Author: Craig Thomassen (page 1 of 4)

Fifty shades of blue

The Maldives is in so many ways an unusual and unique country. It consists of 1192 islands scattered over an area of 90 000 square kilometres. Despite this wide-ranging area, the total land surface of the country covers just less than 300 square kilometres. It is the lowest-lying country on earth, with an average height above sea level of just 1.5m and the country’s highest point is a mere 2.5m above sea level. The population of Maldives is less than 400 000 people making it the least populated country in Asia. The nearest landmass to the Archipelago is Sri Lanka, about 750kms away.

We were lucky enough to be invited to stay at the spectacular Como Maalifushi resort, on Thaa atoll, one of the southern atolls of the Maldives. The final leg of our journey involved a scenic one hour flight by sea plane from the main Island of Male’, which took us over a deep blue sea, speckled with numerous beautiful and remote coral atolls. It was an amazing experience taking off and landing on the water.

Upon our arrival at the resort, it was immediately apparent that this place was something special. We were welcomed at the jetty by the resort management, bearing chopped open coconuts with straws in to refresh us with ice-cold coconut water. The water villas, those iconic Maldivian structures, which are built on stilts above the calm clear waters of the ocean, turned out to be just as spectacular as they look in promotional pictures. With air-conditioning, a well-stocked minibar, a private infinity pool and steps down to the water’s edge, each villa is its own private piece of paradise.

Meals at Como Maalifushi are exceptional, with specialist chefs preparing amazing dishes of various cuisines. Some of the highlights were sushi, prepared by a Japanese chef at the Japanese restaurant on stilts above the water, with sharks and fish swimming around below us, which we could admire through a big square cut out in the floor. The seafood evening, with grilled lobster and langoustines, was also amazing, but my favourite was the Thai evening, where I got to eat arguably the tastiest food of my life.

The resort offers a variety of activities, from scuba diving and snorkelling to fishing, paddling kayaks and sailing Hobie cats. The water is as clear as water can get, making any snorkelling or diving an absolutely breathtaking experience, especially as there is such an abundance of tropical ocean life such as turtles, rays, fish and corals to be enjoyed, even by beginners in the shallows. One of the underwater highlights was spending 40 minutes snorkelling up close and personal with two whale sharks at night in the lights of a fishing boat. It was like watching the most incredible underwater ballet, performed by these giant fish.

Fishing involved being poled across the flats by a guide on a skiff, targeting flats specialist species such as trevallies and triggerfish. We also cast lures from the deep towards the reef edges for GT’s, barracuda and snappers. I was very fortunate to get a day fishing on the resort’s 68ft Hatteras Sport Fisher, a luxury motorised yacht with every mod con that you can imagine. This produced a stunning sailfish, which I was able to hold in the water for a few minutes, before letting it slip away to continue with its life in the blue.

All too soon we found ourselves embarking on the sea plane again for our return trip, with cameras full of amazing pictures and minds filled with incredible memories. Como Maalifushi is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. With friendly, attentive staff, spectacular scenery and a luxury resort, where nothing is left to chance, it is definitely up there in my top three places to visit.

Mixing It Up

When it comes to catching big tigerfish, one of the most important considerations is to fish in remote areas that don’t get a huge amount of fishing pressure.

The Barotse floodplains area on the upper Zambezi is just such a place.

I was fortunate enough to visit Matoya lodge in this area in September. Getting to this isolated area involved a flight from Johannesburg to Lusaka on SA Airlink, then a charter flight from Lusaka to Lukulu with Staravia.

The first thing I noticed when I saw the river, was how clean the water was. I have fished the upper Zambezi many times during winter, but this was the latest I had ever visited the area.

The water was about as low as it would go for the season, and very clean indeed by Zambezi standards.

The clean water was pretty to look at, but it looked like it could make lure fishing difficult. Tigers are fish that are seldom leader shy, but in clean water conditions, they can see the trace setup much more clearly and are more likely to be put off the bite.

This thought was confirmed over the next few days fishing, as I tried all my lures and tricks in order to get a decent tiger fish on the line. There were certainly big fish around. I lost two fish in the 15 to 20lb class in the first two days. One took my line around a submerged tree and managed to shake the hook during the resulting chaos.

The other took to the air, well tried to, but was just too heavy to lift its whole body clear of the water. It did enough to get its front half out of the water, then shook its big, armoured head and spat the lure back at me.

