Northeast of Madagascar and east of Nairobi, in the vast expanse of the western Indian Ocean, lie the idyllic Seychelles Islands. The 115, mostly coralline, islands are sparsely spread over 1.3 million square kilometers. Southwest of the main island Mahe, about an hour by air, lie three postcard perfect coral atolls and the best bonefishing on the planet earth. Best is not a superlative we use lightly and yet, it is not applied nervously. This is the best!
"There were days when we were never out of sight of bonefish. You could catch, or at least cast to a fish whenever you wanted. The question was never how many fish you could catch in a day, the question was how big a fish could you find to stalk." -Journal SSH October 1998
In 1998 we began exploring the flats of St. Francois, Le Bijoutier and Alphonse Islands in the Amirantes group aboard Martin and Anna Lewis' live-aboard catamaran the Tam Tam. We were amazed and thrilled when we discovered huge numbers of very large bonefish on beautiful hard-bottomed, white sand flats. Often we found bonefish tailing in very shallow water or cruising the flats as singles or doubles. This was an angler's paradise and for two years we sent lucky anglers aboard the Lewis' very successful live-aboard. Our anglers returned with incredible stories. To a person they told us this was one of those rare destinations where the productivity lived up to the rumors and the hype.
But as the word spread, others tried to get involved and gain access to this untouched area. It was clear to us and to Martin and Anna that this fishery was truly exceptional and if not protected, it would be quickly exploited and ruined. This fear was quickly born out by the increasing number of ships visiting St. Francois Lagoon. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the action. By the spring of our first season, the Seychelles government had turned a sympathetic ear to the Lewis' pleas for protection of Alphonse, St. Francois and Le Bijoutier Islands. The seemingly imminent degradation of this fishery was suddenly halted. The government secured the future of this international treasure by implementing a strict catch and release policy and by limiting access to the area. From January 1, 2000, only 12 guests of the newly built Alphonse Island Resort will be allowed access to the flats of these three islands.
These limitations and regulations will insure the future of this remarkable fishery. We strongly urge dedicated fly and light tackle anglers to make the commitment of time, energy and money to explore what we believe to be a true angling treasure.
After leaving the lagoon of Alphonse Island, you cross the deep blue waters of the narrow channel Canal de la Mort before reaching another reef which protects the tiny island of Le Bijoutier. Once past this perfect little gem, you will enter the lagoon of St. Francois Island. Around the tranquil heart of the lagoon waves hurl themselves against the outer reef. At least five wrecks loom ominously on the skyline standing as silent testament to the power of the Indian Ocean. For the fisherman, they serve as convenient landmarks. The St. Francois Lagoon is about 8 x 4 miles and is slightly oval in shape. Between the crashing waves and the inner lagoon lie the extensive white sand flats. The bonefish hungrily invade this great shallow expanse in search of crabs and worms as the tide pulses in from both the open ocean side and from the lagoon. The flats consist of hard white sand and packed coral. They are some of the firmest, flattest and most easily waded flats in the world. Grass, weeds and coral are minimal although weed beds and crushed coral terraces at the atoll's rim hold some of the largest bonefish available anywhere in the world.
Wading the flats is the norm on St. Francois and pale blue channels interlace the shallows and allow guides access to collect anglers after wading beats. For those less mobile, it is possible to be positioned so that the bonefish stream past you. We have fished with anglers that have remained stationary for 2 hours and have caught over 20 bonefish! Some published reports will tell you that the ocean side holds fewer fish than the lagoon side. This is simply not true and shows that nothing serves the traveling angler like first hand experience. What is true is the bonefish are often bigger on the ocean side with some spots being incredibly productive while others are mysteriously void of fish. We believe this is based on subtle channels the bonefish use to access the inner flats. The bonefish stack up at these spots waiting to move onto the flats at flood. Most anglers do not venture out to the rim, but for those willing to make the 1/2 - 1 mile trek, the bonefishing can be superb. As an added bonus, snapper, bluefin and giant trevally are often found in the channels coming off the ocean rim. This ocean side is the truly unexplored area of St. Francois Island. For the adventurous, it may be worth the effort to wade beyond the huge numbers of bonefish on the lagoon side to explore the ocean side at least one day of your week.
Although fish can be found on all stages of the tide, the bonefishing is best when the tide is either ebbing or flowing. Slack high and slack low can be slow. On our previous trips, we usually spent our slack tides searching for trevally in the cuts and channels. These predators can often be seen prowling the dropoffs at dead low and on the flats at slack high.
