The Beechcraft shuttered a bit as the wheels bit down on the old Russian-built airstrip. We eagerly stepped out onto the tarmac and into the thick equatorial heat. We had finally made it to Assumption Atoll. We were 200 miles north of Madagascar and some 600 miles south of Mahe. We were deep in the Indian Ocean in the most outer reaches of the Republic of the Seychelles. To the educated angler, the Seychelles is a bonefishing Disneyland and one of the most beautiful locations in the world. To the casual traveler, it's just Disneyland and one of the world's most beautiful locations. Reams have been written and published about the Seychelles and its fishery, but it all can be distilled to one simple sentence... the Seychelles' remote atolls offer the finest fishing in the world... bar none. Far away from the hubbub of "resort living" these undeveloped atolls exist as they always have. They bask under a searing sun in perfect harmony governed only by the natural laws that rule all wild places.
Our group was thrilled to have completed the long two-day journey required to reach Assumption Atoll, but we were not quite done. We had one more ocean crossing of 10-12 hours to reach Cosmoledo Atoll and angling's Garden of Eden. Everyone's red eyes, pasty complexion, yet determined posture confirmed the realities of an adventure of this magnitude... you have to really want it if you're going to make it. This is not a trip for the faint of heart and it is not for the casual fishing aficionado. You must stay the course and endure the demands of international travel to reach the world's most wild places. But now that we were aboard our steel-hulled, 114' floating condo, the Indian Ocean Explorer, optimism had begun to settle in. Through bleary eyes, we broke out rods and began to prepare gear for our adventure.
We would make the crossing to Cosmoledo at night, so on our arrival afternoon, we dispatched two skiffs to do some trolling. We wanted to catch some fish to make a few frozen blocks of chum to use once we arrived on Cosmoledo. It wasn't long before the first reel sang out. We expected a 'cuda or a common reef fish. As the reel continued to trill its familiar serenade, we realized that this was no simple reef fish. Our suspicions were confirmed when 100 yards off our port gunnel, a huge school of big, yellow fin tuna busted the surface. Several fish smashed upward at the balled bait. They launched themselves six feet out of the water. With tails still beating, they hovered over the foaming ocean. What an incredible sight! An hour and three 50 lb. tuna later, we returned to the ship. Happy faces greeted us when the onboard anglers realized they were now the proud owners of $700.00 dollars worth of the freshest sashimi available anywhere on this big blue ball. The fish gods were smiling on us and we could only hope our good fortune would continue.
After dinner, we began the crossing from Assumption to Cosmoledo through heavy seas. We reached our anchorage in the lee of Menai, Cosmoledo Atoll's most western outcropping of rock. Everyone aboard was grateful and relieved. As the engines were throttled down, excited smiles quickly emerged through chalky faces. The day soon dawned bright and promising.
On our past four trips to Cosmoledo, the bonefishing had been so outstanding as to command everyone's complete attention. With schools of large fish everywhere on the proper tide, this preoccupation was understandable. The average bonefish is quite large on Cosmoledo and angler's eyes are usually wide open at the end of the first day. On this trip, we had several anglers making a return visit to the atoll. These alumni had noticed something on their prior journeys... it was not just the bonefish that were everywhere! Last year, we had just scratched the surface by tallying catches of wahoo, sailfish and a myriad of other reef dwellers. This year we came armed with big fly rods, strong leaders, a gazillion bluewater flies and lures... and most importantly, a will to do battle with whatever Cosmoledo had to offer. We were not to be disappointed.
The blue water edge that surrounds the atoll starts just 200 yards off the sand and rock shoreline where the color changes dramatically from a perfect turquoise to a promising azure deep blue. In our initial attempt to learn the structure and test the water, an advance party tossed over a few grande Rapalas, set the Zodiac's engine to about seven knots and held on. Our wait was brief and ended when two of our three rods bent crazily astern. The reels screamed out the unmistakable tone that meant either wahoo or tuna. Suddenly, two twenty pound yellow fins emerged from the cobalt depths. Within ten minutes, the two tuna were cleaned and on ice. An outstanding dinner was a lock! We immediately went back to the task at hand. The next two hours seemed like some sort of Consumer Reports test for the Shimano Reel Company. With reels burned to their limits, mono stretched thin and hooks bent straight, we battled giant trevally, huge blue fin trevally, dogtooth tuna, yellow fin tuna, wahoo and a host of other species. With this consistent attack on our lures, our wildest dreams were met and our suspicions were confirmed... the oceanic edge of Cosmoledo is every bit as prolific as the interior lagoon flats... with just a bit different cast of characters!
