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Cosmoledo, Seychelles 03-22-2005


After all your rods are rinsed of salt and repacked. After your gear is re-stashed and after your cuts and blisters are lathered in Neosporin, you begin to find your way home. It's not nearly as much fun as the journey to the Seychelles. You are tired and your mind has the capabilities, and probably the consistency, of a bowl of soggy fruit loops. You are a sun and wind burned bundle of sore shoulders, line and tooth cut fingers and blistered and sanded toes. In other words, you are in that state fishermen call happiness.

Flying home from the Seychelles begins at the concrete strip at Assumption Atoll after an all night steam from Cosmoledo. Prior to 1972, the leg from Assumption to the capitol island of Mahe would have also been done by boat. After a few days to get to Mahe, it would have taken a lengthy boat ride to India, a hot slow voyage by rail to Pakistan, then another nasty trip by train to Turkey where you could finally get a plane to Europe and eventually to the States. But with the Mahe Airport being built in 1972, it is now just 2 1/2 hours from Assumption to Mahe, 9 1/2 hours from Mahe to Paris and a quick 6-hour jump over the "pond" to reach the States.

Sure it is still a demanding journey involving long flights, potential stomach turning overnight crossings and the realities of living on a boat for a week, but to reach one of the most remote and beautiful places on our planet, it is now a relatively easy journey. But try and tell that to your derriere after the Mahe to Paris leg! But it is all worth it! After a week on Cosmoledo, even an experienced Seychelles veteran is awestruck by how simply amazing this place really is.

Here are just a few of the things we saw on this last trip:

Almost every sandy beach had tracks that looked like a miniature Caterpillar D-9 had rolled out of the surf, clawed its way up the beach and excavated a bathtub-sized depression. Of course no heavy equipment was at work here. The tracks were all that was left of gravid sea turtles who had laboriously struggled up the beach to leave hundreds of their progeny in leathery cocoons buried in the sand. It was not uncommon to see 4-inch long hatchlings bobbing just offshore. How these fragile, miniature monsters ever survive in this hostile environment is a true mystery.

While fishing, we saw hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, green and hawksbill turtles darting about on the flats. Some appeared only a few feet away as they poked up plated heads to curiously examine the odd khaki clad visitors who were waving long black sticks towards their atoll's impossibly blue sky. One day we saw a dozen huge leatherback turtles in the tidal race appropriately called "trevally alley". Like 300 lb. Volkswagen bugs, these leatherbacks threw wakes as some glided forward to check us out while others repositioned their amazing masses to avoid our drifting Zodiac. In that one half hour, I saw more leatherback turtles than I had seen in all my other oceanic travels combined.

In the air and on the ground, perched on the rails of our ship and nesting on the low-slung bushes of the atoll's many islets, we saw a million birds... perhaps many more.

Red footed boobies soared overhead, hatched one or two young in nests built at eye level and even visited our ship one stormy night only to regurgitate squid and sardines on the deck before they could once again get airborne to make it home to their colonies. We saw hundreds of thousands of terns wheel over two slender islets as they began their yearly mating reintroduction. These clouds of terns were so dense that at a distance and in the late afternoon light it looked like a huge smudge of sooty wood smoke was hovering over Wizard and Polite Islands. At times this black cloud morphed into a tall tornado of chattering terns, most of which had migrated five digits worth of miles to reach this lonely shore.

We watched frigate birds dive bomb shore bound boobies in their malevolent attempts to disable these magnificent flyers. Boobies have mastered flight, but they're still working on take offs and landings. Ever opportunistic frigate birds often looked for an easy meal during these transitional periods, hoping to maim and mangle a hapless boobie pilot. We watched thousands of terns, gulls, boobies and frigates crash bait balls as false albacores and yellowfin tuna went airborne crashing the same bait from below. Long lines of spinner dolphins ran into the fray from afar, usually with the lead dolphin jumping 10 ˝ 20 feet out of the water while weaving mad pirouettes in their frantic attempts to signal pod members to come and join the party. More pod members are essential to help compress the bait ball for easier pickings. As we often said "It sucks to be the bait"!

