Day One of Six fishing Alphonse Island
- We met up with our guides for a walk and wade around the island while 50 to 60km wind and rain bands swirled around us. Doug and I waited until after 10 to even start fishing so we could take advantage of the lower tide. A dropping tide gave us a bit of a chance to see fish pushing water and I had a few shots in the morning but the fish were completely unsettled from the weather and low tide so ultimately I got blanked for the day. Doug was walking with the guide and did manage a couple of nice bonefish to start off his trip in much less than ideal conditions.
- The afternoon session was quite something. Doug headed out to the edge of the reef with the guide and managed a few different species casting to pushes and slightly deeper holes. Since I like to fish on my own and didn’t have the heavier tippet on my rod for the reef stuff I stayed inside and as I mentioned got blanked. But the real experience was actually fishing on the edge of a Cyclone. There were times that John, Bill and their guide were less than 100 M away and I could barely make them out from the sideways driving rain. During the worst of it - at about 2:30 pm - we decided that we would rather enjoy beers, cocktails and fish stories than attempt to “conquer” a cyclone fly fishing. A good call!
- In the evening the word was that one of the Cyclones was moving away so the boats could go back in the water and we would be headed to the St. Francois Island first thing in the morning. Great news.
Days Two through Four
- We headed over to St. Francois atoll where the vast majority of the fishing occurs. The winds had calmed somewhat but our backdrop to fishing was still very cloudy with stormy skies. We ended up parking the boat and walking up the flat to hunt for bonefish. We were introduced to the Milkfish monsters that eat on the flats as well. I did not know that Milkfish could get up to 5 feet long and look like gigantic tailing bonefish on the flats. Alas they are not fly eaters in that situation and it’s a good thing too as the stories of the people hooking the 3 footers and taking 2 hours to land them were eye-opening enough! We did manage to catch many bonefish and some very nice ones were visibly tailing as the tide dropped.
- Remember the bream that had impressed me on the first afternoon? Not anymore! I was full on ready to go on a bream-culling mission. I would sneak into position to make the cast to a beautiful tailing bonefish that would be in the 5-to-8 pound range. I'd make a decent cast into the right spot, strip, come tight and have my line start to peel off to the left yet the bonefish’s tail stayed stubbornly tailing to the right then quickly spook off. Yup the non-visible bream had beaten the bonefish to my fly. This just didn’t happen once or twice this happened over an hour long period repeatedly and as I said I was full on willing to be the first to sign up for a bream-culling mission. I did manage a few nice fish but it was sure frustrating. We all agreed - first world problems.
- We saw some tanks (busses they call them in GT land) on the flats but John determined they were vegetarian and not fly eaters! Some were on backs of rays, some were following sharks, but all had the same attitude toward the flies.
- We also learned how to pop for GT’s in the channels. This was something I had not done before. With the fish being very finicky and nervous on the flats (which we were sure was weather related) we spent several hours in the afternoons using the infamous NYAP fly. The instructions were to cast it as far as you comfortably could with your 11 or 12wt into the GT highway between the flats and start your rythmic pop to make as much noise as you could get the popper to make to attract the GT to crush it. WelI I learned a lot!
- First, you can be seriously surprised when a hole in the ocean opens up 10 feet off your rod tip when you’re not really paying attention and you never see the fish.
- Second, you become more focussed after the fact.
