A few posts ago I discussed various knots and flies that were recommended to me for tropical saltwater fly fishing and more specifically (or in context) Seychelles. Ewan Naude and I departed to Alphonse Island on 14 October last year; here is a brief trip report of our experience with Alphonse Fishing Co. on the outer Seychelles islands/atolls, the pudding after all the preparation work and pre-trip posts…
I woke up in the chill of an air conditioner. In an attempt to warm myself I jumped out of bed and opened a window, but the hot air streaming in made me choke. It was 6:30 am and the tropical heat in the Seychelles had already climbed above 30°C.
Ewan lifted his head from his pillow; I could see in the bewildered expression that he was as confused as I was. Our worlds had changed overnight from the office to an island holiday. “It still doesn’t feel real…” our words crossed.
After coffee, we sorted our check-in luggage to match the 15 kg charter flight limit and then we braved the furnace outside. We joined the rest of the week’s company at the IDC terminal where we got introduced to Andrew Lottering, Neil Rowe, Mike Terespolsky, Rob Stokes, Bruce and Fiona Stewart, Paul Davidson and Peter Woodhouse. We quickly learned that some of the members in our party had been on several Alphonse trips before.
However, everyone had minor baggage issues. It seemed to me that even the veterans struggled to minimize back-up tackle. This was nothing new to the IDC check-in hostess either and the fishermen, with minor swaps and additions in hand luggage, boarded the plane with all their ‘precious belongings’. The cabin buzzed with fishing stories. Our ears twitched as we overheard conversations about sedan-sized giant trevally hunting 1 kg bonefish and schools of permit fifteen-fish-strong swimming in knee deep water.
After an hour’s flight, nervous passengers set foot onto the Alphonse airstrip. It wasn’t hard to guess that everyone was excited to rig a 12 wt and start walking the shore of the island. That’s exactly what Ewan and I did when we got to our A-frame bungalows. They were conveniently based on the south eastern shore, where feeding trevally and bonefish were encountered daily.
The first bluefin and brassy trevally were landed that arvie, a great introduction to a week’s ridiculous fishing ahead of us. The daily routine involved an early start with a fresh boat ride to St. Francois atoll; we’d spend eight hours with the guides there after which the energetic individuals could still catch a fish unguided on Alphonse before the dinner bell rang.
The atolls were a mere ~45 minute boat trip apart and although the same fish species could be caught on each, I found the fishing remarkably different. We never experienced low tide on Alphonse, so most of the fish were caught from dry sand amongst coconut palm trees; whereas St. Francois could be waded comfortably even on the spring high and so fish were landed while standing in the water. The off shore fishing around St. Francois was also extraordinary. With the professional skippering of Devan van der Merwe and his blue water team we had shots at big bluefin trevally, GTs, wahoo, sailfish and yellowfin tuna from the boat.
Ewan and I had one such memorable day on which we split the morning between off shore fishing and the sand flats. The weather was peachy and so was the fishing. Both of us managed a ‘bills and bones’ slam, each landing sailfish and bonefish on the same day. This was one of the numerous ‘prized catches’ celebrated at the bar with a free shot in the evening. However, regardless of the alcohol consumption during island dinners, the fishing was enough to get drunk on (I am still recovering from the hangover).
Although we caught several big fish from the deck, including two beautiful GTs (Ewan landing an exceptional personal best), I enjoyed the fishing on foot most. In fact, I had some of the best fishing of my life on the sand flats. These shallow spots were home to many bonefish and it was hard to move on once the first fish made the reel sing.
On a rainy day (the fishing was so overwhelming that I cannot remember the sequence of the week’s events, I simply remember the highlights), we stuck our hooks into countless bonefish moving out of the Cosmic Lagoon with the dropping tide. Like one could imagine a ghost hovering they drifted over the sand, only becoming visible within a ten meter radius. Big fish were often alone and then there were also small schools of juveniles. They were hungry and a fish ate the fly on almost every cast and due to the overcast conditions the sight fishing for GTs and other species was out of the question so we conveniently stayed with the bones.
To be blunt about it, damn that place for ruining bonefishing for me. I believe our guide, Brandon Poole, enjoyed the ‘moment’ as his two naïve clients caught bones, bluefin trevally, pursemouth and goatfish without saying a word. After about three hours of catching and releasing fish I heard Ewan muttering sarcastically (standing with a bent rod in hand): “Ah, not another bonefish”.
On the drive to the next spot we discussed our fish preferences, then Ewan called me a bonefish slut and I came to the conclusion that I could retire near a bonefish flat. Ewan, on the other hand, could not resist the bite of a trigger. While I was searching for bones and perms, he’d happily lob crabs at triggerfish. It seemed to me like anglers with attitude are into more robust fishes that share the personality traits, like bass and triggerfish, whereas the more polished trout and salmon anglers have a preference for bonefish.
We had a more serious look for permit on the final day of the trip when I presented my theory to Alec Gerbec, one of the head guides on Alphonse and also the guy that developed the now famous Alphlexo crab pattern. Alec’s an experienced guide from the States and has spent many hours on permit, trout and salmon fishing. He agreed that he was also more into trout and bonefish than bass and triggers. Then my first Indo-Pacific permit tangled my line and I realised that these fish had a cult-following of its own. I mean, just look at Peter Coetzee for instance?
Nevertheless, it was Alec’s local knowledge of the finger flats that paid off in the end. He gave both Ewan and I the opportunity to cast his revolutionised Flexo crab pattern to feeding permit. I enjoyed the benefit of getting the first shot at a permit that day. Ironically, it was on a flat that we had visited twice before in the week; it was Alec’s favourite spot. The rest of the fishing crew had seen permit every day, even schools of fish and two’s and three’s came out here and there. I had seen very few and there was no doubt I doubted Alec’s honey hole.
