Leaving the UK a little ahead of the group I spent a few days on Mahe re-visiting hotels we have worked with for some time (such as The Wharf) as well as visiting recently been refurbished hotels (The Kempinski which was previously the Plantation Club and the Coral Strand) and some completely new to us (the Allamanda Resort). The Kempinski offers a level of comfort and luxury found in only a few other hotels on Mahe while the lower key Coral Strand (on Beau Vallon), The Allamanda Resort and Le Relax (both on the south east coast of Mahe) have plenty to offer those preferring a simpler approach to their stay on the island, as well as fantastic views out over some flats that just beg to be walked with a rod.
From Mahe, I flew to Desroches, eager to see not only the new additions to the island in the form of the Beach Retreats and the Madam Zabre Spa Retreat but to meet the guides and the Cast-a-way team on the island. It is, without doubt, the perfect destination for couples and families with a wonderful array of activities to suit everyone. The creche will soon be complete and the island has childrens bicycles as well as ‘two up’ bicycles for the smaller children. Despite its size, it is easy to imagine that there are few others on the island, and for those who want to take their rods for a walk, there are plenty of spots to fish around Desroches itself. For those wanting to fish rather more seriously, there are the blue water boats to target the pelagic species on fly as well as conventional gear. The flats of Poivre and St Josephs are perfect fly fishing territory with a healthy population of permit. It is a beautiful and remote island that offers an incredibly high level of service without seeming to break a sweat to do so.
Those few days were, however, the prelude, the appetiser ….. the main course was Alphonse and the main reason for my being in Seychelles. I was to meet up with the group and head out to Alphonse for a week of intense fishing, fantastic food and some not so shabby company. Sadly all did not go accordingly to plan as flights were delayed leaving the UK with one flight being cancelled eventually resulting in one member of the party not making the journey at all. Keith, you were much missed by the whole group out on the flats and around the table.
Having spent our free time between flights at the Kapatya Lounge, we headed back to the airport for the flight to Alphonse and to meet up with Mike who had also been held up leaving London, arriving with not too much time to spare between flights!
I know I have referred to this before, but leaping on the scales is never anyone’s favourite pastime and least of all when there are a lot of interested eyes watching but we were all duly weighed, with our luggage and I can only be grateful that weights are not writ large on a piece of exposed flesh in the way they are by Kiwi bungee jump masters.
Once on board, the flight to Alphonse seemed to whiz by and it wasn’t long before we were runway bound and, with a squeal of brakes and wee bit of burning rubber, our pilot had us down, parked and offloaded in very short order. There was time for a quick hello to Joern, Maria and Peter who were saying goodbye to Alphonse before we were whisked off to the bar for proper introductions. It was lovely to finally meet Chris and Anne who have been on Alphonse for only a few weeks and to catch up with old friends; namely Jemma, Yusef and Miriam.
With the necessary paperwork out of the way, we moved on to our rooms before heading down to the fishing centre to meet up with Devan and his returning team of Serge, Andrew, Wayne, Scott and Alex. Very much missed was James for whom we all wish a speedy recovery but whose fantastic popper, the NYAP, kept most of the group well occupied during the course of the week. Pointing out that my leader hadn’t been changed since my last trip earned me a rather black look but in short order we were all set up and heading back to the bar for the first of many memorable meals and entertaining evenings during the course of the week.
Sunday dawned a bit too early; the 5 am alarm call seemed to come about far too soon but we were all at breakfast bright and early (not that that continued for all parties all week) before meeting up at the fishing centre for the ferry out to St Francois. Tam Tam is currently on Mahe, having a well earned refit and awaiting new engines so out to St Francois, on St Francois, we were bound. Our first day out couldn’t have been better weather wise – a beautiful day; calm, clear skies and a steady breeze, we were out on the water by 0800.