I decided to start drifting with a live bait out while I cast lures. Livebait were still a decent bet to get bites from those big, suspicious fish, while lures were going mostly untouched, with thousands of casts resulting in only a handful of hits.

We took some decent sized bottlenoses from the lodge livebait cage and took them with his on our next outing. These were rigged with a single 4/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook, on a wire trace, through the nose and allowed to drift weightless in the current as we floated down the river and cast lures at good looking structure.

It was interesting to see how many more bites the live bait generated. I guess there is nothing artificial that can completely mimic the scent and movement of a live fish. The tigers hit the baits at speed and ran hard with them. After giving the fish a few seconds to eat, I would turn the handle of the Penn Baitrunner reel and click it into gear. The resulting tension was enough to set the sharp hooks, with no need to strike.

Fishing this way I managed to land some very decent trophy tigers, with the best two being 17.5lbs and 18.5lbs.

These are spectacular fish and I was glad that I had varied up my techniques, in order to experience the privilege of handling giants like that at the boat. Had I just stuck to spinning on this trip I would have had a lot less trophy fish action.

Sometimes it pays to mix it up a bit, especially when conditions are challenging.

Eden Bleu

The Seychelles has become the go to place for fishermen who want to experience wild, untouched fishing in a pristine environment. The island nation consists of a hundred and fifteen islands, scattered over a large area of the Indian ocean. The capital city, Victoria, is on the main island of Mahe’, as is the country’s international airport.

Just off Mahe’ is a fifty-six-hectare man-made island and marina with accommodation in the form of penthouses, townhouses and apartments. Also on Eden island is the magnificent four-star Eden Bleu hotel. The hotel rooms either have garden views or views over the island’s beautiful marina.

The Eden Bleu hotel is the perfect jumping off point for trips to the Seychelles outer islands, when one needs to overnight on Mahe’ prior to or after a visit to one of the remote destinations. Day fishing trips can be undertaken from Eden Bleu, where one can be taken out to the drop off of Mahe’s plateau. This involves a boat ride of around thirty-five miles each way.

Fishing some of the outer coral atolls is spectacular and is generally reserved for fly fishing. Most of this is done on the flats around the islands and species such as bonefish, permit, triggerfish, milkfish, GTs and many others can be caught. Most of the fishing is sight fishing and is some of the most exciting fishing experiences that one could possibly experience are to be had. 

The fishing around the drop off is excellent. This normally takes the form of trolling, jigging or popping with strong gamefishing tackle. Big gamefish such as marlin and sailfish, yellowfin and dogtooth tuna, dorado, wahoo and giant trevally are commonly caught in this remote and isolated area.

The drop off, as the name implies, is a massive underwater wall, coming up from the depths of the ocean, to around 30m from the surface. There is excellent fish holding structure along the drop off and plenty of current upwelling to bring nutrients up from the depths, which results in plenty of filter feeding baitfish being present in the area.

Charters out of Mahe’ offer either a day trip, or one can undertake to spend a night on board a bigger vessel out on the dropoff. Apart from the excellent fishing, the area also has world class scuba diving and snorkeling, which can be arranged with charter operators.

Eden Bleu hotel is luxurious and comfortable, with free WiFi, flat screen TV’s, spacious rooms and spectacular views. Meals can be taken in the hotel’s Marlin Bleu restaurant, which offers meals all day. Meals are typically prepared from fresh produce sourced on and around the island. Bountiful seafood is one of the hallmarks of this establishment and the delicate flavours of Seychelles cuisine can be explored here.

Eden Bleu is very conveniently located, only a five minute drive from the international airport and 5 kilometres from the capital, Victoria. It has conference facilities and can be used as a wedding venue for those wishing to tie the knot in paradise.

Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island

Luxury in Paradise

Every once in a while we do a fishing trip where we stay somewhere so ridiculously luxurious, that I feel guilty walking into my room all salty and sweaty after a day’s fishing. The upside, of course, is that I get a super comfortable night’s rest and wake up refreshed and strong.

One of these destinations is the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island. In keeping with the Four Seasons standards, the hotel is a luxurious five star resort. It is situated on the beautiful Desroches private island, with 14 kilometres of exclusive, white coral sand beaches and surrounded by the stunning blue Indian Ocean.

