Size… I think that is the first thing that crossed my mind as MV Mayas Dugong made its way up the west side of Providence Atoll. The group had been buzzing ever since we had jumped on the IDC Beechcraft from Mahé to Farquhar.
Despite the sadness that hit me like a wave as I observed the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Fantala, I was also filled with renewed hope. The damage was not as complete as I had thought and there were still trees standing across the island. Already huge numbers of palms are sprouting to fill the void and it won’t be long before the island is returned to her former glory.
As the tractor slowly chugged us up to the boat ramp we were greeted by the lovely sight of the Farquhar pets, still in residence and unperturbed by what had transpired above their world. The new lodge is well underway and will be a radical improvement from the old guest house from which duplex bungalows have sprung.
As Cerf Island hove into view I think we all felt that deep seated excitement that comes from looking forward to something for so long and finally coming to fruition. Lining the railing we pointing out features, straining to see across the surf and onto the flats bathed in the orangey light of evening. Size. It’s the one thing that Providence Atoll really has over all the other atolls I have fished in the Seychelles. At 44 km in length and 12 km in length in covers 345 km2 . Moored at Midway, it is just possible to make out Providence Island in the North and Cerf Island in the south with clear skies. A huge playground for flats fishermen. I could not wait to get stuck in as I sipped a beer and looked on. An insane amount of tackle spewed from below decks, miraculously taking shape into rods reels in the hanging racks – slightly reminding me of closely packed sailors in hammocks in days of yore.
The first day on the flats somewhat set the scene for the rest of the trip and passed in a blur of turtle grass flats, GTs on rays and battles we had yearned for so long. I fished with Marcus and George with Wesley as our guide in the north towards Providence Island. Our first chance came swiftly as we waded line abreast on the turtle grass expanse. From the right a large ray slid down the flat on the dropping tide, perpendicular to us, a lone rider on his back. He was a little out of range and as the pair came down past George and Marcus they could not quite present a fly in such a way the fish could see it.
Being out on the left with the wind over the right shoulder the fish dropped into my zone and I fired out a long back hand cast that dropped some two feet away from the direction of travel. I gave the Gym Sock one slow pull and the fish instantly tore off the ray and hammered the fly and battle ensued. The 11 weight Hardy Zephrus soaked up the battle beautifully, only reemphasising to me this was the perfect setup for GT fishing on the flats. Light, yet powerful.
Every time I see a GT attack a fly I am still stunned by their speed, eyes often out of the water focused on their fleeing prey. I quickly found the pump and wind rhythm and in short order Wesley had his hand around the wrist of a lovely 91 cm GT. It is so lovely to be in a place where the fish do what comes naturally to them and they behave as you expect. Marcus got off the mark shortly afterwards with a fantastic stalk over some 300 yards. Each time he got close enough to put a cast in, the ray and fish would edge away from him. Finally they changed direction and again, like a repeat performance, the GT crushed the fly off the back of the ray. The elation was etched across his face as he too realised he could relax and the pressure was off.
George followed quickly after that and all was well. We had a good number of other opportunities that day, but even though a couple more were hooked nothing came to hand which I put down to first day jitters. Arriving back on the mothership that night spirits were high and it was quickly apparent that all had got off the mark. What a first day and after diner we celebrated under the stars.
Our week was planned to give us a full spectrum of tides, beginning with neaps at the beginning and finishing on springs at the end. Hopefully we would see all that Providence had to offer and there a few gems that particularly stick in my mind. Last year I had not even seen a bonefish, so I was keen to get to an area we could hunt them in shallow water. Justin took Brummy, Steve and myself one morning to a huge white sand flat on the east side of Providence Island that spanned from the inner lagoon all the way out to the surf on the east side. We moored the tender in the lagoon and began to walk across the flats. As we approached the apex of the flat we hit the depth just right and the first bone cruised into view… and what a bone! It was quite simply massive and we all ducked down, me onto my knees as I was a little further ahead.
The fish was nearly on us as Brummy almost casually flicked a rolling bead crab several feet ahead of it. The fish immediately accelerated like a cat chasing down a mouse, but at the last minute it shied away. By now it was no more than ten feet away and as it moved off I encouraged him to make another cast as the fish now cruised to our right. The fly landed, he gave it one twitch and the bonefish practically attacked it. The fish tore off across the flats, the line making that satisfying tearing noise as it ripped through the surface film and disappeared off in a puff of sandy water, Brummy’s reel singing its tune as it went. Fly line vanished in a few seconds closely followed by a considerable amount of backing. The fish was splashing in the distance and further up the flat, the line still trying to catch up as we both grinned. Slowly it came under control and he began to regain some line and a sense of control.