The milks were in the lagoon and feeding and it seemed that we all had had the same idea – get them while they were around. Mike and I headed out with Serge (his beige Maverick now sporting a natty white coat of paint). The rather scarily attired Colin, wearing a cross between a mozzie net and a pair of curtains attached to a hat headed off with Tim and Wayne while Devan proved how exceptional patience is a necessity for a guide out on the flats – Roger insisted on messing around with the milk fish, toying with 7 of them before tiring of the game and landing his 8th hooked milkie after an hour. John showed us how to do it, landing a lovely fish in 20 minutes and elsewhere other battles were being fought and lost.
I was fishing with Mike and Serge and we had a few bones in the morning as a warming up exercise before joining in the hunt for the milks with Mike up first. Swapping over, I was ready to call time after what had been a frustrating time casting at milks (for all three of us!) when Serge quietly, and calmly announced from the rear ‘you’re in, you’re in, set it, set it’ and I had my Milk fish on and the world shrunk to include my rod, reel and the skiff. Having watched Roger and John both battle with their milks earlier, I knew I was in for a hell of a battle but nothing had prepared me for the sheer power of the fish. There was no give. There was no turning it. There was only solid, determined power at the end of the line. I have watched others in envy with their milk fish on, I have seem far more experienced anglers than I lose fish and be spooled by them – would I land it? Would my leader hold? Would I be cut off on the coral? How could the hook not straighten out under that pressure? I have to give huge thanks to both Mike and Serge for their quiet calm and for the encouragement because there were times during that short (as I found out later) 30 minute battle when I was sure that if the rod didn’t break, my arms were going to fall off.
Frustratingly my milk found some friends and, undeterred by the fact that it was now towing the skiff, went off to play with them. With Serge’s moral boosting ‘no worries man, we have plenty of time’ I hung on and tried to get some line back in. After a few false attempts at getting the fish to the boat, with one last haul and a small amount of Anglo Saxon, Serge scooped it up into the net and my legs started to shake. I couldn’t believe that my first milk was in the boat, that my arms were still attached to my body and that I hadn’t broken the 9# Proaxis. As proof was needed, Serge had us on the flats in short order and I had my first up close experience with my milkie. I was awed by the power of the fish as I desperately hung on to it while cameras were readied. It may well have been netted but by no means was it a tired fish and the sheer power in that bodyl after a 30 minute battle was phenominal. After several false starts, and some undignified clutching on my part, the photo shoot was finished and it was off, wasting no time at all in heading off into the deep.
We tried for triggers in the afternoon with Mike going one direction and Serge and I in the other. We both saw plenty of fish but no luck and few follows. Slightly frustrated, I looked over my shoulder at Serge who was, I thought fiddling with his shoe lace, when he straightened up holding a small giant trigger fish that he had caught by the tail. Obviously the advanced method of landing a trigger and on a page I haven’t yet read.
The day ended far too quickly and we were all soon back on St Francois and Alphonse bound. Our first day on flats had landed us 148 bonefish (with the largest being 6 ½ lbs), 3 milkfish all in the 30 – 35 lbs range, 5 blue spangled emperors, 5 blue fin trevelly with Roger landing a nice 12 lb fish, assorted groupers and snappers (including a bumphead), a barracuda that was hooked but bit its way off. Oh, and a goatfish! The milkie bell was rung three times in the bar that evening for myself, Roger and John before we sat down to what was to be the first of a week of fantastic meals, super wine and great company.
The alarm clock on Monday went off far too early but there were no laggers as we hopped on the ferry, eager to get back out to St Francois. Tim and I were fishing with Devan, Tim up first and under no pressure whatsoever to land a milk ……….. which he did in very short order, landing a lovely fish with only a hint of tourette colouring the air. I was then up and we moved outside to look for milks – they were there, and in abundance, but feeding sub surface. I had one tug but it didn’t lead to a hook up and eventually we moved on to try our hand at dredging. It was surprisingly quiet with one big hit but no hook up plus an unscheduled hook up with the bottom before two beautiful lyre tailed groupers joined us briefly in the boat!
