There is one atoll in the Indian Ocean that little is known about; only a few have visited the atoll and even fewer have fished it – Providence. One of the largest in the Seychelles, Providence is over 140 km² and is accessed following a five hour sail from Farquhar. Since its closure in late 2009 only a few vessels have visited it to fish, so it still remains largely unexplored. I have been trying to get there ever since and this year I finally had the chance. My group arrived on Farquhar to familiar surroundings and I was impressed to see the changes that had been made to that operation since I last visited some 18 months ago. The guides met us at the airstrip and transferred our luggage by tractor to the slipway.
The pets on Farquhar greeted us in their usual style and it was a pleasure to watch them close up as always.. although perhaps a little distance is always a good thing. Around the corner from First Stop flat the MV Maya’s Dugong awaited us and I was immediately struck by the size of her compared to other vessels that I have travelled to these remote atolls on. Equipped with four decks and a large open area on the back deck she is a perfect long range mothership. Once aboard the group sat around the large table as Tim Babich welcomed everyone and gave us an orientation for the week. Cabins were assigned and I although not luxurious are comfortable with ensuite bathrooms.
After a quick lunch Maya’s Dugong got underway and fishing tackle exploded all over the rear deck. Our guides for the week were Tim Babich, Warren Deysel, Wesley de Klerk and James Christmas who joined us from Farquhar. They quickly helped everyone set up their gear, checking backing, fly line loops, leaders and fly selections. The Dugong has rope rod racks along one side and we quickly filled them with 9, 11 and 12 weights. Each fisherman is assigned a gear crate to prevent things getting lost.
As the final remnants of kit disappeared back into cabins, Cerf Island on the southern point of Providence hove into view and we hung along the side railings to catch a glimpse. The captain brought us to anchor half way up the atoll on the west side to give the team access to both north and south islands. It was only now that the full scale of Providence became apparent.
Kilometres of open flats with internal lagoons are tipped with small land masses on either end and I felt a pulse of excitement flow through me at the prospect of the massive untouched saltwater wilderness. I knew sleep would not come easy that night especially as I learnt the previous week had landed over 100 GTs.
Day 1 – Rays, GTs and permit
Roland and I were both up by 0500 the first morning, sipping coffee on the top deck and taking in our surroundings. Some final kit adjustments were necessary along with loading of back packs for the day to come. I was to fish with Tom and Peter with Warren as our guide. I caught my first GT on Farquhar with Warren some three years previously and I was looking forward to fishing with him again. Roland, Marcus and Tim were guided by Tim Babich and were also proceeding to the north side of the atoll so we left in convoy. Phil, Joe, Len (fishing their second week) along with George, Katie and Claire all headed south with Wesley and James. With no obvious landmarks other than the island at each end, navigating around Providence is a challenge. Warren manoeuvred the tender boat around the south point of North Island anchored up.
The four of us surveyed the lush green vegetation before kitting up and slipping over the edge into the azure water. The tide was still pretty high, but on the drop, so we slowly moved line abreast along the sandy flat. It was clear the water was still a little high here so we swung round and proceeded to the south point. There were large balls of mullet hanging around against the edge in the comparative safety of the shore but apart from a few small bluefin we had not seen a GT yet.
Our band began to move up the beach and straight away we encountered some specimen bluefin patrolling the trough in front of the beach. Both Peter and Tom had good shots, but the fish were not playing ball. Warren at this point called it to try another spot and went back for the boat.
We continued along the edge and I walked a little higher on the beach to try and spot for the other two. Suddenly a couple of permit swung into view, their almost snake like wiggle giving them away. Tom switched to a 9# and a crab fly and tried to ambush them. The permit behaved like so many of their brethren and moved off in disgust. Warren appeared in the tender and we hopped in to move to pastures new. By now the water had dropped enough for us to venture onto the white sand surf line on the west side of the island.
Picture a white sand bar with sets of waves crashing from the edge, a perfect spot to intercept GTs heading for the lush turtle grass flats. The week previous had told us of a 30 plus GT session that some of them had here and all of us felt that twinge of excitement. However on arrival the water was far too high so after a brief look we motored along the edge to an area of mixed sand and turtle grass. As the boat slipped up quietly, higher up the flat rays began to appear from the centre of the lagoon. Warren spotted a dark shape on top of one of them and there was a mad rush to grab a rod. Mine came out on top of the knitting and Peter and Tom threw it at me and told me to get on with it. I jumped over the side as Warren held the boat, ripping line off the Hardy SDS at the same time before beginning to cast. With two false casts the line was singing and I dropped the Poodle four feet to the left of the ray.
