Ever heard of Madagonia?

By Graeme Field

I didn't think so. But don't be too hard on yourself because it doesn't exist. Well, the place exists, but the name is simply a figment of my imagination, conjured up after we first found it.

A lot of research, time and effort went into finding it, and I figured that being such intrepid pioneers we have must earned some sort of unspoken explorers right to assign a name to our "discovery"!

It's a harsh place, where azure flats and pristine coral reefs encircle dry arid rocky islands. It's a place where low growing tundra like dry grasses eke out a living amongst jagged, razor sharp rocks, and where bleached turtle bones lay scattered on deserted beaches.

It's a barren place where few humans live for it's a very little rain falls here. But it's a place where fish thrive in the warm tropical waters. Ghost crabs scurry along the waters edge and turtles nest every few meters along the beaches, their fresh and distinctive tracks clearly visible each morning. Weird shrews hop around in the dry grass and unusual buzzards hover in the clear skies. It's the kind of place that when we visit it we truly feel like we are the only people on earth.

Inspired by the juxtaposition of the warm tropical waters and flats of Madagascar with harsh barren and windswept lands reminiscent of Patagonia, the two contrasting destinations were incorporated and the name "Madagonia" was born.

One of the benefits of owning boats and a fishing operation in a place like Madagascar is the opportunity to undertake exploratory DIY style trips in our own time, and at our own pace.

But exploring can be a tough, expensive and challenging business and requires generous helpings of patience and determination. It took us a number of long, hot and tough fact-finding trips to locate and properly explore "Madagonia". It involved days of living on the boat and camping on deserted islands, moving painstakingly slowly to conserve fuel, living on rations and in the same dirty, smelly fishing clothes day after day. But I couldn't think of anything better!

I absolutely love DIY fishing but it does require time as you are continually moving and searching and not just getting on with the job of catching fish. Some spots are great and produce fish immediately, some look fantastic on the charts yet turn out to be totally barren. But every now and again you find something that just simply blows you away.

Madagonia is such a place. It was first discovered by my Madagascar Fishing Adventures business partners Jason and Brandon, who did it the even harder way – long overland treks on the mainland in crowded local minibus taxi's, some serious 4x4ing and a few days putting slowly along in a local dhow and sleeping on the sand on deserted islands.

But when they finally reached the place they'd been eyeing out, the rewards were instant. Armed primarily with spinning tackle in order to prospect and cover as much water as possible in a short space of time, Jason made his first cast into a fairly stiff breeze. It must have been the travel weariness that affected his normally impeccable casting technique because the popper apparently flew all of 10 meters, blew back 5 meters and landed in the shore chop virtually at his feet. Cursing, Jason started reeling up the slack line and the second he connected with his popper there was an explosion of white water and it was engulfed by a 40lb GT – bang!

And so kick started a crazy 24 hours of fishing. Between the two of them they landed a number of good sized GT's, green spot kingies, blue fin kingies and as many salad fish and wave garrick as they could shake a rod at. Most of the fish were caught on spinning gear, but Brandon also nabbed a few on fly. He even had the opportunity to cast a fly at a few tailing triggerfish on the flats, but it was windy and the tides were strong so he was unable to present the fly properly.

When they finally got back into cell phone reception a couple of days later they were like two babbling idiots on the phone. I needed no further motivation and was on a flight two weeks later for a proper follow up trip, this time on our own boat "King Julien".

"King Julien" (named after the ring tailed lemur in the movie "Madagascar") is a sleek 28ft mono-hull and has been our trusty steed on a number of our voyages of discovery over the past couple of years.

Even though King Julien is a walk around style boat designed for fishing, all our travel paraphernalia somehow miraculously vanishes into it. Four of us were heading off for a full 7 days and expecting to cover about 400 kms, so the amount of bottled water, fuel, food, camping gear, camera gear, fishing gear, cooler boxes and cooking equipment was mind boggling. Somehow it all disappeared into the hatches, small cabin and even onto the roof. If it wasn't for the mattresses tied to the top of the T-top and the fact the boat was sitting conspicuously low in the water, a casual observer would never have suspected that we were heading off for anything more than a regular days fishing.

