I was very fortunate to visit Alphonse Island in the Seychelles last week. Alphonse has to be one of the top five fishing destinations on earth, with the fantastic variety and numbers of fish on and around the atoll.
The thing that always strikes me when I visit this amazing area is that it is so much more than a fishing trip. Every day spent on the flats is like doing a wilderness walking trail in a shallow water, marine environment.
You get blown away by the sheer beauty of your surroundings. The islands consist of the whitest of coral sand beaches, with lush green coconut palms fringing them. Then you step out onto the shallow flats, where you soon become accustomed to seeing a variety of marine life around you at all times. There are rays, turtles and sharks, all cruising in water less than knee deep. If you look up to the sky at any time, you are likely to see fairy terns, tropicbirds, frigate birds, boobies and a variety of other tropical sea birds flying around. On the reef edges herons and egrets stalk small fish in the pools.
Walking the flats in search of feeding fish, such as bonefish, permit, triggerfish, milkfish and GT’s, is an amazing experience. A guide, who is attuned to the environment, and who seems to spot and identify fish that are little more than a vague shadow drifting across the sand or turtle grass, accompanies you. He points out fish that you can cast to, when they appear, or just entertains you as he feeds you information on the creatures and fish that you are seeing.
We had some dodgy weather while we were there. A cyclone moving around the northern part of Madagascar was creating havoc with the weather systems in the Indian Ocean, making our job a bit more challenging. The squalls seemed to be constantly around. If you stopped at any time and looked around you, you would see anywhere between four and six patches of rain and cloud in the area. When these came over us, the visibility of fish in the water became very limited, due to the reflected glare off the surface. At these times we relied more upon seeing tails breaking the surface, or bow waves as fish moved in the shallow water.
When the clouds moved on, it was like somebody switched on the lights, with fish suddenly being easy to spot, all around us.
We had some really good fun catching bonefish on small flies in the shallows. These fish move onto the flats as they flood with the incoming tide, taking advantage of abundant food in the form of crabs shrimp and mollusks, which inhabit the flats. They are fairly skittish fish, which need to be carefully stalked to within casting distance. The cast needs to be accurate and well presented, in order to not spook the fish. Dropping the fly ahead of a moving fish, and allowing the fish to get near the fly before moving it generally did the trick.
Once hooked, the bones showed us why they have been held in such high regard by flyfishers the world over for so long. They sped off with unbelievable acceleration, trying to get away to the safety of deeper water. Causing the line to rip through the water, kicking up a rooster tail of spray as it went.
I thoroughly enjoyed catching a number of bones, relishing the speed and power of these elusive fish, known as the ghosts of the flats, due to their ability to be almost invisible, even in the shallowest of water.
I also spent some time doing some blue water fishing from one of Alphonse Fishing Company’s fine boats. We trolled teasers in the beautiful blue water, sometimes no more than a hundred metres from the reef edge. I stole a glance at the echo sounder, and saw that we were in 70m of water, unbelievable! We raised sailfish every time we tried for them, and I managed to land two of these magnificent fighting fish on fly.
A real highlight for me was landing three wahoo on fly as well. These fish take off with unbelievable speed, tearing through the water, making the line peel off the reel at a rate that is nothing short of exhilarating. Those are moments that I will never forget!
I also caught some wahoo on small stickbaits, cast with light tackle. The thin braided line had very little resistance in the water and the speed with which the wahoo tore off was absolutely breathtaking. These amazing fish are so underrated in my opinion, Probably because most of them are caught on very heavy billfish trolling tackle.
I also had some fun catching yellowfin tuna on conventional tackle, casting stickbaits to them and marveling at the smash, where the fish would come rocketing out of the water with the lure clenched between its teeth.
The time went by too quickly and before I knew it, we were on the plane, heading home. I sat and reflected on how incredible the fishery was, despite the fact that the lodge at Alphonse is basically booked up every fishing season. Credit has to go to the excellent management of the fishery by Alphonse Fishing Company. They limit the number of rods that fish on St Francois atoll each day to twelve, ensuring that there is never too much pressure on the delicate system. They take the utmost care of each and every fish, ensuring that it is none the worse for the experience of having been caught. It is a very slick and professional operation, with some of the world’s finest guides plying their trade there.
It is somehow comforting to know that the whole experience will most likely be just as good for anglers coming there in years to come, thanks to the careful conservation and respect that the guides have for the environment and the fish.