We have visited Alphonse several times over the last ten seasons and can honestly say that the quality of the fishing actually continues to improve each year. Strict enforcement of the rules governing the fishing program (fly fishing only & barbless hooks as well as no hookless teasers or chum lines for trevally) has dramatically enhanced the long term sustainability of this remarkable fishery. It is without question the world’s greatest all around flats fishing destination – and it is totally worth the long journey to get there.
Anglers at the Alphonse Island Resort fish a very well defined fishery known as the Alphonse Group. The Alphonse Group is made up of three islands and their respective lagoons; Alphonse, Bijoutier, and St. Francois. While the majority of anglers’ efforts are focused on St. Francois, the whole island group is rich with incredible angling opportunities. The entire system is a giant conglomerate of flats and channels completely surrounded by and protected by barrier reef. All of the fishing is ‘fly-fishing only’, barbless, as well as catch and release. As a result, the fishery has held up remarkably well and remains as reliable as it did back in the late nineties. In fact, the bonefish fishing seems to be inexplicably improving with 20-30 fish morning bonefish sessions the norm for most anglers!
THE FISHING DAY
Here is the daily routine: Wake up at 5:30AM… eat breakfast at 6:00AM, board the mothership, St. Francois, at 7:00AM, and sail 30-40 minutes to the skiff moorings inside the St. Francois Lagoon. The boat ride out to St. Francois is one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Everyone is strapping on gear, rigging equipment, and game planning while caffeine and beautiful ocean wake you up. Often you will encounter yellowfin tuna or milkfish feeding, whales, manta rays, dolphins, or other sea creatures on the way out past Bijoutier (“Gilligan’s Island”) and into the lagoon. St. Francois Lagoon is a labyrinth of flats, reef, coral heads, channels, etc…. tailor made habitat for bonefish, permit, trevally, milkfish, triggerfish, sharks, rays, turtles, etc.
Boat runs are never more than 10-15 minutes, and your fly line will be in the water by 8:00AM at the latest. Guides always give a brief orientation and chat up the day’s game plan relative to what species you want to target, the expected tide, and fishing conditions. The game plan may consist of a morning bonefishing session followed by a walk to the reef, cruising for trevally, walking the edges harassing triggers, or hitting the channels in search of feeding milkfish. It seems every day is a different ballgame – but with so many different species around there is absolutely never a dull moment. After a full day of fishing you return to the mothership at 4:00PM, arrive at Alphonse at 5:00PM, cocktails at 6:30, dinner at 7:00, and off to bed at 9-10. This regimented routine makes the week fly by.
The bonefish fishing here is the best on earth. Period. Nothing comes close. The majority of the areas fished for bonefish are on hard, white sand with minimal coral or grass growth. It is an idyllic setting for bonefishing with easy visibility and a nearly endless amount of targets in skinny water. Tidal fluctuations in the Seychelles are quite significant, and the day’s itinerary is built around accommodating the ebb and push of water on and off the flat. During a falling or rising tide, anglers typically wade looking for bones feeding their way on or off the flat. One unique aspect to the behavior of the bones in the St. Francois Lagoon is there does not seem to be any huge schools of fish like as often found in the Caribbean. The fish usually feed in individual pods of 2-8 fish and present themselves at predictable and incredibly frequent intervals. The population of bonefish is outstanding, easily rivaling any and all other bonefish destinations in the world. The average fish is a solid four pounds, with seven and eight-pound specimens encountered frequently. Double-digit fish are present; however should definitely be considered a real bonus trophy.
The Giant Trevally (Caranx Ignobilis) is the true bad ass of all game fish. His round head, broad shoulders, and elaborate fins are built for speed and power, and he has no predators other than large sharks and humans. He literally eats everything, and his incredible eyesight combines with his quickness to make him a lethal hunter. While adults spend much of their life in deeper water, fish well over 100 pounds often feed on the flats in skinny water or cruise in riding the waves on the reef to ambush unsuspecting prey. There is nothing more impressive than watching through the face of a wave as a big GT surfs his way inside the reef. The combination of hurried panic to cast and huge dosage of adrenalin is very addictive. There is also no eat more impressive than the mighty G.T. The deliberate and crushing speed of the monster when he zeroes in on your fly is scary to the point where you almost don’t want him to eat it! Once you witness the spectacle that is the “GEET”, it gets in your blood, and you become obsessed with trying to find one a bit bigger than the last one.
