A tropical flat – any shallow area of sand, grass and coral surrounded by warm azure waters – will always grab my attention and imagination. The first real flats fishing I ever did was on the sand spit in front of the now disappeared Mason’s Travel in Grand Anse on Praslin Island.
The Seychelles have, since the late nineties, been on the wish list of every angler with a penchant for warm water and big fish. Since then the stunningly beautiful southern atolls – once only accessible by sailing south – have become exclusive, pay through your nose, and mostly well managed fisheries.
It took me nine years from my first bonefish, caught on the flats of Grand Anse, before I got to walk the flats of a southern atoll; but is another story. That first bonefish was caught in 2002 and after several trips I moved to Praslin where I spent two years fishing my free hours away. The most frustrating and, by far my favourite, place to fish where those flats in Grand Anse.
It was on those stretches of sand and marl that I really learnt about shallow, salt water fly fishing. The flats of the inner islands are mercurial and fickle. They will, on one day, allow the angler a true red-letter day and the next they will strip you of all the fly casting confidence you thought you had. The fish – bonefish, golden trevally and permit – are tempestuous and reluctant. They will taunt you and test you.
The Seychelles during July is not a place for good fishing. The SE thrashes the oceans, sending surf into the southern islands and kicking up the sediment on the flats. The sun follows an angle over your back that limits your vision and the continuous convection clouds stunt your ability to spot fish.
This is particularly true for Praslin – it is not a time for postcard pictures on the southern shores.
I arrived back on Praslin on the 1st July. This was never going to be a record breaking trip. Luckily I had friends to meet and people to keep me occupied during the windy days when the flats would be off. The beauty of an island is there is always a leeward side. Unfortunately for Praslin, the only flats on the leeward shore lie bang in the middle of marine park – no go with a fishing rod. But diving, SUPPING and chilling are at least allowed!
I also arrived without bags. Etihad had managed to leave my bags in Abu Dhabi; I had nothing but the clothes on my back and the reels in my carry on. Luckily, between Mitt and his brother, Bart, I was able to borrow some ill-fitting clothes and a brand spanking new Redington #8. At least I could fish.
My first morning out on the flats was pleasant enough. The wind had dropped, I felt like my eye was in when I spotted a few small permit about fly line from me. But the more I walked, the less I saw. It was quiet and I needed to take stock of the changes that ocean had wrought upon the flats in my four-year absence from the island.
While living there, I got to know the flats intimately. I knew the nuances a change in wind direction made to water movement and how it affected the feeding patterns of the bonefish. I knew just where the Goldens would be tailing and terrorising the crustaceans at certain points of tide. And I knew where I could find the permit when the wind kicked up the marl and clouded sections of the flats.
While at a glance the flats looked same, it was a different fishery that I was walking. I felt lost. I headed home with several rats and mice, including a nice pursemouth, but without seeing a fish of consequence.
I got another window two days later, the wind was down and I was off. By now my bags had caught up with me and I was excited to pair my new Nautilus up with my favourite Scott. As Murphy would have it, the moment I loaded my the rod it broke! A nick in the second section, caused by a collision with a crab in Oman, had finally cost me.
Shit! I flew home, grabbed the loan rod, and hurried back. But by this time the water was higher than ideal so I skirted the shallower edge and looked hard but to no avail; another blank. Meh.
My first success of the trip came the next day, when after a long wade I saw those telltale dark sickles break the surface of the water. A Permit tailed over its unfortunate prey. It was moving up the edge of a bright white sand bank and I didn’t have time to tie on a crab. A moment later it tailed again and I dropped the Charlie on its head – it’s always a relief when a presentation on the head of a tailing fish doesn’t result in a bow wave caused by the fish bee lining for deep water. One strip, resistance, fish on!
A quick selfie later and I was watching the spirited fish swim away. With a smile on my face I headed home. But not before I crossed paths with a big Golden who was waving his tail at me from the murky full tide water. And as those goldens do, he played a great game of peek-a-boo with me for a good 20min before getting bored with avoiding my fly and buggered off to deeper water.
I headed home happy, figuring there would be more shots…
Permit on the Inner Island flats never get too big. They’re there, and they’re fickle. I walked the flats at Anse la Blague and Grand Anse whenever the weather gave leave, places that I’ve caught many bones over the years, but very very few permit. Something was different this trip. I saw only one bonefish – it turned tail 40 yards out and took for deep water – but I did land six permit.
If I landed six permit in a year while living in the islands, it was a lot. What was different during the few weeks? I have no idea.
I spent I think seven sessions on the flats. A couple of sessions where almost picture perfect. Others were windy, cloudy and tough. I will admit that I didn’t fish hard. The season was wrong and the trip was as much, if not more, about seeing people as it was about fishing. But I will say that walking the flats again was a treat. A few fish. Memories of people who fished with me over the years and things I saw when on my own. Those flats are where I refined what I knew about salt water fly fishing. Despite the lack of fish, I left happy!