I did hint a while back that I had a very special trip coming up. Well, it was three very excited anglers who checked in their luggage at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 as we headed first for Delhi, then Calcutta and onwards to Port Blair on the far edge of the Bay of Bengal. Destination, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A couple of years ago I was inspired by Stephen Palmer and his mates, who came along to one of my Caer Beris coaching weekends. They told me of a fish called a GT, or a giant trevally.
GT’s, they promised me, were the biggest thrill in angling, bar none. ‘Forget mahseer,’ they said, ‘Forget Nile perch, these fish smash rods and smoke reels. You will not believe how hard they pull.’
Well, it had to be looked into, didn’t it? And the more I read and the more people I spoke to, it seemed they were not exaggerating. GT’s were the real deal. So we found somewhere that we could just about afford, acquired all the gear, and booked a trip. We were heading for paradise. Port Bair, or as Richard Foster (Fosters of Birmingham) described it, ‘A right s**thole!’ And I must agree, Port Blair is not the most exotic place I’ve ever stayed, nor were our digs exactly 5 star, but they were adequate. We were there for the fishing, not the high life.
Day one saw us out in the Andaman Sea, blue water, blue sky but quite hazy. Indeed we were disappointed, ‘Is it always this hazy?’ we moaned, never thinking that this would be the best day’s weather we would see in a long time. The sea was relatively calm and we were put through our paces. Easy marks for beginners. We had to learn to fish poppers, stick baits and speed jigging. In between times we did a bit of trolling, and we indeed caught a few fish including dogtooth tuna and my first GT. It might only have been 10 kilos but by heck did it pull. Forget barbel, forget carp. Size for size this would blow them all away. Tszzzzzzzzzzzzz…….. went the reel.
With the beginners lesson over we headed into day 2 brimming with confidence. Today we were going way out to see. Right out to where the water is impossibly blue and deep. We would deep jig and we would still surface fish but if we could catch a suitable bait fish then someone would get a chance to bait fish for a monster. ‘Are you really sure you want to do this?’ Asked Alban. ‘You can’t stop when you start and it might hurt. The fight could last 2 hours, or more, maybe…’
James volunteered. He was strapped into a harness so he could play it using his back and legs rather than his arms. There was no chair involved, you simply leaned back, bent your knees and hung on. The reel drag was set at something ridiculous like 30-odd kg. Imagine having to pull that for 2 hours.
It took 2 hours to catch a suitable livebait – all 5lb of it. Within 20 minutes a marlin slashed at it on the surface and then, frustratingly, it left the bait. The marks on both flanks were clear to see. Alas, nothing else happened. We might have connected with a shark, a billfish, dogtooth or even a huge GT, but it wasn’t to be. The wind had picked up quite a bit and we were being tossed around in a heavy swell. Even the sight of a manta ray gliding by our boat wasn’t enough to take our mind off the conditions. Eventually we headedback to calmer waters.
By the end of day two we were getting the hang of things and really fancying our chances on day three. We’d got the hang of hurling giant lures and making them pop on the surface. By pop I mean make a loud chugging noise and hurl up a column of spray. We were beginning to get the knack of speed jigging. We were rapidly gaining competence and confidence with every fish we caught.
The routine was to rise at dawn each day. Stu was keen to film the sunrises and sunsets but we woke to the sound of thunder the next morning. The room lit up in flashes as lightning crashed. We all raced to the window – not a pretty sight in skiddies – to see it was raining. Not just raining but proper RAINING. A typically tropical downpour, the like of which you witness in the monsoon. The sky was leaden and sheet lightning flashed every few seconds, interspersed with great bolts of lightning that could easily take a boat out, especially one with a number of carbon rods pointing skywards.
No way was the harbourmaster going to let us out in that.
Our French friends on the other boat were not happy. They were experienced anglers, veterans of around 17 GT trips all round the world and they had never previously lost a single day at sea. This was a first for them, too. The guides explained that in 6 years fishing out of Port Blair they had never once lost a day’s fishing at this time of year. A long boring day stretched out ahead of us.
