“I WAS STUNNED TO LEARN THAT MY BLACK WAS THE 500 TH BILL FISH TAGGED THAT SEA­SON IN THE SEY­CHELLES — WORD OF THE CATCH EVEN MADE THE LO­CAL NEWS­PA­PER.”

Marlin - - BEFORE THE STRIKE -

Spe­cial K, while the char­ter fleet’s owner, Mike Ma­son, and his friends boarded the larger Alati. As the fish­ing seemed to im­prove far­ther down the drop-off, we elected to get an early start and fish to the east of the Gil­bert area some 55 to 60 miles from the ma­rina. The night­clubs were still pump­ing out techno-dance mu­sic as we de­parted at 2 a.m. for the long run to the drop.

Af­ter once again do­ing the tuna tango a few times, a small black fi­nally ate the same pink-and-white Su­per Chug­ger on the short cor­ner. Riggs-Miller was up for this chal­lenge, which also gave us a chance to plant a pop-up satel­lite tag on the fish as part of the IGFA’s Great Mar­lin Race. In past years, tagged fish have ei­ther cir­cled the Sey­chelles or made a bee­line for dis­tant waters, so it should be in­ter­est­ing to see where this one de­cides to go. That af­ter­noon, we raised a black on the Squid­na­tion Flippy Floppy teaser; I pitch-baited the fish and was able to gain a le­gal re­lease, but we couldn’t get the re­quired video ev­i­dence be­fore pulling the hook on the leader. Our dock part­ners on Alati fin­ished in first place in the tour­na­ment with two blacks and a sail­fish re­leased, while we were sec­ond with one of­fi­cial black mar­lin re­lease. Nearly ev­ery boat in the fleet had ei­ther hooked or raised mar­lin, with the Alati team go­ing 2-for-5 on lures, in­clud­ing a dou­ble­header. Off to De­nis Is­land Mer­ci­fully, the fourth day on the ground meant a chance to catch a few more

hours of sleep and do a lit­tle sight­see­ing be­fore head­ing over to De­nis Is­land. The 375-acre pri­vate par­adise is re­mote, but even bet­ter, it sits nearly atop the drop-off to the north of Mahé. We would be fish­ing within 10 min­utes of leav­ing the pro­tected an­chor­age. The boys on Alati chugged the 60 or so miles up to De­nis while our team hopped over on a short 20-minute com­muter flight. It’d been a while since I’d done a grass-strip land­ing, and it was just as mem­o­rable as ever.

Named for the French ex­plorer De­nis de Tro­bri­ant, De­nis Is­land was dis­cov­ered in 1773. As the main is­land of Mahé be­came set­tled, the satel­lite is­lands of the Sey­chelles, in­clud­ing De­nis, be­came in­hab­ited by French set­tlers who raised var­i­ous crops. Af­ter chang­ing own­er­ship sev­eral times, in 1975 the is­land was bought by French in­dus­tri­al­ist Pierre Burkhardt, who opened it to tourism a few years later. Burkhardt also in­tro­duced the con­cept of sus­tain­abil­ity, a theme car­ried for­ward in spades by the cur­rent own­ers, Michael and Kath­leen Ma­son.

To­day, De­nis Is­land is an amaz­ing study in self-sus­tain­abil­ity, both in terms of the nat­u­ral world and its in­ter­ac­tion with hu­mans. The is­land farm raises live­stock and fowl as well as fruits, veg­eta­bles and herbs. The hard­woods are turned into fur­ni­ture and floor­ing. A full-time staff of about 100 peo­ple lives on the is­land — farm­ing, ranch­ing and han­dling the main­te­nance du­ties. Once a month, sup­plies like diesel fuel for the gen­er­a­tors ar­rive via land­ing craft from Mahé, but oth­er­wise the is­land is about 75 per­cent self-sus­tain­ing. The is­land’s

25 vil­las can hold up to 50 peo­ple, but it’s hardly ever full and crowds are never a prob­lem. Think re­mote soli­tude and quiet in a Pa­cific par­adise.

The is­land is a refuge for a num­ber of en­dan­gered seabirds and tur­tles, which nest there on a reg­u­lar ba­sis (De­nis Is­land is free of rats, mice and cats, all of which can dec­i­mate nest­ing colonies). Guests are treated to five-star gourmet meals at ev­ery turn, in­clud­ing fresh-baked breads and pas­tries. There are no cars, so guests ei­ther walk or ride bi­cy­cles, while the staff uses elec­tric golf carts to travel be­tween the farm and the ho­tel. It’s pos­si­ble to walk the beach com­pletely around the is­land in just a cou­ple of hours.

