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Saturday, 12 May 2018

GT Popping Superbowl - Reef Raiders 2018

If you have followed the Ebb Tide blog for any length of time you will know that we love fishing in Southern Oman for monster GT's.   Having the call up for the Reef Raiders trip (last group of the season) is a big thrill and as always the highlight of the fishing calendar, it is arguably the hottest ticket in GT popping, my idea of the Superbowl of GT fishing, with the reefs being the 5 yard line, the GT's the opposition, whoops, yes, perhaps I'm being overly theatrical.  But my imagination aside, there is nowhere that consistently offers chances at trophy GT's like Southern Oman, except perhaps Socotra in Yemen (which is currently off limits anyway due to long standing civil war).
The Reef raiders crew - ready to take no prisoners!

Big inshore mahi on Amegari for Ed
The Reef Raiders trip this year saw faces old and new from around the world all of them extremely accomplished GT anglers and more importantly great guys who know how to have fun.  The 2018 crew comprised: Eric LeGuyader - France (Orion Lures), Stewart Newnham - England, Eno Kun - Japan, Daiki Hiraiwa - Japan, Nick Milford - Australia (East Coast Angling), Nate Tsao - Hawaii, USA, Tomislav Jukic - Slovenia, Ed Nicholas - Oman (No Boundaries Oman), John Cahill - Australia (Ebb Tide Tackle)
Day 1 46 kilo fish for Japanese angler Daiki - he's a legend!

To me the objectives of the end of season Reef Raiders are simple; have fun, experience adventure, network, catch big GT's and do your best to not forget the world class light tackle that exists.  The first few point are guaranteed, the GT's highly likely and the last point all too often forgotten, this year we made a decision we would not make that error and the gear comprised a good mix of PE10, PE3, PE1 and lighter silly string.  The late season groups before us had absolutely killed it with some impressive numbers and sizes of fish being reported; 2017/2018 season had been nothing short of amazing, so understandably anticipation ran high with the crew. The morning of day one saw the typical allocation of boats, skippers and what locations we were to be fished.  We all know too well that if there is a hot zone you have to take turns and over fishing will create pressure and quickly ruin it for everyone.  This is factor is something that inexperienced anglers often forget or don't understand.  Departing from the harbor for the first morning I was crewed up with one of NB's new skippers South African Alli King, Tomi and Nick.
Ocean speedster for Tomi - sensational fun on the light gear
We steamed out to our allocated area at speed in seas that were a little too flat for our liking (experience has shown that GT's so often stay deep or at least lose interest in feeding when it's flat).  Despite the presence of ample bait, the first few hours were devoid of any opportunity in an almost glassed out ocean.  These conditions resulted in much sweat, toil and a need to try something else for a while, we were absolutely sweltering with no breeze to cool us down.  A brief jigging and light casting session resulted in some bonito, spangled emperor and a magnificent big rainbow runner for Tommi, we even stopped for a much needed swim to help recharge the batteries.  It's amazing what a cool down can do for the spirits when you have been in intense heat.
JC's best from the trip at 43 kilos, fit and fat (the fish, not JC) T.Jukic image
Returning to the GT drifts we were met with more graft, sweat and no fish and idea's were being thrown around about leaving the islands and heading inshore for a light tackle session to help save the day.  At about that time the wind started to pick up, nothing serious but enough to generate some small swell and waves; potentially perfect and it at least provided relief from the heat. 

