I had come to this Seychelles out-island partly to relive an astonishing encounter with a vast population of huge bonefish and giant trevally which lived in abundance on a neighbouring island, only reachable by boat and under the tutelage of expert local guides. But most importantly, I wanted to see if I could catch fish by setting off alone and armed only with an eight-weight fly rod. Previous experience, a year ago, suggested that these waters, teeming with fish, must be a duffers dream, since I had caught dozens of trophies with ease on the last trip, but then I was reliant on the skill of a guide, who knew perfectly where and how to find the great shoals.
Since my first visit, I had corresponded with a number of fellow adventurers who were also planning trips, many of whom asked whether it was possible to go solo in the Seychelles and still be successful. Each time, I carefully replied that although I had not focussed my attentions on such an admirable venture, I was certain that given appropriate tides and the right location, it was surely possible to catch numbers of both bonefish and trevally of tremendous size. I knew that some of the correspondents were definitely heading to the wrong islands. Mahe, in particular as the capital of the Seychelles is heavily populated and its coastal waters have been somewhat abused by development. Equally, Praslin and La Digue islands are not likely to fulfil the land-bound fly-fisherman’s dreams, but I felt that DesRoches, with one tiny hotel and 14 miles of unbroken beach, sand flats and coral, would be the place where a sole angler should do well.
There are several good reasons why one would want to fish alone, unguided in the Seychelles, not least that the economics of the trip demand a careful eye on the purse-strings. The flights and accommodation alone will not be far short of £3000 pounds and if you are anything like me, your bar and restaurant bill might account for a hefty sum in excess of an entire weeks holiday in Cornwall, say. Then one must consider the cost of boats and guides. One blue-water boat to take you at pace to the legendary fishing grounds of St Joseph or Poivre islands, unpopulated and sublime in fishing terms, but impossible to reach without a big boat. You also need a skipper and a boat boy, plus an out-board dinghy to reach the sand flats, which is an adventure in itself, especially when the seas are rough, because there are no channels through the reefs. Allow another £2000 in boat hire, guide fees and tips, just to make sure.
But when you get there, oh my God, you are in for a whale of a time. I caught thirty five bonefish in a single day, up to 9lbs, each of which took all my fly line, plus hundred yards of backing not once, but often three times in scorching flight. And every season, the locals will tell you, flyfishers spot, but never land, bonefish of well over twenty pounds.
It is worth putting all this into perspective, because finances are very misleading. Not so long ago, in the days when the bonefish potential of the Florida Keys was being explored by famous anglers like Lefty Krey, if someone caught just ten large bonefish in a year, he would have articles written about him. Fishermen would speak of him in hushed tones in bars the length and breadth of America. My catch of 35 ‘bones’ in one day is by no means unusual in the Seychelles and I promise you, I have no great skill in these matters.
Equally, this account does not even begin to touch on the unbelievable fishing for the giant trevally. Growing to over a hundred pounds, giant trevally are the snarling pit dogs of the ocean, and only a unwise man would use less than a 12-weight fly rod in their pursuit. The sight of half a dozen monsters like that, smashing the surface to get at a popping surface fly, is enough to bring a grown man to his knees and every fishing shack in the out islands has a collection of rods in the corner that have been shattered by the experience. Believe me, I know. My 10-20lb test Sage spinning rod snapped like a piece of tinder the first time I encountered a giant trevally.
Neither does it start to explain the blue-water potential of these waters. Dog tooth and yellow fin tuna, rainbow runner, wahoo, dorado, jobfish and sailfish are just a few of the species you are likely to encounter in numbers and every season there are long Hemmingway stories of battles with black marlin, most of which end at dusk with the skipper needing to cut the line, so that he can negotiate his way through the reefs before nightfall.
Most fishing adventure stories are like that, of course, but in the Seychelles, none of them require exaggeration.
But this isn’t an article about guided fishing. Pretty much anybody can catch enormous muscular fish in the Seychelles and most of the credit has to go to the skipper or the guide. Even my eight year old daughter caught a 15lb snapper on a fly, plus a host of other tremendous fish in only a couple of hours fishing, as my photo will testify.
No, the point is that in all anglers there is a very personal dual between him or herself and the prey, so to have done it all on your lonesome remains the Holy Grail of all fishing.
So it was, that I found myself drying rapidly in the wind in the shade of the trees, having spent several hours with only a multitude of small african pompano, a bright green lizard and one giant tortoise, beside which I stopped on my bicycle for a moment to stroke its leathery neck, as the only living beings with whom I had made close acquaintance.