GTs were on our menu for the afternoon and Tim had a fantastic follow and take from three GTs, the smallest took first but the hook didn’t set and the enormous mouth of the second, much bigger fish, engulfed the fly and then took off with the boat in hot pursuit. Frustratingly for Tim, his GT knew exactly where to head for in La Pass and, as the line was ripped against the coral, the air turned a rather darker shade of blue. We returned to our parking spot and persevered – I had a couple of follows from three bluefin trevally but by the time they decided to make a move, the fly was almost at the top of the rod! Five or six enormous manta rays were feeding in the channel and worked their up and down the channel, completely unfazed by us. It was a joy to watch them elegantly moving through the water with their electric blue mouths agape … a beautiful sight slightly kicked into touch by Tim debating (seriously although he will deny this) whether or not he could land one on his 12#.
Triggers were on the menu for the afternoon for us and again, we both saw plenty with six or seven coming in onto the flats together and staying around but we had no takes. Even the puffer fish refused the crab totally, and being rather good natured (or just not very bright), it didn’t even spook after I landed the fly on its head trying to attract its attention! A second joined the lock jawed first puffer and both continued on their way, unpreturbed by the goings on above them. Devan had been serenly pulling Lady Charlotte and Tourette Tim along at this point but suddenly roared at me to get down. I hit the front deck of the Mizi in short order, and Tim lept (with unhurried grace) to his feet to cast at the GT travelling in front of a big shark. Frustratingly the GT remained uninterested but Tim persevered with the shark, Devan and I still crouched at the front of the boat, and while it turned several times on the poppers, it was not to be. The tally for the day does not do justice to what was a fantastic day; we actually landed just three fish between us but I learned a whole new spectrum of the english language and we came back to St Francois with some wonderful tales to tell.
The rest of the group had their fair share of tales to tell; Jane landed a lovely milk as well as a chunky 6lbs bonefish; Jean and Keith had a species day, Mike landed a 3 lbs giant trigger, John had another milk. Overall, another great day but cloud cover in the morning did make it difficult to spot fish especially the milks outside the lagoon but it did improve as the day went on. Overall, we landed 80 bonefish, 3 milkfish, blue fin trevally, yellow lipped emperors, lyre tailed groupers, boha snappers, a big job fish and Mike’s giant trigger fish.
The day however belonged to Tony. He landed …………..
His reel …….
Tuesday dawned bright and clear on Alphonse and as I was having an Alphonse day, all I could do was hope that the day would prove to be as nice out on St Francois, with such good visibility. Having realised that she had forgotton her socks, Jane ended up using my bright pink socks which were on the boat but despite the ideal conditions with clear skies and light breeze, Tuesday was a tough day even with the bulk of the team looking for milks. It was, however, the second outing of the 1# club with the 1# title holder (Mike) being challenged by both Tim and Scott. Both prevailed, landing nice bonefish on their respective 1#’s and being welcomed into what is a very elite group of fishermen.
Returning to the Fishing Centre to meet the returning troops, I discovered that Roger felt his fishing career had peaked with the landing of a cigar wrasse and a thumb spot snapper and Jean had lost a milk fish after a 64 minute battle. Overall the tally for the day was 83 bonefish, blue fin trevally, various groupers, blue spangled emperors, yellow lipped emperors, job fish and not forgetting the aforementioned trophy cigar wrasse!
Wednesday dawned as another lovely day, decent visibility and a light breeze had us all setting out once more with light hearts and rods at the ready. Little did we know what drama was in store for us all. Tony and I were fishing with Alex and by comparison, it was a nice steady day, mainly spent on bonefish but while we had a great, productive day the same could not be said for the rest of the team one way or another. Mike was out on his own with Wayne and they opted to have a GT day and had about 12 good shots at GT’s with Wayne leaping into action when Mike hooked one. Obviously a relative of the one Tim hooked on Tuesday, his GT headed straight for the coral and La Pass had one more fly line to add to the collection for the week. He had four more chasers but none landed but despite all that, had a great big smile to greet us all when we met at the end of the day.