The fish, which was black as night, charged off the ray and smashed the fly. My new 11# Hardy Zephrus bucked over and I was attached to my first Providence GT as I grinned uncontrollably under my buff. With the rod bent over in a full curve I clamped down and started to pump and wind the fish while pulling his head in the opposite direction. After a short while of this kind of treatment the battle was short lived and Warren hand tailed the wrist of a lovely 70 cm fish. “Welcome back!” he said, slapping me on the shoulder.
The session progressed with Peter hooking the next fish off a ray in the same way, but it sadly became unbuttoned half way through the battle. Then Tom was up as he hooked another fish off a ray, but during the battle he stumbled, tripped and broke his 9# which was a crying shame, but he did at least managed to land the fish. Warren and I waded over to him to offer assistance, but as we came close Tom yelled that his GT had a wingman. I quickly swapped camera for rod and swung a cast at his mate. The fish immediately hit the fly and the double was on! With lines heading in opposite direction and hysterical giggling from the two of us we brought the fish to hand without too much knitting. We were in heaven, this is the kind of session you dream about. Rays crossing the flats, each one with a little friend on top that were hungry…
The four of us continued on our wade across the huge open flat and as Warren and I headed over to where Peter was we heard a strange gurgling noise from across the flats. Enter Tom, hooked into another GT, but as the fish had streaked off across the flats the loose line had bounced up and managed to get him round the neck! Being the fisherman he was he quickly untangled himself and continued to fight the fish while Warren and I howled with laughter. Another lovely fish around the 65-70 cm mark. Shortly after that Peter also hooked a powerful fish of a similar size which had him off the mark. The action was fast and furious, Providence was showing her colours and I was impressed.
Next stop, a white sand cut further south, littered with small coral lumps. It looked perfect for some triggers and bones and as we spread out Tom lagged behind to rehydrate a bit. It looked like trigger city and although I expected to see bones all over the place here but they were sadly absent. I did encounter a couple of lovely Titan triggerfish huddled close to coral block. I dropped a crab fly just above them, hoping it would drift down in the dropping current to land where they were routing around. One scurried over, followed the crab intently, and then swam off as if it was late for an appointment. I heard a shout from across the north as Peter hooked into a solitary bonefish and landed it in short order. The day was pressing on, and lunch was on the menu. The aluminium containers were raided and then Warren turned us back towards the white sand surf area to see if conditions had changed. We passed Roland, Marcus and Tim being guided by Tim Babich so we checked in to see how their day was progressing.
On arrival at the white sand surf area the water had dropped significantly. As soon as I hopped in I saw a large blue shape zipping through the wave line, but was not fast enough to capitalise on the opportunity. The group waded out line abreast in the surf, peering at the walls of the waves sets as they rolled in, scanning for black shapes surfing down the inside. Despite persevering for some time, sadly none came and as so many times in GT fishing, what is good one time is not another. Conditions change and these fish are constantly on the move. So were we.
Anchor up and off we go again, this time to an intercept cut further down the long edge of the flats. The tide had dropped off significantly by this time and the edge of the flat was pretty skinny giving way to a deeper edge of turtle grass. We had also lost the light and spotting was very tough. Coming along the edge I suddenly caught sight of a fin for a few seconds betraying the presence of a fish. We thought perhaps it was a good sized emperor and Peter set up for a cast. Warren directed him and the crab landed softly on the edge of the flat.
A surge of water was followed by a solid hook up and whatever he had hooked powered for deeper water. The battle appeared to be considerably harder than anticipated for an emperor, finally giving itself away as a tank of a yellow margin triggerfish estimated at 8 lbs. The fish had actually been feeding on its side. The evening light was upon us and we kept moving.
Warren and Peter were moving along the edge of the flat when Warren suddenly ducked down and pointed.. Some way ahead a sickle shaped dorsal broke the surface… And then another.. permit. The four of us could barely breathe as Peter lined up for this shot. The cast was true but the fish continued moving off and feeding, just always tantalising out of reach. The two of them kept chasing until finally the fish spooked and splashed water across the flats. Normally that would be it, chance gone. We waited for a little while looking into the cut they had come from and suddenly the tails came up again. And then more…. and more. There was a slight depression on the turtle grass edge, and before we knew it there were tails all around us in what I can only describe as the most extraordinary sight I have ever seen in my saltwater career. They were all permit. We were losing the light fast and we would have to make tracks soon. Suddenly Peter’s line went tight and arced across the flat. Again, we all held our breath, barely daring to speak as he battled the fish in the evening light.