We saw a 120 lb. yellowfin tuna reach the surface after an hour and ten minutes of backbreaking, forearm-burning, finger-cramping work. It took three of us to hoist the treasure over the gunnels of the Zodiac. While two of us grabbed the gills, I held on to the tuna's tail and only by considerable effort was I able to keep the powerful tail from getting back in the water where even partial purchase from the tuna's tail almost pulled me overboard. That night, we ate fresh yellowfin sashimi with soy, ginger and wasabi washed down with Seybrew beer. In a restaurant, each plate of the fresh yellowfin was worth hundreds of dollars. We ate at least a thousand dollars worth that night and many others. Later, IOE chef, Jeffrey, flash seared thick tuna steaks in garlic and butter and we all crawled to bed sated on one of the Indian Ocean's true delicacies.

We watched as line melted off our big Abel Super 12's spools as some big fish... a wahoo or sailfish or yellowfin destroyed our tackle and stripped the coating off fly lines. We will never know what these fish were. They came as quickly as they went. If you want to know what it feels like to hook into one of these dragsters, just stand by a freeway and launch a cast at a speeding 18-wheeler. Your connection will be brief, but I guarantee you won't forget it. If you remember to hold your line and point your rod at the Peterbilt before you use up all your backing, you might even get your fly line back. Just like on Cosmoledo!

We spent days stalking big bonefish after big bonefish. Our smallest fish was probably 4lbs, our biggest 28 inches at the fork. I spent one afternoon catching 12 bones, none of which was less than 26 inches. We caught bonefish on flats where we had never seen a bonefish on previous trips. We also spent one day stalking bones on a huge flat that in the past was a sure bet. On this day, we were virtually shut out. We chalked this up to a rare wind that careened in out of the west and to a full moon that emptied the flat and caused whatever fish we did see to leave the area in their haste to find deeper and cooler water. Our weather for bonefishing this week was hardly great, but at the same time it certainly didn't stop us. Everyone experienced great success on bones.

As if we didn't see it, we had continued to fish seemingly oblivious to the dark squall line that had just obliterated the island of Menai and was now somewhere in the middle of the lagoon, perhaps only a half mile from our location. Now the sooty grey squall flaunted dark curtains of rain. I turned in ever increasing winds to take shelter in the old turtle shack. As I raced across the beach, the arriving gale blew sand and small shells ahead of me. The sand stung, but the shells hurt as they pounded my ankles and calves. I reached the turtle shack just as the first big drops of rain pelted my sunburned neck. I ducked inside to find Chuck and Eric already tearing apart oranges and unwrapping sandwiches from the cooler. We had stored this feast in the shack along with our 12 wt. trevally rods earlier in the day. As the winds tore across the point of the island, we hoped the shack could withstand the winds.

Soon the squall had past, although the skies remained overcast and still foreboding. Almost immediately, we walked back to the water's edge and waded in as long lines of windborne chop, souvenirs from the storm, marched ashore. The tide was dropping so even with the strong breeze, the waves that lapped rhythmically at our ankles had little depth to work with. As we waded deeper, the chop got bigger, but was still manageable. So let's summarize: We had no sun. We had a strong wind in our face. We had a mesmerizing chop. And if all that wasn't bad enough, a misty drizzle had just begun and when I tried to clean my glasses, I spread a fine layer of dried salt across the lenses creating a milky glaze that I just couldn't seem to totally erase no matter how hard I tried. Yes, these are just about the worst conditions imaginable for spotting bonefish. But when the weather sucks you are presented with one simple choice, "fish or go home". And we were in the Seychelles... perhaps the only place in the world where the fishing could still remain tolerable under such conditions.

