It was around an hour before dawn when the alarm woke me. I stumbled out of my tent and looked out over the lagoon, the humid jungle around me thrumming with insects under the eerie light of the setting moon. For someone who fishes a lot of early starts, I’m not good at the whole getting ready thing, so I was relieved to notice my dry-bag was already packed from the previous night. I slung on some clothes, grabbed my casting setup and stumbled down to the shore, where Eddie was waiting for me in the boat. My friend Chad Kockott, owner of Ocean Souldiers Amanzi-Wai lodge in Fiji and our host for this trip, is a top-rank fishing guide (ex Nomad and No Boundaries), but he doesn’t do mornings. Thus it was Eddie’s job to drop me round at the reef on the other side of the island on his way to Taveuni, and leave me to fend for myself for a few hours.
The lagoon was quiet and calm as we pushed the boat out and got underway, but then came the familiar barking of Chad and Stef’s dogs, and soon they were running beside us along the shore, keeping pace with the boat as we rounded the point. They knew where we were headed: a place Chad calls The Waterfall. The sea drains from the lagoon here, over a shallow ledge onto a lower section of reef flat. As the tide begins to ebb, the current is intense, like a salmon river in full spate. It’s as much as you can do to stand up on the ledge when it’s really running, but the rewards are worth it. Large numbers of giant trevally congregate under the lip, waiting for any unfortunate baitfish that get caught in the current and washed out of the lagoon.
As the first glimmer of dawn began to break over the horizon and the boat sped towards our destination, I felt incredibly grateful to be here in this place. For a U.K. based angler, I’ve been very lucky to fish for GTs so many times. There’s something incredibly seductive about them: a bestial submarine of unparalleled aggression, seemingly purpose-built as a benchmark for sheer brute force: the final arbiter in debates about knot strength. Aside from their sheer power, they also happen to inhabit the wildest of terrain, the sort that makes for some truly enthralling angling experiences. I enjoy catching them in any context, but as with much of my angling, the deepest satisfaction comes from factors that are peripheral to the capture itself: the watercraft and problem solving involved in working out a feeding pattern, and the sense of joy one gets from complete immersion in their environment. For me, this reaches its peak when fishing for them from the shore, often partially submerged in their element: wading a coral flat, or casting into the abyss from a wave-swept reef edge.
Eddie brought the boat in close behind the first wave, while I jumped off, rod in hand, and waded ashore. The dogs were already waiting for me on the beach, and in accordance with doggo custom, various ceremonial greetings and tummy rubs were required before we could get down to the matter in hand. The tide was just beginning its ebb, and the water on the ledge itself was still a little too deep: it would be risky to try and stand up there in the dark. On previous days I had found that when the tide was all the way up, the waterfall fish dispersed into the bommie field downstream, so I decided to try a few casts about a hundred metres downtide.
The water in front of me was fairly calm, and when fishing a lagoon in such conditions I like a skittery surface bait with a slim profile, imitating an injured needlefish or halfbeak. I chose a Lurenzo Espetron in this case, as these have an excellent action, both on a straight retrieve and when left to float static with the occasional twitch.
I launched the lure out over the bommie field and left it to float downtide for a few seconds, before starting a fairly rapid, erratic retrieve. The first couple of turns brought a big swirl behind the lure, which got my pulse racing, but the fish didn’t follow up. I spent the next few casts returning the lure to the same spot, iterating through a few variations of twitch, pause and swim. After a while my mind began to wander as the dawn crept over the horizon, filling the world around me with exotic colours. A turtle floated past, hermit crabs scuttled about on the beach, sizing up each other’s shells like heavily armoured estate agents.
Then my mind lurched back to attention. Time, as it does in these moments, somehow slowed to a crawl, as the nervous system anticipates something on the edge of consciousness, and halts the flow of events, the better to analyse them.
What was it that caught my eye? An old toilet is being rolled around in the surf.
I can see it through the glassy wall of the first breaker as it rears up, its lid opening up to reveal a gaping bowl. It probably got washed off a ship or something. Why would anyone paint eyes on it though? This framing of events didn’t fit though, and it was beginning to get replaced by another: the idea of a big fish narrowly missing my lure as it pulled through the last foot of water…
Except it didn’t miss.
Imagine someone lobbing a grenade into the water at your feet, then while you’re suitably distracted, tying your arm to a truck and driving off at speed. That is a fair summary of how the take felt. The fish had somehow managed to engulf my lure at point blank range, just as it was being pulled through the tube of the wave. Its face was fully out of the water as it closed its mouth around it. Then gravity did its thing, and the fish was yanked down by the backwash, so that its tail protruded vertically from the water like a cartoon whale. The GT, clearly dissatisfied with its predicament, now went into overdrive and powered out into the lagoon, tail flukes beating the shallow water to a foam.
