Western Australia’s Fly Fishing Treasure (Interview)

Western Australia's Fly Fishing Treasure

12 years ago Dr. Gene Geppert retired from a career in Pulmonary Medicine and dedicated his life to every aspect of fly fishing, especially fly casting. He has been a Certified Casting Instructor of the International Federation of Fly Fishers since 2011. Everyone who calls or comes into the shop looking to learn or improve their casting gets pointed in his direction. Gene’s passion for the sport has lead him all over the world on fishing trips that dreams are made of. His most recent trip was to Exmouth, Western Australia. Overcome with jealousy from the pictures he sent back and to help us continue to outfit anglers for success in Exmouth, we decided to pick his brain as soon as he returned.

Ole Florida: So what made you decide on Exmouth in the first place?

Gene Geppert: A big part of it was a report from my friend Tim Henshaw, that he had such a rich experience there. That influenced me a great deal. I was looking for something that would provide fishing similar to the Seychelles but without some of the disadvantages of the Seychelles.

I’ve been to Christmas Island, which by the way, this was not similar to. This was dramatically different. For one thing, Christmas Island doesn’t have permit. Travel is a big one. I liked the fact that the travel to Exmouth would be less brutal than the travel to the Seychelles. I also didn’t need all that rich food that they serve in the Seychelles. I didn’t really want that to be part of the package.

OF: You were going primarily for a fishing experience. What was the scoop on the flights out there? I know you did a trip before hand.

GG: Well it was 6 hours to Los Angeles plus a little layover in LA. Then it was another 15 hours to Melbourne. Then its 4 1/2 hours going Melbourne to Perth. In Perth you jump on a little puddle jumper for a less than 2 hour flight to Exmouth.

OF: So you basically have to block out 2 days on both ends for travel. What were the accommodations like?

GG: That’s right. Accommodations were fantastic. The guide who runs the program rehabbed a house for his guests. His name is Jono Schales. In the year between Tim’s visit and my visit he completely revamped a house and it was nothing short of ideal for me. You cook for yourself, there’s a market you can get your supplies from. I was delighted to come home without gaining 10 lbs because I wasn’t eating resort food.

OF: You were the only one there at the time, is that normal? It’s only him correct?

GG: Correct, he’s the whole story. He would book as many as 4 depending on the conditions, but he will only take 2 out on his boat.

OF: So what do you do if you’re booked with other guys?

GG: There’s a wading experience that the overflow anglers would have. Typically they would divide up and change from day to day because he’s only taking 2 out at a time.

OF: So when you set up the trip, what were the primary targets that you were anticipating and expecting?

GG: Well I was very much focused on Indo-Pacific permit. That was my chief goal, not the only goal but definitely the main one. There’s 2 species. There’s what they call the Indo-Pacs which are beautiful with golden dorsal fin and golden crest. Then there’s the Anaks which have a bulging forehead and slightly different habits and ecology. The Indo is more common.

OF: Size-wise, are they relatively similar? How big are these things? Not that it really matters…

GG: In general, neither of these species get to the gigantic size that our Caribbean fish do.

OF: So 5 to 15 pounds-ish? Smaller? Do you get those little Belize size fish as well?

GG: Yeah, yeah, and interestingly no, I didn’t see small fish and I didn’t see schooling fish. Pods, many singles, and many more following rays than I’ve ever seen here. Some following sharks as well.

Indo-Pacific Permit

OF: What’s the wading experience?

GG: The way it’s set up is if the weather is good you’re on the boat. If the weather is marginal you’re hiking on the flats near town. Which are rich in permit. When I arrived a cyclone had just passed through. It was too windy to go out that day so we waded and I did have a shot at permit right away.

OF: How many shots would there be in a typical day of permit fishing?

GG: So the variable that really seemed to matter was water depth. I had planned to be there during neap tides. It could be that there’s just as many permit on the flats during spring tides as neap tides…

OF: Hold on, tell us about the neap tides.

GG: The neap tides are way less than 2 meter variations and a lower peak at both ends. A bigger part of each fishing day is taken up by shallow enough water to spot fish easily. With the spring tides it becomes much much much harder.

OF: So the substrate? What are you fishing these permit over?

GG: There were 2 substrates. One was very fine white sand. The other was mottled, green-brown seagrass and plant-life. But not plant-life that would ever foul your fly by getting in the way.

OF: So weed guards aren’t necessary?

GG: Weed guards aren’t necessary. It was sort of proof of the excellent vision of the guide that he could spot fish over the mottled bottom 100 ft plus away from the boat.

OF: Did you ever get up to his eye-level to see if you could see what he was seeing?

