Fellow angling writer Jason Inskip offered a simple cure for my bone-fever: ‘Get yourself off to the Seychelles my boy.’
The Seychelles Islands lie in the Indian Ocean, just below the equator, about 1,000 miles off the East African coast. Amongst knowing bone-fisherman, these islands have an almost mythical reputation. I gave myself two weeks to discover for myself just what the Seychelles could offer a winter-waterlogged Englishman, desperate to see the sun for the first time in four months, and with an urgent need to be attached to ‘dem bones’.
The entry point for the Seychelles is the island of Mahé. Air Seychelles flew me into a cloudless day with the temperature hovering around 30º. As I emerged from the Boeing 767 into the blessed eternal equatorial summer, I felt a surge of well-being re-enter my bedraggled February body. Oh wonder! Baggage reclaim and customs took all of a few minutes, and it was back into the air again for the short flight to my first destination, Desroches island.
Like many of the small islands of the Seychelles, Desroches fits perfectly into the picture-postcard category of Paradise Islands. For all I’ve read about the adventures of the Swiss Family Robison, and Defoe’s Robinson Caruso, it came as a pleasing shock to find that the mythical island of coral sands, waving palms, and crystal seas, actually exists. So perfect is this place, that a painful pinch was required to prove that one was not simply dreaming. Then, can you believe it, a breath-takingly beautiful dusky maiden came up to me with a 100% proof drink to welcome me to the island, and a ravishing smile to dissolve the thirty years difference in our ages. Another painful pinch, and yes by God, she was still there.
Fellow guests disappeared into their pretty little chalets, and emerged all bare, plump and pasty. I emerged all dressed as a saltwater fly-fisherman, equally plump and pasty, but armed with a #9 bonefish outfit. I was desperately keen to cast my line upon the waters, if not in real expectation, then at least in the hope of easing myself into the casting regime. It was quite a walk to the crystal lagoon of my dreams, about 50 yards or so. The coral sand showed not even the footprint of a departed Man Friday. T'was all my own.
I waded in a few yards and with no fish obviously in view, made a pathetic sort of idiot cast towards a coral head. Imagine my surprise then, when something grabbed my little bonefish fly, and made my rod bend alarmingly. Of course, it’s not only bonefish that like to eat shrimp-like concoctions of fur and feather. This turned out to be a sort of latticework-patterned grouper thing of about three pounds, which I beached, not being sure whether it would bite me if it had the opportunity, impale me on a spine, or spit in my eye. I unhooked it in the water with a pair of pliers, and as it sped off to its coral lair I got an unexpected round of applause from a white-kneed couple who had wandered into my patch of paradise. Mr White-Knee turned out to be a trout fisherman, and being polite cost me half an hour, by which time the sun was sinking fast. It was cocktail time. Oh dear.
That evening I dined with the Desroches manager, a mercurial Frenchman by the name of Marco Media. He talked of his life in the great hotels of the Indian Ocean, and introduced me to his son, a yacht skipper, who seemed to have life absolutely right. Marco had made arrangements for me to be ferried across to the nearby Poivre Island the following morning. There are bonefish aplenty to be had around Desroches itself, but around Poivre, I was told, lived a great many bonefish, of gigantic proportions. As we fattened ourselves on delicious baked jobfish, charcoal-grilled sailfish steaks, and a sort of summer pudding that disappeared instantly on the tongue, then lingered tantalisingly on the palette, we spoke of bonefish shoals of thousands, and angler's tales of four foot long bonefish that spooled out big reels in one headlong dash. Sleep came hard to me that night.
At the crack of dawn I was ferried to a huge blue-water fishing boat, with outriggers and rods sticking out in all directions. Below decks, large and meaningful engines made basso-profundo noises. As sea-taxis to Poivre go, Cookie Too set quite a standard. The skipper was captain Andre, and the cheeky-chappie mate was Michael. This latter was the sort you might do well to be marooned on a desert island with, but you certainly wouldn’t trust him with your wife. Michael was my bonefish guide for the day.
