There can be nothing better in this world for a fisherman to be awakened in a tropical paradise by the sound just outside your door of Baitfish being mugged in the shallows of the beach by big Trevally.
The previous day Keith Ingram and I had journeyed from the Solomon Islands Western Provincial capital, Gizo, on Dirk and Cathy Sierlings “Amanda Jane”, a 35 foot powerCat, on a mission to explore the amazingly diverse fishing options available in the area around the bottom of Choiseul Island, the Manning Straits area.
We were “Homestaying” at a little bay called Gilnavena with Karly and John Hutton, a young ex-pat couple who are getting into the idea of introducing fishermen to the wonders they have become used to.
For a guy from New Zealand, the announcement that if you really want to bother catching trevally, wait till the morning and you’ll be able to pick them up off the beach as they mug baitfish in the shallows sounded pretty far fetched, but it sounded like the sort of thing I’d love to see!
It was this frantic thrashing noise of big fish flailing about in shallow water that popped open my eyelids like a slapstick toaster in the wee small hours... about 6 AM (for me very early indeed) just before sun-up, and had my feet in sandals and out the door before you could say “Put some shorts on!”.
As I went, still bleary eyed, I grabbed my nice shiny new Kilwell Ocean Invader Fly-rod, and a small pack of flies. While the ripples of this small scale carnage were still subsiding, I cast my first ever fly over the waters of Gilnavena Beach.
So it was that I was up before anyone else, in time to admire the sun slowly easing over the last hills on the bottom of Choiseul Island. It was one of those magic contemplative moments when you wonder “Why do I have to ever go home?”, that didn’t have a chance to last long due to a passing Trevally taking a fancy to my Chartreuse Clousers Minnow.
When a Trevally hits a fly, all hell breaks loose on a fly-line. The small pile of loops at my feet hissed off the sand, then the reel started screaming off line in a hot run, stripping off fifty metres of backing before I could get the fish to pause and turn. Because it is a fairly clean bottom of sand in the little bay, I wasn’t worried about snagging up, but I did keep in mind that I had to keep the fish if possible away from the mangroves off to my left.
As it happened this fish was a clean fighter... more fool him, and before long the lifting power of the 10/11 weight rod had him beat. In about ten minutes, I had my first Gilnavena Fly-caught Trevally at my feet, a five pound beauty. I hadn’t noticed, but sometime during the affray, the Huttons’ 10 year old son, Joel, had joined me. Delightedly he jumped on the fish, dragging it up the sandy beach.
Now then, where there’s one, there must be more, so out went the fly again. It was another ten minutes of serious discussions with Joel about the best way to catch Trevally, before the swift spray of baitfish scattering ahead of predators heralded the arrival of another group of feeding Trevs.
These small feeding frenzies were amazing things. First the fleeing baitfish would scatter in front of the Trevally just under the surface, ruffling it like a sudden strong gust of wind on a quiet pond, then, as the big fish closed for the kill, first one then hundreds of the small Boma or Mackerel would burst from the water. As soon as this happened, it was a signal for the frenzy to begin.
Trevally similar to the one I just landed, 4 to 6 pounders, would crash and flail about among the panicky small fish, often chasing the small fish right up onto the sand, where the Huttons Dog, Ernie, would race down and grab them, followed closely by a delighted Joel.
The Boma, still fleeing from Trevally Breakfast time, would shoot along the shore, and they didn’t particularly care who or what was in their way, as long as the Trevs were behind them. In their panic, they ran at full speed into my legs, and right in front of me, as the small fish flapped about my shins, big trevs came in to hit them.
This is an amazing feeling, standing, literally, in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Under my very nose big fish were eating little fish, while my fly hung uselessly 10 metres away. Talk about fishing your feet first! Then, in a blink of the eye, they were gone. Joel looked at me, and puzzled asked “why didn’t you just grab one?” I could’ve, but it’s cheating to not use a rod, isn’t it?
I didn’t get much time to gather my rather scrambled wits before my fly, formerly 10 metres from the action, was back in range again, as the Trevally moved out of the bay to round up their next posse of prey. The strike this time was straight off the reel, and again after the initial first run I was able to fairly easily steer the fight my way. This fish, slightly smaller than the first, came in about five minutes later, and young Joel proudly took them up to his Mum to show what he’d been doing before breakfast.