Out with Devan, John landed a beautiful yellow margin trigger fish and Colin landed a milk in what would become record time for him! Strange things do happen at sea and John lost a milkfish along with his line ……… which they then found floating a little later! The day however, belonged to Jean, although she did have to leave Keith stranded on one of the finger flats, hoping that in her pursuit of the dream, she and Scott remembered to come back and pick him up! Starting the day on bonefish with Scott at the helm they then moved on to milks and Jean landed a beauty in relatively short order. Undeterred by the fact that her arms had little feeling after landing the 30 lbs fish, they headed off in search of a GT – we passed them a couple of times and wondered if Jean was hoping for a slam and when the news was radioed through that she had landed a 40 lbs GT, there was much rejoicing across the flats. The daily tally – in addition to Jeans Grand Slam, was 92 bonefish, 1 dog tooth tuna, bluefin trevally, groupers and blue spangled emperors along with Colin’s milk and John’s yellow margin trigger.
What none of us realised at the time, was that Jean is the first lady angler to land a Grand Slam on St Francoise and so takes her place in Alphonse history. It was with an enormous amount of pleasure in the evening that Queen Jean was crowned …. and yes, they did remember to go back and pick up Keith.
Rain appeared overnight and Thursday morning started off with a little glimmer on the horizon before the looming grey clouds closed in. Fishing from St Francois, we were on the lookout for GTs when Wayne spotted one and he and Roger jogged, Chariots of Fire like, down the beach – to my everlasting regret, I didn’t get the video working soon enough as it was a memorable sight. Later on we were out looking for bones with Wayne up towards One Palm and working our way back to the boat with only a few bones under our belt, we heard via the radio from Andrew that Colin had a Devil fish on and, at that point, the fish had been fighting for 1 hr 15 mins.
Wayne remained encouraging and, with Roger up front, I was witness to some outstanding casting – visibility wasn’t great, it was windy and the swells are not inconsiderable – at one point Roger was casting up hill but he made it look effortless. The milks were there and feeding, some sub surface but several feeding on the surface and Roger had a hard hit but frustratingly the fish didn’t stay on for long. Not the most steady on my pins at the best of times, I muttered about not being able to cast the distance that Roger had been and I will continue to deny saying that in a high, girlie squeak as much reported by Roger! Lady Luck was on my side and first cast I had a milkfish on with Wayne shouting at me to ‘set it, set it, set it’. Colin by this time had landed his milk, 1 hr 40 mins after hooking it and Roger left me in no doubt that was by no means unusual! I watched the backing run and run and run – a natty bright pink , it was a frighteningly long away from me and my own Devil fish continued to cause chaos for my fellow anglers as it disappeared under their boats. Hollering a cheery ‘sorry’ as we went past, I suddenly realised that I was in serious danger of being spooled. My 350 meters of backing was pretty much all out. I squeaked back at Wayne that I was running out of backing and he rather shortly told me that it would be more helpful if I didn’t leave that kind of information to the last minute.
Devan later told me that all they could see was the lime green of my 12 Weight gloves flashing as I wound and wound frantically trying to get back some line. There was a point where I was perched, heron like, unmoving – much to Johns amusement from the front of his boat. The fish wasn’t giving an inch and there was just nothing I could do to gain any more line back. The line was in, the line was out. We went down to the backing a second, third, fourth time and with Wayne helpfully pointing out that I was now in stage 2 of 5, 3 of 5 etc and Roger keeping me up to date on timing, I was beginning to think we’d have to tow the fish back to Alphonse in order to land it. 1 hr 15 mins after that first cast, Wayne scooped my milkie up into the net and I could finally get down off my rocky perch. We were not fishing on nice calm seas – the swell was huge and we had lost sight of the other boats on and off during the course of that battle. I had to enlist the help of Roger in holding it – I happily admit to having been drained of all energy and the fish still wasn’t tired – it was still fighting on board and my hand was too small to get much of a grip on the tail. Photos taken, it was quickly back in the water and off with a very dismissive flip of that beautiful scimitar like tail.
