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After more than a decade of guiding for up to 320 days a year, I still get out of bed before my alarm clock goes off, ready to go over the day’s plans as caffeine and anticipation pump through my system.
The guide life doesn’t get old. I’ll never stop loving the thrill of giving clients the opportunity to experience something they never imagined, like their first encounter with a giant trevally. It’s about seeing them get amped to get on the water, take that first shot, hear the line peeling off the reel and bring the beast to hand. Usually, that’s enough for me.
But guides need their own mind-blowing fishing experiences, as well. There’s a certain unmistakable fear, adrenaline, failure and victory that can only be felt by the person behind the cast, set, hook, and fight. And when guides get that chance, you can bet it’s going to be wild.
Wild is what I got when I recently returned to Cosmo in the Seychelles with fly rod in hand for the first time since 2006. I had with me close friends and fellow guides, including Keith, who helped turn me into a guide, and Alex, who worked his way from bartender to Jedi guide and all-around solid dude.
We planned to descend on Cosmo by fishing “Barely Legal” on the dropping tide, then push the flats on the western side of the south channel, then walk the “Wizard,” finally seeking out milkies at dusk. We hit the flats a bit overly confident…maybe even arrogant. And when that happens, you can almost guarantee a beat-down of epic proportions. Especially when giant trevally, AKA Gangsters of the Flats are involved.
The perfect scenario with these fish pans out like this: you’re walking the sand flats and see a couple GTs prowling for bonefish. Your heart races as you put a fly ten feet in front of the pair and start stripping as fast as your body will allow. The GTs light up and shoot at the fly at lightening speed. One of them puts his whole head out of the water and looks you square in the eye before devouring the fly. You step back for a strip strike. The line whines. The rod buckles to the max. You stay strong and bring the beast to hand.
At least, that’s the scenario that happens when the stars align. Our stars didn’t get the memo and we got our asses handed to us. We even got steamrolled by all the other species, including triggerfish, milkfish and permit. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and we managed to wrangle a game-changer.
Suddenly, the stars got stoked. I remember how it went down, in the morning as we looked out on the water. I saw it first — a yellowfin came clear out of the water and smashed a flying fish more than three feet in the air. I knew at that moment that things were about to get real. “Holy f@#ing hell! Check that out in the distance,” I said. “Something is getting killed out there!” Keith yelled, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Everybody hold on! Jako, get the rods ready. We’re going!”
Soon, we realized it wasn’t just the one bruiser; the ocean was boiling with aggressive yellowfin as far as the eye could see. The biggest rod we had was a 12 weight…too small for these giants. “S#*t!” I yelled as I assembled the rods. We definitely brought a knife to a gunfight. “Dude, do you see what is going on ahead of us?” I asked Keith, “Time to get some!” We charged into the boiling point, and I realized that I hadn’t wrapped my head around what we are about to try.
We definitely brought a knife to a gunfight.
Keith and I sent it. Cast, strip, strip…pause…strip! Again! Cast, strip, strip… strip! Two behemoths annihilated both our flies. Keith didn’t even have time to look up. I leaned over and yelled, “Hier kom groot kak!” (Loosely translated to: the s#*t is about to hit the fan!) The drag was locked down but the line still disappeared from the reel, making the drag knob untouchable. Keith got smoked. His fish came unbuttoned and he was out of the game. I stayed in it.
After a fight that could have been 30 seconds or 30 years, but was actually 30 minutes, I felt confident enough to say, “It’s coming up, boys, I think we got it!” Yep, I spoke too soon. The seemingly-unfazed yellowfin chased another flying fish! I hollered, “Sorry, boys. We’re in trouble here!”
The fight went on and the monster dug in. I sighed, “Keith, this thing is about to spool me on its way down!” Keith kept his cool, saying, “Don’t worry brother, you got this.” Ok, I thought, time to have a cup of cement and harden up. Let’s go into second gear. I know that at one point I was thinking, How the hell did this seem like a good idea?! I couldn’t believe the rod hadn’t exploded. I think we were all thinking it. Everyone was ducking behind the console, waiting for the stick to snap. Luckily for me, the rod held up. But my body was strained. A lifetime later, Keith finally grabbed its tail. But the fish didn’t give up and proceeded to reward Keith with a proper tail shot right where the sun don’t shine.
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When I fish an amazing place, I always find myself wondering how it was 100 years ago. In Cosmo, I found a time machine. There are a great variety of birds that have never seen humans and will try to sit on your head like it’s a nest. Clients can very easily get what we call GT fever, in which they only want to catch GTs. So they’ll walk past hundreds, sometimes thousands of bonefish, averaging five to six pounds, with plenty in the eight to ten pound range. There’s a whole variety of species to catch, including several kinds of trevally, permit, triggerfish, grouper, snapper, milkfish and sharks.
In such an extreme environment, with virtually no contact with the outside world, Cosmo makes you feel small. The breathtakingly beautiful tropical atolls aren’t easy to get to from the United States, and they leave you battered and bruised. They’ll keep you in check. But they’ll haunt you forever and keep you wanting more.