Out of left field we suddenly saw Justin running towards us across the flats brandishing his large net. The two reached us roughly simultaneously and Justin scooped up the fish; only then did we realise what a tank it was. The fish measured 65 cm in length with a 33 cm girth which we reckoned was about 8 lbs and a superb specimen.
We released it to play another day and almost immediately another hove into view on my right. I went down onto my knees again to lower my profile and try not to spook it, took the crab off the eye of my rod and without stripping any line cast the leader at the fish. The fly landed, I twitched the fly and the bone pounced… we were away again. Amazing. Although not quite as big, it was not far from it. The session continued and we picked up a few more of these bruisers. What I found most staggering was catching such large fish in such skinny water. As they had come off the turtle grass and across the lagoon picking up their last mouthfuls on the dropping tide, they could be spotted easily as an iridescent green colour clearly contrasted against the white sand. While Brummy and Justin headed for a finger flat on the lagoon side, Steve and I did a big circle around the flat before heading back in the direction of the tender boat.
As we were about to turn for home another bus snuck up on us that Steve promptly hooked and played beautifully. We splashed our way back across to the boat for some much needed refreshment and were finally joined by the other two. Something had kept them busy and it turned out to be a triggerfish which unhooked itself and an 81 cm GT which had beaten its brethren to the fly in a pack attack. The last event that occurred that day was an investigation of the surf line over the white sand on the north western tip of Providence Island. There were a good number of bluefin and GTs playing in the waves and we caught a couple to finish off the day. There is something truly special watching the wave sets rise up and seeing big fish in a window into their lives.
By day three everyone was settling nicely into the routine and all were catching fish. I think we had already caught over 30 GTs at this point which was staggering. I returned to the bonefish area with Peter and Fred. We arrived on a different stage of the tide and we caught a few smaller fish of approximately 5 lbs on the lagoon side on the finger flats. As we returned to the tender boat another monster appeared. Peter cast straight up to it and just like the previous day the fish zoomed in to investigate but then shied away. I told him to recast again, and just as before it pounced and headed straight for deep water.
Laughter soon gave way to a nervous giggles as Peter watched his reel empty. I was seriously thinking this fish might spool him on the first run. He began to look nervously at his emptying spool, but finally managed to turn it and start retrieving line. Justin appeared with his net and after a few shenanigans around us he finally netted it before giving a holler of relief. This fish was 67 cm with a 35 cm girth.. a beast we estimated at 8 ½ lbs.
The next morning we awoke to find the bright blue skies of the day before were replaced with an overcast grey sky. Many fishermen despair in these conditions, but I embrace them. When covering huge areas such as Providence with practically no land marks, many of the fish you spot are not by looking into the water, but rather AT the water.
This kind of weather only contrasts this further. On this particular morning I was fishing with Tim and Jonathan with Matthieu and Jerry as our guides. As I sipped coffee from my flats flask (totally essential of course!) we cruised up the west side from midway to a channel that gives access to the lagoon within. As we putted up I could already see trigger tails waving in the morning air.
Ahhhhh… time to dance with my nemesis. Like many I have a love hate relationship with these Jack Russell’s of the flats and those who know me well also know I am on my second divorce with Yellow Margins. What transpired was one of the most fun, but most frustrating sessions I have had on the flats. All three of us were surrounded by tailing triggers, and at one point I counted no less than seven tails waving at the same time. After countless bites, follows, chases and even a couple of hook ups the three of us did not land a single one. Wow it was fun though and completely engrossing, so much so the entire morning had slipped by before we knew it.
Our little group continued wading south, line abreast. Then the GTs came. It started with a nice fish spotted by Matthieu and then hooked and landed by Tim. Then it was almost a constant stream of action. The flat we waded across were interspersed with small depressions and holes on a dropping tide. We could see the bow waves of GTs coming off the flats from miles away. Jonathan caught one next which I followed with a camera as it rushed the fly, capturing the whole thing in almost a time lapse.
We pressed on coming upon a deep hole. On the other side was a GT sitting on a ray that had just come up the side out of the deeper water. I covered the fish and dropped the Gym Sock fly about two feet from its nose and gave it a long slow strip. The fish foamed the sea and planed on the surface, its whole mouth clearly visible as it stared at me and chowed the fly. It was a spectacle that left me slightly stunned as it careened off in the opposite direction before the reel hammered my hand and sprung me back into the moment.
We began to spread out and took shot after shot as the bow waves kept coming. I landed one fish which I need pliers to unhook. Stupidly I had put them in my rucksack, so as it flapped around me I pulled it off my back, manoeuvred the 9 weight off, held my camera in front of me and started rummaging around in the bottom of my bag. Before I knew what was happening the GT had swum around me like a May Pole, wrapping me up in all my remaining line until I was totally trussed up. “Help” I squeaked pathetically at Jerry who kindly waded over from Tim and helped me out of my mess. As soon as I had recovered my composure, released the fish, stripped line out another fish cruised in from the left, its bow wave looking more like a bonefish. I was in again!
