I love arriving on Mahé: the sounds, the smells, the heat ……. it just makes me want to get my luggage and get out amongst it all as fast as possible. My arrival this time was after a rather longer than normal jaunt to Mahé, as I started in Hurghada and arrived via Cairo and Dubai. However, luggage retrieved and guests met we were all set to head off to Alphonse. The plane had other ideas however and we kicked our heels a bit longer before climbing on board and heading out to the island.
Our group was made up of Ian Hodge, Andrew Wood and Jane Hosegood, all of whom are no strangers to Alphonse and Robin Orchard for whom this was his first visit. Joining us were Matt Harris, journalist and photographer (and obsessive fisherman) and two Americans, Kip Allardt and Bill Nevins. Already on Alphonse were two South Africans, Helgartd and 15 year old Rudolf who, as we were flying in, were just coming in after a day out on the flats.
Introductions made with Shawn, Devan and Evane and rooms allocated, we all headed off to the Fishing Centre to meet our guides and get set up for the following morning. I was feeling slightly under-gunned when I realised that I was the only one who had even tried to keep to the weight limit, judging by the amount of kit erupting from bags. It was an amazing dance of rods, lines, reels and fly boxes – all done in near silence. Having seen the size of some of those fly boxes, gentlemen, you have no call to criticise the number of pairs of shoes most woman have.
That done, we repaired to the bar to meet Yousef (our energetic barman who is out fishing whenever he can) and after a fantastic first evening meal, it was an early night for all with the horror of a 6 am alarm call looming over us all. It has been a while since my last visit to Alphonse and it was nice to see that little had changed and felt immediately at home.
Our guides for the week were Serge, Andy, Wayne, Brandon and James ….
We knew were in for an interesting week tide wise, with a big push generally at mid-day. Fishing with Robin on the first day with James as our guide was a morning of bonefish a-plenty; I caught more in one morning than I have in total elsewhere with my largest at that point around 3 lb – Robin lost count after 20 although we never lost our enjoyment of double hook-ups – synchronised bonefishing at its best. Disaster was closely averted when my fly line and backing parted company and James, water up his (very high) waist, literally ran off after it with the water parting in his wake. Thankfully I’d hooked a particularly lazy bonefish and Gentleman James retrieved my line, brought in said somnambulant fish, and, muttering darkly under his breath about dodgy tackle, re-attached my backing to fly line and sent me off in pursuit of more bonefish. With hand on heart, I have never seen so many bonefish coming through so consistently and what topped the morning was Robin and his three casts for three nice sized fish.
Andrew and Jane (out with Brandon) and Kip and Bill (with Andy) all filled their boots with bonefish during the morning, spending the afternoon in pursuit of larger quarry who provided (for them at least) to be rather elusive. We don’t have any proof of Jane’s 6lb bonefish as their camera didn’t make it into the luggage – discussion did centre around whether Andrew had left it behind to make room for another fly box and we never did get to the bottom of it. The day however belonged to Ian who, guided by Serge and sharing his boat with Matt, started his week off with another GT, milkfish and bonefish Grand Slam.
Not content with disrupting James’ equilibrium over the matter of my fly line, Robin rocked it a second time that day, delaying our return to Tam Tam by hooking a really nice bonefish which came in around the 4 lb mark almost as the clock struck 4 pm. We joined the back of the queue – the Alphonse version of a Heathrow flight stack – before offloading and heading back to Alphonse. I have to admit that I enjoy the run back as much as the run out on Tam Tam– it gives you time to catch up on everyone else’s day and to think back on your own successes and failures.
I have been listening to tales of fishing daring-do on Alphonse for the last few years: GT’s biting the tips off rods, cruising sharks, six foot barracuda but nobody mentioned the coconuts. Have you ever ridden a bicycle with a coconut stuck between the front wheel and the pedals? Try not to. Dangers of coconuts behind me (for that day at least) we set out for our second day on St Francois, with clouds looming darkly overhead. Tide wise, it was another bonefish morning and Robin and I were fishing with Wayne, guests rotating as normal among the guides.
Despite the gloomy start, we were remarkably lucky with the weather: we saw Alphonse and then Bijoutier vanish behind a curtain of rain but, baring a short shower, St Francois remained clear although cloud cover did remain patchy most of the day. Despite that, we all caught large numbers of bonefish, with some edging the 6 lb mark along with smaller specimens of blue trevally, grouper and bream.
Day 3 saw a slight change to the order of things so that Jane and I could fish together for the day – fantastic to have another woman on the trip but feel a little sorry for Andy, our guide. Eight months on an island with fishermen for company every day couldn’t have prepared him for a day on his skiff with the two of us but he coped admirably and we had an awesome day. Jane did let the side down somewhat by squealing loudly when a small grouper took exception to her sticking a finger into the hole he had retreated into and I finally worked out how to get my gimpy leg back into the skiff in a slightly more elegant manner – it does pay to listen you know. We spent much of the afternoon looking for triggers – both being towed along by Andy like two of Cleopatra’s hand maidens and wading – sadly Jane had no qualms about hiding her mirth as I spent a good few minutes sneaking up on a lovely lump of orange coral – Andy retreated behind his buff which didn’t quite muffle his snorts of laughter. Sadly, I can no longer avoid the inevitable: prescription Costa del Mar’s need to go on my list of must haves.
