I’ve always been a frequent flyer. Working for a large multinational company, I’ve made the most of every opportunity by tagging a fly-fishing trip on the end of every business trip. I’ve fly fished 25 countries in less than five years. Not every trip was a winner. In fact, some were damn awful. To save you the heartache, I’ve whittled the list down to my favourite 10.
1. CHRISTMAS ISLAND, KIRIBATI | Triggerfish
Christmas Island, Kiribati, is well known for its bonefish and GTs, but it’s the species known as triggerfish that piqued my interest.
“Triggers” are frustration and fun in equal parts. They’re easy to spot tailing around the flats, but hard to catch, with sharp teeth and a strong mouth that can demolish your fly or line on coral before you have time to pull the, er, trigger.
Fortunately, they’re also so inquisitive you will get a chance. Triggers are found in many locations, but few places rival Christmas Island as a plentiful, beautiful and affordable fishery.
2. CHALK STREAMS, ENGLAND | Grayling
Wading in the manicured Chalk Streams of England, I felt part of fly-fishing royalty. It wasn’t surprising. These waters are considered the birthplace of fly fishing — back in the 15th century. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wear a tweed jacket and tie while the groundsmen tended to the streams around me. Their job is to create the perfect water flow for native brown trout and grayling. I was targeting the latter, a species I hadn’t caught before. They’re quick, and my first few strikes were fruitless. But I adapted, persisted and eventually landed one of these beautiful creatures, also known as “Lady of the River”.
It’s exorbitantly pricey, but the Chalk Streams have definitely earned their place in my top 10.
3. NEW ZEALAND | Kingfish
When most people mention New Zealand and fly fishing in the same sentence, they’re usually referring to trout — for good reason. But there’s a new and exciting evolution in New Zealand’s fly-fishing scene — kingfish on the flats. If you love aggressive sight fishing, this could be your next favourite hobby.
Kingies roam as free swimmers or schools through the knee-deep clear-water flats following short-tail stingrays. It’s a thrill to watch six green-backed torpedoes charge down your offering following the placement of a small popper fly or bait fish-style pattern. And did I mention that kingies fight hard? I think you knew that.
4. NSW, AUSTRALIA | Murray Cod
You might think the best fly fishing is on the other side of the world, only accessible after withdrawing a big chunk of your hard-earned and a long flight. Not true. You shouldn’t underestimate the freshwater monsters lurking in your own backyard — the Murray cod.
The ultimate prize for many cod anglers is to catch one over 1m. Doing it on fly is damn crazy. It’s broken the heart of many serious campaigners. I invited Texan Beau Burbach to give it a try. He’s a largemouth bass angler of repute. On his very first day he landed a behemoth 107cm model on fly. Needless to say, it was a “happy client/happy guide” kinda day.
5. FLORIDA KEYS | Tarpon
Tarpon has been at the top of my wish list for a few years now. This year, I committed to flying to Florida Keys to get the job done. I landed in Miami, rented a car and headed south for 32 hours straight. From the window of my poxy hatchback, I watched familiar names like Key Largo, Islamorada and Key West pass by before arriving at my hotel on Long Pine Key — a region steeped in saltwater fly-fishing history.
Word on the street was that the odds of landing a big tarpon were low. They said it’d take 10 hook-ups before I landed a big one. I met local guide Joel Dickey at the boat ramp in the morning and by lunchtime we already had five tarpon hooked and four landed. It was epic fishing, but we still hadn’t found the “Big Gurl,” as Joel put it in his Southern drawl.
After lunch, we spied a slow-moving school of 80–120lb (36–54kg) tarpon coming down the clearwater beach. “You’re kidding me,” I said to Joel, a shiver in my voice. I’d never seen anything like it. “Don’t cast at the lead fish,” Joel instructed as I began to false cast.
First cast, a large fish followed, but no eat. A second cast, landing in the middle of the school, had the same result. But with the last cast towards the back of the school, Big Gurl followed and ate. She jumped, ran hard and almost straightened my hook, but somehow I landed that fish. Jetlag was a distant memory — as well as the large amount of money I’d spent to reach the summit of tarpon fishing.