We landed eleven GTs between us in the afternoon and on returning home that night had a crack at the huge schools of milkfish hanging around the edge of the atoll. When I say huge, I mean huge; schools of thousands. Casting in the receding light Tim hooked one which came unbuttoned after some spectacular jumps. That night all boats had similar tales, it had been a red letter day of note.
By this stage of the trip it was becoming harder to get out of bed in the morning, most nursing sore muscles or cuts from close encounters. Bruises along the belly from rod butts hammered by GTs were common ground. The thought of what new adventures lay ahead erased them from the mind rapidly, along with a strong cup of coffee. That morning’s highlights while fishing with Brummy, Steve and Tim as our guide were a close encounter with a monster barracuda and a permit armada. We had waded down the edge of a channel spotted with white holes. Always a good area to stake out, the white spots allowing good vision despite poor light conditions. A huge black shape sidled out the channel and as I made my cast I thought this was it, a massive GT. The fly landed and as I stripped the fish turned lazily towards me before suddenly shooting towards me like an arrow. I know that take and sure enough as it turned sideways I identified it as one of those devil fish barracuda, pushing six feet long and massive across the back it launched itself nearly seven feet out of the water as it headed back to the ocean, the spray glistening in the morning light as it made holes in the ocean. It jumped another three times and I was just beginning to hope I might have hooked it in a sweet spot before alas we parted company. I always have those slight nervous moments with cuda of that size that it will miss the fly entirely and keep coming at me!
A little later, as the three of us pulled the boat and waded across the flats, we encountered seven bow waves lazily cruising towards us. As they drew closer Brummy lined up his shot and cast. As he stripped frantically with no reaction it suddenly dawned on us that those fins were not dark or white speckled but golden… Indo pacific permit. They had not spooked as they sailed by so I grabbed the boat and Steve and I watched as Brummy and Tim made their way over to where they were now contentedly tailing, their golden tails flashing in the now improved morning light.
No one spoke, our hearts in our mouths, as Brummy made the cast. One of the tails dropped and the fish flew over to munch the fly. I am not quite sure what happened but Brummy tightened, there was a big splash and I thought he was in, only to so see both he and Tim crouch over. It had not happened… the disappointment was tangible, but that is the essence of permit fishing.
In the afternoon, as we fished along the edge of stunning sand flat that dropped into a turquoise channel, a cry went up from a further flat. Something was occurring. We could see little figures running hither and thither, another yell, and then Justin running for the boat.
Someone was into something big.. we cruised over to witness the last facet of a monumental battle between Peter O and a behemoth. What a fish.. Justin finally tailed it before giving us a glimpse of its mass. The fish measured in at 108 cm and had all the characteristics of an ocean going GT pushing in on the high spring tides. Peter had spotted it heading down the flat out of a depression towards him and had managed to put a cast across its line of sight. After one strip in meandered in his direction and after a further slow strip its pectoral fins flared before it attacked. As is so often the case with really big GTs, the initial interest is slow until a switch flips and they move at break neck speed.
The next few days passed in a bit of a blur with some more big ocean going GTs being encountered, a couple of them landed and a little inclement weather with a few squalls that blew through. However one incident really stuck in my mind with the milkies. As I have mentioned before, every day we saw huge football pitched sized areas of milkfish feeding on the algae and detritus coming off the atoll. Most days boats would spend time targeting them, normally in the morning or evening as they waited to access certain areas on particular tides. The group had been pretty successful in hooking them and landing a few. On this particular day I had been fishing with Jonathan and Tom with Matthieu as our guide. Venturing all the way down to Cerf Island to hit the white sand flats on the pushing tide we encountered a huge school of milks. After some close calls Jonathan had finally hooked one and caught his first after a short battle.
The four of us fished the surf down there for a while, looking for GTs coming in on the waves. The visibility was pretty appalling, so Matthieu moved us up on to the white sand which resulted in success. Both Tom and I had fish that we had spotted, leapt off the boat and intercepted by running through the thigh depth water which was huge fun. The afternoon had been a bit slow with poor light, so we crossed back over the atoll to have another crack at the milkfish.
Once again the sight of open mouths and flipping tails greeted us as the milkfish did what milkfish do. Almost as soon as we started fishing Tom hooked one that came off. No too long afterwards we drifted down the side of a huge feeding lane and Tom’s line snaked away and went tight before a fish charged off, tearing line of his reel in a terrifying wrench. GTs pull hard for sure, but nothing will prepare you for the blistering run of a milkfish trying to keep with a school. One only has to take a look at that huge tail to figure out why. We gave chase in the boat, all the while Matthieu offering advice and encouragement while he skilfully controlled the boat. Tom fought it beautifully, nice and steadily without applying too much pressure.