I’m suddenly terrifyingly awake,10ft rod bent right over, reel screaming like a kicked banshee even though it’s close to full drag. I can feel the fish smashing its tail against the line as it heads to my left, diagonally out across the tide. Lots of bommies over that way – I’ll definitely need to turn it soon. I try to get the rod up as high as possible, letting the fish drag me into the water a bit to compensate for the extra pressure. Reel’s still singing, so I palm the spool hard, and eventually it stutters to a halt. The fish hangs begrudgingly in the strong tide, and as I heave on the rod to regain a bit of line, it begins to kite round slowly toward the shore.
GT fights have a certain pattern to them – it’s not that they are all identical, they’re more like jazz improvisations around a well known theme. The fish runs off at full power, at which point you either find a way to turn it or get cut off. It then turns on its side and kites, using its body and the current against you and forcing you to haul it in sideways. Eventually you get it close enough that it catches sight of you and then off it shoots once again. This one played out pretty much by the book, and after about 10 minutes, the fish was plodding up and down in the surf gutter at my feet, and I was able to beach it on the next decent wave. At about 30lb in weight, it was hardly a monster by GT standards, but fish of this size class are pretty awesome sport from the shore, and as I recovered the fish in the surf and sent it on its way, I was already feeling pleased with the session.
As the tide started to drop, my thoughts turned to the waterfall. The ebb was well underway now, and water was cascading off the ledge, meeting the inbound waves in a frothy boil that looked extremely fishy. Getting out onto the reef here isn’t easy. I walked about a hundred yards uptide along the shore, and waded out into the narrow lagoon channel. It looked a lot like the river Wye in flood, but crystal clear and turquoise, rather than an opaque brown.
The current soon took me, and I let it tumble me downstream like a piece of luncheon meat, rod held out of the water in one hand, the other held out in front of me to try and fend off any stray coral boulders. I passed a juvenile blacktip shark, which was making so little progress that it appeared to be swimming backwards. Soon the lip of the waterfall was curving in toward me from the left, and as I reached it I executed a sort of ungainly hop, popping up onto the reef and simultaneously getting hit in the face by a wave.
Somehow, both rod and I survived this manoeuvre, and I found myself teetering on a reef edge, pounded by set after set of three-foot swell. The water averaged about chest height, and when the swells came through it was necessary to drop everything and leap in time with the oncoming waves to avoid being knocked off my feet and spat out into the lagoon.The pool in front of me was about a hundred metres across, laden with coral heads, and with a further ring of breakers forming its outer edge, where the reef itself dropped away into about 80 metres of water.
I figured that fishing into this chaos would not be compatible with pricey JDM lures and subtle presentation. I opted for an 80g Roberts Ranger, a cheap but effective wedge of a lure that casts like a bullet and skitters along the surface on a straight retrieve. Waiting for a lull in the breakers, I launched it to the horizon and commenced cranking at a rapid pace. A few turns in and a fish knocked it clean out of the water.
I could see the red and white body of the Ranger cartwheeling in the air, two dorsals cutting the water just behind it as it landed. Another fish was on it as soon as it splashed down, glancing off it as I pulled the line tight. This pack attack continued with a few more failed strikes before one finally connected, the rod going solid as the fish turned on the lure; the first run nearly pitching me over the edge of the reef. The resulting fight was as chaotic as I expected. Heaving with all my might against the rod one moment, then flailing around like a crab in a washing machine as a wave swept my feet away. This fish was thankfully fairly manageable, a compact 20 lbs or so, and I soon had it in hand for a quick release with the pliers.
The next half an hour was a blur of coral cuts, aching arms, and looming torpedo shapes. The red mist descended, as fish hit the lure again and again in a frantic orgy of topwater action. I must have had five or six fish in the 10 to 20lb range, plus one small barracuda. I lost my sunnies, gained a nice gash on my knee, and nearly destroyed one of my reef shoes. I probably swallowed about a litre of seawater for every fish caught, but as Chad rounded the point in the little skiff, I trudged back to shore a happy man.
“ Timbo! Better get some chow and a coffee, I’ve got some good spots lined up for today bro!”. I gave him a thumbs up as I collapsed onto the beanbag in front of the console. Maybe I need to find a more relaxing hobby!