Many anglers are allured half way around the word to the Seychelles in search of the dozens of other species found at St. Francois. Five species of trevally are found in St. Francois with the golden, bluefin and giant trevally most prevalent. The giant trevally is about as crazed and hard fighting as any gamefish on the planet…you had better come prepared! Words cannot describe the power of a large Giant Trevally. The only way to appreciate it is to get your hands on an Abel Super 12 reel and crank down the drag to 100% and try manually to pull of some line. You are lucky to pull off one foot of line without breaking a finger. Now, consider that big GTs have completely spooled anglers with this same reel cranked down to 100% drag! You fish for GTs with super heavy gear… 100 pound straight fluorocarbon for your leader, 5/0 – 8/0 hooks, and 80 pound gel spun backing is the norm. GTs over 50 pounds often require you to be chasing them in a skiff as landing one of foot is nearly impossible without a 14 weight and lots of luck. They are truly an incredible fish.
“GTs” or “Jeets” (as the South Africans and Seychellois call them) are most often found at low tide cruising the cuts and channels around coral heads and surrounding the flats in search of baitfish and other prey. Half of the time anglers will cruise in the skiff looking for giant trevally, however, a walk out to a reef can also be a fruitful way to get a shot at a trevally. At low tide anglers can stand just inside the reef and scan the incoming breakers for these hunting monsters and sight cast to cruising fish in the surf. On an incoming tide, you can also find trevally on the flat in very skinny water crashing bait at warp speed. Although visually the most impressive form of feeding (huge bow wakes and rooster tails) trevally in shallow water can spook easily. No matter where you encounter the giant trevally, their pure closing speed and aggressive feeding habits will intrigue all anglers… There is simply nothing more jaw-dropping than the eat of a big G.T. – and if you are lucky you won’t get spooled!
Triggers, often considered an angler’s favorite in the Seychelles, providing anglers with daily opportunity and hours of entertainment. There are three species of triggerfish found tailing on the tidal push: Yellow Margin, The Giant aka Mustache, and the brilliant little Picasso. These tricky colorful speedsters lazily cruise on the pancake flats and flats close to the surf, stopping often to feed on crabs and other crustaceans. The presentation to triggerfish is quite technical and can be reminiscent of trout fishing. A good drift and proper current are required to “feed” triggerfish. Once they eat your fly, hold on! Guides will often take off running after your fish once it is hooked and catapult themselves over the trigger’s den. Triggers are aptly named for the trigger like mechanism on their dorsal which literally locks them into holes and crevices in the surrounding coral heads. If you are lucky enough to land one, make sure to have a camera.
One of the most sought after species on the flats is called the Milkfish (Chanos chanos). Although we have learned a lot about how to effectively hook and land these brutes, Milks still have lore about them. There is a common misnomer that they are herbivores or vegetarians exclusively. They feed on tiny invertebrates such as plankton as well as algae. They are not filter feeders, but they do skim along with mouths wide open inhaling their food (kind of like a whale shark). The hardest part about catching a milkfish is simply being in the right place at the right time for a predictable, surface feeding event with a large enough school of targets to increase the odds (which oftentimes won’t happen for weeks on end). Most often during large spring tides, milkfish will set up almost like trout feeding into the strong tidal currents flushing food off of the flats. Lucky anglers encounter them feeding on or near the surface with mouths wide almost mindlessly vacuuming everything in their path. Although they will certainly move to avoid your fly, they will definitely not move to eat your fly. Anglers fish with algae-like deer hair or craft fur patterns tied on a #2 Gamu hook and long slow strips through a school of milkfish. If the planets align, your fly will incidentally get sucked in and off to the races you go.