Again, much of the bonefishing is in very shallow water where the land meets the tidal flow. Although bonefish may school in very large groups at high tide to avoid predators, most of the fishing is done to small pods or to singles and doubles. This is bonefishing at its classic best and tails often glint suggestively in only inches of water. While landing a fish, it is often possible to spot your next fish. But beware, one of the biggest problems on St. Francois Island is rod breakage caused by being too impatient or casual during the final stages of landing a large fish. In all fairness to those that have broken rods, it is very difficult to pay attention to the task at hand when an 8-9 lb. bonefish tail waves seductively only a short cast away from your thrashing catch. It is for this reason we suggest you bring extra rods on your journey to the Seychelles.
The average bonefish is huge, averaging 5-7 lbs. Larger fish up to 14 lbs. have been landed and world record fish of 19-20 lbs. have been seen or hooked and lost on the outside edges of the atolls. Many anglers begin to target these larger fish after they spend a few days fulfilling their ultimate angling fantasies on these unsophisticated and abundant "average" fish. A typical day is 15-30 bonefish. It is possible to catch 50+ bonefish a day. But be forewarned, these bonefish are deep and powerful. They rate high marks as some of the strongest bonefish in the world. Your skill, the weather and the tides will all contribute to your numbers per day but typically the decision to go for numbers or size will be the most important factor.
If you choose to hunt for the bluefin or giant trevally, the more energy you put into this pursuit the more successful you likely will be. But remember, it is difficult to leave hundreds of tailing bonefish to pursue trevally which demand a change of equipment to heavier rods and shock tippets. To hook a trevally you must commit to a trevally. Trevally are found at the reefs' outer rim or lurking in the cuts and channels waiting for fish to be swept off the flats. These extremely powerful gamefish aggressively take well presented pencil poppers or Lefty's deceivers. The fight is usually prolonged and draining. The average size bluefin trevally is 5-10 lbs. Their larger cousins, the giant trevally, average 20-30 lbs. and run to 120 lbs. with 50 pounders commonly hooked. The pending IGFA record on 16 lb. test was a 68 lb. monster caught on St. Francois Island.
Very large barracuda up to 75 lbs. are seen on the flats, as well as, milkfish up to 60 lbs. and 6 feet long. These algae eaters are rarely hooked and more rarely landed. Many experienced an glers feel that when hooked, milkfish are the strongest flats fish in the world. We caught a 10 lb. milkfish on our first trip that made two 30 foot horizontal jumps and then outran a pursuing shark. This acrobat fought like a bonefish twice its size. Not bad for a vegetarian!
Grouper, snapper, spangled emperor and numerous other reef fish are easily caught with spin or fly rods. Both the lagoon and the atoll's flats are filled with a remarkable variety of life including hawksbill and green turtles, egrets, herons, frigate birds and fairy terns. These citizens of St. Francois Island complete the picture of a perfect anglers' Eden.
In summary, this is simply extraordinary bonefishing - the best on the planet Earth....period. The best not only for sheer numbers, but for size and strength. If these islands only had bonefish, it would be enough. But when you add to the massive bonefish populations the voracious and aggressive trevally, the huge barracuda, the aloof and powerful milkfish and the myriad of reef fish, this becomes a true angler's paradise. A paradise that is not only prolific, but unimaginably beautiful.
The best fishing corresponds with the best weather and runs from the second week in September to the first week in June. Windier conditions will be found in September as the monsoon weakens and in May when the monsoon begins. December through February brings the northwest monsoon and higher than average rainfall. March, April, October and November are usually calm with slight sea conditions. The climate in the Seychelles is wonderfully tropical with warm equatorial weather year round. The temperature rarely exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alphonse Island Resort is a new hotel comprised of 25 standard and five deluxe beachfront chalets. Rooms are spacious and elegantly furnished. Each chalet has a king-sized or two twin beds with a mosquito net, comfortable armchairs, a ceiling fan and air-conditioning. Each chalet faces an expansive flat that surrounds the island's own reef-created lagoon. The hotel has a main reception and dining area, a water sports center, tennis court, a freshwater swimming pool and a fishing center. Alphonse Island has numerous white sand beaches easily accessible from the hotel. Meals are best described as nouvelle cuisine and emphasize the Seychelles' exotic fruits and vegetables.
All too often the dedicated angler must sacrifice great fishing to please non-fishing family and friends. But the Seychelles is one of those rare places in the world where the fishermen can explore the cutting edge of his sport while non-fishing companions are surrounded by beauty and comfort. Alphonse Island Resort is ideal for the tennis enthusiast or for those interested in a variety of water sports including diving at the PADI center where full PADI certification is available. Blue water fishing, an unexplored side of the Amirantes Group, is being offered as an option for an additional fee. For the naturalist, the birdwatching and beaches are exceptional. Sun worshippers will adore the powder soft, white sand beaches framed by stately palms and the azure blue of the Indian Ocean. There is excellent snorkeling available on patch reefs within the lagoon and inside the outer edges of the atoll's reef.