Our trips to Cosmoledo Atoll have become a classic love/hate relationship for most of us here at AD. We love the place, but we have grown to despise getting there. Anyone who says that the journey is part of the adventure has clearly not been to this atoll over and over again from Wyoming. Getting there is nothing short of brutal. But, at that moment when you awake to the sound of the anchor chain rumbling it's way to the sea floor in the lee of Menai, all the hassles associated with long distance travel and logistics simply vanish. You've arrived at flyfishing's Garden of Eden and its time to reap your rewards!
With so many great Cosmoledo trips under our belts, I sometimes wonder... will this be the year that Murphy makes us pay for all our good fortune? Will all the guys get along? Will the weather cooperate? Will everyone's gear make it? Will we find the fish? Can everyone cast well enough? Will we have to share our atoll with another group of anglers?... etc., etc. For months prior to the trip and on the long journey to the atoll, we obsess on these and many other questions. It's stressful... really (I know I won't get much sympathy here)! People always ask me upon my return... how was your vacation? I always say... " It was great!" But they have no idea of the time we put into preparation or how much we worry about details or how taxing it can be to be a troop leader to ten anglers expecting the "trip of a lifetime".
But given all our worrying, the one thing that we have always been able to count on is that Cosmoledo will deliver an epic angling adventure. It's hard to tell what form that epic will take, but each year this place does something that just completely blows our hair back. Maybe it's a river of bonefish that takes three hours to swim by. Or perhaps it's a double on sailfish, jumping in tandem while tethered to the back of a rubber dingy. Maybe its a farm animal sized GT hooked and landed from the beach. Last year, it was landing a 250-pound, Zodiac swamping grouper on a Rapala. This year, the epic moment occurred late one moonless night when we were visited by hundreds of ghostly GT's. Standing at the ship's stern, we could see their flanks shimmering in the inky dark just beyond the reach of the rear deck floodlights. While everyone else slept, I cast my rubber-tailed jig until well after midnight. In the weird light and with my dream like visitors, it was a surreal scene. I hooked many significant fish and finally retired with my hair thoroughly and completely blown back (what's left of it). The stories from Cosmoledo are endless and anyone who has kept up on our many trip reports has read these epic tales.
In our opinion, Cosmoledo is the epitome of consistency, diversity and abundance and a finer inshore flats fishery would be difficult, if not impossible, to find. Believe me we've tried! On one trip to Cosmoledo, we recorded 23 different species of fish landed, 17 of which came to a fly. I'm not sure if there is another place in the world where you can cherry pick the optimal tides for bonefish that average six pounds, then walk to a nearby channel and sight cast to 50 plus pound GT's while wading. After that, you can drift the massive channels that flood Cosmoledo's interior lagoon on currents equal in force and volume to the mighty Mississippi while catching grouper of every conceivable size, shape and color on seemingly every other cast. Then top it all off in the tender catching yellowfin tuna, wahoo and sailfish in the bluewater not 300 yards from shore. Did I mention that all this activity could occur in one single morning before lunch while never out of sight of our mothership? However hard to believe, it's true and what makes this place so unbelievable!
This fall's trip to Cosmoledo was one of our best trips ever! We enjoyed perfect weather, manageable winds, moderate tides, cooperative fish and a great bunch of guys. Needless to say, we nailed our week perfectly! And here was another bit of good news... with all our anglers properly medicated and tucked away in their cabins, our crossing in a five-foot quartering sea from Assumption to Cosmoledo was uneventful. But it was not all good news this year! Not so long ago, when we arrived at Cosmoledo we were certain that the atoll had not been fished but by a handful of fly anglers that year and most likely not for months prior to our arrival. Well folks... those days are gone and the word is out regarding Cosmoledo. This year, not only did we meet a group of anglers coming out when we arrived, but we met another group of anglers coming in as we departed. That's a first! Three consecutive weeks of fishing pressure and it could get even busier.
So far though, our groups haven't experienced any discernable effects from this increased fishing pressure. In fact, after only two days of bonefishing this year, our guys had had enough! They had all caught enough bonefish averaging 6 pounds and their fair share of fish that were between 8 and 9 pounds. With the sun and wind at our backs, we had fantastic conditions through the falling tide in the morning. These conditions definitely enhanced our success. These tides were significantly less than in years past. In fact, on our first morning, we found fish happily tailing in water that we would have normally expected to be three feet deep. I'm glad we got going early on these days! Add to that, a steady breeze coming towards Menai from Wizard that held the water on the flats and you have conditions that made for some extremely long and productive bonefish sessions for those first few days. At the end of Day Two, everyone agreed it was time for a species change. They were sated and happy to move down the menu of Cosmoledo delights.