Then, as we reached the same area where I had only seen a handful of big bones before, two permit dorsals poked the surface. Alec called this the ‘bread and butter zone’. He announced his sighting with a calm, proud voice and said: “Now the last thing you need to do is get excited, keep yourself calm.” Things like that are easier said than done, but I imagined how the fish could sink and disappear into the deep channel close to where they were feeding.
It was likely only five minutes before they were in reach of a comfortable cast, but the adrenalin distorted my feelings for time. The biggest fish took the lead and I placed the white Alphlexo crab about 1.5 m in front of it, on the edge of a turtle grass bed the fish was swimming along. The permit turned and followed the small crab on the first strip. On the second and third strips it rushed towards us and tailed into and over the fly and almost to our feet.
“What the f#$k is the fish doing?” Alec yelped. I was sure that the ‘monstrous’ perm got more excited than me in the moment and completely missed the fly. Then Alec screamed: “Strike, strike, strike! It ate!”
I had to run backwards to get the slack in and then all I could do to set the hook was to palm the rod butt like a spin fisherman. There was no reaction at first even though the fish bucked my 10 wt NRX. When the permit swam out of the sand cloud it stirred up it saw us and shot off tail kicking and dorsal trailing in a peculiar fashion, which I gathered was unique to permit.
The perm pulled hard, its sickle fins flopping clumsily through the shallow water, but it never made a blistering run like I expected. When the fish finally turned on its side and gave in I was quite distant and in a state of mixed emotions. Ewan had to hit me with his fist before I committed to his high five. The fish had taken the crab so deep that we had to cut the line. Luckily, Ed Truter had opened my eyes about squashing the barbs on saltwater hooks, so the release was “100% guilt-free”; the strictly barbless fishing practiced by Alphonse Fishing Co. also shows in the fish numbers swimming around the atolls where they operate.
We celebrated my catch (which seemed average for St. Francois) with a Coke on the way to the next spot. It was Ewan’s turn to nerve himself to face feeding permit. Alec took him to a flat where a shallow coral bed met the sand, which was similar to the place where we found the previous lot. I kept my distance and tried to catch the bonefish that started to move onto the sand as the tide came in.
Then something strange happened; an anorexic bonefish swam straight at me, close to the surface. I made a cast and as the fish seemed very active I stripped the Tan Clouser faster than the standard slow draw. It ate the fly mid-water on the second strip.
The bone started cartwheeling across the surface. It tired quickly though, quicker than a healthy bone should and as it came closer towards the end of the fight I identified the fish. It was a needle scale queenfish and a big one (but very pale compared to the one’s I caught in the Socotra Archipelago and hence the confusion with a bonefish). The most incredible two hours of fishing followed as a big school of these fish moved onto the edge of the flat. Similar to the day we spent catching bonefish in the rain, the queenfish ate the fly on almost every cast. The fishing was so good I barely noticed Ewan and Alec making their way back to the boat and when Alec finally waved me over it felt like stiff punishment to cut the fly off. On the way to the mother ship, Ewan told me how they found a school of permit and although a perfect presentation got one of the fish to take the fly, the hook didn’t catch.
Besides the perms, GTs, sailfish, triggerfish, bonefish and bluefin trevally there were emperors. We caught many yellow lip and blue spangled emperors while hunting for GTs and triggerfish with Dave Marshall and Cameron Musgrave on the reef edges of St. Francois atoll. The strong pull of a big emperor got me hooked on these fish. They were aggressive, but no giveaway and I thoroughly enjoyed stalking them when we didn’t see a triggerfish wave its tail. Hidden among the masses were colourful wrasse, peacock grouper, honeycomb grouper, and juvenile bohar snapper.
It’s a place where there is always a chance to catch a fish, unless the angler becomes painfully picky. However, I never felt that I lost out when I caught a ‘less-prised’ fish, therefore I’d never change the way I fished Alphonse and St. Francois, even if I had been there a hundred times for that matter. The fishes that I’d still like to catch there are wahoo, milkfish and the large swallow tail parrotfish, but these are only some of the reasons why I’d go back.
I’d firstly like to thank Keith Rose-Innes for giving us the opportunity to experience the fishing on Alphonse Fishing Co’s playground; then I’d like to thank the guides Devan van der Merwe, Dave Marshall, Brandon Poole, Cameron Musgrave, Tom Hradecky, Kyle Simpson, Kyle Reed, Joshua Herbst, Bertrand Lablache, and Alec Gerbec for the fantastic time we had with them on St. Francois. These are patient and skilled guides that clients can rely on. I’ve guided in a few other countries and have also visited several overseas fishing destinations and in my honest opinion the combination of guiding and fishing at Alphonse was unmatched.
For more information on trips to the best tropical fly fishing destination in the Indian Ocean (and certainly in the top 5 if not top 3 in the world?), contact Keith Rose-Innes (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit www.alphonsefishingco.com. This is not a bucket-list destination, it is a MUST FISH NOW destination. If you died tomorrow without fishing Alphonse then you missed out in life. So here is some advice, start saving every coin you can and book a week to this place, you won’t regret it and you’d agree that it’s also worth it – If you are South African, I’d recommend contacting Keith directly for rates.
For the Alphonse Fishing Co. blog post on our trip please visit:
Also keep an eye out on this blog for other Alphonse features that will be published in various printed and electronic magazines.