North of Madagascar, amidst small coral islands, atolls, and reefs, is one of the most diverse saltwater fisheries in the world.
[by Rasmus Ovesen]
I’m bewildered and overwhelmed. Dizzy and languid, like a boxer who just left the ring—humiliated and defeated. The scenes from a full week of hysterically exciting tropical fly fishing flicker before me while my gaze skirts across the shimmering blue water, which our catamaran transects with surgical precision.
We’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean on our way to Alphonse Island in the Seychelles. The shiny white flats, the moonscapelike coral formations, and the riveting tidal currents—which in combination with vast, elongated, subaqueous meadows of turtle grass and toothy, weather-beaten outer reefs constitute the heart and soul of the St. François Atoll and its hunting grounds—unobtrusively fade away behind us, like a bittersweet diminuendo that quietly yields to total silence.
I started the week with my faithful fishing buddy, Martin Ejler Olsen, and we built our confidence by catching a handful of bonefish on the flickering white sand flats of the St. François Atoll—gray ghosts in combative sizes that seem completely magnetized by our flies. In turn, we’re mesmerized by their shimmering pearlescent glow, silvery flanks, iridescent blue fin strokes, and phantomlike runs that make our fly reels hiss like the hoarse winds.
As if the bonefish aren’t enough, we catch a yellowlip emperor, a couple groupers, a 90-pound lemon shark, and I get to cast at a giant trevally along the so-called Lollipop Reef. The fish turns after the fly with inexorable resoluteness, and as it faces me, inhales the fly at such a pace that I don’t stand a chance of hooking it. The line goes slack, and the fly is spat out before I ever establish contact.
Encouraged by yesterday’s great fishing, we spend our second day buoyantly scouting and blind-casting along tidal currents, deep troughs, and reefs in the hopes of hooking one of the atoll’s terrifying giant trevallies, which amaze me. Their powerful and lightning-quick instincts, keen eyesight, bloated egos, menacing mannerisms, and inflammable temperament have helped the species rise to near-mythical status among saltwater fly fishermen. There’s good reason they’re often called the “gangster of the flats.”
Unfortunately, this particular day, they are flickering, ominous ghosts. They disappear just as abruptly as they emerge, and when we finally manage to get a couple of quality casts in, the fish react with an atypical apathetic indifference to our flies.
After a day of accidental catches in the shape of garfish, groupers, and bluefin trevallies, we revise our plans for our third day and fish along the western reaches of the St. François Atoll, where an elongated coral reef creates a staunch but scarred barrier against the agitated sea.
The tide is high and our plan is to sight-fish for some of the atoll’s numerous triggerfish—a rather goofy-looking but incredibly aggressive fish armed with toothy jaws designed to break down coral and crush crustaceans and mussels. The fact that it is capable of chewing flies (and flustered fingers) clean through serves as further testament for its reputation as one of the most exciting game fish in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.
The fight that ensues after hooking a triggerfish surpasses our expectations. With assistance from our guide, Brandon, we manage to land three of the five uptight triggerfish that gulp down our crab flies. Moreover, we also catch three yellowlip emperors, a few groupers, several unidentifiable coral fish, and a couple more solid bonefish. With both triggerfish and bonefish on my scorecard, Brandon suggests we spend 30 minutes or so blind-casting poppers for giant trevallies and try for an Indo-Pacific grand slam.
He takes us to a sandy flat that has a relatively drastic drop-off and we get busy casting and retrieving noisy poppers in the hopes we’ll be surprised by a strike. There’s plenty of small mullet and other baitfish around, so things look promising. Sadly, I’m not the one who suddenly experiences the violent burst and tug of a giant trevally on the end of the line. A fish brutally tears Martin’s popper off the surface, and he knows instantly he’s connected to a tenacious fish.
Eventually, Martin brings the dirty-fighting brute to hand. It’s a 25-pound fish we photograph and release, but note what a pity that Martin didn’t take time to catch a bonefish earlier in the day. Then it would have been he, not I, who managed a grand slam. Brandon excitedly interjects that we still have time to fish, and while there are no bonefish to be seen anywhere, Martin should blind-cast along the sand bar we’re on, while Brandon preps the boat for our travel home. Amazingly, Martin hooks and lands a little bonefish on his first cast. I can hardly believe my eyes. A small miracle has happened!