Cosmoledo is a big atoll and many parts of it have not been fished at all. On day two, one small raiding party ignored the sure bonefish bet and decided to take a dedicated trip to the northeast side of the atoll. They wanted to look at some of the channels and flats surrounding the area. We had never spent much time looking at this water during prior trips and it just seemed like the right time to step off into the unknown. Giant trevally was the expressed target of the day and this "discovery corps" was almost immediately rewarded for their exploratory zeal. Seemingly everywhere, blue fin trevally up to 12 pounds lined the shallow depressions on the inside edge of the reef. Each small marauding pack rode the breakers as these waves hissed ashore to meet the beach. These blue fins provided great sport on an eight or nine weight. Blue fin trevally are fierce little fighters and they provided us with a perfect 'preview of coming attractions" as we waited for the high tide and the day's feature presentation, the giant trevally.
Giant trevally are the inshore water's alpha predator and hunting for them is just about as good as it gets in our sport. As group members continually scuttled backwards with the rising tide, they began to spot this shallow water thug cruising in over the banks of the main channel. With malice on their minds, the GTs were scanning for the unlucky and the unwise. Giant trevally are the agent of Darwinism. They weed out the weak and the unfit... and it all occurs in the chomp of a tooth-lined jaw. Almost everyone in our small party either hooked-up or caught a GT at some point, but the moment that is seared in our collective memory came as a pair of beasts reached the end of a long sand spit and made a malicious left turn before running straight towards us. This duo was hell bent for bonefish and we could see their every move on the stark white sand. Poised and ready, Mike Schwartz from Denver Colorado saw one of the "bruise brothers" break formation and head for his 4/0 deceiver. With drag dialed down, Mike struck hard. His 12-weight suddenly flexed ominously. With no deep water or coral heads to run to, the big trevally had picked a bad spot for his mugging. As Mike applied determined pressure, the big GT eventually began to tire as he struggled against the pegged cork drag. Mike slid the behemoth up onto the beach as the other anglers ran to take a look at something truly special. It took two stacked Boga grips to weigh this seventy-five pound, bright silver beast. In all our combined days of fishing for trevally, never had any of us seen such a fish. It was summed up best when someone remarked that it looked like a "farm animal". Amazed by what we had just witnessed, we returned to the mothership to show the photos and tell the story over a cold Seybrew beer... a perfect end to a perfect day!
The wind had been blowing hard for several days and as the afternoon of our fourth day arrived, the wind suddenly stopped and a calm came to the atoll. Having had a few days of fantastic bonefishing under our belts, we hit the Zodiacs. With hookless teasers and 8/0 flies in hand, we were determined to catch something big on our 13 wt. fly rods. Not far from the IOE, our teasers were attacked by wahoo. This Lamborghini's style is to explode from the depths upward towards a spread of teasers. True to form, these wahoo came screaming out of the slick water with the purple and black moldcraft rubber teasers clamped sideways in their jaws. Their tails would continue to pump hard as they reached the peak of their arc, some 6 to 10 feet in the air. Those of us aboard the Zodiac sat slack-jawed stunned by the sheer beauty of the wahoo's acrobatics. It was only until someone made a call to cast that the reverie was broken. Wahoo are very difficult to catch on a fly rod because they come into a hookless spread at the speed of light and leave much the same way... sometimes before a fly can ever be put in the water. Wahoo quickly assess that rubber is not squid and anglers are often left casting only at a contrail. However on this day, the concentration of wahoo was tremendous. As a result, we had many fly rod shots and were able to hook several fish. We even managed to land quite a few, but only after experiencing the fastest 150 yards in all of sportfishing. Wahoo have little endurance, but for 30 seconds, a reel will never spin as fast! Think nitro-fuel, drag racer and you'll understand why the wahoo's reputation for speed and deadly accuracy is so richly deserved.
Thrilled by our success, we decided to head back towards the Indian Ocean Explorer. When almost at the ship, we got a visit from a large sailfish that began working our three-rod spread in a systematic, if not somewhat frantic fashion. One member of our group immediately hooked-up on traditional gear. The sail exploded from the ocean like a wayward Poseidon missile. Knowing that sailfish tend to travel in groups, another angler dropped a big 8/0 fly in the water some 30 feet astern. A big sailfish intercepted and inhaled the fly almost instantaneously. Suddenly, we had ourselves a bonifide Chinese fire drill. In the blink of an eye, we had way too much happening aboard our little 18-foot Zodiac. With adrenaline levels peaking, we struggled to control the situation as the two large sails went absolutely crazy. The only good news was that the fish were headed in opposite directions. We sat tight and worked our fish. We each vowed to try to stay out of the other guy's way. This is not an easy order when you have over 200 pounds of berserk sailfish tethered to your dingy.
