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Djibouti Fly Fishing Exploratory, 2022

In early 2022, Reptile Robb and I finalized plans to fish a coastline, country and region neither of us had been to, Djibouti and the confluence of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. A digital hunt began during the first week of January, 2022 for an untapped, on-foot Giant Trevally fly fishing destination. I go full manic for days as a plan comes together. For safety, available flights and visa potential, Djibouti climbs to the top of the list. Stunning satellite images images of the coastline cement the decision.

Fly fishing for triggerfish in the red sea
Mustache Triggerfish!

From what I can find, Djibouti has been fly fished a couple times to varying success. The best account is from two South Africans who rented a 4×4 and fished exclusively from shore. Their stance is this: brutal terrain, fish that find corral quickly, and hire a local to pass the roadblocks.

Time to find a local contact. Emails mount. A breakthrough. A former missionary knows a guy. He's got a boat. An ambitious itinerary builds. 11 days of beach camping, covering nearly the entire coastline.

Days 1, 2 & 3

It began as a restless pandemic fever dream. Somewhere on the edge, un-pressured, barely known. A place that makes you wonder if you will be able to fish at all. The research reached a crescendo in January. I hardly slept for three nights in a row, manic with excitement while pouring over satellite images and flight schedules into the wee hours of the night as a plan blossomed.

On April 6th, Reptile and I board a flight bound for Istanbul. 26 hours later we pass our final customs line. Midnight local time and already drenched in sweat.

On April 10th, we scribble our names on a piece of coast guard paper and head north with the new homies.

On April 12th, I climb the volcanic rock cliff overlooking our new favorite flat, pushing the broken leaders of April 11th to the back of my mind. The sun climbs in the sky and the flat glows in shades of green and blue. A few scenery photos. A few worldly thoughts. Robb prowls the rocks below. And then movement. A GT charges the rock point. A quick visit with no fish to kill.

In a stroke of luck, the geet angles toward Robb as it swims out. I lose sight. Robb runs deeper and sends a cast. The water explodes in fury. Robb digs in to keep

'em off the reef edge. I scramble down the jagged boulders, ditch my rods and grab the glove. It's nearly tailing time. The tail scutes snag the rubber webbing as the full strength shakes into my arm. Roars of delight permeate the desert.

Fly fishing for giant trevally in the red sea
Robb's first ever Giant Trevally!

Day 4

Day 4 is primarily spent on transport. We are loathe to leave such a productive area but the goal is to explore and find the best water so we stick to the plan. After a few hours of eating chop we arrive to a Instagram ready camp, stick and thatch yurt like structures built into a cliff. We rig our rods and head out to fish the afternoon. A communication failure mounts as the first drop off attempt is a rock point with pounding waves. We motion for shallow water. A little further and we reach a reef flat. Perfect!

Robb heads shallow while I hunt the wave break for GTs. Over two hours I see nothing even though it looks perfect. Small fish all over, flitting around the coral bommies. Shame. I walk north and continue the hunt to the interior while the tide rises. The water heats up. I only spot 2 triggers chasing each other. Eventually, I relent and head back along the beach to the starting area. Fortunately, Robb has had all sorts of Trigger drama.

Day 5

fly fishing for triggerfish in the red sea
Triggerfish have incredible colors and teeth!

Until I tailed this Titan, the triggers were up 5-0. The first eat on Day 2, I nearly lost my entire fly line. The drama steadily decreased with each successive fish, culminating in a broken hook 6 inches from my hand with the 4th bite on Day 3. Day 4 was a transport and scouting day. I found great looking GT water and no fish. Fortunately, Robb found triggers so we returned the following day. We napped in the shade beneath the undercut rock cliff waiting on the tide to drop. Around

10:30am we ventured onto the flat. When I saw how happily this fish was feeding in thigh deep water, I knew it was going to happen. And with 25lb fluoro tippet & a 1/0 SL12S 1x short hook, I was able to make sure it did.

Days 6 & 7

needle fish on fly in the red sea
Big Needlefish!

This lunch break needle proved to be our largest scouting consolation prize for two days. Riding the momentum of Titan victory, we endured a brutal four hour boat ride to new waters to close out Day 5. Before dusk, we reached the area I was more excited to fish than any others based on satellite images. But by the end of Day 6, doubt crept in. We landed a mess of smaller fish in the mangroves but the serious shots were fleeting.

Something was off. Water was pushing 100 degrees in spots. Artisanal fishing boats were all over, primarily focused on squid. Flashes of brilliant GT pushes on tidal swings broke up hours of nothing. We knew where the fish were. We had to get back. Brutal boat ride be damned. Translated negotiations ensued. In a region where clean fuel is hard to find and prohibitively expensive, a route change is no easy feat. Debating, arguing, whatever you want to call it via a translator was a pretty cool life experience (in hindsight). Keep the language simple and direct. After 45 minutes, a deal was struck. A few camels wandered over to check out the commotion. At 5am the next day, I sat up and turned on my bluetooth speaker. Dire Straits barreled into the darkness. It was time to see if we knew the flat from Day 2 as well as we thought.

Day 8

The south bound shuttle flies by and we hop off the boat and hit the beach a touch after noon. Robb lands his first trigger in the first 30 minutes as we roam the shore north to get to our favorite spots. Validation never felt so good.

fly fishing for triggerfish in the red sea
Robb's first Triggerfish

We split up, maintaining our triple whistle protocol: hit it hard when you need fish pic assistance. 20 minutes later, I am holding this geets tail and ripping whistles into a nasty headwind. It's a darn good problem to have. No whistles back. A GT selfie will have to do.

fly fishing for giant trevally in the red sea
GT selfie

Later, I hear what I think is a whistle. It is hard to be certain with the gusting wind. I scramble up a rock pile. I can hear the whistle clear now. It must be something crazy. With a nice GT and now Triggerfish to hand, I know Robb wouldn't be summoning me for another version of those fish. The anticipation builds. Its a massive grouper! On fly, from the flats. Insane.

fly fishing for Grouper in the red sea
Grouper on fly

This day sums up the incredible diversity of species while fly fishing in Djibouti. On one flat on a single tidal swing, we hook: Triggerfish, GT, Grouper, Napoleon Wrasse, various smaller Trevally, all the reef fish, and both get shots at Permit. It is a dizzying amount of species. Now landing these species is always another story. They know how to find the rock and coral quickly!

Day 9 & 10

We try a few more spots for the final day and half, but by then the tide has turned against us and the flats simply aren't fishable like they had been. We get a few more shots at great fish but nothing comes together. On Day 10, we set sail and survive the oceanside chop absolutely exhausted but thrilled beyond measure.

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