The finest saltwater fishing on the planet

In the far flung reaches of the Indian Ocean lies a forgotten atoll called Cosmoledo. Not far from the natural reserve of Aldabra, Cosmoledo is an equally deserted collection of small coral islands around the edge of the lagoon. In February 2006 I embarked on an expedition with five other intrepid anglers to see if the reports that we had heard were true. FlyCastaway had been operating live aboard trips out to this remote atoll, and had returned with stories of huge pristine flats and the ability to sight fish for giant trevally in significant numbers. Led by these tales of giants we found ourselves standing at Mahe airport in the Seychelles, pulling our luggage off the baggage belt. We were immediately met by the guides, Keith Rose-Innes, Arno Mathee, and Paul Boyers. After a leisurely afternoon and morning at the Wharf hotel, mostly taken up with packing and repacking kit, we met at the domestic airport for our 3 hour flight to Assumption Atoll. This is on a 19 seat Beachcraft from IDC charters, the same that is used for the other islands. Landing at Assumption Atoll we were now approximately 600 miles south west of Mahe and 200 miles North of Madagascar.

Assumption is almost uninhabited, apart from a tumbledown plantation and a pristine Russian built tarmac runway that looks somewhat out of place. The only sign of movement was one lumbering giant tortoise that was grazing against the edge of the undergrowth, seemingly unperturbed by this intrusion. We wandered towards the beach and caught our first sight of the Indian Ocean Explorer, our home for the next week. The two RIBS quickly transferred us and all our equipment on board, and after issue of cabins we frantically began to set up equipment to fish one session on Assumption before departing in the evening. This was a perfect opportunity for stretching the shoulders and testing lines and rods. As Indian Ocean Explorer is normally a diving vessel the back has lockers for equipment, and rope rod racks allowing all rods to be stored fully set up and safe. Assumption has some wonderful coral edges that harbour giant trevally and bluefins, and between the group we caught a few that put smiles on faces. It was only a taster of what was to come.

After dinner we said good by to the school of 200 or so giant trevally swimming around the stern, and Indian Ocean Explorer pointed her bows out to the open ocean. The guides took this opportunity to check everyone’s lines and backing connections. All braided loops were cut off and replaced with 50lb loops, and any dodgy connections replaced with bimini twists on the backing. The night was a long one, and those who suffer from motion sickness should make sure they are fully dosed. That morning many of us watched the amazing mantle of the stars slip away to a sparkling dawn that revealed a low strip of land ahead. Our first sight of Cosmoledo. The excitement amongst the group was tangible, and there was pandemonium on board before breakfast as most of the contents of the international tackle shops were brought on deck.

We had been advised to bring nothing other than two 9# set ups for bonefish, permit and milkfish, and then 2 12# set ups for giant trevally. 30lb backing and 20lb leader for the bones, and 50lb backing with straight through 130lb leader attached to 6/0 hooks for the Giant trevally. For flies we had each purchased one of FlyCastaway’s “Complete Selections”. Apart from always wanting more flies to add to my collection, if it is possible to buy flies directly tied under the instruction of the guides, I will always do so. The selection comprised of 6/0 flashy profiles, 6/0 clousers, epoxy crabs and all manner of shrimps. When I had first seen the kit list I thought that it was total over kill. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

Nigel Amesbury, my brother Alex and myself were accompanied by Keith for the first day, and we could barely contain our excitement as we headed out from the mother ship north in the RIB, like troops headed out to battle. There are about eleven small islands that surround this 120 square kilometre atoll with Wizard and Menai Islands being the largest. The first was typical, rough dead coral resembling a Luna landscape on the ocean side, and a calm sandy beach on the lagoon side. Those that are in the path of strong currents are coral on both sides with sharp overhangs. Keith led us round to the ocean side where there was a good tidal rip through the surf, and we immediately learnt a lesson in line control on the coral. It gets stuck everywhere! A line tray would have been very useful. Each guide carries a “teasing stick”, a bait casting rod with a heavy hookless plug that they can use to entice giant trevally within casting range. As the white PVC plug skitters across the surface the trevally attack it at speed which is highly exhilarating. The teaser is then pulled away from the fish, and the fishermen make their casts. This method they employ if the terrain they are fishing on is too severe, or the light is too bad to sight fish.