Although found throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the milkfish that inhabit St. Francois are some of the largest in the world, and more importantly the guides On Alphonse pioneered how to catch them with regularity. The milkfish is similar in shape as a bonefish, only reach up to thirty pounds and possess a large sickle tale and huge eyes. When the milkfish are feeding on the surface, anglers present a grass or algae imitation and hope that one mistakes the green fly for a meal. When the fishing for milkfish is “on” success rates hooking milks are actually quite high despite the rumors of them being extremely difficult to hook. Finding them feeding in the proper fashion on the surface is the hard part, but once discovered on feeding cooperatively and consistently, they can be hooked with regularity. Over one thousand Milkfish have been caught and landed by Alphonse guests to date, with more than twice as many hooked. Some experienced guides say that at thirty pound milkfish will give a one hundred pound tarpon a run for his money, so landing them is another story!
PERMIT & OTHER SPECIES
Another species worth mentioning found on Alphonse is the Indo-pacific permit (equally as spooky relative to its Atlantic cousins). Over the last 2 years the guides of the Alphonse Group (Cosmoledo, Astove and Alphonse) have over tripled the number caught from the previous season by the development of some new fly crab patterns. Finding “Gold”, as the guides endearingly refer to them, usually happens on white sand flats either free swimming or on rays. The inner lagoon has been home to many of these “Golden” catches. It has been said that the ones traveling on the backs of ray are more likely to eat, but beware these permit are as tricky and sometime just down right frustrating as ones found in our part of the world. Again, although Seychelles has not historically been recognized as a rich permit fishery, we are encountering and catching more and more permit each year. What was once a super bonus a handful of times each season, targeting permit is now considered part of the usual program.
Anglers also encounter enormous barracudas, all types of jacks, groupers, snappers, surgeonfish, and the colorful parrotfish. The record for fly-caught species in one week at St. Francois is a ridiculous 52 species!
Bring all your fly rods because you will never know what species will present itself.
During certain slack tides and if anglers desire to “do something different”, great success can be had by dredging the edges of the atoll. Dredging is a method in which than angler uses a 12wt (or 14wt) rod equipped with a 450-600grain sinking line. The fly line is completely stripped off the reel and thrown over the edge of the reef with a 6/0-8/0 large fly. Once the line has completely straightened and sunk, the angler rips (strips) back in the line as quickly as possible, often using the dispy doodle (double hand) method. Dredging has been known to raise up all kind of species such as grouper, huge GT’s, job fish, dogtooth tuna, yellowfin tuna, shark, etc. Hold on, as these fish will definitely give you a run for your money and often if played too long will be munched on by a shark or two.
The guide staff consists of a mixture of Seychellois, South African, and Americans all with extensive experience in the world of saltwater fly-fishing and in the St. Francois Lagoon. Their appearance, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the fishing and the area is very impressive and professional. There are few saltwater fishing destinations in the world with such a salty crew of world-class guides and anglers. Anglers rotate guides throughout the week and fish out of comfortable and modern 16-18 foot Mavericks and Dolphin skiffs with dry storage, cushioned seating, and reliable fifty horse Yamaha outboard motors. Safety is obviously very important in such a remote location. The guides are very capable, always wear their kill switches and ensure anglers a safe experience.
BLUEWATER FLY FISHING
There are two offshore vessels, which can be chartered for either a half or full day excursion. The Alphonse skippers and deck hands are experienced at rigging, teasing and switching to all the different bluewater pelagic species, such as Sailfish, Wahoo, Dogtooth and Yellowfin Tuna.
CONVENTIONAL GEAR GAMEFISHING
There are two fully rigged offshore vessels, which can be chartered for either a half or full day conventional fishing excursion. The Alphonse teams practice a strict “NO CONVENTIONAL/SPIN FISHING” on or close to the islands, flats and reef. This is to preserve the resident species that use the shallow reef as an access point onto the flats and surrounding areas. Alphonse however relies on fresh fish for its guests so they do offer gamefishing trips to fill this quota.