant Trevally
I came to Farquhar Atoll looking to get a giant trevally over the magical 1 meter mark, and my biggest for the week was 114 centimeters and pushing 80 pounds. He was an unusual loner—a single fish cruising the edge of a flat—and I saw him coming from a long way off.
I think the fish saw the fly in the air because as soon as it hit the water, he was all over it. I tried to make one strip, but the line was already tight. The drag on my Nautilus Monster was dialed up tight and I was adding all the extra pressure I could with a 12-weight, still the fish peeled 300 yards of backing from the reel before slowing. There was a moment when I didn’t think that train would ever stop.
GTs are the most powerful fish you can hook on the flats, but if you can survive that first run and break them, they give up. Turning that bus around is a bit of a workout, but once you’re past that point, the fish is yours. By the time you bring a big GT to hand, they are easy to handle for your hero shot—if you’ve got any strength left.
The Out Islands
An archipelago that in some places is nearly a thousand miles off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles is “out there.” Waaaaay out there. But for most Americans, getting there has never been easier, with regular connecting flights through Dubai from many U.S. hubs. Within the Seychelles there are several different fishing options: Alphonse, Providence, Cosmoledo, Astove, Desroches, and Farquhar. Each of these “out islands” offers its own highlight reel—Alphonse for milkfish, Cosmo for quantities of giant trevally, Farquhar for diversity and also for large GTs.
After talking with Gerhard Laubscher at FlyCastaway (flycastaway.com), we quickly decided Farquhar was the place for my first adventure in the Indian Ocean. Of all the islands, it’s the best place to get a taste of it all. Bumphead parrotfish, giant trevally, monster bonefish, too many types of triggerfish to list, golden Indo-Pacific permit, and offshore opportunities for sailfish, dogtooth tuna, and wahoo.
Farquhar juts out of the deep blue water of the Indian Ocean in the southern Seychelles just 100 miles north of the tip of Madagascar. The flats of the atoll drop off precipitously into blue water. There aren’t many other places you can take your 17-foot skiff and troll for billfish, wahoo, and dogtooth tuna on the short ride home from the flats. The “offshore” fishing starts just a few hundred yards from the lodge.
It’s an oasis of shallow-water habitat in a big blue ocean, and the perfect environment to bring big predatory fish like GTs onto the flats. We started our first day looking for bonefish, triggers, and permit, passing time while waiting for the tide to push water and giant trevally onto the flats.
I’ve lived in the Bahamas for many years and I own a lodge there, so I get my fair share of bonefish. While we have double-digit fish on the regular back on Abaco, the average size is slightly larger in the Seychelles. A couple of hours produced a handful of eager 8-pounders, and one of the larger bonefish had fresh bite marks where a GT had all but engulfed him.
Farquhar Atoll Biodiversity
While the bonefishing was excellent, what makes Farquhar Atoll truly remarkable is the biodiversity. I plucked a free-swimming sailfish off the transom with a popper—the other fly fisher in the boat was already fighting a sailfish, and the teaser was onboard in the keeper. A big fish can surprise you anytime here, so always keep a rod at the ready.
Reef fish. “Boomie bashing” is the practice of wind-drifting over coral heads, and teasing out the myriad creatures that live there using a hookless plug. It’s a classic bait and switch. They come for the plug, and you give them a fly instead. You’ll see dozens of different groupers and snappers, and have your work cut out for you trying to keep them out of the structure.
Triggerfish. These brightly painted creatures are flats fish I didn’t give enough credit to before going to Farquhar. While they may look comical, they are incredibly wary. Tread lightly and throw a long line to these guys. If you manage to sneak in a crab pattern without spooking them, you still have hell to pay before you can land one. They have powerful jaws lined with rigid teeth that crush hooks, literally breaking them to pieces.
Bluefin. GTs aren’t the only trevally on the flats, and bluefin trevally would be the famous ones if they grew as large as GTs. Pound for pound they are stronger, fight harder, swim faster, and they are more beautiful than GTs. Most important, they are everywhere at Farquhar.
Bumpies. Besides GTs, bumphead parrotfish were likely the number two most coveted gamefish at Farquhar. First introduced to the American fly-fishing market through the film The Aqua Hulk these crazy-looking blue-and-green fish have protruding beaks, bulging foreheads, and bright mouths that make you think they are wearing lipstick.
Parrotfish are known as primarily coral eaters, but the FlyCastaway guides have discovered that these Seychelles giants will jump on a well-presented crab fly—and give you the fight of your life. We found them every day at the same point in the tide, and found that if you positioned yourself to anticipate an oncoming fish, and swung a crab pattern on a tight line, they ate the fly regularly. When you do connect, you go from “hooked up!” to a half-empty reel in a hurry. These things pack some heat.
One bumpie is plenty for most folks. Not only are they hard to hold, they are notorious for leaving you with a coating of slime, and a lap full of bumpie shit. They are a great bucket list fish, and they make for a fantastic photo, but in my opinion, they don’t stack up against most of the other great flats fish of Farquhar.
There are few places you can visit and say “I bet it was this good 20 years ago.” Farquhar is one of those places. In six days my boatmate and I saw it all—a double on sailfish, a dozen GTs including monsters over 1 meter for both of us, we slayed bonefish until we didn’t want any more, hooked more triggers than we could keep track of, and added a dozen other new species to the life list—some of which we’d never even heard of. If the idea of a 1-meter giant trevally on the flats doesn’t get you fired up, then something else certainly will. It’s a smorgasbord of awesome.
Distance: New York to Mahe, Seychelles: 8,431.7 miles
Latitude Longitude: -10.1869, 51.1624
US Booking Agent: The Flyshop, Redding, California (flyshop.com)
Primary Outfitter: FlyCastaway, Johannesburg, South Africa (flycastaway.com)
Best Time: Nov. and Dec. have calm winds averaging 5 knots, and average daytime temps of 80 degrees.
Oliver White owns Abaco Lodge in the Bahamas and co-hosted with Michael Keaton, Jim Belushi, Lefty Kreh, Yvon Chouinard, and others, the TV series Buccaneers & Bones on the Outdoor Channel.