So I pressed on. As I reached the end of a long white sand bar - where two small turquoise channels met at a dark turtle grass patch, I saw something flash. I thought it must be a tail, but in this difficult surface light, smeared with small cresting waves, I could make out no bonefish body. I stared. I looked as intently as I could. I cleaned my glasses, but they still seemed filmy in this flat light. I checked to see if I had a saltwater smear still on the lenses, but found none. Still I felt my eyes were not working properly˝ it must just be the light. Through eyes smudged with frustration, I saw another flash. I worked my way upwind and to the right hoping to get even with where the fish should be. I stared hard. I blinked. I strained... Suddenly, I saw it! A pale, slightly darker form held dead still in the storm chop. The form disappeared, then reappeared only to slide away again like a wraith that haunts a dead relative's room. Then, in the troughs of the larger waves, the big bone's tail broke the surface. The fish was not tailing, but the tail did pop up or at least go airborne occasionally.

The wind presented a puzzle. A solution would put a cast in front of the fish's nose. A poorly executed try would send a fly slamming to the ocean's surface. The fish would spook and I may not find another in this weird light. Ignoring the downside, I launched one 30-foot cast that finally settled 10 feet behind the fish. With all the waves and wind the fish did not spook. This time I aimed 15 feet further into the wind and the fly landed 5 feet ahead of the fish. The waves pulled the fly in a series of short strip-like movements to where the bonefish could see it. I never moved the fly ˝ the wind and waves did all the work. I just waited until the big bonefish darted forward, then stripped my line.

The fish was on, but he made no mad dash. Perhaps I had imagined this fish afterall. Perhaps I was just attached to the bottom. Nah... this was no bottom... this was a fish! Again I pulled hard, but the fish just held firm in the chop. I reeled in 15 feet of line, then stepped forward two steps and reeled in two steps worth of line. Nothing. Two more steps and two more turns on the reel brought me less than 20 feet from the long dark form now clearly visible in the froth. This was no apparition!

Just then all hell broke loose. The big bone rocketed forward unbelieveably catching me by surprise. It made me jump like a firecracker with a long fuse still startles, although anticipated, when it explodes. Although I should have been prepared, I still pounded my reel handle on a fly box stashed inside my chest back. It sounded like a woodpecker working on a sheet of tin. The sharp staccato of the handle hitting the box only ended when I flung my left hand up and away. By this time my fish was 100 feet away and melting backing off my reel like an ice cube tossed in a hot cup of coffee. Where the flat entered the rich deep turquoise of the atoll's lagoon, my fish finally stopped. Apparently the dangers of the deep water created more fear than whatever had somehow attached itself to the corner of its mouth.

I reeled the fish back in and its big bulk left a delicious wake in the unrelenting chop. Three more runs followed by a seemingly endless series of circles finally brought the bone to my dizzy side. The fish was probably 10 lbs. being 27" at the fork. It was thick with a flat, dark green plate on its forehead and a dog leg scar just behind its gill plate. He was an old battle worn warrior who had simmered in a salty sea while I had raised kids, sat at my desk and tied flies on the banks of trout rivers. Now we met, only to part company once again. He finned slowly, but strongly away.

Almost as soon as I released this fish I spotted another, albeit smaller form ghosting 75 feet away on the far side of the flat. Hey, maybe I was getting the hang of this visually impaired bonefishing. I took a step forward and of course, up wind...

As a result of this unusual weather, we positioned the IOE to use different moorings and fished many new areas. Since we had our best bonefishing on falling tides and the first part of the rising tide, we spent most of the flood searching for giant trevally. Everyone in our group caught 10 ˝ 50 lb. giants. Apex predators, these shallow water bad boys have their minds and hearts set on murder. They enter a flat or cruise a beach intent on creating mayhem and usually any big flashy deceiver-like streamer or noisy popper elicits a savage strike. GT fishing can be addictive. Casts are often ridiculously short and repeated hookups can leave anglers with sore arms, bruised fingers and a chest pack full of mangled flies.

