If I look at my fishing philosophy and mentality, I realize how simple and insignificant I consider the size of the catch. What I would like to know more about sport fishermen is that the most important thing is not the end result, but the process of getting there, which means many things, learning about the spirit of the water, learning how a ecosystem, learning how to fish, and why not explore new waters and keep learning new things by observing.
These days, fly fishing is incredibly saturated with all sorts of content, but always for the same destinations, the same catches and the same things. I think the fault is “pros” who are making no effort to find and show something new. The whole sport fishing travel market extends to its comfort zone and we rarely see anything new. I believe this homologation will soon hurt our sport because fishermen will research the result and the social media photo, then the experience itself.
The catch is just the tip of the iceberg, to make it short, but there are many other things!
I discovered Socotra in 2010 when I was a kid and no one had fished there before. Since then, I have been completely in love with this island and this island represents a big part of my life. What I found in 2010 on my first approach was just the best GT fishing in the world, which is still going on, but I did not have enough knowledge about fly fishing and I did not have enough time to discover what I found most late.
After my first four years there, waiting, grouping, and exploring new terrain, the war in Yemen started in 2015 and I had to leave the island. Over the following years, I had the opportunity to develop Sudan for Fly Fishing and explore Eritrea and Djibouti, so when Socotra reopened in 2019, I finally had the knowledge to explore it in flight.
In 2020, the year of Covid, I got some good clients on an exploration mission and they got a good result. Most of the fish were parrot fish, but the sea conditions were a bit harsh, and I was busy guiding my popping boys so that I could not see the fishing with my own eyes for any trial. Then came Covid and everything closed again. Until now…
After doing a lot of exploration before, I developed a certain feeling before the trip, the feeling I had for this expedition was extraordinary. For this special occasion, I invited a very good friend of mine. Without a doubt the best Fly Fisherman I know, moreover I am a super tough guy who can walk 20 km a day with 0.75 liters of water and two boiled eggs as much as I can. Needless to say, we were both extremely excited about the trip, but what we found exceeded our expectations.
First of all, fishing here is not the classic flat fishing. However, it is coastal fishing, where the coast is not a uniform system ranging from white sandy beach to shallow rocky bay, and on top, it is very tidal, which means that any place can be extremely good or extremely bad at different times of the day, not the best when exploring on foot new ground. You have zero data to work with, so our only option was to walk a lot and watch very carefully.
It’s hard to explain how our fishing evolved every day and how we came to understand the place. It’s something we needed days, maybe just to scratch the surface.
On the first approach, we found tons of parrot fish, large fish from 5 to 10 kg of tail in school, in the most changeable environment, from the right white sandy beach to the rocky spots with surfing.
We mainly focused on them in the early days, making a lot of mistakes. We tried hard with Parrotfish in dirty areas where we were constantly scratched. However, on the other hand, we also landed some of them and found some spots where we saw Bohar Snapper and Green Jobfish from the beach, in the tail…
Bluefin Trevally has been a constant companion of our walking days, but surprisingly very hard to catch. Typically, anywhere else in the world, Bluefin are pretty aggressive and a good cast with a weight of nine and a small Gotcha or some small shrimp model would do the job, but not here, which costs us some extra effort to understanding how to catch them, can not be easy!
Returning to the main topic, parrot fish, as we began to feel them, seemed quite straightforward; however, the sea was a little turbulent. The parrot fish were pretty aggressive on a well-presented flexo crab, but as the sea calmed down, they became stronger and stronger, more and more crowded, but more and more moody. I think a fish with humor and character is super interesting. All the experience we had for chasing parrot fish amazed me. The parrot fish were happy and pretty dumb in the early days, but with the change of wave, they became much more intricate and humorous, with some super spooky fish and others acting casually. Some of them came to the beach after the fly, some had bitten the fly like a GT, while some had chased it many times like a Triggerfish, and some even walked away and bitten again. Moreover, since we started targeting them only with flexo crabs, we ended up throwing everything at them and tying them to every fly, including a small Gotcha, as long as it was well presented. In short, they acted excitingly and charmingly, and on top of that are just the most beautiful fish you can aim at in flight !!
The other boys
We were expecting to meet some exciting sea dwellers while we were chasing parrotfish, but we found more than we expected.
The first morning I had two shots at the Green Jobfish in shallow water with a small crab and a 20 lb leader, expecting these fish to be super aggressive. I introduced the fly aggressively and after chasing it for a few meters, both fish refused the fly, to my extraordinary surprise.
