The outer atolls

Sportfishing Adventures - - Content - Text and pho­to­gra­phy by Keith Rose-Innes

When people talk about salt­wa­ter fly fishing, one place stands head and shoul­ders above the rest. The Seychelles, and more spe­ci­fi­cal­ly the fa­bled outer atolls of Al­phonse, As­tove, Cos­mo­le­do, Poivre and St Fran­cois, all des­ti­na­tions ope­ra­ted by Al­phonse Fishing Com­pa­ny. There’s more to it than just the re­mote lo­ca­tion of these atolls that make the des­ti­na­tion unique, the tech­niques, the sea­son and the spe­cies di­ver­si­ty make up an in­cre­dible mix for fly fishing ad­ven­ture.

Fly fishing in the Seychelles sets it­self apart due to the lar­ge­ly land-ba­sed ap­proach it of­fers. Whe­reas salt­wa­ter fly fishing des­ti­na­tions in ma­ny parts of the

world are boat-ba­sed, the Seychelles stands apart be­cause of the op­por­tu­ni­ties it gives an­glers to wade in shal­low, warm water on hard white sand, turtle grass or on co­ral flats for a ple­tho­ra of ex­ci­ting new spe­cies. Sure, it takes a bit of hard work, but get­ting the op­por­tu­ni­ty to cast at be­he­moth giant tre­val­ly or schools of bo­ne­fish in the same knee-deep water is not so­me­thing ma­ny fly an­glers ac­cus­to­med to boat­ba­sed fishing will ever for­get. It’s not that Seychelles guides and an­glers are against boats in any way, but there is so­me­thing more sa­tis­fying about wet wa­ding and catching a bo­ne­fish, In­do-Pa­ci­fic per­mit, trig­ger­fish, bar­ra­cu­da, milk­fish, snap­per, grou­per, tre­val­ly or GT in shin deep water.

Ma­ny of these spe­cies, like the milk­fish or In­do-Pa­ci­fic per­mit, used to be thought of as un­cat­chable, but, through the per­se­ve­rance and pio­nee­ring tech­niques of Al­phonse Is­land ba­sed guides, they are now a viable tar­get spe­cies on fly. Off the back of the work done by us in the ear­ly days the pos­si­bi­li­ties around what is or isn’t pos­sible with salt­wa­ter fly fishing has been re­writ­ten. Not on­ly are the spe­cies unique, but so is each atoll in the way that that struc­ture va­ries from one other and at­tracts a dif­ferent va­rie­ty of spe­cies.

Fly fishing in the Seychelles be­gan in the mid 1990’s with trips to the Ami­rantes ar­chi­pe­la­go si­tua­ted 230km south-west of Mahe. As in­ter­est slow­ly grew in this new fron­tier, ex­plo­ra­tion of Al­phonse Atoll si­tua­ted 400km south-west of Mahe. This ma­gni­ficent is­land three­some com­pri­sing of Al­phonse, St Fran­cois and Bi­jou­tier fast es­ta­bli­shed a re­pu­ta­tion for hol­ding one of the heal­thiest po­pu­la­tions of bo­ne­fish on the pla­net. The luxu­ry re­sort of Al­phonse Is­land ope­ned, ge­ne­ra­ting a consi­de­rable amount of hype throu­ghout the

Out­side the reef, you can en­coun­ter the spec­ta­cu­lar in­do-pa­ci­fic sail­fish. Af­ter lu­ring the fish wi­thin cas­ting dis­tance with hook­less top­wa­ters, you can try to present the fly cor­rect­ly to the fish and maybe hook one !

fly fishing in­dus­try and soon ce­men­ted it­self as one of the most fa­med salt­wa­ter fly fishing des­ti­na­tions in the world. Near­by St Fran­cois is ap­proxi­ma­te­ly se­ven miles long and four miles wide, consis­ting of firm white sand bot­toms in­ter­la­ced with chan­nels and cuts. The uni­que­ness that sets St Fran­cois apart from ma­ny of the other Seychelles des­ti­na­tions is the end­less white sand flats. In ad­di­tion to the abun­dant bo­ne­fish flats, the la­goon en­ve­lopes co­ral fin­ger flats al­lo­wing an­glers to catch se­ve­ral of the now 60 spe­cies tar­ge­ted on fly in the Seychelles.

