The peak of fly fishing in salt water

The peak of fly fishing in salt water

I’m in the middle of the Indian Ocean, standing on a finger of hard coral that stretches into a milky blue lagoon. Frigate birds with long, angular wings at high temperatures above. I stare at the sky when a voice interrupts: “Look down – stingrays!”

This is a fishing trip to Alphonse and Saint Francois Atoll in Seychelles. The Holy Grail Giant Trevally. The secular name of the fish is “geets”. wild predators, local guides call them “bandits of flats”; They love to hang out with the rays.

Saint Francois Apartments sprawls over an area of ​​10,000 acres. Guides survey shallow waters for fish © Brian Chakanyuka
The rods are set up for deep-sea fishing, as chefs hope to catch tuna or wahoo for their daily sashimi.
The rods are set up for deep-sea fishing, where chefs hope to catch tuna or wahoo for their daily sashimi. © Thomas Lipke

My guide is a maven. Yusuf arrived here from Bangladesh in 2004 to help build the lodge on Alphonse Island. Promoted to gardener, then applied to barman, and finally graduated to hunting guide. Now the star of his surroundings, he was reserved a year ago by the worldly Hunters who come here. His sharp eyes are legendary and so is his patience. He’s been luring me on a shallow-bottomed skiff since 7am, hoping to get the chance.

Through the glow, I think I see the seductive flutter of stingray tips moving across the shallow water, creating a seascape of crabs, large shrimp, and small reef fish. Next to the beam are the sickle fins of a large tree that flutters the runaway fish. Geets are constantly on the move, and once they are spotted, the sense of the passing of time is acute. The monsoon season began and the winds began to blow, making accurate beatings nearly impossible; The heat is relentless. “Not too short, not too close, land on it softly…” The advice swirled around in my head like a path of hypnosis. I lift the cast in the direction of the beam and his predatory dinner guest.

The author and guide think about what might tempt the giant fly

Author and guide ponder what might tempt the giant fly Trevally © Thomas Lipke

Alphonse Island, a short charter flight from Mahe
Alphonse Island, a short charter flight from Mahe © Brian Chakanyuka

Saint Francois Atoll is the southernmost of the three small islands that make up the Alphonse group. They were named for the birthday of Chevalier Alphonse de Pontifez, the Portuguese captain who was purportedly the first man to set his eyes on the islands in 1730. Far from everywhere and nowhere, they remained largely uninhabited until 1823, when the French colonized the Hutu family settled there . Turtle fisheries have been set up and local plants have been cleared to make way for the coconut plantation. Remnants of this era remain: a prison cell, a cemetery that records those who were unable to get off the island, and an ecosystem polluted with commercial coconut trees and invasive species of feral rats and cats.

In the late 1990s, a group of adventurous fishermen encountered a huge number of bone fish swimming in the shallow waters of these outer atolls. With scales as bright as mirrored glass, they are known as apartment ghosts, and they disappear from view with a slight deflection as they reflect their environment. Keith Rose Innes was one of these early pioneers. At the time, he was a young South African with a desire for adventure. Today he is the managing director of Blue Safari Seychelles, which runs operations on Alphonse and a few other atolls. “Bonfish were the cornerstone,” he told me. “With such a large population, we expected guests to come, even to a very remote location.”

This was the beginning. An exotic fishing passion has turned into a passion to restore these atolls, in order to turn the tide of exploitation from previous centuries. That wasn’t the primary environmental conservation of getting rid of plastic straws and using refillable shampoo bottles: The team at Alphonse are leading world-leading research and navigating the murky waters of government. They succeeded in winning meaningful protection for one of the fiercest places on earth.

The author with his award, a giant trevally

The author with his award, a giant trevally © Gary de Klerk

The author's guide, Joseph, wades along a coral toe in Lake Saint-François, looking out over the horizon in search of a feeding stingray.
Author guide, Joseph, wades along a coral toe in Lake Saint-François, scanning the horizon for a feeding stingray © Sam Carlisle

There are poignant examples of their vigilance. As night falls and the lights come on outside the cabin, the lights turn up bright green. It’s fitting to see aside, but crucially, it’s not so bewildering for the thousands of sea turtles nesting here (their biggest threat is the confusion of the light of human settlements with the moon’s reflection over the water – they head inland and never reach the ocean).