As we perched on the coral cliff Keith’s teaser was savagely attacked by a large trevally of about 30lbs, which Alex managed to hook on a flashy profile fly in an explosion of water and fury directly under our feet. The power of its first run nearly pulled him over the edge, and very quickly we discovered why such heavy tackle had been correctly recommended. The heavy leader is necessary for abrasion resistance amongst the coral heads, and the fight is brutal. It allows these fish to be landed as quickly as possible giving it the best chance of survival. The drag is cranked right up, the rod immediately thrown over one side in the opposite direction to its direction of travel, and the fishermen has to pump it hard to gain line as quickly as possible. These fish are the most powerful species I have ever encountered on the flats, and they will test you physically as well as your tackle to the limits. Keith expertly tailed the fish using a glove to avoid their spines, and the fish was released from whence it came very rapidly. We had been initiated.

Wandering along the beach we suddenly spotted a large bluefin trevally cruising about two feet off the beach, feeding on bait fish it had herded into the slack water. While Nigel and Keith moved across the spit to the other side to cast at another GT they had spotted, I threw a cast at the bluefin. It charged three feet and attacked the fly, throwing a bow wave across the calm water with the sun glinting off its electric blue flanks. I had hankered after a bluefin as their incredible colours had beguiled me for years and I had failed to catch one. My first fish, and a cracking bluefin! I released it, turned around, and to my surprise a giant trevally swam towards me attacking the same huddle of baitfish as the bluefin had. It chowed the fly without thinking twice and I too was now attached to a bulldog with fins. Two fish in 10 minutes, sight cast! I could not believe it! What was this place!

As the boats move around between groups we carried our equipment and water. Under the searing heat combined with walking reasonable distances it is very important to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration, and many of us used hydration bladders. For those not wishing to burden Keith with extra rods, we also devised systems to carry a second rod across the shoulder. This proved invaluable as we rounded a corner to find a huge school of bone fish feeding against the beach. There could not have been a fish in the school under 5 lbs, and they ate everything we threw at them. They also remained in the same spot, feeding in the shallows and sticking the occasional tail out of the water. My brother and I began to laugh as we tried to horse in 7lb fish at the same time. A squall appeared from now where and it began to rain. We hardly noticed. The boat appeared from around the headland, and we dragged ourselves away to Indian Ocean Explorer for lunch and a quick freshwater shower.

It was the end of the first session, and we stared at each other in disbelief. Had we died and gone to piscatorial paradise? This session set the tone for the week, and as it progressed we learnt far more about Cosmoledo’s secrets and the unusual behaviour of the species that lived there.

Fishermen are broken up into parties of three and four with their guide, and move around the atoll targeting what ever species the group prefers. This decision is taken the night before, and Arno, Keith and Paul carefully plan around the tides and areas of the atoll. The tide at Cosmoledo pushes incredibly fast, and you need to be aware in case you get stranded by racing water. This is easy to do when you are catching fish and not concentrating on your surroundings. Safety on a remote trip like this is paramount and is at the forefront of FlyCastaway’s mind. This fast moving tide also produces some of the finest trevally fishing environment in existence. You will often cover great distances on foot during the day over the flats, and sometime over treacherous coral on the islands. The overhanging coral cliffs are a fantastic hunting ground, and on the huge open flats it is possible to wade and sight fish to individuals. Some of the finest sport I have encountered. This strong tide also produces “rivers” that flow between islands, and strong currents around their edges.