Al­phonse is­land is cre­di­ted with de­ci­phe­ring how to catch the first milk­fish, pink par­rot­fish, yel­low mar­gin and mous­tache trig­ger­fish on fly as well as re­fi­ning tech­niques for catching nu­me­rous other spe­cies like giant tre­val­ly and In­do-Pa­ci­fic per­mit. To date this fi­she­ry still ac­counts for more than 90% of the world’s milk­fish caught and re­lea­sed as well as over 15 000 fly caught ga­me­fish on an annual ba­sis. The re­sort

This fi­she­ry still ac­counts for more than 90% of the world’s milk­fish caught and re­lea­sed

has evol­ved to a des­ti­na­tion that ca­ters to both fly fi­sher­man as well as their partners and fa­mi­lies, boas­ting five start ac­com­mo­da­tion, a spa, a world re­now­ned dive ope­ra­tion and eco ac­ti­vi­ties.

2001 saw us start the the first pro­fes­sio­nal­ly gui­ded trips to the more sou­ther­ly si­tua­ted atolls cal­led Cos­mo­le­do Atoll and As­tove Atoll, af­ter ini­tial ex­plo­ra­to­ry fly fishing trips. Lo­ca­ted 1 030km south-west of Ma­hé, Cos­mo­le­do Atoll is si­tua­ted a stone’s throw away from the world he­ri­tage site of Al­da­bra and com­prises of a lar­ger white sand la­goon sur­roun­ded by 18 islands, nu­me­rous flats and two main chan­nels. It’s a huge atoll mea­su­ring 17km from north to south. Me­nai and Wi­zard Islands oc­cu­py the eas­tern and wes­tern points of the atoll. South Is­land stands near the main en­trance to the in­ner la­goon, while the se­cond, smal­ler en­trance is just south of Me­nai. The per­ime­ter of the atoll is co­ve­red with vast, wa­deable sand flats dot­ted with islands of va­rious shapes and sizes, all of which is the per­fect ha­bi­tat for its fish po­pu­la­tion. Known as the giant tre­val­ly ca­pi­tal of the world, Cos­mo­le­do is un­pa­ral­le­led, if tar­ge­ting these fear­some pre­da­tors is your thing. These fish are ho­we­ver not the on­ly spe­cies that can be found here in im­pres­sive num­bers. Large bo­ne­fish, milk­fish, bar­ra­cu­da, In­do-Pa­ci­fic per­mit, trig­ger­fish, blue­fin tre­val­ly and bo­har snap­per are all re­gu­lars to the atoll and fly an­glers. The tides at Cos­mo­le­do are stronger than those ex­pe­rien­ced anyw­here else in the Seychelles and are of­ten thought to be the rea­son why it at­tracts so ma­ny GTs. No mat­ter how ex­pe­rien­ced the an­gler and where they have fi­shed in the world be­fore co­ming to Cos­mo-

The In­do-Pa­ci­fic Per­mit is consi­de­red one of the ul­ti­mate fish to catch on fly. Just like their At­lan­tic cou­sins, they are spoo­ky and pi­cky but ve­ry po­wer­ful once you fi­nal­ly hook one.

le­do, the sheer num­bers and va­rie­ty of fish spe­cies you are li­ke­ly to catch leaves even the most ex­pe­rien­ced fly an­glers ama­zed.