By now of course, the others were stirring about the place. Time to get ready for a day exploring his incredible area. The general plan was to spend the morning wandering about an area of sand flats 15 minutes south along the end of RobRoy Island, and once fed and loaded aboard the Amanda Jane, this is where we headed.
Approaching these flats from the sea is amazing. All along the sea facing edge is a string of small jungle and mangrove clad islets, sitting on glistening white coral sand. The deep blue of the deeper passes weaved through these vibrantly green islands, the passes opening out to reveal an enormous stretch of what would have to be fly fishing heaven.
As the tropical sun blazed down on these sand flats, the gin clear waters glittered in a myriad shades of turquoise, jade and aquamarine. From a distance, the shallowest waters, no more than a foot or so deep, had the colour of new-sown grass, bright jade, the slightly deeper lagoons between them a pale sky blue, and laced among these dazzling flats ran a maze of deep blue guts and a scattering of verdantly green islands.
Swift Terns darted around schools of small feeding fish here and there, and as Dirk and Cathy dropped anchor in one deep (about 15m) pass, not twenty metres off our bow, a large (40 kilo) Bump-headed Wrasse rolled on the surface. Ooh, mate! let me at them! Keith and I clambered into Johns small 6m tri-hull longboat, keen to be off and explore the wonders of the area.
Once we had entered this flats area, I asked John to head for some shallow wadable areas. It was not long before I was knee deep in the warm 30 degree crystal clear water. Carefully wading towards my goal, I prepared to cast my fly near a bank of clear water mangroves. While I was doing this, John and Keith were barrelling off to chase some feeding fish a few hundred metres away.
Alone now, it was a special feeling to know that I was the first ever person to fly-fish on these flats, this wasn’t just virgin territory, like the best Olive oil, it was extra extra virgin. I could see fish moving about within ten metres of the tree roots, and once I was near enough to land my fly in this strike zone, Blamm! again the clousers did its’ work.
This fishes’ first run halted just short of the mangroves, then the fish arced in fast runs about me, each one with a shorter radius, as I worked it nearer to me. Within five minutes it was all over, a nice fat 4 pound Sand Snapper, a bright silver fish, lay glistening by my knees. It was an easy matter to reach down, and holding onto the hook with some long nosed pliers, flip the fish free of the hook.
Well, one fish so far, lets go for a repeat. Wading further along the flats,it was another ten or fifteen minutes before again I caught the ghost image of movement in the water. Flicking the fly towards this half-seen hint of activity, suddenly my fly disappeared in a flash of silver and roiling water. This fish had a few more horse power than my sand snapper, cutting to and fro across the shallows, circling me a dozen times, as well as running off line and backing several times. It was a full 15 minutes before I had this fish under control, easing a healthy 3 kilo Trevally towards my waiting pliers.
Just minutes after releasing the Trevally, Keith and John roared up (so much for the careful stalking!) to see how I’d done, but the fish had disappeared with the arrival of the boat, so we loaded back up and meandered our way back to the Amanda Jane.
After a relaxed lunch, we waved so long to John as he headed back to Gilnavena with his long boat, as we prepared to head slowly out to deeper waters and hopefully larger fish. Working our way out past the reefs and banks of this marvellous lagoon, we gradually found our way into deeper clearer water.
Able now to set a pattern of lures, we were now hunting for game fish on 15 kg gear. A pattern of four lures was set, two surface lures and two tremblers. We’d not gone more than ten minutes, heading for the wide blue, when the first trembler was bounced. After a short scrap, the days first Spanish mackerel came to the boat, duly gaffed, iki-ed and iced down for our dinner that night.
This more or less set the pattern for the rest of the days activities. About ten to fifteen minutes for a hit, alternating it seemed between good sized 10-15 kilo wahoo and Spanish Mackerel. Once or twice we were bounced by Mahimahi, the typically small Solomon Islands versions of around the 8 to 10 pound mark.