We anchored off Poivre’s coral reef in 60’ of gin-clear water, and set off in the ship’s tender for the shallow lagoon between the beach and the reef. The gentle swell surged up onto the coral, and I found the approach a slightly anxious business but we surfed safely over the coral heads to a knee-deep calm of sand flats and broken coral. The grinning Michael beckoned me over the side and we stepped into a shallow aquarium of sun-warmed transparency. Michael’s ability to see through surface glare without Polaroid specs was amazing. Within seconds he pointed at some fast fleeing shadows and said, ‘Bones’. They were moving far too fast and purposely for me to get in a cast, so we waded quietly on.
Michael explained that we were near to the bottom of the tide, and with the water fast emptying out of the lagoon the fish would be seeking deep pools near the reef in which they could await the new tide. The fast-moving fish were heading off the flats.
My guide moved slightly ahead of me, and to my left, knowing that I would need room to cast on my right side. He froze suddenly, and pointed ahead. Even with state-of-the-art Orvis Marquesas Polaroids the fish were difficult to see. Not for nothing are they called ‘grey ghosts’. But then I made out what Michael was pointing at; not one bonefish, but maybe a hundred. As my eyes became accustomed to the shapes and colours, I could see that the nearest of them were just nine or ten yards away.
‘Short cast straight ahead,’ said Michael.
Even I could see that. My little white Crazy Charlie landed about a yard in front of a questing bone, and within a split second he was on it. A swift draw-strike and I was very obviously attached to my first Seychelles bone. If a bonefish was a dog, it would be a whippet. This thing did a sort of F1 Maclaren 0–60 in 3.6 seconds. I’ve no idea how they do this, but the fact that the fish was now the better part of a hundred yards away was proof that such things are possible. It was all rather un-nerving. I pulled at it a bit and wound steadily as the fish circled to my left.
‘Not pull very hard,’ said Michael, but it was a bit late for that, because the bone set off again, making me very glad that I had a lot of backing on the big Sea Venture reel.
There are only so many panic dashes in a fish, and I managed to retrieve line over the next ten minutes, so that the fish was eventually circling within a few yards of my rod tip. When it saw me it dashed off again, but I was now feeling more confident. A few minutes later I gently lifted my modest four pounder from the lagoon. ‘Beautiful’ just doesn’t do justice to the lightning bolt that is a bonefish.
There are a few things in nature that just don’t compute. Bulky, under-engined bumble-bees should not be able to fly, but they do. Four pound bonefish shouldn’t make anglers with nine weight fly outfits feel like total prats, but they do. And that’s the magic of these fish. That they live in the most gloriously beautiful tropical places is both a disaster, and a wonder. To catch our little bonefish and glory at its abilities, we are required to spend hard earned dosh, stand in interminable airport queues, and buy expensive fly rods and reels that will withstand appalling treatment. That many seemingly-sane people do this suggests that there is something about the bonefish which places it beyond cost.
The day produced twelve bones to just six and a half pounds. Michael was amazed that nothing bigger turned up. Actually, I saw the fish that went off with one of my tan Charlies in its mouth, and that one was bloody huge. I held it too hard and stupidly broke the 12 lb tippet. Drat it. Twelve bones is an outrageous embarrassment of fish. I was exhausted as we headed back to Cookie Too. Asides with the #11 weight outfit and a Pacific Fly Deceiver had included a whole team of little barracuda, a (very tasty) jobfish, and various reef fish with unpronounceable Creole names. Can life get better?
The gentle life of that tropical evening on Desroches enveloped me like a velvet glove, and sleep for this stranger in Paradise followed with no obvious seam. Oh utter bliss.
Unlike the long-established bonefish destinations such as the Florida Cays, and Bahamas, the Seychelles has only a few pro-guides. The good news from Desroches is that Roland Henrion, one of the most experienced guides in the area, is to team up with Marco Media to offer top-class guiding, not only on Desroches itself, but also on the magnificent flats of Poivre, and the near-legendary Darros Island. Henrion is very much in demand, so Media has achieved quite a coup in tempting him to Desroches.