A th­ree-hour sail ( 18 nau­ti­cal miles) from Cos­mo­le­do, As­tove Atoll is si­tua­ted 1055km south-west of Ma­hé. It’s a small and unique atoll that spans six ki­lo­me­ters from north to south and just un­der four ki­lo­me­ters from east to west at the wi­dest points. The shal­low la­goon has one small en­trance, and due to its ele­va­tion a phe­no­me­non oc­curs whe­re­by the tide falls like a ri­ver for ten hours of the 12-hour ti­dal cycle and then turns to flood the en­tire la­goon in on­ly two hours. As­tove atoll has a rich, but dark his­to­ry and has been the cause of count­less ship­wrecks da­ting back to 1500 AC. It has been said that ships used to pass by in the

hope of “re­scuing” and then sub­se­quent­ly en­sla­ving souls aban­do­ned on the is­land. It’s al­so a fa­mous atoll be­cause Jacques Cous­teau fil­med the ac­clai­med un­der­wa­ter do­cu­men­ta­ry “The Silent World” along the edge of the “Wall”. The “Wall” of As­tove is brea­th­ta­kin­gly beau­ti­ful na­tu­ral struc­ture, known as one of the best dive sights on this pla­net. Best des­cri­bed as loo­king down in­to the Grand Ca­nyon, it consists of the flat and reef drop­ping a ver­ti­cal 90 de­grees from ankle deep water to over 1000 metres over a short dis­tance. The ter­rain on As­tove va­ries from hos­tile shore breaks on the wind­ward side, to flat calm co­ral flats on the out­side and snow-white sand flats in­side the la­goon. As­tove has be­come sy­no­ny­mous with the lar­gest flats-caught GT’s in the In­dian Ocean. Its shal­low la­goon

and small en­trance, sur­roun­ded by sheer drop-offs makes the ex­pe­rience tru­ly unique. This la­goon is a sanc­tua­ry for both ju­ve­nile and tro­phy-size fish that feed on the shal­low white sand flats that line the in­side of the la­goon. As­tove is small and is sur­roun­ded by co­ral flats with deep drop-offs on the flats edge al­lo­wing pre­da­tors ea­sy ac­cess to their lunch. Not on­ly does As­tove have large GTs but it al­so has an equal­ly im­pres­sive bo­ne­fish, per­mit, blue­fin tre­val­ly, trig­ger­fish, bar­ra­cu­da and milk­fish po­pu­la­tion. The num­ber of per­mit caught from sea­son to sea­son at As­tove conti­nues to in­crease, ba­cking up the uni­fied ap­proach to the fi­she­ry and the conser­va­tion ethic of the guides and an­glers.

Great in­fra­struc­ture, an in­cre­dible guide team com­bi­ned with re­mote and pris­tine lo­ca­tions, in­cre­dible spe­cies di­ver­si­ty and an ame­nable cli­mate all com­bine to make these des­ti­na­tions tru­ly ex­cep­tio­nal. But, there’s a lot at stake. With such a pre­cious re­source comes great res­pon­si­bi­li­ty on Al­phonse Fishing Com­pa­ny, its guides and the an­glers in­vol­ved. The Seychelles fly fishing in­dus­try has evol­ved to be­come lea­ders in the conser­va­tion as­pect of the sport. To­day, with ex­pe­rien­ced guides lea­ding the way, the vast ma­jo­ri­ty of an­glers un­ders­tand and are sen­si­tive to the chan­ging world and how we ef­fect it with our pre­sence. In these islands and atolls, the fly fishing code of conduct is strict­ly conser­va­tion orien­ta­ted, with skilled guides en­su­ring as lit­tle im­pact as pos­sible is pla­ced on the fish and the sur­roun­dings. Af­ter all, a live fish is far more va­luable than a dead one. Ma­ny of the Seychelles atolls have set up foun­da­tions that work in conjunc­tion with ICS (Is­land Conser­va­tion So­cie­ty) to mo­ni­tor the fi­she­ries in a res­pon­sible man­ner. These foun­da­tions are fun­ded by conser­va­tion do­na­tions from an­glers who vi­sit the atolls. Once they have ex­pe­rien­ced how spe­cial these places are, vi­si­ting an­glers come to un­ders­tand the dif­fe­rence they can make in conser­ving these fi­she­ries for fu­ture ge­ne­ra­tions. Eve­ry re­lease contri­butes to the health of the fi­she­ry and en­sures that Al­phonse, Cos­mo­le­do, As­tove and Poivre re­main firm­ly sche­du­led in the sea­so­ned fly fi­sher­man's ca­len­dar.

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