It’s reassuring to dodge baby sea turtles and giant Aldabra turtles as you stroll down to the beach bar for the sunset, as most evenings talk about atoll conservation projects. The Blue Safari private team works closely with the Island Conservation Society, a local NGO based in Alphonse and the surrounding islands. The Foundation has produced some exceptional research and, most importantly, results that are making a real impact at the governmental level. This evening’s talk is from Ellie Brighton, Director of Environment and Sustainability at Blue Safari, who is working alongside the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Island Conservation Society to decipher the giant movements. The fish caught by visiting fishermen are marked with a small chip. The atoll has 68 receivers, and each time a marked fish swims, it is recorded. Trevally have a relatively small range and become masters at hunting their own terrain. The survival rate of caught fish is high, but the rate of recovery is low, which means there are more numbers than initially thought. It’s encouraging news for anglers who realize that traveling thousands of miles to an eco-lodge isn’t exactly the most eco-friendly option. “But, that’s the irony,” Brighton tells us. “Because of people traveling to Seychelles, the government has designated 30 percent of its land, including the Alphonse group, as a marine protected area. It is protected from its other main source of income, commercial fishing.”

Other conversations focus on the fringed wedge-tailed shearwater colony, the attractive birds that nest in rabbit-like burrows and now thrive on the island. Or the condition of unstable coral reefs around the world, but has been studied here in depth. That piece of coral the size of a luxury car I had caught earlier in the day only grows by an inch or so per year, and it was probably several thousand years old.

The Alphonse Island Lodge is the perfect spot for post-hunting cocktails
Alphonse Island Lodge, a perfect spot for post-hunting cocktails © Brian Chakanyuka

Conversations are a matter of thought during a dinner that begins with wahoo sashimi hand-picked by expert chefs and served with vegetables grown in the island’s private garden. 65 percent of the food is grown or fished on the island, and an array of solar panels provide the majority of the energy used. It is not a sign of virtue; It is just wisdom associated with the rhythm of life of the tropical islands.

Back in the apartments with Joseph the next day, the sun is inevitable. I missed my first chance – it was well made, and the fish swam towards it in great abundance, but you have to pull the line in quick strips, to mimic a runaway baitfish and that was too much for my inexperienced hands. I felt cheated, and the fish refused my offer. Next, we are faced with a mustache trigger fish, its tail sticking out of the water. Heading down, his human-like teeth trap the crabs against the coral and grind them down. This time I’m running my arms carefully and he’s been scammed. A short struggle, preventing him from diving to the edge of the reef and disappearing into a hole surrounded by reef, brings this whimsical creature that echoes all the colors of the reef at hand. However, the final award, trevally, remains unrewarding.

Joseph scans the horizon for signs of underwater life and then speaks: “Go – we’ll go into the universe.” Cosmic Lagoon is an area in the Saint Francois Atoll that sees the land rolling into the submerged coral ring and forming atolls. Still covered in native plants and home to an impressive array of bird life, it is still uninhabited. The incoming tide floods the sandy inlets, and smaller bonefish and mullet flock to these new feeding areas. During a large spring tide, the water becomes deep enough for Trevally to follow. Yousef cuts off the engine and stops the boat. A group of spur-winged plovers walk across the shore, probing with their beaks for food. To my right is a narrow sandbank next to a forest of native trees, housing a colony of red-footed boobies, their spiky beaks twinkling at the onset of the evening sun.

Fighting the giant Trevally that was fishing in the waves
Fighting a giant trivale that was fishing in the waves © Brian Chakanyuka

I strap a fly along my forearm as Joseph slowly pushes the boat through the water, watching and waiting. “They love to fish up and down that shoreline.” It kept hitting my eye, 50 yards away. I’m not sure if it was from a bird spinning on top, or a thread of seaweed, or a fish. “Nine o’clock. Long way,” says Youssef, confirming my hunch. “Cast on the beach and wait.” The fish is now 30 yards away. I’m getting my hands dirty: there’s no room for error. Now 10 yards of water is so clear that I can see the large, round eyes of the fish looking for its victim. “section!” On the instructions, I pull the line as fast as I can, and the fly springs to life, looking like it’s frantically trying to escape. Trevally’s methodical journey changes in an instant. I caught the fins, accelerated, and as I pull the line a second time, it opens its mouth unfathomably wide and swallows every inch of the fly. It’s as if I hung a brick wall. Everything is tight. I’m holding on, but against my will, the line snapped out of my hand and the pulley screwed up: 50 yards of line disappeared, 100, 200. Joseph started the boat’s engine and we started chasing.

Fighting a Jet is not a long-distance race. It’s an insane race as you strain every chord. Over time I maneuver the fish near the boat. Joseph is now standing in the water, grabbing his tail and flipping it on his side, to reveal a slab of shiny silver. I jump in the water. It’s my turn to catch the fish, look into its eyes and marvel at its strength. Youssef passes a scanner over his back. He has never been arrested before. He injects a small tick, takes down its number and records the exact time and GPS location on his watch. Hold the fish firmly against the oncoming tide, then let it go. Swim hard, returning to the fishing grounds of these sacred atolls.

The author traveled as a guest on Blue Safari Seychelles (, including a day room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mahe ( Packages start at $1,780 per night for two adults

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