Note: disaster struck once arriving back in Oz. A computer crash somehow managed to delete the 300 or so fishing shots I had from Aitutaki. So, this post, which was going to be fish pic heavy is now filled with “lifestyle” pics instead. Sorry
We arrived on Aitutaki on a Sunday. Aitutaki is a pretty religious island and on Sundays the place more or less shuts down. Very few shops are open, the streets are quite and not much happens. It was a perfect way to ease into our almost two weeks on this idyllic island paradise. The next day it was time to get set up, the first thing we needed was transport. Vicky, the owner of Paparei bungalows where we were staying organised us scooters and we headed off to the local police station on Aitutak to get driving licences ($2.50NZ).
Getting our cook islands drivers licenses took a while. Like most of the locals on Aitutaki, the policeman was keen to have a chat. As he slowly filled out the forms, we chatted and chatted, about the island, Australia, the local court and everything in-between. As we chatted about crime on the island the local policeman warned us “Don’t worry too much about computers, passports or cameras, that sort of stuff, you can leave those outside and nobody will take them, but if you leave a nice t-shirt or pair of sneakers outside and unattended for a while it might go missing”. That “warning” and our hour long chat with the policeman sums up so much of what there is to love about the island, unlike many other international destinations where you have to worry about your money, passport, electronics, that simply isn’t a worry on Aitutaki. The locals are also genuinely warm, welcoming and friendly, everyone we met on the island was lovely and so often you’d end up chatting to the barman or service station attendant for half an hour, time quickly ceased to matter much once we settled in. Island time as the locals call it. 9 oclock means sometime after 9, maybe 10, just stop worrying and enjoy yourself.
We quickly settled into a routine. In the mornings I’d get up early and fish (it wasn’t a fishing holiday, so I had to fit my fishing into the least obtrusive times possible), then I’d meet the girls for coffee at 830-9 oclock and we spend the day kayaking, snorkelling, paddle boarding, scootering around the island or simply hanging out on the beach reading and swimming when the mood took us. As the holiday progressed, the ritual of “afternoon” cocktails seemed to creep in earlier and earlier. By the end of our time on the island, “afternoon” cocktails were quite often consumed in the mornings. The afternoons often provided a chance to “relax”, most were spent reading (I knocked off 7 books, running out with a few days to go which was a decent effort) and napping in the hammocks on the beach in front of our villa. Evenings were spent having a few quite beers and playing cards. Perfection.
On the fishing front, this is a fishing blog after all, for the first week I was so keenly focussed on catching a bonefish that I forgot all other fish existed. Bonefish, bonefish, bonefish, bonefish. I was consumed with a one eyed obsession that by the end of the first week had ceased to be healthy as the video below attests. The bonefish got to me. As, Sharka, my guide, would later say “Our bonefish have been to school”. I could see the damned things, I just couldn’t catch one for the life of me. Each morning I’d arrive on a flat where big big bonefish would tail on first light and for the hour or so afterwards. I’d stalk, present flies, spook fish or have my fly rejectet at the last second. I’d then move to another flat and wade or just stand on the bonefish highways (deeper channels across the flats the bonefish used to move around) and would have the same thing happen. Over and over and over and over and over. It was at this point, with me half mad, that mum and dad arrived on the island. In my quest for my bonefish me and dad went guiding with E2s way. Our guides, Sharka and Vincent were awesome. Two of the nicest guys you could possibly hope to meet. For the day we chased bonefish, both of them putting in a herculean effort to try and get me my bonefish. I’ve never seen two guys work so hard. The fact we failed had nothing to do with them, they were exemplary, doing everything in their power to get me a fish. But fishing is fishing and sometimes the fish just wont play ball and our day of guiding ended a few hours after it was meant to without my bonefish. Dad did catch a nice 15kg GT though, so at least we caught something!
