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Thread: Uncharted Waters - Bassas Da India

  1. #1
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    Default Uncharted Waters - Bassas Da India

    I Hope you enjoy the report! We lost my Father, Terry Henry, to cancer shortly after releasing the film. Bassas was a special place but even more so because we all got to share the experience before this happened. It does highlight the importance of not putting off those dreams - I'm grateful to share it even further through this report.


    Here I was....
    Sitting at the airport bar, consumed with excitement and anticipation. I was surrounded by mates and tucking into cold beers. Somehow I just couldnít quite believe this day had finally come! It was three years ago when I told my closest friends Jon Pratt and Jonathan Tomlinson about the legends of a remote wilderness almost out of reach. A place with such mystery and so little known of it that even the power of Google couldnít provide answers. At that stage just word of mouth, extreme divers and round the world yachties gave some insight into this tiny spec in the middle of the ocean - Today the only shelter for sailors as they attempt the Mozambique Channel crossing. It was one of the worst maritime hazards for Vasco Da Gama and the Portuguese Armadas on their spice routes, claiming the very ship that gave its original name of Baixo da Judia - A place even now off its actual position on the charts. Ultimately though it was the subject of the most enticing fishing story I had ever been told!



    I had returned back to South Africa to fish in our 25th year ski boat club competition. Our skipper, Russell, was on the engines keeping us straight in a terrible sea as we tried to get our 1kg weights to the depths. I made a comment about it being hectic which enticed the chap sitting next to me into his tale.
    This hard core Zimbabwean Game farmer and Rhodesian veteran retold to me of an experience when even he was overcome with fear. Not for just one moment when a bullet passed his head back in the "tougher times" but for 3 days solid. He told me about this place called Bassas and that even those 3 days of horrific sailing conditions were unquestionably worth it! I simply had to go! After 3 years of planning and a little over a year of execution, here we were, finally on our expedition to discover what rewards a Fly fisherman could reap.


  2. #2
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    The Team



    On such an undertaking, you need a tight crew, a group who can tolerate each other, ignore the small things and give as much banter as they can take. In way of introduction...Jon Pratt and I have fished together for years - In Uk Rivers and salt, the seas of Africa, America and the Pacific. It was Jon who introduced me to Tomo 3 years ago, the night that I first raised the idea of Bassas!
    Recently Jon had taken a job in Oz and Iíd really missed our usual fishing antics. It was great he could make it back to his mates, not that Jon usually turns down an adventure. Jon has been there since the begining of my journey in saltwater flyfishing. While he is truely a Jonah when it comes to packing the weather, having him with us on a trip, rained or blown out is better than any weather perfect trip without him. I can't comment on any trip with perfect weather and with him as this is simply a contradiction.



    Jonathan Tomlinson or Tomo for short, like him, also managed to convince me to go to Belize that year. We had an awesome trip, both sharing an unreasonable infatuation with permit, we landed our first on the fly on the same day sharing a boat. That bonds never been broken and as best mates, living down the road from each other, itís had a very positive effect on the local pubs and butchers bottom line. The run up to this trip and our recent boat building experience has lead to Thursdays being renamed Tomo Thursdays and my spare room, Tomos cottage. It does worry me slightly that his shower gel seems to have taken permanant resedency in our bathroom but it isnt a toothbrush so my fiancťe Emma has no need to worry.



    Brian Lavery, while a self confessed Blue Water Virgin, is no Jessie when it comes to a fly rod. Heís a passionate angler for all things wild and the four of us together have spent many a night chasing Sea Trout, many a day chasing salmon, brownies and bass. I'll add a few hours on the river banks enjoying a single malt, or "Happy Henry Juice" as he calls it. If itís wild and swims heís after it. Heís also annoyingly one of those anglers that if itís in a puddle heíll catch it. Brian has a lovely family and doesnít spend much time away from them. Heíd always threatened to come on one of our trips but never been unable to make it because of the time commitment. I nearly chocked when the phone rang and Brian eloquently told me he wanted in and couldnít take listening to us babble on about the experiences. I think he was after some tame flats stuff but we had a very different plan! I couldnít wait to finally justify the nights of enthusiastic tales about spooled reels and screaming drags.



    I first met Steve Pengelly ďPengasĒ in Belize. Heís a real character who I affectionately refer to as the old man of the sea. I've thoroughly enjoyed boat time with him in Mexico, Africa and Belize as well as the recollection of a multitude of rum establishments that have nicked valuable pieces of memory. He has a lot of traditional fishing experience in wild places like Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Tanzania to name a few. Heí always up for a craic and is simply one of the boys, often showing us a thing or two! He and my Father could cover the Jigging Popping and trolling angle in and out. I fondly remember Pengas insisting in being involved in a Belizian cocktail called the Lizzard Juice wearing a pink bowtie and being the only one up for repeating the experience the next day. A true asset to the crew.



    Those that know me, generally know my father, Terry Henry. He introduced me to fishing when I was born and we now share the passion. I learnt everything I knew about fishing from my dad and itís taken us around the world together making my best memories, those of our adventures. Weíre best friends and I just canít imagine having this experience without him.