The surf was brushing white over the reef, turning coral flats into a shattered mirror of light, although in patches it was possible to see the substrate clearly with the aid of polarised sunglasses, even quite far out. From where I stood, the beach shelved steeply into a channel, perhaps chest deep and a long fly cast in width to the edge of the coral, where it rose to no more than my thigh. Close in, a large sting ray was lying with the lash of its black tail still fully visible and a timely reminder that wading out into these waters was no simple business.
Only yesterday, I had been on the bonefish flats when a shark, with a head the size of a desk sidled up to us from behind, causing me to shout ‘f***ing hell’ and although it sped away immediately, the guide had given no reassurance at all.
"Big shark, yes? Not good, they can bite you."
On further questioning, it transpired that lemon sharks, of which this was one, can ‘nip’ sometimes, although I shouldn’t worry because at least it wasn’t a tiger shark.
"Tiger sharks don’t come in to the shallows do they?" I enquired, hopefully.
"Only when they come in to spawn or at dusk when they like to eat rays, then we get out of the water. No one has been attacked yet." I didn’t like the sound of that word ‘yet’.
So, I was not terribly confident about the prospect of wading on my own, but out there, in amongst the channels transecting the coral flats, I knew there were deeps that would attract traffic from some of the fish that might fulfil my own predatory instincts.
I began to wade out into the warm clear water, perfectly blue and sandy at first, shuffling my feet in the prescribed manner to deter sting rays and with teeth gritted, clambered roughly up onto the ledge of the coral flat, where the water was shallower but considerably more scary. This was a significant lesson in the art of solo fishing in the tropics. Rather like night fishing for carp on the homely waters of Hampshire, where I live, when you are on your own, and the skies are clouded black, the slightest rising concern, like the movement of a badger in the undergrowth, or a rat nibbling at your loaf of bread becomes amplified to an extreme degree, to such an extent that it is possible to imagine terrible dark forces, ghosts, satanic beasts even, ready to devour your very soul, as the paranoia saps your resolve. Yet if you have a friend with you, the sounds are, well a badger and a rat, worth a comment of interest, pleasure even, but certainly nothing more.
The same thing is true in broad daylight, wading in the tropics. Alone, I was suddenly aware of my vulnerability. Venomous scorpion fish, biting eels, stabbing rays and man-eating sharks swim around these waters every day and yet, the day before, my senses had been relaxed by the presence of a local guide.
On the surface of the water, coarse shreds of weed, detached by the surf, tangled my line and wrapped around my legs, just how I would imagine the long tentacles of a jellyfish might feel, before the jolt of pain from the stingers. And underfoot, the crunchiness of coral gave way every now and then to a jagged hole, capable of skinning my shin to the bone if I had not stumbled upright at the last moment.
Blood trails are the last thing you want to be leaving in the water when you are as paranoid as I was at that moment.
I think it’s only fair to point out in my defence that I was several miles away from the closest rescue and that, in the event of accident when I would have been forced to crawl injured back to the hotel, I might just have managed a dying gasp or two before any injected neuro-toxins or blood loss would have rendered me incapable of movement. Not that I am especially prone to bouts of anxiety in normal situations, you understand, but the thought of lying motionless on the beach for long enough for crabs to begin feasting on the soft parts of one’s body should be enough for any man to think twice.
I looked up and down the beach, but the only sign of human inhabitation was a tiny rusting shed, leaning sideways against the wind, with palm trees bowing over with grace, as though in prayer. To which, I felt like contributing.
Then a twinkling on the surface of the water caught my eye, unlike sunlight on the ripple, this one remained in place for a second or two before disappearing. Once again it rose, an eight inch strip of cellophane, jerking nervously out of the water, a classic tailing bonefish and a big one at that. Two more tails jittered around for a while, then dropped away. Stripping line, I waded as carefully as possible towards the shoal, thankfully down wind of me, so my cast would be borne on the breeze. Then, as I began to false cast, I glanced at my feet to make sure that the line had not become caught to see a large brown shape nosing towards the back of my calf. A shark, not huge, in fact tiny in comparison with megalodon fossil records, but definitely capable of chewing off a substantial chunk of skin and bone.
Bonefish forgotten, I performed a kind of spastic triple sulco and the shark belted away at pace. In retrospect, although I had over reacted to the presence of a shark only about the size of a Labrador, it is better to be safe than sorry. Equally, whilst I was relieved that there had been no one there to see my flailing, I’m sure that I would have remained dignified if there had been. Anyway, I was soon out of the water and walking back along the beach to my bicycle, mentally preparing a sound excuse for my family that did not involve loss of face.
"I was driven from the water by a shark," I could say. Mmm, factually correct and somewhat heroic to boot.
By Jason Inskip