We made the decision to depart the next morning and move the ship inside the lagoon and moor it near Wizard Island. But not before we trolled Menai's famous bluewater edge one last time! So as the evening light began to fade, we hit the tenders and broke out the heavy bluewater gear. The evening came to an end as we boated a 45-pound wahoo. But it was much more than this! Let's see if I can paint the picture here... OK, imagine a wahoo's razor sharp teeth only inches away from the tender's delicate air chamber and an eight-foot hammerhead closing in for the kill looking to make his meal out of OUR dinner. Now imagine a sharp steel gaff frenetically flying about as the wahoo acted out an aquatic version of Edward Scissorhands in the near darkness of late evening. Sometimes I wonder just what are we doing here?
Well... the craziness was just getting started! It was decided that for the next few days, our angling efforts were going to be concentrated on Cosmoledos bad boys of the flats... the GT's. These GT's are the main event and the real reason that I keep coming back to Cosmoledo year after year. As I previously mentioned, our new base of operation was the interior of the lagoon adjacent to Wizard's bonefish bowl. This location offered a variety of angling scenarios in which to meet Mr. GT and placed the most productive corners of GT-central within easy striking distance of our tenders.
For some, the ultimate goal at Cosmoledo is to hook one of these bruisers while wading or walking the beach. Mission accomplished! Everyone hooked good numbers of GT's and although hooked, we never managed to land any real hogs. But everyone did land numerous pre-hogs in the 20 to 30 pound class. As for me... I had the time of my life using my spinning rod to draw these huge GT's into casting range for the fly anglers using hookless, white and red pencil poppers. What an unbelievable scene to see the same fish violently strike these topwater plugs over and over again. Several of the most aggressive fish would eat and then reluctantly release my defenseless plug three, even four times, before turning tail often only a rod's length away. Some of these fish were so big their gaping mouths could have easily swallowed a volleyball. I know this because I looked right down their gullets dozens of times and saw the color of their tonsils!
Depending on the tidal phase, we had basically four different venues that usually produced superb GT encounters. Our first surefire spot involved casting from a slow moving tender along the coral-lined edges of the islands. This was always a lock for GT's at high tide. Staking out the points of islands, as the rising water flooded past to fill the lagoon, was another good bet. Here we ambushed the GT's as they returned from the deep. Walking the beaches as the tide fell also provided some great opportunities. And finally, we jumped some monster GT's holding just off the edges of the flats at slack low tide in the deeper center of the interior lagoon. No matter the tidal situation, we always found what we were looking for. At one point, while standing waist deep in a channel far from shore and facing the incoming swells, Antony Thompson and I were accosted by a pack of middleweight GT thugs. Six GT's were lined up in the crystal clear face of a two-foot swell and were surfing straight for us. Like a swarm of bees, they were on us in seconds. As they fought each other to eat Antony's fly, they made quick, tight figure eights in the space between us. Unfortunately, the GT's were too close and with his slack fly line adrift everywhere, Antony never came tight despite three separate fish eating his fly. As the maylay concluded, a smaller GT of perhaps 25 pounds gave me a solid shot in the middle of the thigh and then the pack departed. Guess I had it coming?
While Cosmoledo's secrets become less and less of a mystery to us on each consecutive trip, there is still much to explore and discover. One of the great mysteries of any trip lies within the dynamics of the group we host. Some guys are old friends, while others are strangers until we meet in Mahe for the first time only hours before reaching our destination. Early on in this trip, I joked with one of the guys I had just met and compared our role as trip host to being on the most important blind date of your life. Essentially... that's what it is. New faces, new expectations and different abilities... every group, like every blind date, is different and anxiety producing. This year, we were lucky to be joined by a group of life long friends hailing from South Africa. You could not of asked for a nicer bunch of new angling friends! Their goals on this trip were clear, focused and best of all, realistic. Half of the group was saltwater veterans, while the others were first timers having never even seen a bonefish before. I'm happy to report all were quick studies and are now I'm afraid, absolutely spoiled. They now face the ultimate Cosmoledo flyfisher's conundrum... where do they go from here? It should come as no surprise that they're thinking of going back to Cosmoledo next year!
Written by Todd Sabine