Transport around the island is on bicycles and golf carts, which one can use to access remote and isolated beaches, the giant tortoise sanctuary and numerous other points of interest. Rooms are privately appointed, and fitted out with king sized beds, huge bathrooms, private balconies and a mini bar.

Exploring the fishing around the island on foot, or by bicycle is a real Robinson Crusoe experience, with walks down stunning white beaches. Fish that can be caught in the shallow, clear water, include a variety of trevally species, bonefish, threadfin and a whole lot of tropical reef associated species.

Offshore fishing on the sport fishing boats is exceptional, as the atoll is surrounded by deep water. Species such as sailfish, yellowfin and dogtooth tuna, wahoo, giant trevally and dorado are common in the waters around the island. Boats are fully equipped with trolling equipment and also have some spinning gear on board.

A day trip to the nearby St Joseph’s atoll is a must for fly fishermen. Walking the flats on St Joe’s is a marine wilderness experience. Between casting the fly at species such as bonefish, triggerfish and permit, one can enjoy sights of turtles, rays and sharks literally swimming around your feet.

Snorkelling and scuba diving on the reefs around Desroches is world class. The only visitor to these reefs are guests of the hotel, so coral is pristine and untouched and the fish are undisturbed. With warm water one can spend hours exploring the reefs and swimming with all manner of beautiful sea creatures.

A climb up the lighthouse for an elevated view of the island and its surrounds is well worth while. In fact I would recommend taking a few beverages up there to enjoy a sunset in breathtaking surroundings.

Meals at the resort are a gastronomic experience unparalleled in my experience. With a huge variety offering anything from cheeseburgers and Pizza, to the most decadent and delicious seafood treats one can imagine or something as exotic as veal and truffles.

A trip to Desroches is definitely one that you would want to do with your significant other. The resort and its facilities are too luxurious and romantic to be wasted on a single fisherman. I know that if I go there again I will definitely be taking my wife with me.

Anantara Bazaruto

Relaxing – Island Style

Bazaruto Island, off the coast of Vilanculos in Mozambique, is the flagship island of the Bazaruto archipelago. Situated within a national park, the waters around Bazaruto are a protected marine reserve. This area is home to one of our rarest sea mammals, the gentle, seagrass eating dugong.

Anantara Bazaruto resort lies on the western shores of the island, pretty much in the middle of its 35 km length. The resort has 44 luxury chalets, a world class spa and a number of lounges, bars and dining areas.

Access to the island is either by boat from the mainland or by flying in on a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft to the island’s private airstrip.

Arriving at the lodge and being greeted by smiling staff with trays of colourful cocktails gets you into island mode very quickly and you can feel the stresses of daily life leaving your body.

Anantara offers a variety of fishing experiences. Shore fishing at a number of prospective areas can be arranged, these are good for fly fishing, lure fishing and casting natural baits. Species caught from the shore of Bazaruto include King mackerel, springer, sharks and a number of trevally species.

Offshore fishing from one of the lodge’s boats is generally very good. Many anglers visit the lodge purely to fish for billfish in these untamed waters. Sailfish are plentiful in the area and during the summer months black, blue and striped marlin can be caught in the area. Other big game fish species commonly caught off Bazaruto include wahoo, yellowfin tuna and dorado.

Jigging and popping or flyfishing offshore is also very productive. There is a huge variety of species of predators in the protected waters around the island. Some of the resident reef species include jobfish, snappers, groupers and emperors. Queenfish and giant trevally are common in the area and are often caught by anglers using artificial lures and fly. 

Areas such as the gap between Bazaruto and Benguerra islands is well known for its catches of game fish. King mackerel, giant trevally, yellowspot trevally and queenfish can be caught here. Just outside of the gap is two-mile reef. This is an excellent snorkeling area, with plenty of shallow reefs to explore. Close to this is a dropoff where one can target anything from bludger kingfish to tuna.

The north point of Bazaruto is well known as an area which has many large sharks. From massive hammerheads to some enormous bull sharks, this area is rich in these toothy predators. Anybody wanting to do battle with a huge shark would have to look hard to find a more productive area for these powerful fish.

Anantara’s chalets are very comfortable, with many of them having their own private swimming pools. There is room service on offer and staff are attentive and efficient. Meals are either served in one of the dining rooms or out in the open on the deck on still evenings. The lodge’s chef prepares a variety of seafoods and other delicacies, which are all the more delicious when eaten with an amazing view over the peaceful Indian ocean.

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