Day four dawned no better. In fact a strng wind had arisen, but what right had we to complain when just a little way round the Asiatic rim thousands of folk were dying in the Japanese tsunami. Indian TV doesn’t just show the images, it adds dramatic music and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a blockbuster film rather than a natural tragedy.
The week was now half over for us and we’d barely begun. Today we were due to relocate to Havelock Island for two nights. Havelock has some of the finest beaches in the whole of Asia, arguably the world. We’d booked into the Wild Orchid hotel on Beach 5. Stu was dead keen to film a sunset from the famous Beach 7. Check out some of the images in Google and see why.
But the rain continued, less than before, but rain is a pain on a boat with no shelter. We got wet. And who in their right mind packs waterproofs when they go to Paradise?
Our time in Havelock was eventful. I’m still not sure what I think of it. Certainly its the playground of the diving crowd who are friendly enough, even though they don’t like the idea of sport fishing, which is odd because half the menu items in the restaurants feature fresh fish. Listen up guys, Nemo’s a cartoon character and fish don’t grow on trees. That lobster you’re eating isn’t a vegetable.
What I can’t understand is why the authorities put up with packs of feral dogs that roam the beaches. When the last tsunami hit in 2004(?) many domestic dogs were abandoned. These are now second and third generation animals that have reverted to their wild instincts. Hotels tell you not to approach them, carry a stick if you go near the beach at night and so on. Why? At best they’re a pest, at worst they’re dangerous and numerous visiters have been bitten.
But the divers like them…
It’s hard to describe what constitutes the average diver in Havelock. There’s the young and the beautiful from various countries who I’m guessing are funded by rich parents. Yet there’s a hippy drop-out feel to the place.
Example: Young girl on next table to us explaining she only wears co-ordinated brands, ‘If I’m wearing a Nike top then it simply has to be matching Nike bottoms.’
Or: ‘I have to return home next week as my visa runs out. I only came for a week (a visa runs 6 months) and mummy’s getting annoyed.’
Or even: ‘I stayed on my friend’s yacht once for 4 days. They’re, like, rich. I mean, really rich. The bathroom taps were gold and actually had the name of the boat on them…’
But hey, at least we paid for our own lobsters with cash we’d actually earned. We stayed in what amounts to posh wooden huts with palm fronded roofs, a hamock on the veranda situated just 50 yards from Beach 5. It did have a few things going for it, especially the restaurant which served superb food for not a lot of dosh.
The weather showed precious little signs of improving. On our one full day based on the island it rained so hard and so persistently that we actually gave up fishing after 5 hours. Even in the tropics you get cold if you’re wet through. At one point we dived into the sea, fully clothed, just to warm up, but once you’ve done that you’re finished. The air temperature is going to chill your bones. But we added close encounters with dolphins and turtles to our list of amazing sights.
The number of species we’d caught was racking up nicely, even if the act of presenting a lure to them was downright tricky to say the very least. We’d had a fair few GT’s apiece plus Spanish mackerel, dogtooth tuna, bonito, grouper, coral trout, snapper and some I can’t even recall the names of. It was seriously good fishing that would have gone up about 15 notches if the wind had eased off a bit so we could control the drifts better.
For a brief period on the final morning we experienced calm conditions and poppered out a couple of cracking GTs in no time at all. Then a squall hit us with a vengeance, after which the wind battered us for the rest of the day. I nailed a whacking great barracuda – all 45lb of it and just to round of the trip I took a superb GT on a trolled Rapala Magnum as we headed for port for the last time.
Our French colleagues had gone home a day early. It appears they fell out with the guides initially and then, as their frustrations grew, with each other. To add to their woes one guy lost a top of the range rod overboard complete with a Daiwa Dogfight reel. The reel alone has an RRP of £999. Ouch! (or should I say merde).
To be fair they caught bigger fish and nearly as many, on their first day, as we did all week. We went home smiling, buzzing about the experience we’d had, about the fish we caught and how we couldn’t wait to get back and do it all again. We know we have unfinished business in the Andaman Sea and we’ll do our damndest to save up and have another crack next year. Maybe we just managed our expectations better.
If you’d like to learn more about fishing for GTs in the Andamans check out gamefishingindia.com