  3. #3
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    We boarded our plane and our takeoff signalled the start of our journey, a 10hour flight to Johannesburg, where we boarded a small plane with Federal Air. We landed in the Kruger Game Park and then our final touchdown in Vilanculos Mozambique. I have to say I was really impressed with the service, professionalism and can do attitude of the airline. It must have been a daunting task to have been faced with a group of over enthusiastic anglers each carrying up to 60kg of excess baggage and specialist equipment. They just smiled and got us on the plane. We arrived, on time and with all our bags. Its wonderful to see the development of Mozambique not long out of civil war. The airport was new and polished, complete since January! Itís such a modern greeting and completely unexpected as your flight approach takes you over just traditional mud huts and local settlement. It's true to say the excitement was effecting us in strange ways but the number one rule was never be the first to fall asleep.





    At arrival we were greeted by Brent Craig, our skipper and fearless leader for the next 12 days. A smiling man with a real presence and exuding confidence, it was easy to pick him from a crowd! I think Brian described him best as an extra in a surfing film...



    He piled our stuff into two pickups and we bundled ourselves into the safari truck and headed off to the harbour. The setting was just special. The tide was out, showing off its white sand flats and azure channels across the archipelago. A View I had seen before but that was somehow different with the daunting adventure ahead. The small bay in front of us was dominated by the Pelagic II, a lovely 45ft catamaran and our home for the next 12days. All the local children surrounded us, all wanting to help, hoisting our 25kg+ bags up on their shoulders and off down the beach to the tender, laughing joking and wishing us well.








    We were given our safety briefing and signed away our indemnities. It was made clear that this was an open boat and we all shared the responsibilities equally. What we were about to undertake was serious and even minor issues could have severe consequences. We were to respect each others space and work together as a team. We split into pairs and all chose our rooms. Well I say rooms but really they were comfortable sleeping quarters, a double bed to share top and tails. Of course this was immediately the subject of amusing antics from the ďteamĒ. I shall leave out the finer details of welsh love spoons and secret love letters strategically placed under pillows.



    After a quick dip to wash out that stale travel feeling we secured the tender, hoisted the anchor and set sail. 250 miles away an underwater volcano, rising from 3000meters below the sea level 10km in diameter, its crater holding secrets and stories none could have imagined, was waiting for us.


  4. #4
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    Not wanting to waste a minute of fishing time the lures, teasers and marlin smokers were in the water. It wasnít long; minutes actually till the first ratchet went. The rod was handed to Brian and a small King Mackerel of a couple of KGís would be the first fish and it was safely returned. While we all had Catch and Release as our priority, logistics, space and the nature of our trip meant that we would need to selectively take fish for the table. I must say as we left the islands that its a hard concept leaving a fishing Mecca like Bazaruto to fish somewhere apparently even better.

    The countdown had begun and as the miles ticked away on the GPS, the skipper and his first mate Lucky prepared the prawn curry, (I'm sure this first dinner selection is a test of seamanship) while the auto pilot steered us into our first night. What a first night it was! We met a weather front and the first wave hit us on my watch, sometime after midnight. The wave went completely over us giving us a decent soaking. We had not expected this and we were faced with wind and sea that was just not on the forecast. It was a frantic few moments to close portholes and skylights and mop up the water in the kitchen and below decks. Quite amusing as I look back now. Our skipper and lucky were all hands on deck but obviously hardened by many conditions far worse. He reassured us and smiled. A few checks of bearing and equipment he returned for his much needed shuteye. I did catch a muttering of something about ***** weather forecasts. I felt a bit guilty when I had to wake him again for the lights on the horizon. He adjusted the course to avoid the massive trawlers and again returned to his bunk. The need for the night watch shifts was now clear and unquestionable. Each person on the boat had the responsibility to do a shift. One night on, one night off and a rotation on time slot 9-12pm; 12-3; 3-6am... 12-3 being the hot potato.




    With the battered by the sea that night our progress had slowed to 3knots/h. In those last hours of dark it all just hit me. The daunting reality of exposure, the risks, sleep deprivation and the reality of just how far and long another 30 hours would be! Had I made a mistake, exposed my friends, had we just bitten off more than we could chew? I dealt privately with many negative thoughts and I admit it was tough. They were very challenging hours for me and I was struggling with the gravity of it in my mind. The beauty of the sunrise, the ocean around, the smell of fresh coffee and my friends all played a role in overcoming that experience. Iím a confident person who thrives on adventure, the wild side and the outdoors so I will never understand why I felt that way but it was a first for me. I retell it to hopefully illustrate the gravity of where we were and that I, who had had the longest to prepare and felt I understood the scale of the journey best, had simply underestimated it.








  5. #5
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    Brent was up early and prepared a full breakfast. I was mighty impressed as we were struggling to keep our coffee cups in one place. The weather calmed a bit and out came the iPods and general antics of blokes confined to a small space. We all began to settle and enjoy the journey. Tomorrow morning just after sunrise we would finally arrive at Bassas!













    We woke to a different day, the sea had calmed and we were almost there. Fly rods and reels were everywhere and the rigging antics were crazy. We lashed up cable ties to get the rods up out the way and the anticipation filled the air. The fish finder clearly illustrated just how incredible this structure actually was. We may as well have been looking at an OS map of Everest.