Talk to an established Seychelles operator if you’re tempted by all this. I used Seychelles Travel in Bournemouth who were absolutely excellent. You’ll find that a week in this corner of Paradise costs more than two weeks at some God-awful Mediterranean Costa, but the music of a fine reel wailing out 100 yards of backing is so much more tuneful than three choruses of ‘Viva Espania’.
The Seychelles now rate as the world’s best flats fishing destination. Darros, and Poivre, accessed out of Desroches are of the best. Beyond are places of which I shall speak anon. And beyond those places are Seychelles wonders where truly giant bonefish swim in complete ignorance of our wicked flies. More on this expedition, next month.
Bonefishing requires a modicum of competence with a fly-rod. Reservoir trouters will have no problems at all, but short range stream fishers would do well to spend a few hours on the lawn, perfecting their double haul. Bones can be taken at short range, but a long chuck is required occasionally.
At a pinch, any 8’ – 10’ #7 - #10 weight will do the job, but a purpose-made saltwater fly-rod offers many advantages. I took Thomas & Thomas’ brilliant Vectors #9 for the bones, and #11 for throwing albatross-sized flies at giant trevally, and similarly-inclined bruisers. The Vectors performed magnificently.
Reels really do have to be specialist saltwater models. When Mr. Bone heads for the horizon, anything less than a perfect drag mechanism will fail very quickly. I took the British-made Young’s Sea Venture for the bones, and the mega-quality, American-made, Tibor ‘Riptide’ for the #11 weight outfit. Both were tested outrageously, and both performed perfectly. (See the review section for reports on my Seychelles equipment).
Flats fishing requires some serious preparation. Defence against the ravages of the tropical sun is priority number one. You need a wide-brimmed hat for preference, and a super-lightweight UV protection long-sleeved shirt (Orvis’ Bonefish Scrubbs shirt is the best I know). You need lightweight long trousers, and really good flats wading boots to protect against coral cuts (again, Orvis make the best).
Factor 50 sun-screen is mandatory. In spite of my high level of defence, I still managed to loose the skin off the backs of my hands. I intend to buy proper flats ‘skin’ gloves before my next expedition.
Dehydration is a serious problem. Whatever the weight, take at least 4 litres of water for a day on the flats. Better still, take 8 litres. If you’re not peeing regularly throughout the day, you’re not drinking enough. Dehydration can kill, or lead to renal colic: I’ve had that, and trust me, you don’t want it. It’s as close as a man can get to the pain of childbirth. I noticed that smart guides in the Seychelles were carrying back-packs with over the shoulder tubes to large reservoirs of water. I’m going to get one of those. Don’t be tempted by beer and fizzy drinks: you need water to stay hydrated.
The kit you carry
The ubiquitous fly-fishers’ vest is too hot and cumbersome for flats fishing. What you need is a good sized angler’s hip-pack (Patagonia make a good one) which should contain …
Lots and lots of water.
Factor 50 sunscreen.
A box of (say) 40 bonefish flies of various types, sizes, and colours.
A box of (say) 25 poppers and deceivers, for the trevally, etc.
Saltwater-proof long-nosed pliers.
A ‘Leatherman’ type multi-tool.
Extra leaders (say 5 of each) 10 lb., 12 lb., 17 lb.
Flourocarbon tippet materials to suit.
Toothy critter wire leaders in 30 lb b/s.
Food enough to keep you going.
…… and don’t forget the camera
At base-camp you should have back-up stocks of fly-lines, backing, and the heavier-weight kit you just don’t want to haul around all day.
I hope that helps to get you going, but for better information, and despite what I said earlier, that Bonefishing book by Randall Kaufman, is exactly what you need to set you in the right direction, and make your blood race.
Essential contacts information
Air Seychelles Phone 01293 596691
Seychelles Travel Phone 01202 877330
Desroches Island Phone 248 229003
Fax 248 229004