Fly­ing into the coral-ringed atoll, it’s easy to see that the sur­round­ing waters of­fer re­mark­able fish­ing. While we fo­cused solely on the blue­wa­ter ac­tion, there were plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to chase gi­ant trevally on the reefs and even bone­fish on the sandy flats. Non­stop Ac­tion We re­joined the boys on Alati for two more days of fish­ing. Riggs-Miller wanted to check out the sail­fish bite that had been hot in pre­vi­ous weeks, so we set up with small strip-bait com­bos in the rig­gers, and put out the dredges and squid chains. The ac­tion started just 3 miles from the an­chor­age on the first small drop at 90 to 100 feet. Once again, we were in the wa­hoo and tuna in no time, and even man­aged to squeeze in a few sail­fish — in­cred­i­ble non­stop ac­tion.

That even­ing over drinks at the bar, Riggs-Miller and I had a chance to chat with Pierre, cap­tain of the is­land’s game boat, a lov­ingly re­stored Ber­tram 31 named Lady Claire, which Pierre refers to as his mis­tress. He re­called the days just a few years ago when the tourists wanted to kill ev­ery the mar­lin and sail­fish, and the crew obliged. But with the in­tro­duc­tion of catch-and-re­lease and tag­ging, the ben­e­fits were im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent. “It fit with the phi­los­o­phy of De­nis Is­land, of liv­ing in har­mony with the nat­u­ral world and the sea,” he says. “It just made sense. And that’s what we did.” To­day, Pierre ac­counts for a large per­cent­age of all bill­fish tagged in the Sey­chelles. Re­lease a mar­lin on

Lady Claire, and he’ll come down off the bridge and high-five you in the cock­pit.

So just how good is the fish­ing? A few years ago, Riggs-Miller caught a per­sonal grand slam of a black mar­lin, sail­fish and swordfish, which is a fish­ery that’s just now com­ing on in the Sey­chelles. Dur­ing the tour­na­ment we fished, sev­eral boats raised as many as three and four black mar­lin in a sin­gle day. And not all were small rats ei­ther. Capt. Ken Ad­cock, an Amer­i­can ex­pat skip­per, had a black mar­lin be­tween 900 and 1,000 pounds that straight­ened a fly­ing gaff jump­ing away from the boat af­ter a five-hour fight. Pierre has had five mar­lin bites in a half­day char­ter off De­nis, and has caught as many as 10 sail­fish in a half-day (most of his char­ters would rather eat lunch back ashore at the re­sort and spend the af­ter­noon snor­kel­ing or sight­see­ing on the is­land than fish­ing). His largest was a black of nearly 700 pounds that was lost af­ter an­other long bat­tle. So the ev­i­dence is there, in terms of both num­bers and size, that this could be a very po­tent black mar­lin fish­ery in­deed. A Part­ing Shot For our last day, we de­cided to go back on the hunt for an­other black, so we ran 12 miles to the big drop. By this point, we were ready for the seem­ingly never-end­ing string of knock­downs from wa­hoo and tuna, catch­ing them on both light and heavy gear. In the af­ter­noon, our Kenyan mate, Mangi Katana, sewed up a beau­ti­ful Span­ish mack­erel skip­bait for the right short; late in the af­ter­noon, just as we turned for home, a black mar­lin pounced on it. I over­es­ti­mated the fish’s ag­gres­sive­ness though and pulled the mack­erel away from the fish twice be­fore it switched over, ate, then stripped clean from the hook a bal­ly­hoo that Riggs-Miller free-spooled back to it. With the sun set­ting into the In­dian Ocean be­hind us, we looked at each other, grinned, and agreed that we would have to come back and catch that one an­other day. It was a fit­ting end to an in­cred­i­ble trip.

Clock­wise from top left: De­nis Is­land is re­mote and un­spoiled; a sin­gle grass airstrip ac­com­mo­dates reg­u­lar com­muter flights, and coral reefs ring much of the is­land. The Sey­chelles cap­i­tal of Vic­to­ria is home to some beau­ti­fully or­nate Bud­dhist tem­ples. Alati sits at rest off De­nis Is­land. The 42-foot Cabo Ex­press proved to be a ver­sa­tile, re­li­able per­former. The fresh sashimi was in­cred­i­ble. Op­po­site: The au­thor and Henry Riggs-Miller with a nice wa­hoo, caught on 20-pound-test tackle.

Lo­cal cap­tains pre­fer big, ag­gres­sive lures like this Black Bart for Sey­chelles mar­lin, ei­ther rigged with hooks or pulled as teasers.

Rolly Pierre moves Lady Claire to its an­chor­age on De­nis Is­land af­ter re­fu­el­ing from the beach. The calm, pris­tine waters sur­round­ing the is­land of­fer in­cred­i­ble fish­ing just a few miles away.

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