The offshore potential of the Seychelles has been an open secret for longer. The islands lie on a relatively shallow plateau that rises out of the great depths of the open ocean. The wide expanses of the Indian Ocean feed huge numbers of fish into the crystalline waters of the islands. Here swim marlin, sailfish, tuna of many species, and great sharks, which grow to wondrous sizes on the rich ocean pickings.
Blue-water anglers have more established options than their flats brethren, with first-class deep-water sport-boats working out of most of the better-known islands. I chose to look at the operations on just three islands – Denis, Bird, and Mahé.
Denis is a stunningly beautiful coral sand island, about 30 minutes flight north of Mahé, by Air Seychelles 20 seater Twin Otter.
Bump, jump, bump, on the grass airstrip, and once again it was everyone’s idea of a Paradise Island. No alcohol to greet us this time, but a fresh green coconut, with its head chopped off, and a straw poking out, rather incongruously. Fresh coconut water is a revelation, and practiced regulars at this game were soon spooning out delicious soft flesh from inside the shell. No wonder old-time sailors deserted their square-rigged ships for such delights, after months at sea on hard-tack and briny water. There are other distractions too, I noticed, wearing tight sarongs, and rather come-hither smiles. Down boy, down.
Denis is a decidedly luxy place, much frequented by honeymooners, splashing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was the only angler there. But the purposeful-looking ‘Mako’ rode at anchor in the lagoon ready for folks just like me, who remember their honeymoon only from faded photographs, and a desiccated shell on the mantelpiece, from which the sound of the sea is all too distant.
I had only one short evening session booked on the island, so I quickly stowed my gear in my very posh chalet, and in the absence of a blushing bride, or enthusiastic substitute, headed for the boat. Soon, we were heading out through the break in the reef, with a pair of Caterpillar diesels thrumming away below.
Denis sits right on the edge of the Seychelles plateau. At the steep drop-off into deep water, great catches are made, indeed Denis boasts a world record dog-tooth tuna, and a renowned run of sailfish.
In this all-too-short evening session of trolling, we boated wahoo (locally known as kingfish) yellowfin tuna, and dog-tooth tuna, as well as the usual bonito and rainbow runners. I’d have loved to have tempted a sailfish up to the fly, but time was too short.
For any angler contemplating a really serious honeymoon, to show his new bride just how wonderful life can be, married to a proper sportsman, Denis must rate as world destination number one. If only I’d known then, what I know now.
The next morning I flew on to Bird Island where I was met by the owner Guy Savy, an Anglophile Seychellois of French extraction. You might reasonably suppose that Guy had sorted-out his way of life to perfection – this man actually OWNED the whole island. Not that he flouted his imperial status with any airs or graces, as he strolled around at gentle Seychelles speed, in ancient shorts, and flip-flop sandals. Guy was concerned about the weather. The boat was booked to take me outside the reef in expectation of a sailfish, but the palm trees were leaning heavily to a brisk breeze out of the south-east, and the passage through the reef looked decidedly hungry.
Bird ranks as probably the best sailfish ground in the Seychelles. An oft-returning fellow angler from Essex (he admitted) told me of days spent only a few hundred yards off the shore, when he’d had so many strikes from sailfish, he’d given up from exhaustion. Photographs were produced to prove his bar and beer tale, so I believed him.
With even the great flocks of birds grounded by the rising wind, I agreed with Guy that the planned boat expedition was impossible, and instead, took my #9 weight outfit off to explore the small lagoon.
The lagoon, near the boat moorings, turned out to be extremely interesting. A few bonefish were in evidence, and great cascades of little mullet leapt out of the water at intervals, as something large and hungry attacked them from below.
I managed to catch several reef-dwelling fish of pugnacious temperament, and uncertain species. I also lost several other ‘bigger beasties’ which wrapped me very smartly around coral heads, or disappeared into caves in the reef. I certainly wasn’t prepared to put my hand into these dark places to retrieve my flies.
Fellow anglers and guests on Bird Island were particularly pleased with the gentle simplicity of their experiences. Many were returning for the third or fourth time – completely won-over by the laid-back style, the excellent food, and the affordability of this unpretentious island.
The only downside for me was a massive bruise, and some small blood-loss, sustained when I tripped over a bloody-great tortoise (named Esmeralda, I later discovered) as I made my unlit way back to my chalet, late at night. Was I drunk? Moi? Now that’s a injury to dine-out on. I didn’t spend as much time as I’d have liked watching the thousands of birds, and I didn’t have the time to watch the turtles on the beach, which was a pity. I left Bird Island with regret.
On so on to Mahé, the largest and most populous of the Seychelles islands.
There are a great many commercial and sport-fishing boats on Mahé, and judging from the fish dishes on restaurant menus, they must take a huge amount of fish from the immediate area: so I was not really expecting much from my day out of the Mahé capital, Victoria. Happily, I was to be proved completely wrong.
For those anglers who are holidaying in the Seychelles with their families, Mahé is likely to be the island of choice. Prices here are low, and there are many hotels from which to chose. Around those hotels enterprising privateer fishermen offer trips to out-lying islands, and party fishing expeditions that can cost as little as £30 per person. Trolling as they ply between the islands, they catch a lot of fish. At the Coral Strand in the north-east of Mahé, I saw a party boat coming ashore with tuna, wahoo, and jobfish, amongst a very respectable catch. Simple offshore fishing in the Seychelles can be affordable.
Of course, the top-flight game fishing boats that offer a real chance of marlin and big tuna require more of an investment. But, they are prepared to venture much further out in pursuit of specimen fish. I was booked to spend the day with the top-rated Seychelles sportboat ‘Chill-Out’ based at Port Victoria.