GG: Actually he wasn’t elevated above me.

OF: Really? So its a flat boat, no casting platform?

GG: Yeah, just briefly its a center console boat, 20 ft. long custom made to cross the gulf which is not easy. He’s doing both offshore and the flats stuff in the same boat.

OF: I assume the boat is fly friendly?

GG: Oh yeah very fly friendly. He can fish one in the front and one in the back. He doesn’t use a stripping bucket. Remember if you’re in the boat it’s not too windy so when you’re stripping onto the floor your line remains snag free.

Keel Crab Fly

OF: What flies were you successful with on the permit?

GG: While I was there my host’s best friend caught a permit, killed it, and examined its stomach contents. It was just full of speckled brown and yellow crabs. So the Keel Crab Fly worked however he did criticize my flies. He wanted the legs to be coming off the bottom and my carapace bundles were too loose for his taste. He thinks that the permit are so discriminating that they will actually react better if it looks more anatomically correct. I still caught fish on the flies I tied though. Next time I go I will bring a set of flies a step heavier.

OF: And that was the only fly you used for the permit?

GG: I tried a mantis shrimp imitation. It didn’t seem to thrill the fish, I got a few to look at it, but he didn’t want me to fish it anymore because he didn’t think they were enthusiastic enough about it.

OF: Interesting that you got to see the stomach contents. Did you get to eat the fish?

GG: I didn’t personally. They said it was wonderful.

OF: Too bad. So how long were your leaders and what fly lines were you using?

GG: 11 to 12 foot leaders. I was using clear intermediate lines, which are what he greatly prefers. For obvious reasons, it gets down closer to where the fish are usually hanging.

OF: How deep of water are you typically seeing these fish in?

GG: 3 to 5 feet, and a lot of the fish were feeding.

I’d like to explain Jono’s method of casting to permit because I think it’s brilliant. You might start with the fly in your hand and only 2 meters of fly line outside the rod tip. So when he spots the fish your first motion is simply to get your short amount of line straight on the water, either in front of you or behind you. The second cast’s purpose is to get a lot of line out of the tip. So what he does is a high speed oval cast, slipping line in both directions, and shooting line in both directions. So the second stroke achieves almost a full head outside the rod tip and the line is hitting the water straight at this point. With the third cast you had to pick up the intermediate line immediately, it’s really quite effective.

OF: Interesting. Well I think that’s everything about the permit. What else did you target on the flats?

GG: A big one was queenfish. Which is a fish I’ve really come to love. I mean they do everything you’d want a fish to do. They jump like crazy, they fight really well. GT’s were also much more common than I thought after talking to Tim. I hooked a nice large GT that broke me off in the mangroves. You’d especially see them when the tide was at high points so they can fit on the flats. If we had targeted GT’s more we would’ve fished different tides. I caught a golden trevally on the flats they were numerous, I caught a cobia that was riding the back of a slow-moving 8-10 ft. tiger shark. Wading I caught a black-spot tusk fish, that was fun, they call that a blue bone in Australian slang.

Gene Queenfish

OF: What about off the flats?

GG: We fished the shoals off the flats, running and gunning, watching the birds and looking for baits being busted. I caught long-tailed tuna, king mackerel, and brassy trevally. The kingfish jumped extremely high, it was spectacular.

OF: Awesome, any billfish?

GG: Well I caught a sailfish. It’s really just the luck of the draw, many people catch black marlin in the waters we were fishing. We ran teasers for a bait and switch for more than 4 hours before the sailfish rose.

Gene Sailfish

OF: Patterns for the offshore stuff?

GG: I used Jono’s weighted streamer flies, about 4” long. He loves clousers, we used clousers about 80% of the time offshore.

OF: Looked hot, I saw pictures of you fishing under an umbrella. How was that, did he set you up to cast properly under that?

GG: The third last day I was there, I don’t know the exact conversion but the temperature hit way beyond 105ºF. The umbrella was wonderful, He only set it up during lunch time. That pic you saw of me fishing with the umbrella was only because a kingfish decided to interrupt our lunch.

OF: Incredible. Ok 3 things you wouldn’t go back to Exmouth without?

GG: A Buff is number 1. One that preferably covers everything but your sunglasses. The UV is real serious down there I had to buy zinc sunscreen to keep my nose. Number 2 is gloves, I thought the Buff gloves were fantastic. Number 3 would be an organizer bag like this one. (picks up the Fishpond Cloudburst Gear Bag)

Gene Cobia

Gene Geppert Fly Casting Lessons

Exmouth Fly Fishing with Jono Shales