In the end, my quest for bonefish wasn’t to be. I didn’t have the cash for another day of guiding and by the end of the 12 days, I’d only managed to hook four, two of which I dropped and two that found some coral and busted me off. One of those bust offs was very close to the fishing highlight of the trip for me. It was on one of my early morning sessions chasing those big tailing fish. Chatting to the other anglers on the island, those fish were about as hard as it got. A group of five had been fishing it obsessively every morning and had failed to hook a single fish. Despite their success during the day with the guides, it was the size and quality of the fish on the flat that kept them slogging it out each morning before they were picked up for a day on the flats. As one said, “We’ve nicknamed it depression bay, the bones are BIG lots of 12-14lb fish, but good luck trying to catch them”. Anyway, about an hour after sunrise, as the tailing slowed down, I spotted a massive tail. I slowly waded my way closer and closer to the fish over a period of about 15 minutes. As I got within casting distance the fish disappeared “bugger!”. As I stood waiting, hoping it would surface again, the fish appeared 15 or so feet to the right of me. In full view, cruising past me. It was by far the biggest bone I saw on the trip, almost resembling a shark rather than a bonefish. As I panicked trying to get ready to present a fly it stopped put its head down and once again its tail came up out of the water, this time though the whole fish was in view, an awesome sight in and of itself. I used that opportunity to present my small crab pattern just ahead of it. Seconds later its head came up out of the sand, it spotted my fly and with a lazy flick of its tail sauntered over and ate it. I strip-struck and it bolted. The power and speed were something to behold, within seconds I was down into the backing, not much later 100 meters down, I stopped it, it ran again, 150 meters and then as quickly as it had began it was over, the line went limp. Failure, but one of my most memorable failures on fly to date. The experience was awesome even if it didn’t end exactly how I would have liked it to. Of the others I failed to land, the runs were fun, I made mistakes (the most disappointing of those when a fish I’d pretty much beaten ran straight towards me, I was to slow to dump the line in the water (a last ditch tactic anyway) to keep some pressure on the fish and it won its freedom). Much like my great, but fish-less guiding experience with Sharka and Vincent, it wasn’t to be, I had to come to grips with that and enjoy myself anyway…
It was through coming to grips with the fact that I may not catch a bonefish on the trip and that that was OK, that I finally started having a ball fishing on Aitutaki. My one eyed obsession of the first week needed to go. I needed to catch some damned fish. One afternoon as the girls napped, I headed straight out from the bungalow to cast some flies at the trevally that menaced the area, as well as to throw a few casts at some of the coral bommies. A few casts in, bang, fish. A little snapper, then another and another and another. Trevally, both mini GTs and bluespots, goatfish, flounder and triggerfish quickly followed. In my increasingly regular non bonefish sessions that followed that fun afternoon session I quickly amassed about a dozen or so species. I also developed a deep affection for trigger fish, they are such charismatic fish and a great sight-fishing target. Those “silly” sessions were an absolute blast, sight-fishing mainly, but always with the option to throw a few blind casts at some coral with a good chance of a fish. Released from the bonefish obsession I was able to just have fun, and boy did I have fun. That attitude then leaked over to the subsequent bonefish sessions, which had become almost sombre affairs at the end of the first week and those became more “successful”. Even though I still wasn’t catching bonefish, I was at least now having an absolute ball doing not catching bonefish, enjoying watching them, enjoying the wonderful scenery, getting in touch with the rhythm of the flats. Released from the self inflicted pressure that I “needed” to catch a bonefish, I was able to more fully enjoy the whole experience.
It was on these silly sessions that I managed my other big highlight from the trip and once again, it wasn’t catching a fish, but being destroyed by one. In all my wading around, I’d got a good feel for the flats, the bait, where it congregated on the tides etc. I’d also seen a number of big GTs in the 15-25kg size range. I had even hooked one (estimated 15kgs) on a size 1 bonefish fly of all things. So on one of my silly sessions, I decided to have a real shot at catching one of these big GTs. I set myself up. 40lb leader, a 6/0 deciever fly with big schallpen feathers. I waded out to a little corner of a flat where I knew big schools of baitfish congregated as the ride ran out, big GTs coming past regularly to harass them. I waited patiently for my opportunity. After an hour I got my chance. A bruising GT, far bigger than dads 15kg model we had got guiding came in and started smashing up the bait. I was in the perfect position. As it flew towards me I dropped my fly a few meters ahead of the fish, one little twitch was all I managed before the fish smashed it, whitewater erupting as it engulfed the fly. Adrenaline was already pumping through my body just watching this beast in action, once it hit the fly my adrenaline levels were turned up to 11. The fish flew across the flat, pushing a massive bow wave, tail throwing off white water. The drag was cranked down, but it wasn’t stopping it. The power was astounding. Eventually, after a few minutes of what felt like a cage fight, the fish found a bommie about 200 meters away and the fight was over. But MY GOD it was exciting while it lasted! Along with being dusted by the two beasts I also got dusted by a few more smaller but decent GTs. In the end the biggest GT I actually managed to land was “tiny” in comparison, still in the mini GT class really, just a meagre 45cms. At that size they still pull hard and are still a load of fun though! After my defeats against big GTs, catching a big GT on fly has definitely moved way up the “to do” list.
Overall, the trip was a roaring success. I failed dismally in achieving the fishing goal I’d set out with, catching a bonefish. I failed to land a good GT. However, I had an absolute ball. It wasn’t just the fishing, which was really only a small part of each days activities. It was everything, Aitutaki is a truly special place. Beautiful, warm and welcoming. It was pretty much as close as you get to the perfect relaxing tropical island getaway. As I reminisced about my time on the island with Sharka and Vincent (who were picking up a new group of aspiring bonefishermen) at the airport just before we left, about the fishing and the island in general, I realised I’ll definitely be back. If I was to do anything differently next time, I’d have more money and spend more time with Sharka and Vincent, next time…