It has been a few years since I have been to Alphonse, and I was very excited to be returning with a team. We flew on Air Seychelles from Heathrow Terminal 4 direct to Mahe with a touch down in Milan. The flight leaves at 1830 on Friday evening and you are on Mahe for 1030 Saturday morning which is very easy. On arrival we went over to the new development on Eden Island for a late brunch before catching the IDC flight to Alphonse at 1400.
As the 1600 beechcraft touched down on the strip at Alphonse the sights and smells immediately filled me with a sense of familiarity, and it was a little like returning home. Sean, Ivana and Devan were there to meet us, and soon we were whizzing through the palm trees on the golf carts to the reception. Very little had changed from my last visit, and as our bags were taken off to our chalets we enjoyed a welcome drink at the bar while we had a brief welcome and orientation. The accommodation at Alphonse is second to none, and the chalets were just as well appointed and comfortable as I remember. That evening we took all our gear down to the fishing centre and were re united with the guides who set up all the kit for us. Very lazy..
As usual I was bouncing around the following morning at 0330 in the morning, way to excited to sleep! I packed and repacked my Simms waterproof pack for the days fishing, cramming those last few fly patterns in my fly wallet. I had some brand new Brushy flies tied by Fulling Mill which I was keen to see in the water. After breakfast we all cycled down to the fishing centre for the 0700 departure of Tam Tam to St Francois. There was a buzz in the air and the excitement was tangible.
Ty Pollock and I were to fish together on the first day, and our guide was Scott, an extremely experienced guide form the US. Scott has done multiple seasons at Kau Tapen in Argentina along with 9 years in Alaska and numerous season in Florida, so we had a good chat about mutual friends. Scott took us over to Pompano Channel as we were going to do the long walk across the whole flat to the reef edge at Keen’s Cut. No sooner had he killed the engine then we began to see bonefish dropping off the edge on the outgoing tide. I stepped out of the boat, pulled some line off the reel and made a cast with a small Christmas Island special and was immediately into a bonefish of about 3 ½ lbs. As it headed off in the other direction I noticed a large tail protruding out of the water 30 yards to the right.
“Permit!” I shouted at Ty and Scott, and they immediately began to circle it as I continued to play my bonefish. Transpired it was a happy GT tailing on the back of a ray, and Ty popped a cast out to the right of it with the Brushy. The first two landed a little wide as he gained his bearings, and then the line sung out dropping the fly next to the GT. It immediately wolfed it down and Ty was attached to his first GT, 3 minutes off the skiff! After a very exciting battle Scott expertly tailed it and after the obligatory photographs it was carefully released. For the next 15 – 20 minutes we caught a few more bones before the water was so skinny they spooked as the line touched the water. At that point we began to march across the emerging flat to the reef edge.
On the fast moving spring tide by the time we reached it most of the bones had already evacuated that side, and the three of us began to patrol the edge looking for prowling GTs. Heading towards Bagdad, we then spun around and headed for Keen’s Cut as the push started. We caught a couple of nice Blue Fin trevally there, but although we saw a couple of GTs it was not possible to get a cast at them. At that point Scott made the call and we began the long walk back. The push was coming in quick, and it was important to get out of the danger zone on the tide, as it is not only GTs that swim in on the tide…
Once on the inner lagoon side the bones began to flood towards us, and our little 30 minute walk took 2 ½ hours to reach the boat, mostly as we both caught upwards of 30 bones each. I have never seen such numbers anywhere in the world, and the largest two fish I had were 6 and 6 ½ lbs respectively on a 7#… VERY exciting. I was using the new Hardy Proaxis 7# that had no problems controlling fish of that size, even though they both stripped me down to the backing a couple of times. The Cuban Shrimp seemed to be the winning pattern at this point, and every fish I cast it to immediately inhaled it. By the time we reached the skiff it was 1500, so we spent the last hour hunting trigger fish on the finger flats. I stood up on the polling platform spotting while Scott became a human pole and Ty stood on the casting deck. I think he had 15 or 16 good shots at Yellow margin and Moustache triggers in an hour before heading back to Tam Tam. Although the triggers were interested, he did not manage a hook one sadly. Back at the lodge that evening we learned that Ian Hodge had finally landed his Milkfish, matched it with a GT and nailed a bonefish for his Grand Slam, so drinks were on him!