One of our favorite spots to find a big GT was in the waters below a boobie colony. Here, giant trevally described large lazy circles in the chest deep water. Although it doesn't often appear to be in their nature, GTs can be a patient predator. So as the GTs wait like so many waterborne vultures, the boobie eggs hatch. These hatchlings become wobbly chicks that fidget nervously in nest poised only feet above what waits below. It is inevitable that some chicks wobble and fidget a bit too much. Apparently, GTs are delighted to fulfill the dictates of Darwin's Theory and remove any less than appropriate boobiettes from the gene pool.

While trevally and bonefish are the prime time players on Cosmoledo, there is so much more. Some members of our group caught 15 species of fish from grouper to tuna and from jobfish to mackerel ˝ all on a fly rod.

On our last night, just as the last of the bright equatorial sun made its blood red exit, two members of our group still had the appetite to give the blue water edge a try with conventional rods rigged with 30lb. mono. They did well on little tunas and bluefin trevallies, but with nothing remarkable boated, they decided to return to the IOE whenever the last little 10 lb. bluefin they had on was released. It was then that bluefin became the "bottom". That was, it was the "bottom" until the "bottom" started to slowly fin away. Shark, tuna... whatever it was, it was big... and it was getting dark. They both agreed to put maximum heat on this beast. The kind of heat that breaks the will of a big fish or breaks a rod, whichever comes first. Thirty minutes later, after hundreds of backbreaking pumps, each netting 3 inches at a crack, a huge white-bellied beast lolled to the surface.

It was spent; virtually dead and to release it would have donated the fish to a shark. Through nervous laughter they brainstormed on how to get the beast home. They thought about tying the fish off to the Zodiac, but a marauding shark interested in a flank steak might mistake the Zodiac for food. Hypalon and razor sharp shark's teeth make for a nightmare in the Indian Ocean. Two days ago a 40 lb. trevally had been cut in half nearly at the boat by a giant shark. They needed no repeat of this, so the decision to try and bring the fish aboard was made. They tied one of the stout mooring lines as tightly as they could around the critter's tail and the two Americans and two Seychellsois crewmen pulled with all their adrenalin-charged strength. The back of the Zodiac came dangerously close to submerging before the 250 lb. cod or potato grouper slid slowly and totally onboard. With belly swollen due to gases expanding as tons of water pressure was now relieved, the fish seemed absurdly large. The grouper seemed more farm animal than fish, with a mouth twice the size of either guy's head and a tail as broad as a man's back.

The guys called the IOE to report, through gales of laughter, that they were returning with a "significant" catch. Minutes later, they showed up and as 20 some bodies oohed and aahed over the railing, the big grouper was hauled aboard for endless photos and a repeat of the whole story. All of the Seychellsois crewmen wanted to be photographed with rod in hand beside the beast. I supposed they intended to impress friends with a harmless lie once they returned to Mahe.

What a way to end a trip! And what a stupendous trip this was! This was a great group that fished hard, got along well, took care of each other and made it a pleasure to be included in any adventure this group concocted.

Todd Sabine, Scott Heywood and Chuck Ash of Angling Destinations would like to thank the crew of the IOE for a great job. Special thanks go to Francis our captain and to Ian, Tony, and our fantastic chef, Jeffrey. You guys are the best!

Thanks to Eric Berger for some absolutely superb photography.

And of course, we would like to thank Hayden "Yellowfin" Groendyke, Craig "Chinese grouper" Johnston (the winner of the most exotic species caught), Eric Berger, Ed "GT" Boese, Steve Hoffman (the guy most likely to get invited on any fishing trip), John "The Running Man" Anderson (the winner of the most species caught on a fly rod), Jeff Peedin (who won the award for the biggest GT), Jim "Hard as Rocks" Dean and Mike "Mr. Potato Cod" Schwartz. Thanks guys... let's do it again soon!

Submitted by Scott Heywood 4/7/05.


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