6.PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA | Trout/Salmon
When people ask me where the best trout fishing in the world is, I’ll tell them its New Zealand. But I always mention that the best trout fishing experience is in Patagonia. The combination of fishing, scenery, Argentinian steaks, malbec wine and Spanish culture is unbeatable. I’ve fished Argentina more than a dozen times and whenever I board the plane to leave, I’m planning my next trip back.
Patagonia is the southernmost part of Argentina and offers a myriad fishing options. From monstrous rainbows in Jurassic Lake to sea-run browns of Rio Grande and the amazing dry fly fishing around Bariloche, there is endless variety to keep you inspired. One year, I even found myself in the middle of nowhere, catching Pacific king salmon running into the Argentinian rivers from the Atlantic Ocean. Simply put, Patagonia is a bucket list item for the serious adventurous angler.
7. MONGOLIA | Taimen
In an early issue of The Captain, I wrote about our trip to Mongolia chasing the famed taimen — the largest trout species in the world. It rightly holds a place in my top 10. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is one of the most unpopulated countries in the world. The peak season for taimen fishing coincides with the most beautiful time of year. As autumn creeps in, the leaves change from green to a kaleidoscope of colours, contrasting with the vast mountain backdrops. This was the scene as I slowly drifted down the rivers in search of taimen.
The serenity was rudely interrupted when I hooked a 1.3m taimen on day three. I didn’t believe a trout of this size could exist in the middle of Central Asia. That night in my warm ger (a round tent covered with skins or felt) under a sky full of stars, I concluded nothing came close to the mystique of Mongolia for fly fishing.
8. WESSEL ISLANDS AUSTRALIA | Permit
Sometimes you get lucky and stumble on a place that etches itself into your memory. Our Wessel Islands trip was such an experience. The Wessel Islands group is in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The place is bubbling with barramundi, large queenfish and Spanish mackerel, but our main target for the 2018 trip was permit.
They may be ugly, but permit are the Holy Grail of saltwater fishing. They are a fussy flats customer and an erratic and hard fighter, but when you finally land one, they turn into a creature of pure beauty.
Most of the Wessels have never seen a fly — it’s an untouched paradise. Both T.anak and T.blochii permit roam the flats and are very willing to eat the fly — not always a strong point for this often frustrating species. I’ve caught permit all around the world, but nothing compares to catching them in the white sandy flats of the Wessels.
9.COSMOLEDO ATOLL, SEYCHELLES | GTs
When a place has been declared the “GT Capital of the world”, you arrive armed with heavy gear and big expectations. Cosmoledo Atoll is part of the Seychelles outer islands. Only a limited number of anglers are allowed to fish “Cosmo” each year. This helps keep the footprints down and fish count up. Best of all, it’s a fly fish-only destination.
After a last-minute cancellation, Keith Rose-Innes of Alphonse Fishing Co invited me to join the crew to fish and photograph for a week. I was packed almost before I could offer a muffled “I’m sick” cough down the phone line to my boss.
It was the most enjoyable fly-fishing week of my life. The GTs lived up to the hype. We landed 107 for the week and lost just as many. There’s no better rush than a 1m GT swimming towards you in knee-deep water.
10. SLOVENIA | Marble Trout
When I say, “top 10 trout”, you automatically think Slovenia, right? I didn’t, either. The opportunity came up one October. I’d been travelling in Europe, looking for a trout-fishing adventure, but all the known trout destinations were closed for the season.
Slovenia, bordering Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, was a mystery to me — let alone its troutfishing potential. Further investigation revealed two things: firstly, Slovenia was stunning, with some of the clearest rivers I’d ever seen; secondly, there was the potential to catch the very large marble trout.
It took me four attempts (all on the back end of work trips), but I eventually cracked the marble of a lifetime. It was 108cm and completely sight-fished, possibly my most memorable trout to date. Slovenia remains my favourite European country to visit for a fly-fishing trip and the memory of that large marble lives on in The Captain’s Top 10-fly fishing destinations to try before you die.