Warren was taking no chances and grabbed the net. Shortly after the gold belly slipped over the edge and it was over. A stunning permit of some 15 lbs and then the hollering began! It was wonderful to witness and with that we packed up and headed home. Some first day with Peter completing a super slam.
Day 2 – Bones, GTs and the edge
Dawn broke clear as the sun sprung into the sky, but shortly afterwards the cloud began to move in. Strange cloud I had not seen before, stacking very high. I was to fish with my old friend James Christmas, along with Tim and Marcus. As the tide was still high the plan was to do a little bluewater fishing before heading in and hitting the flats. The sea was rolling a bit, and after a short while the call was made to crack onto the flats as the water colour did not feel right for sailies being a little green and not that clear blue they like so much.
James took us across the flats north to a huge area of white sand. We did see a couple of GTs initially there but kept moving, intending to return at a better stage of tide as a good spot to hunt in low light. The light remained tough and trying to locate fish in deep water over turtle grass was not working. In the next bay James located a huge area of stirred up bottom that betrayed the presence of feeding fish. It was either bones or goldens, so we anchored up and both Marcus and Tim got stuck into a bunch of good sized bones. It was hilarious as their lines would criss cross as the fish tore off in different directions. James and I netted fish and unhooked them.
Once the tide reached a better level James moved us to the edge of the flats and we hopped out, lining up and wading east. A few bluefin flashed by alongside a channel pushing well into the flats area, a perfect artery for GTs to access the flats. Sure enough after a little wading James spotted a ray with a GT riding shotgun. Tim’s moment had arrived as he had not caught a GT before. He executed an excellent cast with the fish tearing into the fly almost as soon as it landed.
His rod danced like a flag in the wind as he felt the full power of a GT run for the first time. Tim kept his nerve, applied the angles and began to make headway, leading the fish finally into James’ burley paw. His relief was palpable and Marcus and congratulated him heartily. I snapped a few pics and the bemused GT went off on its merry way.
The day continued and we covered considerable ground. Marcus and Tim had some great shots at triggers along the edge, but although the fish chased and nipped the flies sadly they did not hook up. Tim especially enjoyed this as his hunter instincts were kicking in and the visual element of this style of fishing appealed to him hugely. The light was making spotting increasingly difficult and the rest of the day was hard work.
We returned to the tender boat and used it as a high platform to cover more ground and give us a better angle of vision. James steered us along the edge of the flat and very briefly I spotted a fin appear out of the surface, like a small periscope betraying the presence of a GT. I motioned to James who picked it up and as I held the boat he and Marcus slipped over the side to chase it down. It soon became evident there was more than one fish moving down the flat, again, tantalisingly out of reach. Suddenly the fish just stopped and sat in a hole in the grass, no doubt to ambush fleeing emperors or groupers. Marcus fired out a long cast, dropping the fly a few feet from the GTs. One of them tore out after it and absolutely hammered it, pushing a massive bow wave across the surface in a classic piranha style eat. It was wonderful to watch from where Tim and I were. Marcus gave it everything and landed it in rapid time.
The wind was picking up now and we continued to push the boat along the edge. James was just mentioning that he was beginning to feel uncomfortable about our position and the lack of visibility on dark turtle grass next to deep water; a prime hunting zone for other predators. Just at that moment there was a colossal splash about a foot behind my legs and I nearly came two feet out of the water as a huge ray spooked from my feet. Right next to it was a massive black GT that came within perhaps two feet of our legs before following the big ray out to the right. I quickly stripped off line and put a cast out in pursuit. The fly landed and I gave it one strip before that fish charged it… and I missed a strip and failed to connect… Arghh!
By that time the light was fading and it was time to head back to the mothership. The wind had been steadily picking up all day and we could tell the weather was deteriorating fast. On arrival back at the mothership the group was hit with the sad news that it was not just a little bad weather but a full on tropical depression headed directly at us and we had to leave. Although not what we wished to hear safely is paramount and the decision had been made. Sadly it is part and parcel of travelling to these incredibly remote locations and no one has yet figured out how to control Mother Nature.
Although we had only two days fishing I really felt we had glimpsed paradise and I can’t wait to return next year for unfinished business. The atoll is truly wild, with massive expanses of flats that have barely been waded and huge areas of unexplored flats. Providence is truly special and to see GTs take so freely from the back of rays is refreshing. We barely scraped the surface of what other treasures the atoll holds including bumpies, milkfish, triggers and also bonefish that I barely saw.
I will be leading a team to return for an extended trip of eight days from the 19 – 28 March 2017. For more information on Providence please contact Peter McLeod or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.