Red Sea Triggers

David Reverdito sails south from Port Sudan

This year was meant to be special for me on the fishing front, as it would mark my 50th lap around the sun. I was planning to fish Providence in the Seychelles in April, but at the eleventh hour the South African variant of Covid raised concerns worldwide and any travel to the Seychelles from South Africa was banned. I had pretty much resigned myself to no overseas travel for the rest of the year, but then I started seeing some posts on social media of South Africans who had managed to travel to Sudan to fish with African Waters. I made contact and was told they were getting groups of anglers into Sudan via Egypt. Reports of plenty of triggerfish on the flats and shots at GTs and other species intrigued me, so after looking at flight options and dates I managed to convince my good buddy Pete to sign up for the trip. The plan was to fish for two weeks south of Port Sudan with the prospects of fishing newer unexplored areas in what they called the Deep South. Pete and I flew to Cairo via Addis Ababa. During normal times access to Port Sudan is much easier via Dubai, but as always Covid has complicated life for everything. At the boarding gate we met the local agent who was going to accompany us to Port Sudan, as well as the three other members of the party: Igor from Russia and an Italian couple who would be fishing with jigging and popping tackle. The flight with Badr Airlines was fairly uneventful. On arrival in the dusty and beat up desert town of Port Sudan our agent Chico took our passports, and that was the last we would see of them for two weeks. Ramadan was in full swing so not much was happening around town. We collected our bags and then headed to the port, a 45-minute trip from the airport. Here we boarded our home for the next two weeks, a 25-metre twin-masted sailing vessel. It was set up as a dive boat with compressors, tanks and other diving equipment on board, as well as two ‘pangas’ that would ferry us to fishing spots. The heat and humidity in the port had us retreating to our air-conditioned rooms after dinner for some well-deserved rest, while the crew readied the boat in preparation for departure in the early hours of the morning. When exploring the boat I noticed maps on the walls showing the ‘Northern’, ‘South’, and ‘Deep South’ circuits with all the dive sites and anchorages marked — this was to be the itinerary for our two weeks, following a well-dived but little fished route. The next morning we were greeted by pods of dolphins playfully leaping in front of the boat as we sailed south. There had been a slight delay in leaving the port due to cargo ship traffic, so we were running a bit late for our first destination — a small island that we planned to walk around and fish. This would be the primary fishing mode for the trip, with some of the islands small enough to cover in 20 minutes, others bigger that would require an hour or so. All were similar in structure: very barren, with short beaches, coral everywhere, and a reef ledge that dropped off vertically to hundreds of metres. On some islands this drop-off was less than 30 metres from the beach. The water clarity was incredible. Whenever I could I’d pop on my goggles and have a quick swim and look down off the drop-offs, where GTs, dogtooth tuna, sharks and all sorts of reef species were visible to great depths. On the islands there were boobies and terns nesting, as well as all the usual plastic and rubber flotsam that seems to be everywhere these days — a sad indication of the throw-away culture we all live in. On some of the islands that had sandy patches we saw signs of turtles having dug nests. Apparently not considered a delicacy in these parts, we saw plenty around. We also had a group of more than a dozen whale sharks next to the boat one morning, an amazing sight. The same cannot be said about dugongs though; once plentiful they have been hunted almost to extinction. The fishing around these smaller islands involved walking side by side, as the flats were quite narrow, whereas some of the bigger islands had much more extensive flats that allowed us to spread out and explore in a more effective way. The absence of any real tidal flow also meant we were never in a rush to avoid getting stuck — this is a particular trait of the Red Sea. We were both lucky and unlucky to have light winds for our entire trip. This made it easy to cast, but the temperatures were quite high, especially during the evenings when the wind dropped altogether. Absence of tidal flow also meant some islands were plagued by very warm water on the flats. The guides told us that when the wind blows this is less of an issue. Peter and I shook off the rust by managing to catch a few triggerfish each, including a double hook-up, with my highlight being a trigger slam composed of a Yellowmargin, Titan and Picasso triggerfish all in short succession. After a very satisfying initial morning session we headed back to the boat for