After two days of travelling (and catching some good fish on the way) we eventually found ourselves prowling up and down the lee side of one of the many islands that dot the area, flats extending far to the our left and right. The tide was low so we couldn't reach the island but we managed to manoeuvre King Julien through the coral heads and slid the bow onto the white sand flats.

The excitement was running high and three of us quickly leapt off the boat and onto the flats. I only had a camera with me but Jason and Gavin were armed with spinning rods and it was only a couple of minutes before the yells started as good sized green spot kingies charged out of the coral heads and smashed their poppers. After a couple of photos we started moving again and a few minutes later I spotted two 20lb GT's cruising the flats in knee deep water. Unfortunately excitement got the better of trigger happy Jason and Gavin and poppers went flying at the GT's long before they had got themselves into a proper position. Both fish shot off into the deeper water, spooked.

But there were a lot of fish around, and it wasn't long before they were each into small to medium GT's. As afternoon wore on the tide pushed steadily and the chases from green spots, GT's and blue fin were seemingly never ending.

By the time we got back to the boat the tide was high enough to reach the island and we took King Julien onto the protected beach we had been eyeing out earlier. The island was completely deserted, and other than the remnants of a long dead fire and some weathered fish scales and shells, there was no sign of any human habitation.

We tied the boat up securely to one of the few trees on the island, and set off on foot to explore the island's edges on the high tide. The action started immediately. As we rounded the first corner I spotted a 40lb GT cruising the edge, clearly visible on the uncluttered white sand. Jason made a cast and the fish charged in and smashed his popper but missed. It came back twice more but just wouldn't commit. Brandon was armed with his fly rod and elected to stand and wait on a sand spit with a nice channel running past it while we continued to walk around the island. Brandon cast at couple of decent GT's before hooking a good one that threw the fly after a short fight.

We ended the day in bay that faced straight into the onshore wind. Casting was difficult, but schools of greenspot kingies, saladfish and wave garrick were holding in the bay and chased our poppers on every cast. To compensate for the high tide and strong wind we resorted to teasing fish in close so we could throw a fly at them. It worked a charm and we'd be into a fish virtually every time.

Every hour or so the salads would suddenly all go leaping into into the air in panic as a big GT cruised in and smashed one of our poppers. It was a pretty wild introduction to a brand new unexplored destination.

Late that afternoon four very wary fishermen set up camp in a little grove of trees that afforded some protection from the strong night wind. Soon the tents were up, the sun was setting, a few cold beers were sliding down parched throats and life felt pretty good.

The next morning we explored the flats more thoroughly on foot, finding more GT's bluefin and greenspots, spotting a few Giant triggers and yellow-lipped emperors. I was chief cameraman (rod less) and Brandon fished with fly gear all day. He caught a few good fish, but also lost a couple of really nice GT's that just frustratingly didn't stick. One of those instances occurred right in front of me. Everything was textbook – white flats, a black GT hanging on top of a stingray that charged and ate the fly as soon as it landed. Brandon strip struck it perfectly but the fly just pulled loose as soon as the fish took off. Brandon more than made up for it though, landing a really nice GT early the next morning on the high tide.

Since then the GT's have generally been getting the better of us on fly. On a follow up trip a month or two ago our head guide James and I were walking along a jagged coral ledge when I spotted a GT holding in the current. James was in perfect position, made a good cast and the fish charged, ate the fly and was perfectly hooked. But as so often happens with GT's, if something can go wrong it will. Despite some fancy footwork the very last loop of line wrapped around a tiny protrusion of razor sharp rocks, neatly severing the fly line, James losing the fish and his cap in the process! (see James frame grab sequence)

I've also spotted a few solid 30 – 40lb GT's cruising the flats an easy 10 meter fly cast away when I've been armed with only a camera. I've got to start carrying that 12 weight again!

We've done 4 or 5 more trips since that first expedition, and have had the place to ourselves on each occasion. The flats and islands have unfailingly produced good GT's each time, but it's the offshore fishery that is now grabbing our attention.

The drop-offs, reefs, channels and blue water look spectacular, and everything is really close by. The possibilities are endless and we have barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. We'll be back in December this year for four weeks with clients and intend to delve deeper into the heart of Madagonia to see what we can uncover below the surface. Watch this space.

 

Air Flow Stealth Blue Water Shilton Complet Fly Fisherman