On Monday I fished with Andy Wadham with Wayne as our guide. Wayne is one of the old hands, and along with Arno Mathee became a pioneer of Milkfish on the fly in the early 2000’s. We had not seen each other for some time and it was a delight to fish with him again. The conditions were dead calm, and the Milkfish were feeding heavily on the outside of the reef on the east side of St Francois. We headed there immediately and we rewarded with the sight of hundreds of Milks feeding with their mouths out of the water. Very much like nymph fishing, I hooked one which fell off almost immediately on the first run. Andy then hooked a fantastic fish which we boated for his first ever Milk. I can not emphasise the shear power of these fish, and how incredibly unique they are. The fly was neatly inserted into the corner of its mouth clearly showing that these fish do eat flies.
Wayne was regaling us with a tail of a Devilfish Milk that Vaughn had hooked while when they had fished together that had stripped off 350 yards of backing without stopping when I saw my leader twitch and the line began to move before I strip struck. The fish charged off and the reel began to spin uncontrollably. The rod bent over double side ways as I began to apply pressure and pump the fish. After 20 minutes we gained a little line by following in the skiff and I thought I was getting somewhere… before we saw the fish….
“Its still with the school,” said Wayne, “and I think it is about 45 lbs!” We saw it broadside in the water, and then it decided it had had enough. I tried pumping more, but all I achieved was to bend the rods more! The Milk turned towards the shore, and powered into the surf before heading up onto the flats, and I watched my line disappear after it. 60 yards left, 40 yards, 20… the last turn of backing spun of the reel and that was it.. I gave one last pull to try and turn it, and the we parted company. I began to giggle hysterically… “Devilfish” Wayne proclaimed.
The tide was pushing up onto the flat now, so we turned the skiff towards the lagoon for Helmut Knoll. This is one of the first flats on the edge of the lagoon and is easily accessible to the open ocean. It has proved to be a good spots for giants, and today was to be no exception. Again I was stood on the polling platform for a good view, and Andy stood on the front deck. Wayne and I spotted two GTs at the same time coming at us across the flat out of the deeper water. The smaller one I thought roughly 40 lbs, the second one considerably larger. Andy put out a perfect cast ten yards in front and began to strip. Almost instantaneously the fish charged the fly, and I was rewarded with the sight of an enormous bucket mouth closing on the fly before it charged off towards deeper water. It was the larger of the two… Andy began the battle and I thought he was going to manage to turn it before it found the edge of the flat, but although he applied maximum pressure the GT was having none of it. The line seared through the water as the massive brute charged into the lagoon.
Andy played that fish to the limit and after half an hour of tussle it began to spiral under the boat. Wayne never stopped offering helpful advice and encouragement, while I offered a continual stream of abuse… I am not sure which he found inspiring (although I can guess) and after 45 minutes of extraordinary strain Wayne netted the monster. He finally landed it about a kilometre from where we had hooked it, and all the while that fish had been soaking up everything a 12 weight could give along with towing a skiff. Wayne took the measurements, and we estimated the fish at 85 lbs. Not bad for his first GT! We finished on some bones, so Andy also had his first Alphonse Grand Slam. On arriving back at Tam Tam Jonathan White had landed his first Milkfish, Sandy Muirhead landed a lovely GT of 40 lbs, so again it had been a hell of a days fishing.
Tuesday dawned another perfect day in paradise with the sea looking like a mirror. Milks were on the agenda again, and I was to fish with Ian Hodge, and old Alphonse hand and a frequent fishing partner. Again the Milks were feeding well on the surface, although they had moved around a little further towards Lolli Pops wreck. The first lot we had a shot at went down after not too much time, so Serge took us round to the south side between Invisible Wreck and Bagdad. As Ian is a left hander we both fished at the same time, and after only about 10 minutes the line went tight and I was into a good Milkfish.
This time I was fishing with the New Hardy Proaxis 12#, and this was a totally different story. Although I had to be reasonably careful I could apply some serious pressure on this fish, and I was amazed how much the rod had to give. It still gave me one hell of a battle, and even though a huge Barry the Cuda came and eyeballed it we managed to land it safely. Milkfish 2, McLeod 1. The score was improving. Again, the fly was neatly inserted right in the side of the mouth. We spent the rest of the day looking for GT’s from Rattrays all the way round to Beruit and Bagdad, and although I hooked one and had a number of excellent shots, I failed to land one and complete my slam. Serge certainly showed me some good fish though, including some massive GTs cruising the surf line at Bagdad.