- Third, 50 casts later you watch this silver grey sheet of plywood with a motor - a very large GT (estimated at 110-115cm) - slowly appear under your popper while your heart races. So you give your fly another pop and watch the GT turn on its side to inspect your fly. You then give your fly one final pop and watch a large mouth open and suck in your popper as delicately as a 24 inch brown chows a hopper and the next thing you know your guide is yelling at you to hit and hit him again. I did as I was told (with NO trout setting) and managed to come tight to the single largest GT that I had personally ever hooked. Things happened fast at this point. The fish started to shake its head and slowly accelerate away from us and I managed to somehow clear the line reasonably efficiently. However, once the line was clear I saw that somehow I had managed to clear a noticeable knot in the fly line which was now out the rod tip. At the same time I realized that I was using Doug’s rod for popping and that he reels with his left hand. Oh oh problema as I had already switched the rod to start to reel with my right hand (a lifetime of doing it this way). Making a quick decision to try and get the knot out of the line while switching the rod back to my right hand in preparation of the torturous task of reeling with my left hand the line went slack, the lonely NYAP fly floated to the surface and the GT was gone. My encounter with him/her lasted a solid 7-10 seconds. I will forever have etched in my brain that fish coming up under the fly and turning on its side and then slowly sucking in that popper. Thank you St Francois Lagoon, guide Jamie, and the Milky Way channel for providing me with one of the most memorable fishing experiences of my life regardless of having the fish spit the popper out.
- Both Doug and John landed their GT’s. John got a nice 72 CM sight cast on the flats and Doug got a beauty 82 cm fish on the popper. The fish become noticeably larger once they are over 80 cm! These were the only 2 GT’s landed for the four of us for the week! Only one other GT was landed by any of the other 8 anglers as well. So all in all the Canadians kicked GT butt on a difficult week of fishing at Alphonse.
Day Five - The Eye of the Cyclone
- You can guess how fishing was on this day!
- The boats did not go out again on this day. The waves were crashing heavily against the barrier reef and we could all plainly see there was no way a boat was going across to fish St Francois. So we ended up walking the shoreline of Alphonse once again.
- I did get my one and only shot at the Indo-Pacific permit just before lunch. It was mixed in with 4 bonefish so it was not a high percentage shot (if there is any such thing permit fishing). The fish that feed 200m from the boat dock are some of the most educated on the island so the result was almost a foregone conclusion.
- I decided not to battle the 50 to 70km/hour winds for the afternoon and instead I attended an information session put on by Dr Luke Griffin focused on data collected one week previously about GT movements and habitat use. Our small group were the very first people to see some of the results. Watch for future publications of this data as a lot has been learned about this group of GT’s as a result of this study. One of the primary takeaway’s is that GT’s on Alphonse and St. Francois are very much homebodies when it comes to where they spend the bulk of their time (ie they have very distinct preferences where they hunt) and out of the 240 GT’s that have electronic (PIT) identification tags (70 of those have the more robust acoustic tags) there have only been 4 recaptures (2 of which are the local pets on Alphonse). This means there is a significant number of GT’s in the area that are rarely being recaptured regardless of them sticking to the same area where they are originally tagged. Again watch for more information as Luke and crew are able to dig deeper into the massive amount of data that has been collected.
Day Six - The final day of fishing
- The bulk of the storm moved off over night and we woke to a MUCH better day. The plan was to head over to St. Francois for our last day of fishing and the classic Flats deluxe lunch served on the flats. I wasn’t that excited about lunch but the prospect of getting a somewhat better view of the flats was there as there was this lovely bright orange thing rising into the sky that we had not seen for the whole week.
- Doug and I ended up fishing with two guides - Trevor and Graham - in our boat for the day which allowed us to fish a bit differently. We started the day with a lower tide so decided to look for trigger fish and maybe have a shot at a GT. Doug took the shots at the triggers we saw on a coral finger flat, but they were nervous and spooky so only had one follow out of the shots that he had. I did get one chance at two GT’s pushing across the flat and made a “perfect cast” according to the guide but that’s as far as the praise went as the GT just kept on swimming without acknowledging my fly. It seemed we had found one of John’s vegetarian fish!
- We moved flats and had reasonable sun for hunting on a primarily white sand flat. We poled and looked hard - four sets of eyes surely wouldn’t miss anything!! - for over an hour and saw nothing so our hopes were waning that anything was going to happen. That’s the unique thing with fishing you just never know!