lunch, and later went to explore another much smaller reef section where the plan was to try to tease up some GTs. The teasing didn’t generate a huge amount of interest so we went to the tip of the reef, where there was more current, and started dropping flies down to the depths. Some might say that dredging with extremely heavy flies and fast sinking lines is on the far edge of what can be considered fly fishing, but it’s always fun and one never knows what’s going to attack the fly. In this case, on my first drop with the fly some 30 metres down, after a few rapid strips I felt a solid hit and then a pause — typical dogtooth tuna behaviour. Sure enough, after the pause all hell broke loose and the fish just started heading straight down, pulling line off my heavy drag setting as if it were in freespool. All I could do was point the rod straight down, tighten the drag and hope the fish would stop, which it eventually did. Then the tug-of-war commenced and I started gaining line. As is the case with dogtooth tuna, once their swim bladder overinflates they give up the fight and come up to the surface quite easily. When we started seeing colour we realised it was a big fish, but it wasn’t until it was at the surface and our guide struggled to pull it onto the boat that we got a true idea of its size — a doggie of at least 25 kilos, maybe more. Dogtooth tuna are also very tasty, so we decided to keep the fish for dinner and sashimi. And that was the end of the first day, showing just how much potential the fishing has in this area. The trip continued with more islands fished as we headed further and further south, with two islands in particular providing fantastic fishing. One morning we had just finished fishing Abu Issa and were heading back to the panga when we heard a different boat engine — it was a navy vessel on patrol and we were told to leave, as our permit did not include all the islands we were going to fish. This threw a spanner in the works and we had to head back north, but the paperwork was sorted out in time for us to head south again, albeit not as far as we had planned. One thing that struck me was the total absence of any other boats or people for most of the trip, considering the Red Sea is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. We eventually returned to Abu Issa, one of the larger islands with extensive white sand flats on the lee side. Here we found dozens and dozens of triggerfish, sitting in small nests that looked like pale blue holes in a sea of white sand. In a memorable morning I landed 8 triggerfish and lost countless more, and capped it off by spotting, casting to and landing a respectable GT. Another memorable session was on a smaller island called Tar Masirah, where in the late evening I found triggerfish tailing in the low light just inside the surf edge. I caught one after the other, only using their tails as guidance. We also found milkfish feeding, but after a long session with many casts we had no luck with the usual weed flies. After looking closely at the water it became clear they were feeding on tiny zooplankton — does anyone know of a size 96 hook? Other species caught included bohar snapper, peacock grouper, bluefin trevally and another five new species for me. We did see GTs on the flats but most of the time it was when we were fishing for triggerfish, and swapping rods is never easy. On one island I did have enough time as I saw the GT quite a distance away, managing to get a good cast to it. It turned and chased the fly almost to my rod tip, engulfing it half out of the water with its gills flared, and then turned and went straight into the coral — a short battle that it won. We didn’t spend too much time teasing on the reef edge although this was Igor’s preferred method. It yielded him some good fish including GTs and grouper, but again the big ones got away. On the last morning we teased along a submerged reef and a giant GT came up and ate my fly. Much to our surprise it ran straight back onto the reef instead of into the deep. We tried to give chase but an overenthusiastic twist of the throttle saw me almost fall over, putting slack in the line. Once I regained my composure it was in the coral and I lost the whole fly line! We drove around hoping to spot the running line moving but to no avail — a damn shame as it was a giant fish, easily over 30 kg, maybe more. Due to Covid protocols we had to return to port a day early to get tested, so I took the opportunity to dive the wreck of the Umbria, an Italian transport vessel that was scuppered just as World War 2 was declared. It’s an amazing dive-site, sitting on its side along a reef in 15 to 25 metres of water, the holds still full of old bombs, armoured cars, cement sacks and lots of bottles of wine — a great end to a great trip. Hopefully, when things settle down globally, access will be a bit more straightforward, as I am already planning a return trip, with extra diving too.

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