Milks have relatively soft mouth so it is imperative to maintain a constant pressure, but not excessive. As the fight progressed we moved through the three phases of the milkfish fight and I could see the concentration beginning to take its toll on Tom. Tom is a permit aficionado, so I knew he would remain calm, but the sheer power of the fish and its inability to tire was beginning to show. After a 30 minute battle perfectly executed we netted a stunning milkfish and we could all finally breathe. A perfect end to the day.
One of my absolute favourite places to spot and hunt GTs is in the surf. There is nothing quite like seeing that wave come up and a big shape hanging there. The last day I partnered with Peter O, Fred and Wesley and Peter as our guides. It had been a while since Peter and I had last fished together on Farquhar and I was looking forward to it. Wesley took us down to one of the storm ridges in the south, a perfect spot to stake out on the push. We waded along the edge and spotted some big GTs waiting to come in but could not get a shot at them.
As the tide rose perceptively Peter and I decided to stake out the channel just to the side which overviewed some white holes before leading into the turtle grass. The others pushed along the surf line while Peter and I chatted. Sure enough, after no more than 20 minutes, a black shape came cruising across the white sand, its dark body clearly highlighted. I sprung into action, whipped the fly off my lower ring and cast out the line I had stripped off previously. The fly landed, I gave it one slow strip and immediately the GT’s body language changed as it moved towards the fly. One more strip had it following and the next I gave a long fast strip. The line had not travelled half way though this motion before the GT hammered the fly and the fight was on. This fish made me really work and I was sweating profusely by the time I brought it to hand.
Peter calmly handed me a bottle of water and proclaimed that good things come to those who wait. An important lesson here, sometimes you need the patience to do nothing. Don’t walk on the areas you are looking for fish.
Our little group motored over to the next storm ridge, but before we arrived we saw three huge GTs coming towards us, each one over a metre. Sadly we could not get a cast at them so we ventured into the surf line. The light had improved hugely and the waves were lit up like a neon sign. Wesley suddenly shouted that there was shark headed towards us. We all moved towards it (I know, not the normal behaviour of a sane human being, but perfectly normal for a GT obsessed rabid fisherman) and on its back hung a big black GT with a bunch of bluefins around it.
Peter O executed a textbook cast and immediately hooked…. the bluefin. The GT and shark seemed interested in the commotion but then headed off in to deeper water. While unhooking it Wesley thought he saw it again, but then the pair faded from view.
On a trip such as this sadly it is impossible to record all the amazing things that occurred so I have to content myself by recording the most notable events I witnessed first-hand. However mention must be made of the other piscatorial achievements that occurred to give a full flavour of what Providence has to offer. Although a trip’s success is never measured in terms of numbers, the following figures so give a sense of perspective. 136 GTs were landed in total. Peter O landed two GTs over a metre at 103 cm and 108 cm and his largest bonefish ever. Tom Haskins, Jonathan Murray and Tim Pike all landed bumpies all in one day, Tim landing two. Marcus Beale and James Bramwell (AKA Brummy) landed GTs over a metre along with Jonathan Murray who landed two over a metre including a beast of 118 cm. Marcus managed a grand slam on the last day of a milky, bonefish and GT all before 1000.
13 triggers were landed, along with eight milkfish including a pair of beauties by Peter Moylan and George Titley. Mention should also be made of Fred Fahid who landed his first five GTs and Tom O’Hare and Steve Halsall who embraced fishing in the Indian Ocean and caught nearly all the major species.
Two permit were hooked but lost and some stunning bluefin, yellow lipped emperors and boha snapper were also landed.
Lastly a 200 kg bull shark was landed after a huge tussle with half the team to prevent it becoming cheeky around the boat. All in all quite an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place with a fantastic group of guys.
An extremely important element of any trip like this are the guides who make it possible. Without their in depth knowledge of the area, tides and species we would never have done so well. Although we caught a good number of fish, by no means was it easy and everyone worked hard. The guide team of Matthieu, Peter, Wesley, Justin, Jerry and of course Tim are outstanding. It was a pleasure spending time on the flats with them and we all learnt a huge amount. The crew of the Mayas Dugong looked after us superbly as per usual.
As I mentioned in the preview I will be returning to Providence again next year in the first week of the spring season in 20 – 27 March 2018 to see if we can’t unlock a few more of her secrets. We still only managed to fish 2/3 of the atoll and heaven knows what treasures are still to be found. I have another year to dream about it. If anyone would like to join me then please contact me.
If you would like discuss Providence or receive further information, please contact Peter McLeod. Alternatively, please contact the office on +44(0)1980 847389.