Archive for the ‘2009 Trip Summaries’ Category

Alphonse Island Slide Show

Seychelles 2009 was supposed to be a two week adventure visiting three outer islands on the 150ft Mv Fly Castaway with 11 great clients and friends. But thanks to Somali pirates and their hijacking of the Mv Fly Castaway’s sister ship, this trip was not to be. The full story can be found at the end of this report.

Ultimately my 2009 Seychelles trip was rerouted to Alphonse Island Resort. A blessing in disguise? Perhaps. A great trip by any measure? Without question. I had known about the resort for over 10 years and while Fly Water had sent a handful of guests there, it had remained one of the few places that we had not made time to visit. The fact that I was going there as a back-up option for a canceled trip seemed almost unfair.

The Seychelles is an archipelago nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, located approximately 1,000 miles east of mainland of Africa and northeast of the island of Madagascar. They are a world leader in sustainable tourism with nearly 50% of their land under protection making it a true island paradise.

My remaining group of five intrepid travelers all met in Paris where we caught the once daily Air Seychelles redeye flight to the capital island of Mahe. After spending a few days in Mahe seeing the sights and acclimating to the equatorial weather, we took a two hour (250 mile) charter flight to Alphonse Island. Alphonse has the distinction of being the countries most remote island with a resort. Once a productive coconut plantation with a population of just over 500 the Island is now reserved exclusively for the guests of Alphonse Island Resort. If there is one word to describe the island it would be tidy. From the time we set down to the time we left I would be hard pressed to say I saw anything out of place. Even the grass next to the airstrip looked as if it was clipped by hand.

When we stepped off the plane we were met by the mostly South African staff and guides and after brief introductions we were whisked off to the resort. The resort itself consists of a beautiful open air lobby and dining room / tiki bar and 30 simple elegant bungalows. Each was equipped with an ocean facing porch, a/c, ceiling fans, spa tub, and my personal favorite, an outdoor shower. I was lucky enough to accompany the lodge manager while she was escorting Bill to his cabin. I swear his smile filled his entire face and when his grin finally broke, he said “I think this will do.” Although there are 30 bungalows the resort is currently only taking 10 guests per week. This is due to the fact that the new owners want to rebuild the entire resort; a fact that I find hard to believe as these are by far the nicest saltwater accommodations I had ever experienced.  In any case, for the next few years, no more than ten lucky anglers will have the run of the place.

Although Alphonse Island has some very productive flats, the vast majority of the fishing is done in the lagoon of St Francois Atoll. St Francois lagoon measures roughly seven miles by four miles and is just a short boat ride from Alphonse. Each day we woke to a 5:40AM call and after a breakfast of fresh fruit, espresso, and eggs cooked to order we made our way (on our beach cruiser bikes) to the fishing center and the TamTam. The TamTam is the resort’s 48ft catamaran that would take us to and from St Francois each day. The ride would take about 40 minutes and we would use the time to put on our flats boots, apply sunscreen and fuss with our tackle. Once parked safely in the lagoon, each guide would get his 16ft Dolphin, load up rods and clients and head out to the flats. The major species that inhabit the flats of St Francois are bonefish, trevally, trigger fish, milk fish, barracuda, and permit. Oh yeah, and sharks…lots of big sharks. The flats are a combination of hard sand, turtle grass, and marl and the vast majority if angling is done on foot. Without going into a multi page fish by fish saga I will say that the bonefishing was as good as it gets. Two hours into the trip I realized that counting would not be necessary. We had a great mix of tailing fish, singles, doubles, and large schools giving us all ample opportunity to sharpen our game. With bonefishing this good we all dedicated about 50% of our day to their pursuit and then spent the rest of our days chasing the more challenging species. If we measured success by opportunities, I would say we were all quite successful. Each day we had good shots at trevally, permit, and trigger fish. Unfortunately success is typically not determined by good shots but by fish to hand and hero shots and not everyone was equally rewarded for their efforts.  In our parting conversations we all agreed that our fishing was very good, and that the bonefishing was actually the best any of us had experienced. All and all the program had all the ingredients to make it a true trip of a lifetime.  With a spectacular resort, great bonefising, good numbers of trevally, permit, trigger fish, milk fish, and an exceptionally gifted  guide staff, it is hard to ask for anything more.  My only complaint is that it is halfway around the world and I wish it were closer to home.

Now back to the start. A week before or scheduled two week trip to Astove, Cosmoledo, and Providence Islands, a group of Somali pirates hijacked one of our outfitter’s ships very near one of the islands we were supposed to visit. This in turn caused the government to close down the entire region we were planning to fish. As you can imagine, getting this news was just slightly less unsettling than the thought of calling eleven people to tell them the trip they had been planning for the past year and a half was not going to happen. Receiving the bad news in the afternoon, I decided it would be best to sleep on it and then dive into the dirty work first thing the next day.

As I made my way through the phone calls I was repeatedly amazed by how everyone was taking the news.  Sure they were disappointed, but surprisingly they all held it together and not a single one tore into me. By mid day the calls were completed and it looked like all of us would be staying home for the next few weeks.  Shortly thereafter, the guys started calling back and they were all saying the same thing, “O.K., now that this trip is off, where are we going to go?”
Amazed again by the resilience of the group, I went to work to see what we could put together on a week’s notice.  As often is the case, things began working themselves out. The ailing economy had left the once packed Alphonse Island Resort mostly empty during the dates we needed. As a result half of the group was able to keep their same flight schedules and make it to the Seychelles.  The rest of the group opted to stay closer to home and took advantage of openings at Pesca Maya Lodge in Mexico.  What happened to Fly Castaway and all the payments for the original trip?   We are pleased to report that even though they took a substantial hit on deposits they had made to charter companies, they have refunded 100% of the trip cost.  70% came in the form of a cash refund and 30% to a credit toward a future trip.  Given the circumstances we feel very thankful for how Fly Castaway dealt with the situation and we look forward to getting back on board with them when the time is right. We also send a special thanks to our clients Rich Spraker, Rob Ramsay, Jim Mair, Bill Gaboury, Paul Imperia, Bruce Nakao, John Kryzanowski, Gene Weber, Doug DeVivo, Steve Henderson & Mike Masino.  Their patience, understanding, and resilience was commendable and deeply appreciated.

