By the time we touched down on Mahe, the capitol island of the Seychelles archipelago, we had endured many hours in the air, weathered more than our share of traveling hassles and ingested all the airline food we could take. But we took it all in stride knowing how close we were to reaching our goal of fishing some the most remote atolls in the world. We all agreed that to reach this angling paradise, you must have not only the time and the money, but also the heart of an adventurer!
Our destination on this trip to the Seychelles was the Aldabra Group which lies over 800 miles from Mahe... some 2 1/2 hours by plane. Our entry point to these atolls was Assumption Island. Here, a narrow concrete landing strip marked the beginning of our adventure. It would take us yet another 10 hours by boat to reach the first fishable atoll. And while it was all worth it, this is definitely not a trip for the faint of heart. But if you are willing to brave all the travel, possible seasickness and the rustic realities of mothership living, you'll experience an angler's nirvana and perhaps the best combination of bonefish and trevally fishing in the world.
The Aldabra group contains the largest raised coral atolls in the world. These atolls are so pure and pristine, so secluded and untouched that it took days for us to absorb the wildness and remoteness of our surroundings. The Aldabra group consists of 4 major atolls: Assumption (the only atoll with an airstrip), Cosmoledo, Astove and the group's namesake, Aldabra.
Aldabra Island now holds the status of a World Heritage Site, but its more recent history makes its current protected status seem all the more precious for what was almost lost. It reads like a novel: A secret plot to annex the atoll for military purposes is discovered by concerned citizens who initiate an international campaign to save the island . . . a last minute reprieve seems doomed until finally, a grand gesture by the Seychelles government insures Aldabra's permanent protection.
As a World Heritage Site, Aldabra's unique wildlife, including land tortoises of Galapagosian proportions, numerous rare bird species and prolific sealife, are free to live out their lives undisturbed by the sometimes heavy hand of man. A rare treasure was saved and in the process, the Seychelles government learned the wisdom of conserving the other unique atolls in the group, namely Cosmoledo and Astove.
As a World Heritage Site, Aldabra is off-limits to anglers, but Cosmoledo and Astove are open to sports fishermen. At this point, only a handful of intrepid anglers have made this journey. Their glowing reports (now including ours) will certainly bring more visitors, which will put continued pressure on the government to protect the islands and their resources from the ruinous hands of poachers and commercial fishermen. Anglers equal tourist dollars and for the government, it is simply bad business to use up a resource that generates so much foreign currency. In this scenario, everyone wins ñ especially Mother Nature.
Our base of operation for exploring the Aldabra Group on this trip was the Indian Ocean Explorer. At 114 feet, this German-built boat offered a roomy, seaworthy and comfortable way to explore these remarkable atolls. But make no mistake; this is not a luxury yacht. The Explorer was built in 1956 to do ocean research and as such, it is perfect for some anglers and not at all for others. The IOE can easily (and most economically) handle groups of 10 anglers in 8 twin cabins with en suite bathrooms. The main deck has a combination salon/dining room where delicious and plentiful meals emphasizing local seafood are taken. This salon also provided an area where we could meet in the evening to visit and build leaders or read while listening to our favorite CDs. Both the cabins and the salon are air-conditioned, but this should be considered more of a base level cooling than a full bore temperature control system. The spacious aft dive deck provided a roomy staging area for our daily activities. In addition, the night fishing off this dive deck was, at times, spectacular. Snapper, grouper and trevally were taken with handlines or on fly and spinning gear. A locker/cubbyhole was provided to each angler in our group eliminating any need to lug wet gear or cumbersome equipment below deck for overnight storage. The IOE has a complete reverse osmosis system that churned out ample pure water for drinking, cleaning equipment and laundry. Fresh water was also available for showers on deck or in our cabins.
The crew of the Indian Ocean Explorer was magnificent! Boat owner and chief operations officer, David Rowat, has assembled a crackerjack crew of 10, including chefs, stewards, mechanics, dive masters and two captains. A more affable, helpful and considerate crew could not be imagined. Two center console inflatable Zodiac tenders with 85hp Yamaha motors ferried our group to various fishing spots or were used to troll the atoll's edge for bluewater species such as giant trevally, dogtooth tuna, and even sailfish that came within meters of the atoll's shallow water fringe.
Our week's itinerary began at Assumption Island, where we were ferried by a small tractor from the concrete runway to the water's edge. Here, the two tenders met us for the quick trip to the Explorer. After stowing gear and a brief orientation, most of us chose to wolf down a quick lunch, assemble rods and venture to shore to wet a line along the beautiful white sand beach that borders the atoll. We found no bonefish on Assumption and the fishing was not great... and this was the last time on this trip such thoughts entered our minds. After dinner, anchors were raised, Dramamine was swallowed and the 10-hour crossing to Astove Island began. At dawn, we emerged from our bunks a bit queasy, but our anchorage, in the lee of a picture perfect atoll, quickly washed away any latent seasickness. Waves rolled in from the deep blue ending their journey against the white sand beaches fringed with stately coconut palms. On this first morning, we could choose to fish on the outside edge for bigger bones, jobfish and blue fin trevally or we could make the short walk to the inner lagoon for some absolutely incredible fishing for 3-5lb bonefish that tailed elegantly over a white sand bottom. It was conceivable that we could walk all the way to the south end of the lagoon, some 3 miles, and never have been out of sight of bonefish, many of which tailed only inches from shore. The closer we got to the channel at the south end of the atoll, the bigger the bones got and the more mid-size trevally we saw. For a beginning bonefisherman, this lagoon could provide years of bonefishing experience in one afternoon... a short track to the top!