Again the fish gods smiled down on us, no doubt amused by our situation. Twenty minutes later, the first fish began to come alongside our inflatable. With our catch impressively armed with a spear and with us in an inflatable, we knew the risks at hand. We also knew that sometimes a big sailfish goes absolutely crazy when reaching the end of a fight. Ever mindful of the sharp and raspy bill, we carefully leadered the fish off the stern quarter of the skiff. He came in further without much trouble. We billed him, removed the hook and quickly shot a photo. After a quick release, the gallant fish swam away only slightly worse for the encounter. Meanwhile, the other angler was biding his time. He slowly played his fish on the big fly rod. This tactic gave us the time to release the first fish. Once the first sail had slithered away, we turned all of our attention to the remaining challenge. This strategy worked and gloved hands soon had hold of another big bill. The second sail was more than a 100 pounds of sheer perfection. We were amazed that we were able to land both fish out of the small Zodiac... but it is always better to be lucky than good! That night we ate fresh yellow fin steaks pan seared in butter with wine. We enjoyed a tart lemon cake for dessert. We never let ourselves forget that one must rough it when probing the boundaries of the known angling world!
Having found great offshore fishing (if you can call 250 yards "offshore"), we decided to head inside the lagoon to look up our old friend the bonefish. Following the ebb and flow of the Indian Ocean tides, the bonefish attended to their primitive routine while we positioned ourselves to have some time in their midst. Again, we found good numbers. When gazing around between fish, it was not unusual to see 5 or 6 anglers hooked-up at the same time. Frequently, you could hear the pleasant sound of many buzzing drags drifting down with the wind. The bonefish were quite large this year and it seems that last year's typical five-pound fish had morphed into something closer to seven or eight pounds. We could only conclude that this was an age class population that had fed very well since last year! Will next year's typical fish be even bigger or will the process start over. Most of us have already signed on to come back and find out. Purely for scientific reasons mind you...
As usual the milkfish we're not far behind the bonefish and we all cursed them for their vegetarian habits and unwillingness to eat our fine offerings. But on bonefish, we met with great success. With piscatorial appetites sated, we returned to our floating steel sanctuary that evening to eat well and dream of the next day.
Our time on Cosmoledo was fantastic... truly the stuff of fantasy. Each day we made our selection from Cosmoledo's shopping list. What would it be today? Among our choices were bonefish, giant trevally, blue fin trevally, Chinese grouper, wahoo, dogtooth or yellow fin tuna, red bass, jobfish or one of the other 11 species we caught while on this adventure. As usual the time went too quickly and it was not long before we had to breakdown gear and head back to the world of schedules, lists and appointments. At times like this, it is comforting to know that Cosmoledo seems unchanged by human hands. This knowledge somehow makes the trip back seem less painful. On Cosmoledo, the same old turtle shack still sits abandoned in the sand, the massive sea turtles still waddle up the sandy beaches to deposit their precious cargo, the boobies and frigates still prowl the land and sea looking for, among other things, sea turtle hatchlings and the bonefish and trevally always play their game of cat and mouse twice each day. May it always be this way on Cosmoledo!
Cosmoledo offers probably the best bonefishing in the known angling world. But what makes this atoll truly remarkable is the diversity of habitat and species available. All total, we caught twenty different species of fish and seventeen of those with fly rods! Without a doubt, to reach Cosmoledo Atoll requires an arduous journey. But for those lucky few that have visited Cosmoledo, the reward is worth twice the effort. Angling Destinations will continue to lead a trip to this atoll each year. We hope that Cosmoledo remains too remote for tourism. We hope that its land mass proves just too small for a Club Med. We hope that Cosmoledo will always remain wild and untouched. But we thought that about other atolls in the Seychelles and now they are developed. So to the powers that be, we think Cosmoledo is just perfect right now. We think its just right for the fish and the tides and the birds and the wind. We can't wait to return to Cosmoledo where the life giving sun shines down on a perfect little spot smack dab in the middle of nowhere.