We sat on the steeply sloped, white sand beach eating blue fin trevally and baked breadfruit. The trevally had been cooked over a bed of coral embers then served on a woven palm frond platter "a la Paumotu". As we ate, we watched huge swells crash spectacularly onto the reef. Occasionally, a big set would roll completely over the coral lip and rumble and hiss all the way into our beach. It was more than once that we had to run to move cameras and video recorders to higher ground. All this water slid back down the beach and rolled left, paralleling the shore until it emptied into the lagoon at the cuts. The lagoon was filling up and we knew tomorrow would be a good day!
Let's cut to the chase ñ how good is the fishing on Anaa Atoll in French Polynesia's Tuamotu Group? For a moment, let's forget about the swaying palms and the jade, turquoise and baby-blanket blue waters of the lagoon. Let's ignore the friendly warm people of the atoll, the sound of ukele and the faint scent of frangipangi wafting in on the warm night air. Forget about the open demeanor and impish sense of humor of our guides Reuben and Edmond and the gracious hard work of our hosts Raphael and Joel. Ignore for now that this may be the most beautiful place in the world to catch a bonefish and that this would be a wonderful place to visit even if you didn't wet a line.
Let's also forget about what has been previously written about French Polynesia and its fishery. Let's ignore especially those reports coming from companies who have invested in color brochures and full page magazine ads extolling the atolls and putting the fishing on a par with the Seychelles.
And let's also ignore the pundits... those who have advanced theories and provided assessments sometimes based on only one day of fishing. These visitors have sometimes "rushed to judgement" and given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on their very limited experience. And while you're trying to forget and ignore all this, remember that trying to assess a fishery based on one week (let alone a day) is like trying to view an elephant through the lens of a camera as it passes by a porthole. You can take a picture, but it is pretty hard to know what you are seeing.
And let's just concentrate this report on Anaa Atoll. We'll include information on our most recent trip from April, 2003, but we'll also include information compiled from November 2002 through this last trip in April. This therefore, summarizes about 6 months of trips involving around 40 anglers. Cutting now (finally) to the chase, here is what we do know about Anaa Atoll (and to some extent French Polynesia in general).
1. The bonefishing is very on again/off again. It can be very good one day or week leaving anglers thrilled and then almost nonexistent the next day or week leaving anglers frustrated and confused. Even at the best of times, the fish can be very finicky and nervous and somewhat hard to see. Some anglers have said that they are the hardest fish to see anywhere in the world. We feel that while they can be the blanched color of bones found in other areas of the world where substantial pressure by sport fishermen and subsistence natives exists, they are not harder to see than the big bones that have survived on Belize's Turneffe Atoll or on many of the islands in the Bahamas like the North Bight of Andros or Eleuthera.
2. The bonefishing on Anaa can be quite technical, requiring long leaders with heavy flies. Good to great casters have fared well on Anaa and those that can cast and see fish well have generally had very successful trips. Think of New Zealand or Montana's spring creeks and you get the idea. Anaa is not a place for beginners and it is certainly not the Seychelles... no matter what you might read.
3. The incoming swell affects the fishing more than the tides, moon phase or time of year. Since tides are small in equatorial French Polynesia, it is very important for the swell to infuse the atoll's lagoon with fresh cool seawater. Have a big swell, the lagoon comes up, the lagoon water temperature drops and the bones come onto the flats. Have a lot of sun with a small swell, the flats heat up and the bones retreat to the lagoon's deep edges. (Please see our report on Tahanea Atoll from Nov. 2002.) On Anaa, there are actually two lagoons with one being more shallow and one deeper. It takes a big swell to bring any bones to the shallow lagoon. If it is sunny with a moderate to small swell, it is best to skip the shallow lagoon and fish the deeper lagoon. One last note, since Anaa Atoll has no deep water cut to bring in tidal flow (as do most of the other atolls in French Polynesia), the swell is even more essential to replenish and rejuvenate the lagoon.
