In November 2014 I had my first trip to Aitutaki lagoon in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. My main target species was bonefish, and in Aitutaki the Bonefish are big, really big!! check it out here!! After a few days I had caught and released some monster bonefish with the help of my guide Rua, and my attention then changed to Giant Trevally. I spent most of the week targeting them on my 12wt but like the bonefish, the GT of Aitutaki only come in XL sizes and I struggled to cope with them amongst the razor sharp coral and and rocky reefs. My confidence, as well as my tackle took a massive hit: I busted several fly lines, and the drag in my brand new Abel 12wt reel basically disintegrated. I left Aitutaki over the moon with the bonefish and other species I caught but I couldn’t get over the GT, they are just so powerful and aggressive and when they take the fly, it really is magic – I really wanted to get one!!
Bonefish from 2014
Upon touching down in Australia, I began planning my return to Aitutaki – GT with vengeance. After talking to Itu from Bonefish E2’s Way, we devised a plan based around the spawning habits of some black baitfish that come into the lagoon each February. The GT school up and maraud the baitballs on the sandy flats away from their usual haunts amongst the coral, which would hopefully make it easier to land them.
Preparation: I spent many hours on the vice tying Black Brush Flies on Owner Aki Hooks. They work extremely well on the GT of Aitutaki. I spent quite a bit of time replenishing my bonefish flies as well. I only tie one pattern for the bonefish, which seems to do the job, I just change the colour and weight of the dumbbell eyes, from hot orange to white with black pupils and chartreuse.A selection of the bonefish flies used, the hot orange and white eyes worked the best!!
GT brush flies in black – tied on the Owner Aki 7/0 you wont break those hooks!!
I returned my busted Abel and they replaced the entire unit for me free of charge. All I had to do was put a new line on it. Last time I was in Aitutaki the strongest fly line I had was the Rio Leviathan 550gr floating, which had a 70lb core, unfortunately Rio replaced this line with a GT line which has a breaking strain of 50lb. I wanted a stronger line than 50lb, so I opted for the new Scientific Anglers Saltwater Titan which has a 65lb core. To prepare the fly line for chasing GT and any other big powerful saltwater species the first thing I do is cut the loops off and create my own by doubling the fly line back on itself and using Kevlar thread and a bobbin to wrap it up tight and whip a nice loop into it. I like to cut the fly line with a sharp razor blade on an angle so that when you wrap it, it creates a nice taper that navigates through the guides smoothly. I put a few dabs of superglue on it near the loop, in the middle, and near the tapered end. I find covering the whole lot makes it quite rigid.
Loop created with Kevlar thread.
Rods: I took a couple of 8wts with me and a couple of 12wts. I use TFO TiCrX 12wt rods and I have one TFO 8wt and a V-Access 8wt that I took as a spare.
Reels: I use a Harfin LR100 with my 8wt its a really solid and reliable reel which has handled some trophy bonefish and bluefin trevally for me in the past. It handles the fish and saltwater conditions well – even when I leave it submerged in the water while I try and get a few fishy pics and videos. On my 12wt rods I used an Abel reel with a Redington Behemoth as my spare. Both stood up to the challenge nicely. I would have the Behemoth set up ready to go on my spare rod and if I snapped a line on the Abel I could quickly switch rods with the confidence that I could stop almost anything with that drag! I highly recommend carrying two set up rods if you are chasing GT.
The Harfin LR100 and the Behemoth
Lines: For bonefish I use a Rio general purpose tropical line with the intermediate tip. It helps get the fly down and eliminate drag from the winds that can blow pretty strong at times. Floating lines tend to get caught by the wind on the water and pull the fly up off the bottom which can also give it unnatural movements. For the GT I used the Scientific Anglers Saltwater Titan floating line, as mentioned above. I had a few of these and a Rio GT line that was a back up option.