    I was torn between staying at the back with the lures or heading to the bow which eventually won. The flying fish leaped and glided from our path and in the distance I could see what looked like a ship at sea. Brent pointed it out and confirmed that it was the famous shipwreck. The tremendous waves filled the horizon and the call was given... We had arrived, Bassas Da India was upon us.... and thatís when the pandemonium began!

  6. #6
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    Thanks, great report, waiting for chapter 2.
    Korrie Broos

    Don't go knocking on Death's door, ring the bell and run like hell. He hates it. (anon)
    Nymphing, adds depth to your fly fishing.
    Nymphing, is fly fishing in another dimension

  7. #7
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    Now thats a report back!! Awesome stuff keep it comming!
    "All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure." - Mark Twain

  8. #8
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    More! More! More!
    "Hierdie drol het baie vlieŽ" - Ago 2014.

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    What happened next was simply insane! Many of the lines and memories are crossed and confused with the unimaginable excitement, action and chaos. I can only do my best to recount those memories that are clear and will just enjoy the others as they pop up in my mind over the years to come.
    First of all, as we hit the atoll, all the reels started screaming. I donít remember what order went where or who grabbed which rods or who they tripped over to get to them but one after the other the lures were hit, the lures would tear off to the horizon and then after a few seconds be gone. At that time I didnít understand what was happening as it was strange to be losing fish after fish. It didnít matter as the boat hadnít stopped and as one would come off another ratchet would sound. The culprit would however reveal itself. I grabbed a rod and struck hard and finally after a good little fight the first fish from the atoll was on the boat, a lovely yellow fin tuna.



    Minutes later, as we reset the lures the horizon was broken by a huge splash, then another and another and another. A huge sailfish was leaping high into the sky, over and over like a dolphin. I stared at the reels confused why one wasnít smoking, ďit must have hit one, surely!Ē but it quickly became clear that the saily was jumping towards us and not away! This was insane; the sailfish was coming like a truck Ė ďis this real?Ē I thought to myself. It smashed a lure and the ratchet kicked off, then the rod next to it went too. Someone grabbed one and I the other. Immediately I could tell I had the saily on. The other was coming quick and turned out to be another tuna.

    I was holding tight and pulling hard but getting nowhere. My eyes picked up a bright blue flash behind the transom, then another and another. There were sailies all over the back of the boat and I could clearly make out 5 fish as I shouted to get the lines in the water. Brian was on the washboard fly rod in hand and made a cast. The fish were on fire and immediately pounced engulfing the fly. Brian was now standing there astounded, hooked into a sailfish on the fly. Welcome to blue water fly-fishing my man!

    We sadly both came unstuck and my frustration got the better of me, I was now frustrated! My hand ran down the leader and I felt the small kinks in the line. Workmen and there tools and all that... I blurted out profanities at the mono and inadvertently Brent. This amused the crew no end. Donít make the mistake of thinking fishing is just a hobby for me! The fact was that we were all being taken back to school here! The chaos had made us loose focus and turned us into kids. It was time for a massive tactical rethink. This just wasnt like our usual trips to Mozambique!

    Brent laid down the facts, Boys, you arenít in Kansas anymore! Tackle up the big sticks and ďpull something scary!Ē Off went the engines, away went the 12# and out came the 14ís and 16 weights. Brent then casually picks up his popping rod and wondered off to the bow of the boat while we are tying on 150lb leaders. The corner of my eye picks up the popper as it flies through the air, landed, popped once, twice and the water just erupted as a tuna of over 60b smashed into its target. Brent was wrenched over the side holding on like a jackrussel on a rabbit. That only lasted seconds and he turned and muttered the word we would get to know very well.... CONVERTED!


  10. #10
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    This was too much for the boys. My father and Steve were practically tripping over each other to get to the bow with popping rods. Out flew the poppers and queue the single most amusing moment of the trip. My dad had geared up with the new Torque reel, 80lb braid and 150lb mono - far cry from his beloved penn500's. Brent told him to stick the thing on full drag, so he did...

    He hadnít realised that the torque put down 50lb of drag. He had barely moved the popper when the tuna train hit. It was a bloody big train too! Terry went flying; thankfully Pratty was in his path and caught him round the waist. Then the 2 of them go sliding along the deck after the fish but a shark hits the tuna like the tuna was a popper ... CONVERTED! Another Tactical rethink was required... Back to the tackle box and out with the 100lb wire.



    Over my shoulder Brians screaming lie a Jessie and the fly rod is bending over double. The bright Yellow part of the nautilus is shrinking in a hurry and the reel is just flying. At this point Iím just randomly laughing my tits off but admit to being a little scared. You donít have to tell Brian twice, clearly determined not to show any inexperience heís laying into this thing like a school fight behind the bicycle shed Ė thank the lord too because he was rewarded with a stunning 30lb Wahoo on the deck. Proudly sporting a face, as long as I live, I will never forget! Brianís bleeping about a 15lb salmon or something and I look at my watch... It was 9:30am on our first morning!











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