This swell vs. season vs. tides is actually easy to test on Anaa. Anglers quickly determine that the bonefishing is usually best in the morning (before the flats heat up). You don't want to sleep in on Anaa because often by early afternoon, the fishing has really tapered off. But have a big swell followed by an overcast or rainy morning and the next day you'll have bonefish on the flats all through the afternoon. Unfortunately, all this makes Anaa a very inconsistent fishery. But when it's on, it is truly great. Big fish on hard, white sand bottoms with lots of shots at 8 ñ 10 lb. bonefish. . . nothing better anywhere. We do not now known if this inconsistency is indeed a pattern that will hold up through the years or just a product, as some have claimed, of an abnormally hot year.
4. The guides on Anaa see fish exceptionally well. They can spot a fish a long way off and can impress even the most experienced and well-traveled anglers with their fish finding skills. They are also fun to be with, enthusiastic and very hardworking. These fellows run 18' Boston Whalers with 70hp motors and are masters at weaving their way among the many coral heads. If there is a drawback, the guides do not speak much English. But with their wonderful attitudes and personalities, even this language barrier can be overcome. For their sake, we hope this fishery evens out and somehow finds more consistency. The Anaa community could definitely help this to happen by drastically cutting back on the number of bonefish taken by subsistence fishermen. Some estimates have put this at 5,000 fish per year. That's probably a bit high, but it is most certainly not an exaggeration to say subsistence fishermen keep the biggest fish. These fish are the spawners not to mention, by their very existence, the most capable of surviving in a world full of predators. Cut back or eliminate bonefish taken for food and a viable and highly productive fishery might quickly overcome many of the inconsistencies brought on by the "swell" issue (not to mention make the general bonefish population much less wary and finicky). If Anaa could make this atoll a "no-kill" zone, everyone on the atoll would prosper from the trickle-down effect. Everyone from the baker to the maids that clean the rooms to the shop owners that get money from the guides and clients would gain from a healthy, catch and release bonefish operation. Food for thought Anaa! We urge you to give some thought to your food and maybe just eliminate ioio (bonefish) from your diet!
So what's the bottom line for Anaa? Should you go to Anaa? In our opinion, only experienced anglers should visit Anaa Atoll. By this we mean anglers who not only cast and see fish well, but also enjoy fishing the far corners of the globe. Anaa is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful spots on the fly fishing globe. But it is definitely not for beginners. It is not for those who expect or want to rack up big numbers. And Anaa is certainly not the Seychelles. Some of the marketing disseminated regarding Anaa has brought the wrong type of angler to the atoll. This marketing has (and will) generated some negative press. These anglers were told one thing and delivered another. This is unfortunate, unfair and will definitely muddy the waters until those who should be on Anaa are the only ones that go to Anaa. We hope this report helps clear up some of this murkiness now and in the future.
There is one last question to answer... how was our trip? Well, we had a great time. We caught some bones and some big bones up to 8 ñ 9 lbs. We caught some blue fin trevally and some large red bass on the outside of the atoll. We had one very good day on bones, 2 so-so days and 2 poor days. The quality of our days exactly correlated with the swell... from big to small. We loved the people, enjoyed the guides and thought the organization by Joel, Via and Pierre was excellent. We enjoyed riding bikes to the pension for meals and to Raphael's house where we met the guides each morning promptly at 7:00 a.m. We thought the meals were generally very good, but that lunches need a bit of work (some cookies, more fruit, a bit of variety, etc.). We thought the accommodations were clean and adequate, but a bit austere (there is no air-conditioning or hot water). It must be said though, that at $2,950.00 per week, anglers can find similar fishing, better meals and better accommodations at many bonefish destinations in the Bahamas, Mexico or Belize. But having said that, we had a great time! We loved the experience and appreciated the opportunity to fish one of the most beautiful spots in the world. When and if the details change on Anaa Atoll, we'll add an addendum to this report.