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Angling Trust chief executive, Mark Lloyd brings you this week’s blog.

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NOW THIS IS THE QUALITY OF FISHING WE WANT!

LAST week I was away on holiday after I got the opportunity to join a party of fishermen on the little coral atoll of Alphonse in the Indian Ocean. 

Martin Salter, our campaigns chief, put a group together on a package offered by Aardvark Mcleod.  I can’t usually afford to go on trips like this, so I had to take this chance, whatever the consequences for my overdraft.

I’m so glad that I did; the fishing was fantastic, the location unique and the food and accommodation were superb.  I came back well-rested and with some memories that will last for a very long time.

Mark celebrated the holiday with a nice looking blue fin

Alphonse is a small island in one corner of a giant atoll; a ring of coral that provides fantastic nursery habitat and food for a wide range of fish.

There’s no commercial fishing there and all the angling is fly-only and catch and release.  This means buying some pretty serious kit which can handle salt water and the sheer pulling power of marine species.

Even fish 6 inches long can strip line off the reel and take 5 minutes to land.  If you hook some of the bigger ones, such as blue fin and giant trevally, you don’t even lift the rod, but just use the reel as a winch against their raw power.

I’d done a little bit of saltwater fly fishing in Florida and South Africa in the past, but conditions hadn’t been great.

In Alphonse I saw what a really healthy marine ecosystem could produce and when the sun came out it was possible to see hundreds, and at times thousands of fish within casting range.

I’d never caught a bonefish, but in Alphonse I caught 30 in a morning session and could have caught more if I hadn’t stopped fishing because I had had my fill of their thrilling 100 yard runs.  I caught two beautiful blue fin trevally in double figures and boha snapper, groupers and emperor fish galore.

Of course, what I really wanted to catch was a giant trevally or a permit. Landing one of these fish is a real challenge for the fly angler.  GTs are ready takers if you can find them, and tend to patrol the reef alongside rays or sharks, but they are not easy to find and if you do hook one there is not much you can do to control them for several minutes.

I only hooked one, which took a popper I was stripping back across a tidal current flowing out of the lagoon.  It took at such speed that if I’d blinked I would have missed it, but I was looking straight at it and the image is burned onto my retina.

Unfortunately, although it was headed towards a couple of acres of featureless sandy bottom where I could play it harmlessly, there was just one coral head near where it took, and it headed straight for it (ignoring the maximum drag of my reel).  Seconds later everything went sickeningly slack and I filled the air with swear words – it had cut my fly line in half on the coral.

I also had a near miss with a permit.  We could see a shoal of about 30 of them feeding on one of the finger flats– ribbons of coral covered with turtle grass that stretch for hundreds of yards across the lagoon.  Their orange tails were all sticking out of the water as they rummaged around for crabs and small fish in the shallow water.

My cast didn’t spook the shoal and my crab pattern drifted with the current to within inches of the middle of the shoal and would surely have been taken if a bonefish hadn’t pounced on it, taking it off on one of those spectacular runs.

I also spent hours trying to catch trigger fish, which are beautiful, multi-coloured specimens that feed by biting into the coral and eating crabs and fish hiding in crevices.  This means that they have a vicious set of teeth and it’s very difficult to set the hook.

Triggers take the fly by pinning it to the ground, so you have to strip the line in short, sharp jerks to try and set the hook.  If it doesn’t work, the fly then lands 6 inches away and it goes after it again.  It can make up to 10 attempts before giving up and it’s a frustrating business.

Even when they are hooked, they can then break the hook or cut the line with their teeth and even if they don’t manage that they will dive into holes in the coral and stick a big spike on their dorsal fin up so that they can’t be pulled out.

I was fishing with one guy who had this happen and our guide dived 10 feet down and managed to pull the fish out by its tail.  I hooked five triggers and must have cast at about twenty five, and landed none.  Of course, Martin caught a trigger on his first attempt, much to everyone else’s annoyance and amazement.

So, there were a lot of near misses for me, but a lot of hits as well and I loved every minute of my time there.  To see such a pristine fishery being managed carefully and sensibly to protect the fish stocks and other wildlife was a reminder of everything we have lost in our marine environment in this country.

The North Sea used to have just as many fish as these exotic coral waters, but over the centuries we waged war on the fish stocks to destroy a vital source of food and a brilliant recreational fishery.  People fly from all over the world and spend a lot of money to fish at Alphonse mainly because it is one of the few remaining fisheries that is in good condition.

The Angling Trust will do everything we can to try and restore the fisheries around our shores to good health by putting pressure on MPs and MEPs to legislate to protect our fish from commercial exploitation and allow them to recover so that our recreational fishing might one day attract visiting anglers from around the world.

 

All this work depends on members and donors to make it happen.  If you’re not a member, now’s the time to back us so that we can protect and improve your fishing. It only takes 5 minutes at www.anglingtrust.net or by phoning 0844 7700616 during office hours (press 1 for membership).

THE ANGLING TRUST BLOG RETURNS NEXT SATURDAY 23rd FEBRUARY

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