We headed out at 7.30am with the renowned waters around Fregate Island, 30 miles distant in prospect, and an agenda that included a sailfish on the fly.
Fly fishing for big gamefish is a pretty recent innovation. Sport-fishing boats can sometimes troll a great raft of lures for hours without tempting a fish. It follows that the fly fisherman casting his fly in hope of a strike would have scant chance of finding anything during the short time his fly was in the water. Exhaustion would overwhelm him long before success.
The answer, it has been discovered, is to use teams of hookless ‘teaser’ lures to attract the fish to the vicinity of the boat, then to cast at the fish with a fly. It works.
Never having even hooked a sailfish by any means, I was very taken with the idea of catching my first one on my sporting #11 weight Thomas & Thomas Vector/ Tibor ‘Riptide’ outfit.
The waters around the super-exclusive, and mega-expensive Paradisiacal island of Fregate proved to be staggeringly clear. The boat seemed almost to be floating on nothing: suspended, as it were, sixty feet above the brilliant corals, as we trolled our teasers, about half a mile offshore.
The first ‘strike’ on the lurid pink squid-things was soon in arriving, and as the skipper eased back on the throttles I pushed out a big green ‘deceiver’ on a short wire trace. The take was instantaneous, and the poor little fly-rod hooped around alarmingly as my fish tore into the backing. It was a bonito, a diminutive little chap compared to its grander tuna cousins, but ridiculously powerful and feisty. This wee fella weighed no more than four pounds, but he had me all over the place before the mate finally hand-lined him over the stern. Great stuff.
The next strike really put the Vector to the test – a big barracuda, which hurtled around for ages, several times leaping six feet into the air before it settled down to a slogging match, and flatly refused to be drawn to the boat. To save time, the skipper eventually backed up to the fish, which was gaffed aboard in a flurry of foam. The barracuda stared insolently at me with a most frightful and reproachful glint in its eye. Barracuda have extraordinary dental arrangements: so when I accidentally dropped the fish onto the deck during photographic operations, angler and crew made a most unseemly departure for higher and safer ground: an appalling example of ‘every man for himself.’ With his supper in mind, the mate eventually settled the debate with a baseball bat. Even then, that barracuda looked evil of intent.
Of course, this fly-fishing-business was not exactly ‘efficient practice’ and after an assortment of fish on the fly, the skipper asked if we could return to standard trolling equipment, to put some fish into the hold. This was fair enough: the value of the fish we caught were an essential part of his income.
The bonito were great on the fly, and I loved the brightly-coloured ‘rainbow runners’ which seized the fly with such abandon.
Highlight of my afternoon’s trolling was a dog-tooth tuna: a fifty-plus pounder which gave my arms and back a jolly good workout. I don’t think I’d have landed that one on an #11 weight fly-rod.
We didn’t manage to raise a sailfish. This was perhaps just as well, because my long haul with the barracuda had made me realise that even a meaty #11 weight outfit has its limitations. A #13 weight with an additional high grip would have been more like it.
The blue-water fishing of the Seychelles is simply wonderful. Anyone setting out his stall specifically for a big marlin, tuna, or shark, would be very unfortunate indeed not to achieve something of boasting size. And talking about sharks, there are some huge ones in the Seychelles. A sure thing, I was told, if you’ve got a several hours to spare, with your arm muscles in knots, and your shoulders hard-back into a fighting chair. There are some serious tiger sharks, with twenty-footers possible at the drop-off. Great whites are found in the area too, and huge hammerheads. Amazingly, there has never been a shark attack in the Seychelles, so it seems that they are too busy mopping up the protein-stuffed tuna to be concerned with bony old bathers. A consoling thought that.
Chill-Out powered back to Mahé at a cool twenty-five knots, and I stepped ashore feeling that I’d had a hell of a day. My back was certainly creaking a bit.
Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool bonefish purist, I’d recommend a day out on one of the top charter sport-fishing-boats. With the skipper’s cooperation a sailfish is a distinct possibility, and even the little fish will give you a fight to remember on a stout single-hander.
My next port of call was to be Alphonse in the Amirantes group of islands, and alongside Alphonse, the legendary coral lagoon of St.Francois. What happened was amazing, and I’ll begin that story next month. Just writing about it brings me out in a sweat.
Fishing in the tropics - essentials
Much of what I wrote last month about defence against the tropical sun, also applies to boat fishing. It is very easy to succumb to dehydration. A good skipper will have a plentiful supply of bottled water in the icebox, but it is as well to check before leaving port that he had laid in enough to last the day.
Because you are often motoring at several knots, the breeze thus created tends to give the impression that things are cooler than they actually are. Do defend against the ravages of the tropical sun. Use a wide-brimmed hat for preference, and a super-lightweight UV protection long-sleeved shirt. Shorts feel cool, but they can lead to burned legs: you need lightweight long trousers. Factor 50 sun-screen is mandatory.
The kit you carry
If you want to fly-fish you’ll certainly need to supply your own kit. Everything else will be provided by the charter-boat. As I’ve said, an #11 weight is pretty well minimum. An additional #13 or #14 weight will be more appropriate for the bigger fish. Big fish landed on lighter weight tackle can take too long to subdue, and therefore may die.
I would recommend that you allow a Seychelles specialist to make all arrangements for you. Seychelles Travel in Bournemouth can answer all your questions, and can construct a reliable itinerary to suit your dreams, and (hopefully) your purse.
Essential contacts information
Air Seychelles Phone 01293 596691
Seychelles Travel Phone 01202 877330
Denis Island Resort Phone 248 321143
Fax 248 321010
Bird Island Resort Phone 248 224925
Fax 248 224074
(Chill Out) Phone 248 373766