Wednesday I spent fishing with Ueli Zellweger in what can only be described as a bonefish fest. We started the morning on the dropping tide at the Gravy Train, hooking bonefish as they came off the flat. After a dozen or so each Scott wanted to head over to Rattrays for the push on the tide, so as we waited for the tide to drop to rock bottom we inspected Arno for triggers and although saw a few could not get the fly to them for the huge number of other species. Having caught a dozen orange grouper, I landed another nice little Blue fin trevally and a lovely sized yellow lipped emperor. On arrival at Rattrays we immediately saw a couple of GT’s some Permit which I succeeded in frightening and while we had lunch on the skiff I saw Matt Egan catch his first GT on the other side of the channel. Then the push arrived, and Ueli and I intercepted wave upon wave of bonefish heading across the sand. I gave up counting, but think it was somewhere in the region of another 25 each. Again the Cuban Shrimp proved highly effective. I think we finished the day on about 90 bones between the two of us. I have never got to a point where my arm just ached from catching too many fish. A good problem to have though.
As the week flew by and Thursday dawned Ty, Andy, Matt and I decided to fish Alphonse. The fishing around Alphonse itself can be really exciting, and this would be the first time I would do it with guides and skiffs. Matt was my fishing partner, and James was out guide. The first thing that struck me is the sheer size of the Alphonse flats down the from the channel. We used poppers in the channel for a bit, staked out GT bay on the drop, and then headed for the surf line on the far side. There is a fantastic cut there round from the old boiler. Here the GTs push onto the flats on the incoming tide, but today our window was short as the spring tide was going to push ultra quick. I caught a nice Blue fin on the edge, and then when I decided the water was getting a little high moved back from the edge. At this point I realised the water behind me was considerably deeper than where I had been which lead to a few tense moments as I made my way back to James and Matt. On the main flat as the water poured on James went for the Skiff and Matt and I waded towards the centre of the flat and the high ground.
We were looking for rays accompanied by GTs, and I hooked one fish off the back of a ray on a long back hand cast. I clamped up to give the right a through beasting, and after the GT ended up splashing around on the surface it fell off. Not really surprising really, but it gave me a good idea of how much pressure that Hardy Proaxis 12# can apply. We finished the day at the rock pile round from the bar. The raised rocks give cover for mullet, and the GTs come and hit the school. Sure enough I had two shots straight off the bat, but the fish spooked. Turning around and looking into the surf a clear wave came inand there, hanging in the wave was a huge school of fish and three or four really big GTs. Pandemonium ensued as Matt and I tried to get a cast to them, line everywhere, the waves breaking over our heads and still trying to cast. Man’s fishing. If I was looking at it from James’ perspective I would have been giggling to watch these two crazed.. quite short… fisherman desperately trying to reach these fish. I hooked up….. and landed another little blue fin trevally… arrgghhhh! The waves became higher, and we had to retreat as the tide took control. Feeling quite beaten up we headed home to hear the Sandy and Jonathan had experienced something similar out by the wreck on St Francois. In the window wave they had seen 8 – 10 GTs, some of them massive and Sandy had managed to hook one of the bigger ones before being destroyed on the coral. Jonathan had also managed an18 lbs Permit! I had fish envy…
The last day I fished with Ueli and Brandon on Alphonse again. Again we hammered the bonefish on the dropping tide before looking for GTs, and as we had a big squall come in that removed the light we were not very successful. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable day and Brandon was outstanding in difficult conditions.
Well, the week flew by as usual, and once again Alphonse had proved that it is one of the finest fisheries on the planet. The guides are an outstanding collection of obsessive compulsive fishermen that are permanently pushing the envelope of fly fishing, and Devan runs a very tight ship. The operation as a whole is awesomely slick, the food fantastic and the accommodation and service perfect. There are not many fisheries that can satisfy my need to catch bonefish, especially in four sessions, but the bone fishery is only the tip of the iceberg. What really makes it special is the unbelievable variety of species to target. I am going back next year in February so let me know if you fancy joining me.