Leaders and Tippet: For bonefish I make my own leaders , I use 35lb – 30lb – 25lb then add 20lb rio fluorocarbon for the tippet and if you think they are spooking on the 20lb add some 16lb. I had a few break-offs with 16lb tippet – The 20lb gives me a bit more confidence when the big bones bolt for the coral! Make sure you use all the same brand tippet, I like Rio saltwater fluorocarbon the best its thin and strong! For GT I used 130lb fluoro straight through, 9ft is all you will need, the GT aren’t shy.
130lb might seem like overkill but it gives you a chance when you are out around the corals and reef. If you hook them where there are no corals or reef you could get away with 60-80lb without too many dramas I would imagine, but I’ve never experienced that (yet!).
Clothing: I recommend a good pair of gloves to prevent line burn from bonefish but more importantly from the GT, I used Simms solarflex sun gloves but the GT’s burnt holes in them after a few runs. In future I’d consider something a bit tougher, maybe some buff gloves or Patagonia technical sun gloves. To protect myself from the suns harmful UV rays I wore a Patagonia sunshade technical hoody. It may not look like the coolest thing to be wearing but it will prevent a lot of sunburn, especially around your neck and ears where a lot of people forget to apply sun-cream. You will be on a skiff or wading the flats for 8-9 hours a day and the sun is pretty brutal so make sure you cover up. Wear long pants if you don’t want your legs to be burned to a crisp! I used a UV buff to protect the rest of my face from the sun and also put some sun-cream on any other exposed areas of skin. I used Tonic sunglasses in a copper/amber tint, I find these work really well on the flats, and give really good protection from the sun.
Wading boots: I wore some white slip on shoes from Harris Scarfe – they were only $30 but did the job! I chose white because it matches the sand and maybe helps to sneak up on the fish a little bit, I wouldn’t say you need proper flats boots because your only walking on sand, if you can deal with a little bit of sand getting in your shoes then you should be fine. I emptied mine once a day, so it wasn’t too bad, I’ve had to do the same with proper wading boots in the past anyways so there wasn’t much difference.On the flight from Raro to Aitutaki – notice the white wading boots haha
The Trip: After so much time thinking about these GT and how they destroyed me during my last visit, the day had finally come, I was on my way back to Aitutaki! Four flights and 33 hours later I checked into my accommodation at Rinos Motel. It was close to town and within easy walking distance of one of the good flats that are accessible without a boat. I quickly set up my gear and walked the 20 meters down to the beach, careful not to trample any crabs or marine life. Only 200m from my bedroom door and I was on the flats with the bonefish.
Crab in a shell
I have fond memories of this flat, its where I landed a couple of trophy bonefish on my previous visit. My expectations were pretty high and I wasn’t disappointed, there were bonefish on the flat and being huge, I could actually see them! Last trip I had trouble spotting them, I’m not sure what had changed since my previous visit, but I could see bonefish swimming and tailing sometimes over 15m away which allowed time to get ready, calculate their movements and set a trap for them. I had a good session that morning landing a few bonefish and a few other species as well. Sight casting to bonefish that you have spotted yourself, getting the eat on a fly you have created, and landing the fish amongst the many hazards is a very rewarding experience.
Little bone from one of the easily accessible flats.
Day 1 with Rua
We loaded the boat with all the gear and some food and headed straight down to the Onefoot island flat. It seemed like we were seeing lots of bonefish almost straight away. First cast I hooked up to a nice sized bone, we were fishing from the flats boat and not many hazards around at all on this flat so you can allow the fish to run as far as they want. A short while later the fish tired and he was carefully netted and then released. Several other bones were spotted and caught a short time later. The bonefishing was going off!!
Later in the day Rua spotted what he thought was a GT, it was cruising a drop-off slowly about 40m away parallel to us but coming in a bit closer. When it come to within 25m of me I started to make a cast at it with my 8wt and bonefish fly. The fly landed (in a very rare instance) perfectly in its path and at a sink rate that the fish didn’t even have to “change stride” I never saw the fish do anything unusual Rua said strike just as I felt a slight change in the weight of the line, the fish took off and burned about 40m of line off in the blink of an eye. Rua says to me, “this one – that’s a MILKFISH”. I turned around and was like “Whaaaaaat!!!!” A few seconds later the line went slack, I reeled in to find the leader knot had broken. I was devastated – catching a Milkfish on Aitutaki is a bit of a rarity, but I was happy to have hooked one at the same time. I cant really describe the feeling properly; having the chance at landing one and letting it slip through my fingers (literally), its a haunting feeling. I still feel it.