- The decision was made to reel up and move flats. I had cranked in about 6 feet of my line when Trevor spotted a large shark and suggested we go check it out to see if it has any fish in tow. The shark was a long pole away but since we didn’t have any better option we said go ahead if he and Graham were willing to put in the effort to get us over there. About three quarters of the way to the shark the intensity level of the poling increased- Graham was now poling and Trevor was in the water aqua-jogging the boat toward the shark - and I instinctively knew they had spotted something. The shark was a large 10-11 foot long nurse that was just casually swimming along and it had, about 10 feet off the side of it, a large GT just following. They guys worked incredibly hard to put me in the best position to make the cast and I did and the fish charged the fly but ultimately did not eat it. Then a second fish showed up and I got another OK chance at it but the jig was up the fish knew we were there and my GT fishing came to an end as it was Doug’s turn on the deck.
- We continued to poll across the flat with our hopes MUCH higher now and sure enough the guys spotted another fish fairly close. These fish can still materialize from thin air regardless of their size. Doug got an OK close chance to the absolute monster that swam directly in front of the boat. I am sure that fish will haunt Doug’s dreams. The cast was a bit close and the fish spooked off but holy crap what a thing to see.
- We continued down the flat and spotted a beautiful solid black sting ray. The guys worked hard to get us in position (Trevor poling) to see if there were any friends with it but as we got within about 100m all four of us could “see” that the ray was empty. So we kept it off to our right and paralleled it down the flat to continue to look for other fish. About 15 minutes went by and several 100m of flats and our angle changed on the black stingray. Trevor says “shit there is a fish on that ray!" Here we had been paralleling the ray for an extended period of time and FOUR sets of eyes kept glancing at it and never ever saw the SOLID BLACK GT hovering directly above the ray the whole time. It was not a big fish (probably 15-20 pounds) but it had completely fooled us up to this point. Trevor worked very hard to put Doug in the right position and once there Doug made an appropriate cast and the Black GT turned toward the fly, opened its mouth and charged the fly, and then abruptly stopped its forward momentum with its lips basically on the fly and turned off. Doug had missed ONE strip causing the fly to slow momentarily and that was enough to make this GT not eat the fly. Heart broken we watched to see what it would do.
- It turned back onto the ray which was now directly behind the boat and Trevor poled like mad to put some distance between the boat and the ray to let the fish settle a bit before taking another shot. We get the distance, the fish is still black, and Doug makes another cast. As soon as the fly landed, the fish turned silver and slowly swam away ignoring his offering. This was incredible to see. I knew that GT’s could change colour but had no idea they could change that quickly and that drastically. That fish went from a solid pitch black to silver in a heartbeat. It was something to see regardless of the missed opportunity.
- Ultimately that was the end of our fishing. We headed across the flat for the incredible lunch and found out that the other flats were basically devoid of fish so we counted ourselves lucky to have had the couple of hours that we did that gave us a glimpse of what our week could have been like.
- The afternoon proved to be fruitless other than the exciting trip home. Doug and I were allowed to stay in the skiff and transit back to Alphonse with the guides. We had some fun and surfed the boat back into Alphonse lagoon on the remaining big waves from the crazy weather the day before. And so ended my “Trip of a Lifetime”
Alphonse Island Resort is without question the nicest “fishing” resort I have been anywhere on the planet. The staff knew that we anglers were struggling because of the weather and they looked after us incredibly well.
This place is something else and is extremely unique in the fishing world. Clients bike to the restaurant or the fishing centre and see Giant Tortoises up to 100 years old ambling along. We watched staff from across the globe work extremely well together. We enjoyed incredible meals and had fresh hand made croissants by the in-house pastry chef.
I can’t hold anything against the weather we got as that’s just they way it went
but the crew at Alphonse helped us make the best of it and I truly enjoyed my time there. Those large GT’s are something to behold as they eye up your fly with malicious intent and could cause this angler to ease up on his "permititis" with a case of GT fever!
PS The two day LONG flight home all in one shot sucks but that’s the price to be paid.
End Part 4.