Fishmail: The Gauntlet

October 12th, 2002

In 1998, I caught a small golden trevally from a boardwalk at Caloundra in south-east Queensland. It weighed maybe 3lb, fought like a fish four times its size and, despite the fact that I caught it on bait while not entirely sober remains one of my most satisfying captures. Fascinated by the power and beauty of these fish, I did some research on this here Internet thingy when I got home; and almost immediately, I found a page on a website run by a bloke called Paul Arden, in which he described his attempts to catch trevally from Queenslandís Noosa region.

He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and so I read on; not just about trevally but about trout, tailing loops, Tupís Indispensible and even tinsel. So that small Queensland fish has a lot to answer for. Not only did it introduce me to the possibilities that tropical salwater fish have to offer, but it ultimately led to me becoming deeply embroiled in the Paul Arden Flyfishing Experience; a rollercoaster ride that has so far included a mostly fishless Sexyloops World Tour, dozens of troutless days on some of Englandís finest reservoirs, an epic blank spell on Irelandís legendary Lough Corrib and an awful lot of late, red wine-sodden nights spent talking to Paul about how actually, catching fish wasnít really the point of all this.

Now, I am the first to concede that when it comes to trout fishing, I am a far from ideal companion. In the same way that some people only need to look at a computer for it to stop working, I have my own disruption field that will immediately put down every fish within a radius of several miles; I just have to stand on the banks of any given body of fresh water for the Geer Effect to immediately kick in and spoil everyoneís day. But it turns out that Paul can beat this. When Paul goes saltwater flyfishing, whole oceans start to die. Never mind El Nino Ė this is El Paulo, an unstoppable force that brings mighty tides and currents to a standstill, sucks vast tuna shoals into wormholes in the fish-time continuum, drains nutrients from the seas like lampreys bleeding salmon dry.

Now, most of us at least have the decency to admit that such effects are usually are our own fault, or at least the result of some cosmic disturbance that makes us people to avoid if you ever want to catch a fish again. But not Paul. Last night, over a bottle or two of finest Rioja, he made it very clear to me that actually, this was the universeís fault; that not only did saltwater flyfishing not work at all, ever, but that I was the last person on the planet who was ever likely to change that.

Thereís nothing I like more than a challenge.

I donít know much about saltwater flyfishing yet, but I am told by people who do know about these things that there is one cardinal rule: Go somewhere where there are actually some fish. With this in mind, I am doing just that; on the 21st of this month, I am flying to northern Queensland to fish the Hinchinbrook Wilderness, several hundred square miles of pristine salwater mangrove creeks and swamps that are home to one of Australiaís greatest sport fisheries. This wild place teems with fish guaranteed to stop the heart; barramundi, mangrove jack, trevally, queenfish, fingermark, threadfin salmon. Nobody has ever failed to catch a fish there; not even flyfishers. You donít even really need any patterns to speak of; bare hooks will do just fine, as the fish battle with each other to extract themselves from the vast tureen of fish soup that is the Hinchinbrook Channel.

Paul, of course, takes such advice with a pinch of salt. His principal selection criteria for a new saltwater venue are largely based around girls and nightclubs, both of which have many appealing features in their own right but which are generally not considered by most flyfishers to guarantee success when chasing aggressive, predatory creatures with impressive collections of teeth and spines (and before I get more letters of complaint, I am not talking about Australian women here). So it is hardly surprising that so far, his tally of saltwater fish amounts to one hopelessly confused trevally and a garfish with a suicide complex, although I believe him when he tells me that his success rate in other departments is much, much greater.

My friend Tom and I have been tying up some flies for this trip. Paulís reaction to these so far? "Hmmm, you might have some problems casting that one" and "I wouldnít have tied them like that" and "Iím not sure theyíre big enough". Well: all of that may be true. But I am supremely confident that by November 1st, I will have demonstrated that whatever else I may or may not know, I will be able to look our genial host here straight in the eye and say, "I told you so". And itís not often Iíve been able to do that.

Next week: Why I need 1000 yards of backing.

 
Sean Geer (sean@fishmail.co.uk) is a freelance journalist and author. He specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in Ireland, where he became the first angler in history to not land a mayfly-caught trout on Lough Corrib in the middle of the mayfly season. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.

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