In these conditions on a dropping tide my brother and I experienced this first hand. We arrived on the lee of one of the islands with the sun beating down on our backs not long after midday. As the sun was high, it lit up the surrounding water allowing us to see everything. We crouched on a coral overhang approximately 12 feet above the water as the “river” raced along below us. Keith immediately spotted a fish, clearly outlined hanging in the current and darting too and fro like a feeding trout. The only difference being it was 25lbs! I ducked, and Alex made the cast. The fly landed, immediately moving in an arc across the current, and the fish with one powerful thrust of its tail rose in the water column, engulfed the fly and returned. Alex struck and the battle was on! The visual experience was fascinating, and as the fish began stripping line of his reel against the flow, Keith touched my arm and pointed further down in the flow.

There lay another, a female, her translucent grey colouring almost making her invisible. Alex moved to the left and I cast a tight loop across the flow. The fish rushed the fly with the speed of a charging rhino, and as the fly bedded I was nearly yanked over the edge. So here we were, two grinning idiots attached to bedlam standing 12 feet above the water. The climb up had been tricky enough, and the concept of climbing down attached to two large trevally was not an option.

“We are going to have to jump” said Keith in a matter of fact tone. It took a little while for this sage advice to penetrate my senses.

“You are joking…..aren’t you?” I said. He gave me that look, and I knew he was deadly serious. Thus I learnt about a crucial part of fishing at Cosmoledo. Cliff jumping. Keith then disappeared over the edge with a holler and landed in the water below, beckoning us to follow. All this while we had been frantically trying to gain line on these fish and were pushing a bead of sweat. A swim sounded good. As if my opponent heard me she turned and started heading for a coral outcrop that would almost certainly end this fight with the need for a new line. This was extreme fishing, and after taking two more turns on the reel to take in the slack I leapt off the cliff still attached to my fish and landed in the water below. It came up to my neck and I quickly headed to the sand shallows from where the battle could resume. A shout and splash later, and my brother was standing next to me. I put on my glove, and managed to triumphantly grab the tail of my fish, and then the two of us looked at each other holding our prizes. Did that just happen? Keith just laughed, welcomed us to Cosmoledo, and took a few snaps before we released them.

The other main form of fishing for trevally here is to wade the flats. Generally the flats in between the island on the outer edge of the lagoon are a perfect intercept point as they are approximately waist high water. These hotspots become the trevally “highway” as they push into the lagoon system to the edge of the huge sand flats. With the guide in the middle the line moves forward spaced out between each angler. On first impression this seems a bit odd as most fishermen, myself included do not like fishing in close quarters with their brethren, but there are a number of reasons that FlyCastaway do this, and the first one is safety. Occasionally you might come across sharks here as it is their prime hunting ground as well, and when a shark is seen the group comes together while the guide advances on the fish and scares it away. Sharks are a natural part of flats fishing, and very quickly one learns to overcome your fear of them and sees them as a target. Giant trevally often hang next to sharks picking up the morsals they leave behind, much the same way in which permit and bonefish hang around rays. Having said that we did not encounter any big sharks on this trip at all.

The other reason is that if the guide is teasing fish towards you, positioning is important to get a shot at them. Although teasing is not ideal, when it is raining and visibility is bad, it works very well. On just such an occasion as this with poor light a few of us were wading across a flat and a school of maybe eight fish chased the teaser towards us. Everyone was ready, and the school swam past or ankles at breakneck speed with one member of the party hooking up. I was wading next to Chris Bamber on the deeper side of the flat when out of the corner of my eye on I saw a small fin coming towards him following his fly. As it swam into my field of polarised vision my mouth dropped as a huge trevally revealed itself. Its mouth closed, Chris’ rod gave an almighty buck, and his Tibor Gulfstream began to whine offensively. He had hooked a “bus”. The fish immediately sped towards deeper water and the reef, but with Keith’s constant advice at his shoulder Chris was having none of it. The rod switched from left to right, constantly bashing it off balance and pulling its head into the flat.