Roger was up next and it didn’t take him long to get into his fish, most of which I have on video and will post separately so you can see just how tough a day it was. By this time, the swell was much nastier – definately more choppy and much more difficult for Roger. There were times that he looked pained and I’m not sure he appreciated my regular time calls but he landed a beauty of a fish in 1 hr as Wayne scooped it up in the safety of the net. A first for Wayne as well as we here his first milkfish double.
John put us all to shame once more, bringing in his fish in 45 minutes but it was generally a quiet day for all in the toughest conditions I have ever seen on St Francois. Devan aptly called it Extreme Thursday – there is something fundamentally wrong with casting and then winding uphill!. We ended the day with 3 milks and 58 bonefish – Keith and Jean with Serge and Mel and Jane with Scott spent the day out looking for GTs while the rest of the team stayed outside looking for milks.
Friday dawned grey and wet and rain delayed play by an hour but by the time we got out to St Francois, the clouds were clearing and visibility was improving. John and I were out with Scott and we were treated to one of St Francois’s most amazing sights – schools of thousands of bonefish moving across the flats, herded up there by GT activity just off the edge. One beauty of a fish came up onto the flats after the bones, scattering them briefly before they regrouped. Desperate to get Mel into a milk fish, they spent most of the day looking for them with Devan but sadly didn’t land one.
For John and I, it was the ideal last day on the flats. We did spend a lot of time after lunch looking for triggers and we both had some decent follows and a couple of takes but neither of us landed one. We also saw either five permit or one permit five times, hanging out with the triggers but while it wasn’t spooked by us, neither was it feeding; just passing through sedately. A small grouper of at least 2 inches shot in from stage right and destroyed my last chance of hooking the giant trigger doggedly following my fly before Scott called time. While we agreed that actually landing triggers would have rounded it off, a morning spend bonefishing followed by an afternoon on the flats trying to tempt triggers was a perfect way to end our week. Keith and Jean’s final day saw them land a 10 lbs job fish, boha snapper up to 8 lbs and a bluefin trevally up to 7 lbs along with bones and lyre tailed groupers. Tim’s final day was also a bit of a ripper with a yellow fin tuna of 30 lbs landed on the fly, a 25 lbs milk fish and 12 lbs bluefin trevally ….. and 2 GT’s hooked and lost. Roger and Tony spent much of the day looking for milks but squeezed in some bonefishing and Colin and Mike, with Alex, landed another lovely trigger fish, bones and some blue spangled emperors.
To sum up: as a group, we probably spent less time on the flats after bones than in previous years and saw larger numbers of 3 – 4 lbs fish than larger bones travelling in smaller groups. However, as we weren’t focusing on the bones, that observation is no reflection on the quality of the bonefishing – we simply chose not to persue it that week. We had more shots at GT’s than in previous years (as well as a higher than normal attrition rate on fly lines and a couple of blown up rods), we saw plenty of trigger fish and more permit than on past trips although no hook ups.
My thanks, as always, to Devan, Serge, Andrew, Wayne, Scott and Alex for their neverending optimism and help … and for some very nifty scooping! There is no greater compliment to any Chef than clean plates and we certainly did that at every given opportunity. The food as always, was fantastic. To Chris and Anne, huge thanks for everything and for making us all so welcome and for keeping us in line.
It was a fantastic week, and I defy anyone to have a better dressed group of fellow anglers.
Mel, Jane, Roger, Tony, Tim, Mike, Colin, John, Tim Jean and Keith thank you for a fantastic week and I am already looking forward to the rematch. The week belonged to the milk fish – may they reign supreme, along with Queen Jean’s Grand Slam.