We continued on landing a few more bonefish. Later in the day we headed to a flat I call “the coral flat”. This is an old crushed up coral flat that the bonefish hang out and feed on sometimes. It’s located south west of Onefoot island, not far away at all really. We were spotting lots of bonefish on the flat but they weren’t eating. Their behaviour was a bit unusual and I hadn’t seen it before. I think Rua knew what was going on though, he was looking for GT, because “Sometimes, they always come here!!”. He spotted two GT cruising about 200 meters away, I was like lets go!! I was so keen to get over near them. Rua, knowing what he was actually doing, just poled the boat in their general direction looking for bonefish. I prepared the GT rod by getting it out of the holder and stripping about 20m of line off and laying it in the boat in case they come within striking distance. The GT swam off into the distance, but as we come to the end of the flat the bonefish started swimming towards the boat and a GT appeared from the channel that ran along side the flat. I quickly grabbed the 12wt and got into position to make a cast, “Cast now” Rua said. I made the cast but the last part of the line got caught on my foot, it fell about 5 meters short of where i wanted it to go, “wait…..now strip fast” The GT saw the fly from almost 10 meters away, charged over to it and totally engulfed it – It was so bloody good!! The Abel started screaming as the GT burned off into the distance, but this time there was no coral or reef in sight that he could bust me off on. After about 100 meters he started to slow down and I turned him, this was the first time that I had actually managed to turn a GT in Aitutaki. It was uncharted waters for me and was exciting. The fish was actually swimming back towards me and after 15-20 minutes the fish was subdued beside the boat and Rua jumped in grabbed the leader and tailed the fish, I couldn’t believe it – after all the torture I experienced with GT on my last trip, I finally had one on my first days guiding, It was a huge relief!! My first ever GT
I fished a few more days with Rua and had varied success, some days were really tough due to wind and the odd tropical storm but other days everything fell into place and lots of fish were hooked. I always looked forward to lunch on Onefoot Island when fishing with Rua, when the Vaka (traditional boat) pulls in they throw out food for the fish and you can see a lot of different species swimming around quite peacefully together, GT, bonefish, various species of other trevally and smaller baitfish.GT enjoying a feed at Onefoot Island
Bonefish cruising around
Lunchtime on Onefoot
This is Rua’s main mode of transport – The Silver Bullet
We got a bit wet one morning
One morning the weather looked a bit dodgy but we decided to head out anyway. We took cover on Onefoot Island for an hour of so while the storm passed. The raindrops were some of the biggest that I’ve ever seen, I reckon I was soaked through in about 15 seconds. That afternoon I was casting to a nice sized bonefish but a turtle swam into the path of the line and the fly hooked into his left flipper/arm. I was exceptionally concerned for the welfare of the turtle, I really LOVE turtles…a lot!! My main focus was on getting the turtle untangled and set free. I didn’t want the line to break leaving the fly lodged in him. After carefully playing the Turtle for about 35 minutes Rua netted him and we bought him on board where we dislodged the fly. The turtle swam off happily going about his business foraging for food and I was happy that the little ninja was unharmed.Rua said he was a big Turtle and estimated its weight at 30kgs
They really love the Black Brush Fly – I named this one Bambalaaaaaammmmmm!!
Ooooh Barracuda. My first Barracuda – Just a small one – They smell terrible!
By the end of the trip I had caught quite a few nice bonefish and trevally. I probably could have caught more but my attention turned to Unicorn fish “but they don’t eat the flies”.
Here are a few pics of bones and trevs;
There are a lot of Bonefish like this in the lagoon!!
Caught just after the storm!
They Just look so cool!
Finger burning runs from this model
A massive thanks to my guide Rua Davey!! Kaleena and Itu from Bonefish E2’S Way.