Behind the Photo - 17.04.2013
20mm, f11, 1/125th, ISO 200, circular polariser
It's not remotely the quality of the photo here, rather the story behind what I reckon is the single most wild, edge of the earth and at times pretty hairy place that I have ever been fortunate enough to visit on this magical earth. As to what is going on in the photo, well in the foreground you have a South African guide standing on top of a rock scanning the water for fish while his client waits at water level for the signal to cast (note how the client is not standing that deep in the water, and there is a reason why). The guide is holding what we call a "teasing stick", i.e. a rod, reel and hookless chisel plug that can help "tease" giant trevally in that bit closer so that the fly guy (client) can get a shot. Most of the time these mad fish don't need teasing though. But the real story ?
Search for Astove atoll in Google and you will see just how in the middle of nowhere it is. These might be called a Seychelles trips, but in truth you are closer to Madagascar than the Seychelles as the tourists know it, and on this first trip I did down there as a photographer, well let's just say that I think I spent the entire time in a state of shock. If saltwater fly fishing gets any better than this then I haven't seen it yet, but the tiny atoll of Astove is almost out there on its own as a bastion of utter wildness - as if Cosmoledo and Providence are not wild enough already.............
We nicknamed this the Wild Coast. It's seriously hot and incredibly humid, the rocks are like razors and the sea is loaded with fish. A small group of us have tramped right across the middle of the atoll at low water and hit the Wild Coast ready for a long walk around to the lagoon mouth (the water I am carrying for the day weighs more than my camera gear). The mothership is on the other side of the atoll but can't put down an anchor because the water is so ridiculously deep. You look out to the horizon and embrace how alone we are on this lump of rock sticking out of the vast Indian Ocean. The rest of the world could end right now and we would be completely oblivious to it.
Sharks. Sure, the guys caught plenty of GTs that were marauding through the surf like psychotic, bad-tempered rugby players who've had enough of any niceties, but it's the various shark related experiences that have forever burned in my memory. Not long before I shot this photo, my friend James spotted a GT and ran into the water with his 12 weight Loomis GLX Cross Current (the ultimate GT fly rod ?) ready for action. And almost the moment he got into the water and he turned immediately and ran back out as fast as he could. The problem ? Three sharks came straight at him from all sides. The solution ? Keep an eye out when fish fever strikes !! We're a long way from home.............
The day before I think it was I had walked across the channel that drains the lagoon (look on Google Earth) as I went looking for some different photos ahead of the guys. I watched as GTs, bluefin trevally etc. moved along the margins and then thought nothing of getting in the water and wading across the narrow stretch of water. Perhaps half an hour later the other group of anglers plus guide met up with us and the guide showed me the butt section of his teasing stick - with some very new shark bite marks on the duplon grip. The problem ? He had walked across the exact same channel as me and had been charged by a shark. The solution ? He had rammed his teasing stick down and the shark had bitten that instead of his leg. Nice. Guess the sharks didn't fancy a portion of me.
Late afternoon after our epic day on the Wild Coast. I have been watching a GT I still put at over the 100lb mark corralling bait in the waves right in front of me and wondering how on earth places like this really exist, but right now we are all up to our tits in warm, turbulent water at the lagoon mouth as we wait to be picked up by the tenders for the ride back to the mothership.
The problem ? There are a number of rather interested looking sharks swimming around and they are definitely not backing off as we stand there waiting for the tenders to come around. The solution ? Now as much as I find it pretty exciting to be in the water like this with "interested" sharks, I will admit to carefully manoeuvring myself very close to the biggest South African in our group (and it's not as if I am small myself) on the basis that if the sharks hit us, this bloke's going to get hit first because he presents the biggest (food) opportunity. Bigger and more appealing than me anyway. I still pinch myself each and every day that a self-taught photographer like me gets to photograph places like this and call it work.