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Anaa Atoll: French Polynesia 11-14-2002

In the far reaches of the Tuamotu Chain, about as far off the beaten path as you can get in French Polynesia (and still have basic services), lays one of the most stunning destinations in the angling world. Beautiful Anaa Atoll has only one small village, no hotels, and is serviced by just one weekly flight from Papeete. (Since this weekly flight departs at 6:30AM on Mondays, you can be fishing by noon!) Anaa Atoll is approximately 18 miles by 4 miles making it twice as large as the Seychelles' famous St. Francoise Atoll. Anaa is somewhat unusual in that it has not one, but two, pale blue lagoons that are surrounded by stunningly beautiful, hard-bottomed, white sand flats.

Anaa most certainly qualifies as a pure bonefish destination. In fact, Anaa is the best spot we've found so far in French Polynesia for bonefish both in terms of quantity and size. It is rare to find a bonefish on Anaa under 4 lbs. All the fish seem to be quite large with 6 to 8 lb. fish being common. Double-digit fish are seen almost every day. These large bonefish materialize out of an intoxicating mix of white sand and shallow water usually as singles or doubles. Rarely, if ever, are schools of bonefish seen.

On our November trip, our bonefishing was best in the morning leading us to believe the "teacup" analogy that we've discussed concerning other areas in French Polynesia also applies on Anaa (but maybe not as rigidly as on some other atolls). To reiterate this "teacup"analogy:

Bonefishermen are trained to believe that tides and moon phase are the all-important variables. Pick the right tide and moon phase, have some luck with the weather and get enough sun to see the little buggers and it will all work... this may not be true in French Polynesia. On Tahanea, with tides of only seven inches, the tidal push never seems huge, but if you can see these coral atolls as giant teacups with salty sea water barely sloshing up and over the cup's thin edges, maybe one of French Polynesia's angling mysteries is revealed. For what becomes important, in addition to the tides and moon phase, is the swell. If an atoll is in the way of a big swell, lots of seawater flushes over the edges. The teacup becomes full... the water is kept cool... the salinity levels are not concentrated by daily evaporation, especially on the flats (where heating is most pronounced due to shallow water and the proximity of solar collecting land masses). If the swell is low, the flats heat up; the tide can't keep pace and the flats stagnate, becoming too salty and too warm. The bonefish and trevally stay away. They hover just off the edge of the flats in the deeper, cooler water...tantalizing anglers while they wait for their moment. Wade the edges and you'll see them make short forays onto the flats only to quickly retreat into the more hospitable turquoise cuts. We had low water (with a small swell) on Tahanea making our bonefishing best in the mornings and sometimes late in the afternoon.

This need to fish hard in the morning is especially true if you visit Anaa during our late fall (which is early summer in French Polynesia). If you travel in our winter months or into the spring (their fall), the flats do not seem warm up as quickly and good bonefishing continues for most of the day. This makes the prime season for Anaa January to May (if you seek bonefishing all day). If you're content to pursue other species from about 1:00 PM on, October thru December are great times to visit this remote area.

Our typical day started with an early breakfast in order to get on the flats as soon as possible. At the guide's insistence, we did not linger over coffee. Raphael and Reuben, our hard working Polynesian guides, were always encouraging us to get up and get going. Their work ethic was tremendous and their gung-ho attitude often outdistanced the expectations of even the most diehard of bonefishermen. These guides proved to be fantastic companions with eyes that impressed even the most experienced anglers in our group. What they lack in fly fishing skills is more than made up for with enthusiasm and an almost preternatural ability to locate the atoll's big bones. These guides are very well trained and had an intimate knowledge of the complexities of the two lagoon systems. Head guide and bungalow manager Stephan, along with Reuben and Raphael, used native wooden boats equipped with brand new motors to reach Anaa's extensive flats. The longest run we had to make was 25 minutes... most runs were much shorter. These native skiffs were entirely adequate given that all of the bonefishing on Anaa is done while wading. It should be noted that Stephan is an expert flyfisherman and guide with a great deal of bonefishing experience gained while guiding in the Seychelles.

On our November trip, anglers averaged 8-12 fish a day... usually in the 4 lb. range. We weighed a 9 lb. brute and saw some real monsters. We caught bonefish estimated at 10+ lbs., but we had no scale with us at those times. There are, at this writing, 32 identified bonefish flats on Anaa. That should be plenty to explore especially since the Anaa operation will schedule only four anglers per week. We applaud their commitment to conserving this incredible resource. If the bonefishing slows up, giant (up to 20 lbs.), striped and bluefin trevally are found in good numbers on the flats. On the outside of the reef, we caught grouper (up 15 lbs.), red snapper (up to 15 lbs.), black skipjack tuna and striped (up to 10 lbs.), bluefin (up to 15 lbs) and huge giant trevally. The search for these other species has barely begun on Anaa and if our experiences on other Polynesian atolls is any indication, we fully expect both tuna and mahi mahi to be found in good numbers on the outside of Anaa's pristine coral reef.

Our accommodations were rustic and clean... certainly sufficient for dedicated anglers. The two thatch-roofed bungalows are directly across the road from the beach. We had very few, if any, bugs on Anaa. The food was excellent with an emphasis on fresh seafood. We had deliciously prepared coconut crabs, lobster and steak. Meals were taken on Chef Romana's lovely porch lending a perfect tropical touch to each and every meal.

Guests on Anaa are issued brand new cruiser bicycles upon arrival. These bikes provide all your transportation while on the atoll. You'll ride the quarter mile to Romana's house for meals. After a delicious breakfast of your choice, you continue an additional quarter mile to Raphael's house where you jump in your skiff to begin the fishing day.

To answer the obvious question, yes, we would go back to Anaa... in a heartbeat! The flats are hard-bottomed, beautiful and epitomize everything we love about the sport. Our logistics went flawlessly and all facets of this operation were well organized. If you've read our report on the atolls of Tahanea, Tetiaro and Fakarava (look on our website under Recent Adventures: Tahiti/French Polynesia Exploration, Nov. 4, 2002), It should seem obvious that Anaa is like Tahanea, but with more consistent bonefishing. If your primary goal is remote bonefishing, Anaa should be your first choice in French Polynesia.

As such, we're bullish about Anaa. Anaa is easier to reach than Christmas Island, beautiful and virtually untouched. We are planning to return to Anaa in early April (April 7-14, 2003). So if interested, give us call. The limit for this trip is four rods.






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