On day two, we caught scores of fish, including bonefish, bluefin trevally and snapper on our leisurely, all-day walk to the south end of the atoll. Where the lagoon finally empties into the surf, coral gendarmes stand watch over tidal flats. Here 6-10lb bonefish lay hidden in pale blue potholes inspecting the tidal rush for their next meal. Numerous sharks and trevally prowled the deeper turquoise channel that services the tidal needs of the inner lagoon while red-footed boobies and frigate birds impassively observed our angling success. The long, hot walk home was made easier by the knowledge that we had just experienced something truly incredible.
After our two days at Astove, we made the easy three-hour crossing to Cosmoledo. This huge, magnificent atoll consists of a ring of coral about 10 miles across with four major islands occupying the cardinal points of the compass. Wizard and Menai Islands occupy the east and west points and were named for the two ships that explored the atoll on the Moresby Expedition in 1822. The south island sits near the opening to the inner lagoon, while the north island is interspersed with numerous islets and banks making it perfect habitat for marauding trevally.
The best bonefishing is on Menai and Wizard Islands where huge populations dance with the rhythms of the tides falling to the lagoon side on the ebb and spreading out into the far reaches of the flats on the flood. This can be simply incredible bonefishing! On Wizard Island, large 5-10lb fish congregated in huge schools very close to shore at high tide. Here, these bones nervously waited out the predator's hour when their preferred two- dimensional world became a more dangerous three-dimensional world. These bones streamed past us by the thousands and the action was almost nonstop. We were truly dazzled by the sight! As the tide dropped, we moved forward to keep pace with the emptying flats. The bonefish then broke up into smaller groups to forage... some tailing aggressively, a few almost vertical in their rooting. This was bonefishing at its very best and Dr. Steve Macciocchi of Atlanta summed up the experience: "At no time during the morning did I not either have a fish on, or was casting to a fish... and these were not dinks... my biggest bone was 9lbs!"
As a nice contrast to Wizard Island, Menai Island presented the more experienced anglers in our group with classic bonefishing opportunities to hunt for large tailing singles and doubles that slipped secretively onto and off the more shallow white sandbars.
In the four days we had to explore Cosmoledo, we barely scratched the surface of the bonefishing potential. This was partially because no matter how good the bonefishing opportunities were on Cosmoledo, the trevally fishing was even better. The fishing on Cosmoledo for Aldabra, bluefin and giant trevally was the best we've found so far in the Seychelles, making it therefore the best in the world! We found exceptional angling for trevally in the surf and among the cuts and channels of the North and Northeast Islands, off the north and south ends of Menai and off the north and south ends of Wizard Island. There are probably many other areas that are equally productive, but we didn't have time to explore them. Again, we barely sampled all the available habitat. For us, Cosmoledo's bluefin trevally's ran 5-12lbs, Aldabra trevally ran 10-20lbs and giant trevally ran 10-50lbs. One lucky angler caught over 50 giant trevally from 12lbs to 35lbs in his 4 days on Cosmoledo!
So if you want a GT go to Cosmoledo! Incredibly, we could stand in a small pale turquoise bay or on a rocky point and watch these savage predators surf in on a wave sometimes as duos and sometimes in packs of 10-25 fish. This was a magnificent sight! You could easily pick out the dark, almost black, males and the pale lavender females as they accelerated shoreward, their murderous intentions revealed by the lens of a rolling wave.
Perhaps the incredible opportunities offered by the Indian Ocean Explorer are best summed up by this single day's journal entry:
"The perfect day! We fished Menai for bones on a falling tide and had incredible classic fishing for a couple hours until the water got too low. We then walked out to the edge of the reef where we threw streamers for trevally while we waited for our scheduled pick-up by the tenders at noon. Wonderful! I caught 2 GTs and 1 Aldabra trevally up to 15lbs on 2/0 green/white deceivers on my 8 wt! After lunch, we dove to 100' drifting along the wall and saw dogtooth tuna, giant clams, sea turtles and incredible numbers of colorful reef fish. After our dive, we trolled until dusk and caught numerous GTs to 25lbs, a large 'cuda and raised a sailfish that struck violently at our flies with his long bill. We hooked up with him (I think) but we were cut off after a sizzling long run. Back to the boat at sunset to eat one of our smaller trevally and a grilled grouper. I almost fell asleep at dinner!" SSH / December 2, 2001
As must seem obvious, this was an exceptional, even extraordinary, experience. And while the angling was superb, it was much more than just fishing. This was a grand adventure involving intricate logistics, a wonderful cast of characters, a few hardships and successes too numerous to count, all played out in one of the most remote and stunning locales found anywhere on this planet. We have planned a return engagement for March 18th 2003 for ten anglers. If you are interested in this trip or another date for you and your group, give us a call.