His Sage Xi2 strained and the line sang as the mild drizzle continued to fall around us. A gentle surf lapped against our midriff as he tussled with the fish, sometimes gaining line and sometimes loosing. The others had continued along the flat while this battle ensued, but all were glancing back to see how he fared. Finally after 20 minutes or so of intense concentration, grunting and strain that fishing tackle should never have to undergo, he was winning. The fish came within close vicinity, and Keith expertly grabbed it with both hands around the wrist of its tail. We measure it at 118cm in length, which by our calculations out it at somewhere between 70 – 80 lbs. Chris was shattered, but hugely exhilarated!

By this stage we had experienced some truly fantastic fishing, but I for one really wanted to see what it had to offer in terms of bonefish. The whole of the inner part of Cosmoledo is comprised of a giant sand flat that in some areas is several miles from the reef to the inner lagoon. One morning a group of us were dropped off at the reef side behind Manai Island as the tide was on its way out, and began to march across the flat towards the edge. After walking for about 30 minutes or so directly towards the centre of the lagoon we began to see big single bonefish tailing as they were slowly pushed off the by the tide. What ensued then was a regular bonefish fest the likes of which I will be lucky to experience again. The bones were of a large average size, about 6lbs, and they ate flies hungrily. Most effective were large tan Squimps in size 4 or epoxy crabs that they positively jumped on. I very quickly understood why such heavy leader had been recommended by the guides. Not only are the fish large, some approaching double figures, but when you are trying to unhook one by yourself while trying not to break the tip of your rod it is necessary, or the leader will invariably part at your feet with a final spurt of speed. As the fish do not care of you use 20lb or even 130lb it seems futile to use light leaders for the sake of it. Large schools of uneducated fish were all around, and all members caught fish before the tide dropped off the edge and they moved into the safety of deeper water.

I can safely say this trip has been the pinnacle of my fishing carrier so far. I have discovered trevally that behave like trout, bonefish that behave like trevally, and a pristine unexplored wilderness for the saltwater angler. I have tried to include a few moments here that emphasise the types of fishing that we encountered, and the rest will remain memories. Seneca once wrote “Luck is the moment at which preparation meets opportunity”. Nowhere does this ring truer than Cosmoledo. After months of preparation I was pleased to have the correct equipment to play the game. Opportunities come and go like a puff of wind, and if you are not ready with the right equipment and that precise moment, it will fade into a memory. You never know what is going to cross your path next, whether it be a 60lb giant trevally, bluefin, permit, bonefish, green job fish, marble grouper, milkfish or barracuda to name a few. I am of the opinion that to fully experience a fishing destination you must make the most of every opportunity that swims past.

The FlyCastaway team know this atoll intimately, but every trip reveals a new miracle in fish behaviour. They are some of the finest guides I have had the good fortune to fish with, and they have created a unique operation. There are a few other live aboard operations to some of these outer atolls, but none of them are fully guided and run to the same professional level. They have over 12 back up Loomis rods, boxes of spare lines for when you cut one (yes, it will happen!), medical kits, flies, leader, boots, and combined with all this they truly love their quarry. They are dedicated to the conservation of these atolls so that they will remain a resource for the future. This trip is not for everyone, but for those who are looking for a truly life altering fishing experience, this is it. Many immediately ask us how many fish we caught. I can honestly say that I have no idea as even though I was trying to record it for this report, I lost count. It was more than enough, and after a few days, it simply did not matter any more.

Next year we have a number of rods available on Indian Ocean Explorer, and we are proud to offer exclusive weeks on the luxury yacht Sea Star. It is limited to 10 rods a week, and will offer access to this incredible fishery in comfort and style. The camaraderie of an experience like this is wonderful, and it is a perfect environment for making new friends with a common interest. For those who would like to know more, or would like to take advantage of this then please contact me as soon as possible for an itinerary. It will go very fast.
  Cosmoledo atoll
  Blue water, Flats wading
  12 per week
  Early February to Late April