Stu releasing a beast - the NBO's way
With the presence of the breeze Alli decreed that the G's might just switch on now, lets hold off on the move for now... heading back over the previous drifts with the situation looking much more promising than in the morning we felt a bit renewed, it now looked much more fishy.  Action took half an hour to emerge but it surely did - my Blaze Saththa popper smashed from the wash zone and we were instantly relieved!  A hectic battle had our first fish on the deck with all pumped up and revitalized.  Not an Oman monster, but at all black and 38kgs it was a fantastic start and a lovely thick fish.
Trip opener for JC, Blaze Saththa hammered - T.Jukic image
Nate brings 808 style to Oman - Mahalos bro!
Within an hour later we raised more geets, a pack of smaller fish all jet black and seemingly aggressive but not willing to bite properly really kept us entertained, frustrating though, as they appeared more happy to buzz and boil on our lures and not eat cleanly.  It wasn't until we discovered through trial and error trying to get a bite that an erratic, faster and much more aggressive skipping / fast swimming style was to their liking with all of us hooking up at one point or another sometimes all at once once we realized what would switch them on.  I was lucky to boat two of these more modest geets (modest for SO, awesome anywhere else!) while we all had fish fall off in the fight or missed hookups a plenty.  The session turned from bleak to pretty damn good fast!  The day started to get quieter mid afternoon with some time between bites.
Eno with the fish of the trip - 55kgs of muscle and aggression
Just when you might think it was over for the day I had the bite of the trip (for me).  Casting a prototype stickbait into very choppy water I was met with a fully airborne GT on the second sweep, this was not just a bit out of the water, but at least 2 foot clear with the lure in it's mouth!  The hookup less than orthodox also with me ending up on my ass while setting the hook.  A torrid fight to get the fish out of shallow water was memorable and hectic and resulted in a deep bodied 43 kilo GT hitting the deck, nicely rounding out our day tally to 5 fish, an excellent start to Reef Raiders. Back at the lodges it was great news that all boats had seen action.  The highlight being that Ed, Eno and Daiki had hit pay dirt with 45, 49 and 55 kilo monsters and Ed had dumped half a spool on a monster that unfortunately did not stay connected, while Stu, Nate and Eric had seen solid action as well, spirits ran high!
Stu bet it all in Oman and came up on black - yeww!
GT Master class from Eric the Great - T'Jukic image
Day 2 and 3 were designated camping days where we would sleep in the boats and do some after dark popping (the adventure part of the trip).  Teamed up again with captain Alli I had the pleasure of fishing with the Japanese duo - Eno and Daiki.  Our day session was unremarkable with many casts and only a couple of flappy fish raised that had no interest in eating.  We even ventured onto the island to try and do our best to recapture some of last years land based magic, this time with no joy.  After sunset we were back on the boat and Eno was able to salvage our day with our one bite he managed while deep dredging which he converted into a modest GT that was not weighed.  This was much better than the zero we were looking at.  Despite several more drifts over that patch we did not raise another fish.  Done for the day, we anchored up, ate and established our blow up beds on the deck.  The anchorage was well protected from the wind but small waves wrapped around the point making things uncomfortable and difficult to sleep.  I found that I was rocking all over the deck and the only way I could stop that was to engage my core but this is not terribly conducive to sleep!  This was nothing compared to the incredible cold we all felt as we settled for the night and our sweat failed to dry in the sea mist that rolled in, a long uncomfortable night followed; the small price you pay for adventure!
Legend of a guy! Nick Milford first Omani geet, cracker!
In the predawn we rose and prepared for the morning session ahead.  I have a soft spot for fishing dawn more than any other time and we were about to hit my favorite Southern Oman reef at sun rise, what was not to like about that prospect!  Despite the personal hype I generated, ample bait and perfect conditions we did not raise or see a single GT, such is life, they do not always read the script!  Back on land soon after lunch we were keen to see how the other boats had fared from the overnight mission; Ed, Nate and Stu skippered by Henk had enjoyed an epic session on dusk with from memory about 10 fish between them, what a hectic action!  The other boat comprising Tomi, Eric and Nick (with skipper Mo) had also got among some solid fish.
Daiki's 49 - mean fish, tough weigh in!
Day 4 saw me fishing with Alli as skipper again, Ed and Nick.  Fishing was relatively slow for us until we raised a pack of large big eye trevally - accompanied by an equally large pack of GT's right up there ass!  The fish were all over our lures and eager to eat and unfortunately a big eye beat the intended target to mine - nooooooooooo!  What I witnessed next was spectacular as a bus sized GT, possibly the biggest I have ever seen tried to actually eat the big eye (check the video)!  Quickly skull dragging it in and flipping it off (thank goodness for barbless hooks), my cast was back out in moments but it was too late, the pack had gone and they did not reappear despite several more drifts over the patch, devastated!  Somehow we had converted none from a situation where we might have all hooked up, that's GT fishing!
Bus emperor for Nick - how hard do they go!
All trip a real frustration was the constant attacks from the long toms on our lines - the pests tend to attack the braid with their needle teeth as it zips through the water and manage to do enough damage to compromise it and under the strike shock load of a good GT, boom it will let go.  I had to change to spare spools of braid twice that afternoon, expensive and frustrating to say the least, but ignore it and you will lose fish when you do inevitably hook up.