A few hours later, I shot a large Bohar Snapper on the beach, again with my nine-weight rod and a small crab imitation. The fish came to my fly and followed him and after 5 meters behind, he refused.
We realized something was wrong. It is impossible to make multiple shots at these species and continue to reject a 0.33 mm leader and small fly, which means working on our approach and presentation. The day after we fished in the same area, Johan caught a parrot and lost a fairly large Trevally with yellow spots. I had shots at Sweetlips and another Bohar Snapper, who refused again, until after many miles of walking, I saw a Snapper swimming at 2 feet away from the beach. I just had time to jump to my knees, not be noticed, put my fly forward and present it as if the fish were a spooky bony fish. Finally, this fish got the fly. After an epic battle with a 0.33 mm leader, I managed to land this great Bohar, one of the best catches of my life and I think a real trophy overall.
My friend Johan, who came to help me land the fish, was on the moon with me. After the ritual photo shoot, we started walking on the beach together until we saw something strange, a ponytail on a rocky bottom, but a special Triggerfish, very, very dark in color. Johan, a Triggerfish specialist, started tossing it and the fish reacted very slowly until he finally got stuck with his fly. Then I gave him my fly rod to keep throwing at the fish. The action lasted for 15 minutes, with the fish coming in the fly several times and never getting it, Johan changed the fly three times until Këzaja finally accepted it and the fight started. The fish were pulling harder than any Sudanese foot we had ever fought. I had to jump into the water because the fish were looking for holes and coral, and as I was trying to save the line from the rocks, I saw that the fish was something different. It was the mythological creature we followed for years, the ultra-rare “Blue Mole”, which generally lives 10 to 50 feet deep.
As I caught the fish tail, I realized this was going to be the best fishing day of our lives, the perfect combination of exploring new water, catching the Snapper world record on an eight-pound rod and the first Blue Trigger ever caught . in flight, something that is simply impossible to accomplish, something that will remain in our memory forever.
Apart from this memorable moment, there were many more. Fishing has been so crazy that it’s hard to pick something specific because everything has been a climax. We tied a 5 kg Green Jobfish tail to the beach. We hooked up with the parrot fish on the sandy beach, Leje, the bony fish and the dairy fish from the shore, who left at the end of the fighting. We tied four different species of parrot fish, a 5 kg emperor always in the same shrimp pattern, Big Eye Trevally, Blue Barred Trevally, Bluefin Trevally, Blue Triggers, Unicorn Fish, Three Spotted Pompano, Bohar Snapper and Jobfish, and a rare Sweetlips style, and Bonito, for a total of 22 important related species. However, it is possible to reach over 25 species because we saw GT, Titan Triggerfish, Bream, One Spot Snapper and other in-flight catch species.
Another highlight was a kick I did from the beach of a 10 kg Spanish mackerel that just followed my fly. This could be something very different…
We did not invest time fishing from the boat with a sinking rope and large Clouser Minnows, which I did years ago with excellent results, so this is the plan for the next voyage.
I have to admit, I’m very proud. Catching the trophy fish on an eight-weight fly rod is just the tip of the iceberg. It has been ten years of work and exploration extremely hard to get there, and that is the extraordinary thing, not the result of the fishing itself.
This fishing is extremely unique and special because all fishing has to be done with a fly rod with eight or nine weights. The presentation should be smooth and perfect every time, while everything should be trimmed in the simplest way possible to follow 25 different types, all in one rod, one coil and one flight line. Flies become so important, approaching so many different environments and species with just one organization. The only thing that changes is the flies. You can not use 40 different types of flies, because there will be no time to change them between strokes, so we discovered that we could have done everything with three models of flies, which makes everything intriguing at the highest level top possible, 25 species on a rod, a leader and three flies.
Despite the fact that other flying fishing destinations are the best, in my opinion, there is nothing like walking on a remote and unknown beach where you can encounter more than 25 different types of sport fishing. You need to tailor your presentation to each of them. A real ultimate destination for fishermen!
Nicola Vitali was born in Italy and has been fishing since the age of four. Ever since his love of fishing started at a young age, he has traveled all over the world to fly to exotic countries. Vitali, a multilingual speaker is the founder of Wild Sea Expeditions where you can find him managing trips to Sudan and Socotra. Photos by Robert Pljuscec & Johan Persson Friberg.