Robin had a personal first with a lovely trigger fish while Andrew had a bit of sparse day as the GT’s he was focusing on proved to be a tad elusive. This was made even more frustrating for him as towards the end of the day we spotted three GT’s hanging out on a coral head with a nurse shark and despite my best efforts, they just weren’t interested and sank back into the depths just as Andrew and Serge appeared in search of them. Ian had another great day including two GT’s, a needlefish and dog tooth tuna.
Another change around on day 4 saw me remaining on Alphonse for the day and fishing in the morning with Yousef for a couple of hours while the rest of the group headed off on Tam Tam. The sheer number of bonefish just blew me away and it was just an incredibly busy few hours which would have been a bit more hectic had the three permit been a little more interested in Yousef’s crabs! Andrew & Jane spent the day with Serge away from the flats, once again in search of larger quarry.
Jane landed a goat fish and yellow fin tuna were the order of the day for them both although Jane’s ability with the camera obviously far outstrips Andrew’s …. proof below.
I spent the afternoon being shown around the island by Shawn before heading back to the fishing centre to meet everyone off the ferry.
Day 5 saw Ian remain on Alphonse while the rest of us returned to St Francois. Back fishing in our original pairs, Brandon and Robin took off on a long pursuit of a permit which resulted in said permit being hooked but sadly lost. I spent the time (vainly) trying to tempt a group of surgeon fish but, frustratingly, during lunch my gimpy leg played up and I retired to Tam Tam for the afternoon, leaving Brandon and Robin to fish unhindered. Matt won the day with a fantastic permit – we knew something was up when he and James returned to Tam Tam. Matt was quiet (virtually unheard of) and James was smiling (normally brought about by chocolate or a fish of note) and Matt’s permit really was a beauty.
It’s always sad when you hit the flats on your last day and I think we all went out even more determined than normal to make the day count but my last day turned into a comedy of errors. Making the most of the tides, Robin and Brandon headed out towards the surf and continued on up while I opted to fish amongst the smaller pools and target the bones coming off the flats. One was particularly choosy and rejected everything I thought delectable in my fly box …. no surprise as, having wiped my glasses, it turned out that I had been concentrating my efforts on the skiff’s anchor!
Brandon pushed me hard, brushing aside my whimpers about casting into the wind, as we scoured the flats in pursuit of big bones before Robin and Brandon resumed the hunt for permit. I went back to trying to find something to tempt the surgeon fish (no luck) and much to my surprise, realised that the permit had moved up onto the finger flat where I had been in pursuit of a trigger fish (not a lump of coral this time) and I was almost on top of it. Rather panicked, I looked around for help but Brandon seemed miles away as he and Robin were focused on something else so, with teeth gritted I let my crab drift toward the permit . I have been heavily criticised for my description of this, but the closest I can come is that the permit looked at the fly and bumped it to one side. I twitched it twice and let it sink (I don’t think I was breathing at this point) and the permit turned back to the fly, the tail went up and the head went down and ….. I’m really not sure what happened at that point. My line was tight and running, the rod was up and I honestly thought it was on. A split second later it was all over and in disgust I stood there trying to work out how that happened, with my rod resting on my shoulder and the fly trailing in the water behind me. A small flash of orange and white shot past me and I was rather surprised to find my line screaming out behind me. Not for long: whatever it was cut me off on the coral and it was with some relief that Brandon and Robin arrived in the skiff to rescue me from any further self-imposed disasters. Thankfully the rest of the group had a much more prolific day and the day went to Bill, who having hooked and lost several milkies, landed a beauty.
One of my favourite images of the week is of Kip: fed up with his trousers impeding his process across the flats, Kip came up with novel way to use his spool bands …
Sitting up front on Tam Tam and relaying the story of my anchor bone, behind me I heard the unmistakable sound of Andy laughing behind his buff: in true gentlemanly fashion he said I wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last but his kind comment spoke volumes about the guides. Not being the best caster in the world (or the most nimble), they were all incredibly generous with their advice and unbelievably patient and made what could have been a daunting week into the most enjoyable weeks fishing I have had and for that they have my heartfelt thanks. This is truly an amazing fishery and what it proved to me is that it really does have something for everyone – from the most experienced to the least, there is fishing here to keep everyone happy.
My thanks to all above: Robin, Ian, Wayne, Matt, Helgardt, Rudolf, Jane, Kip, Bill and Andrew for being such fantastic company and for not being prompt enough at the bar to nail all the snacks ……