About as big as I've seen an emperor - Amegari again
Switching over to some light tackle casting in an area where it's seldom done and enjoyed the most epic spangled emperor session I've ever been involved in.  Lure cost was high as every other cast one of us was buried in the reef  by these bulldozers and they were good fish.  I am a big advocate that if you don't weigh it, don't say it so I will keep my size guesses to myself but they were big and thick!  This was an epic PE3 afternoon.  The wind had really picked up over the last day or two and the run back to the lodges was long and wet. The other boats reported a slow day mostly.
Massive bream on Amegari Urpekari - T.Jukic image
Day 5 I was keen for a short break from the pounding of endless GT casting and the big seas, as well I had promised myself I would do more light tackle this trip so today would be that day.  Heading along the cliffs with Mo as our skipper, Ed and Tomi it was a matter of where to start.  The beauty of being guided is Ed and Mo knew precisely where the fish would be and as it turned out, in numbers.  From the very first cast it was hectic action.  If one of us was not hooked up it was because there was a double or triple and this lasted close to two hours!  Casting close we had beastly bream hitting poppers, under them were thousands of black tip trevally, casting the other side of the boat on the bait balls were mahi mahi, massive queenfish, grouper, bonito and sundry other species totally almost 20! (mostly thanks to Tomi).
Mega queenfish for Tomi on top
It was not uncommon to have someone getting their spool emptied by a pelagic while someone else was putting brakes on a rock dwelling dozer while someone else was unhooking a fish, mayhem.  After the initial madness, the rest of the day the bite got a lot harder or more accurate to say, 'normal'.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day but it left us with a nagging feeling that this might have been the day the GT's really lit up and we had perhaps made a bad decision, on return we learnt that a couple of fish had been caught by each boat with uncle Stu getting his black beast, happy days for all, we were more than satisfied with the crazy light tackle we had enjoyed, still can't help but think, 'what if' though.
Bluefish on Jack Fin Pelagus 90S
Want an emperor? tie on a Megabass Konosiris
In what was to turn out to be our final day of ocean fishing, day 6 was spent chasing GT's with skipper Alli, Ed and the master angler Eric.  The sea's were BIG, and building.  It was actually difficult to stay on your feet while casting and working a lure but we manged for the most part.  For half a days toil we raised fish once in a small pack attack where Eric hooked up as did I, but mine was a sad story; ZZZZZZ - CRACK as my braid snapped loud as a gun shot.  An inspection revealed a section of the line had been chewed by the long toms and I had missed it in the rough water and waves, little I could have done about it other than strip off bulk line as I was on my last spool of the four I had brought with me on the trip.  That was the one that got away for me and I am still a little sulky about it.  Eric managed to boat his in a brilliant display of angling in horrid conditions.  Despite the feeling we might be on the edge of a bite, Ed made the right call soon after lunch that the seas had become unsafe and we went in, it was a long wet run in building conditions, the monsoon was knocking on the door.  The other crews returned mixed results with Nick getting a couple of solid black fish.
Freshwater cuda?  Seen it all now.
With a poor forecast and clearly an angry ocean, day 7 was not going to be chasing GT's.  A plan was hatched to head to the freshwater wadi nearby which is a popular swimming hole.  Amazingly we found that the wadi was alive with fish with multiple mangrove jack and barracuda a highlight, great fun had on light tackle, a BBQ in the shade of palm tree's and a semi refreshing swim (the water being as warm as the air). It all made for a great day and a bit of a wind down.
BIG Rankin Cod that ate a popper - wicked work Nate
As quick as Reef raiders had started it was over.  A layover day back in Salalah enjoying the comforts of the pool and bar was just the ticket before the monstrous trip home that this year included an extended 16 hour layover in Doha with Eno and Daiki.  This years numbers were a little more modest than last years record breaker but in reality at almost 30 GT's for the crew it was still world class when you consider the average size encountered is actually big. It was always going to be impossible to stand up to last years epicness!  As always monster opportunities existed, converting them up to you, and luck.  That is what I maintain about SO, persist and you will get a chance at a once in a life time fish, hooking and landing it always another matter altogether!
Jacks in Oman, who knew - Tomi found out!
As always the No Boundaries operation impresses and there have been some changes over the last year most noticeably with lodge and operational staff, the addition of Janine Bronkhorst, Henk Ferreira and Alli a definite boost to the professionalism on and off the water to the long established legends Mo, Saiful and Mamun.  I can't wait to be back for trip number 6.
ASWB Elsie on emperor extraction detail
Gear rundown - These trips for me also serve as product testing opportunities, here's what went down:
New product - ASWB Elsie rods.  Nick Milford and I both used the PE3 model and loved it, perfect for Oman light tackle and capable against any angry emperor.
ASWB IPGT10/8 rods - Whilst not new, in their second season now these rods have continued to perform and frankly look near new still.  I have punished them over their limits without issue.
Blaze Garage Saththa - this popper has racked up some impressive Oman numbers in Oman this season.
Orion Oman Pop - all you need for beastly bream.
Amegari Kaxu - just trust me and own at least one.
Megabass Konosirus - if you need a strong saltwater vibe look no further.
Jack Fin Pelagus 90S - an awesome small all rounder for PE3 work. 

Check out the GT video - (light tackle still to come)   >>>>>