“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.”
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.