This was a massive place. A five mile wide gap in the outer rim reef led into a deep inlet of around 450 metres depth or so, covering an area of a couple of hundred square kilometres, studded here and there with small reefs and sea-mounts. The steady current flow off the huge areas of flats all funnelled out through this natural pass, the entire area was alive with current lines and convergences.
In just the few hours we had in the area, we had one strike from a sailfish (it dropped the lure, as the lure was being retrieved to be reset, it was mugged by a passing Wahoo. Dirk, with the advantage of being in the flying bridge, was reporting seeing several other Sailfish on the surface or free jumping about the place.
The trolling was amazingly good, constant action , but it was not what I was keenest on...I wanted some more light tackle fun!
That evening, in talking with John, we arranged that John and I could go exploring the estuary. This meant that after setting off at around nine next morning, we’d only have six hours trolling. Would that be enough? Brother, was it!
Next morning, the warm tropical waters were washing our lures by 9, as we headed back to the hot-spot. Again we hit the fish as soon as we cleared the inner shallows, Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo and Trevally, as we played hop-scotch between the various reefs in this area the size of Lake Taupo. Working our way out through the wide gap in the rim reef, we soon were hitting into more oceanic fish, larger Wahoo of fifteen kilos, and Mahimahi up to ten kilos.
Again though, we were pulling Sailfish and Marlin lures, seeing Sailfish everywhere, but dammit, the wahoo were crashing our lures! We’d reset our pattern, get going for ten minutes or so before yet another Wahoo, Mahimahi or Mackerel would jump on a line. Frustrating!, you have no idea.
It is a sign of truly good fishing, when fish such as these become a pest and a nuisance. Adding to our angst was the fact that we were hitting on Sailfish, we hooked briefly onto three that day, but not a one of them stuck. All this was done in a gloriously flat calm sea. Glassy patches were scattered among areas riffled by light breezes or currents, that sun it was HOT! 2635
We arrived back at Gilnavena by the promised hour, and after a quick run-down of our plans, John and I headed off to have a look around my next adventure spot.... the Estuary.
Once inside the estuary, among the virgin rainforest, we could’ve been a million years in the past... here there is no sign of anything human. The dense stands of jungle hardwoods crowded down to the edge of the water, mangroves thrust their roots out into the turbid water, and here and there logs of tumbled forest giants lay down into the slowly flowing waters.
This muddy tidal water was real croc country, John assured me they were here in good numbers, and advised strongly against falling in right here! Yikes! So, mindful to balance very, VERY carefully, I began casting my Bibbed minnow around the various snags and overhangs. Man, what a time. With virtually every cast , I would get hit or hooked up on Mangrove Jacks or Trevally.
The Trevs were as boisterous as ever, but lacked the hard hitting and powerful bursts of the Mangrove Jacks. Smaller Jacks, about the 2 to 3 pound mark, were my first captures, of which I kept a couple for Karly (John said they were her Favourites) and of course for the photos. It turned out to not be such a good idea, as once I promised not to keep any more of these red terrors, they just got bigger and bigger!
As the sun set, I landed a string of very nice 5 pound fish, each fighting hard on the 20lb Fireline I was using, but the ones that really stick in the mind are the big red flashes of broad flanks as two of my lures were hit and unstoppably removed from my possession into some pretty nasty snag country.... there were big boys in there!
It was fascinating exploring and slowly idling up this tidal river, as here and there among the snags, other smaller streams joined into the main flow.... feeder creeks they’re called, and each one yielded good fish, and here I was barely scratching the surface of the potential of the area... oh, for time, more time!
Sadly though, the tropical dusk was on us, it gets very dark, very quick in the tropics, and we still had sand-banks and reefs to negotiate on the way back, so I reluctantly stowed away my gear and enjoyed the high speed ride back to Gilnavena.
Next morning we were to head back to Gizo and the comforts of Gizo Hotel, the swimming pool and mercy of mercies, Air Conditioning! Aahhh!!
Well, that was the big trip, to fish unchartered waters and see fishing spots so far away from the beaten track that many Islanders had not seen White Men for years.. truly an Adventure Holiday of a Lifetime. So, book yourselves a trip with Dirk and Cathy Sierling on the Amanda Jane, and head for the Manning Straits, an Anglers Paradise!