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Christmas Island’s economy, like most in the world, is going through tough times. But in this case the ailing global economy is only partly to blame. The major factor in Christmas Island’s downturn is the lack of angling traffic due to the cancellation of Air Pacific’s weekly jet service to the island. The airline cancelled its service back in September. Shortly thereafter the government started a weekly charter service but their G1 turbo prop only enables 17 visitors/anglers per week to visit the island. This reduction in flight capacity has been tough on all the operators including our partners at Christmas Island Outfitters. Thankfully we have been very successful in finding seats for our pre-booked anglers but additional and/or last minute seats have been hard to come by. But, as is often the case, this situation has its own silver lining. The combined effect of the new laws that make it illegal to net bonefish in the inner lagoon and the substantial reduction in the number of anglers visiting the island has been overwhelmingly positive for our anglers on the flats. We have had a number of long time Christmas enthusiasts reporting fishing as good as they had back in the early 90’s.

I was on Christmas Island over the new year (for my 8th time) with my long time friend and fishing partner Paul Imperia (his 9th trip). Paul and I were the only anglers on the island and we had a perfect week of weather. We fished the flats for four days and chased trevally on the outside reef for two. Three of the four days on the flats were absolutely unbelievable. With a cloudless sky, virtually no wind, and endless flats to cover, we were like two kids in a candy store. I remember telling him “I am not this good but they just keep swimming by and it seems no matter where I put the fly, they find it.” There was no reason to count numbers. If asked how many we caught our reply was, enough! More than enough actually. To make everyone feel better I will also say one of the days was quite tough. There were plenty of fish to cast to but the fly was always either too far away or too close. If you have spent much time fishing flats, you know what I mean by this.

Another bright spot for Christmas Island Outfitters has been the addition of Moana Kofe to the guide team. Biita Kairoi, the owner of Christmas Island Outfitters guide services, has made arrangements to have Moana join the rotation with long time guides Bea, TJ and the up and coming Pedro. Having quit drinking and smoking, Moana has spearheaded the recent push for the moratorium on netting as well as becoming deeply involved in the Island’s new Rotary chapter. Recent groups have reported that Moana’s guiding and wisdom have been a wonderful addition to the team. For those who do not know Moana, he is considered the grandfather of Christmas Island bonefishing and were you to pick one word to describe him, it would have to be “wise.” He may not have the eyes of some of our younger guides but his understanding of the island and its fishery, combined with his kind nature and teaching ability, make him an invaluable asset to the team.

So what’s the future of Christmas Island flights? To be honest we do not know. We have a number of sources telling us there is a good chance we will see a larger plane servicing the island sometime soon but for the unforeseen future we will work with the G1 and its limited capacity. So for the time being it is our recommendation that the lucky few who get to the island, relish the unforeseen benefit of this unique situation.

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Given my love of small streams and any fish that go to sea, the call I received last fall seemed providence.
The message was from Alex Trochine, a young Argentine fishing guide I had met on the Rio Grande a few years prior. The note was brief and said he had found a small river south of the Rio Grande. It was intimate, interesting fishing, with decent numbers of sea-run browns and best of all they were BIG. Along with the note were a dozen images from their scouting trip in the fall of 2007. After reading the letter once or twice and then flipping through the photos once or twice (actually it was more like a dozen times), I knew this was a very special place that I needed to see.

After a series of messages that bounced between Argentina and Iceland, where Alex and his twin brother Nico guide as well, we were able to set dates and come up with a plan. 2008 would be a full exploratory season on the Irigoyen and on March 1st – 8th I would lead the 5th group to get a shot at the system. All I had to do was find a few hearty souls who would follow me to the end of the world, quite literally, too see if the river was all that the initial report made it out to be.

After making a handful of calls my group was set. The small group of competent anglers would consist of Paul Martzowka, Cary Pugh, Andy Horowitz and me. We would all meet in D.C. on Thursday Feb. 27th. From there we would fly to Buenos Aries, Argentina and finally to Ushuaia, the southernmost town on the South American continent. In Ushuaia we would be met by a member of the Far End Rivers staff who would drive us three hours by four wheel drive to the end of a dirt track and the quaint Irigoyen Lodge.

The lodge consists of a small refurbished rancher’s cabin for dining and sharing the days fishing tales as well as a new three bedroom guest cabin. The facilities were completed just hours before the first guests arrived in January. The dining cabin was complete with new furniture and satellite internet and each bedroom had new beds, storage shelves for gear, and on-demand hot water. The guides and co-managers, Alex and Nico Trochine, took great care of us on the water while the rest of the staff took care of us in typical Argentine style, serving us great meals, delicious wines, and a never ending supply of warm hospitality.

The river itself is just steps from the front door of the dining cabin and truth be told, it is as perfect a trout stream as I could imagine. Flowing 28 miles from source to sea, the river winds relentlessly through a forest of mossy Lenga trees. The river bed is small cobble, with grass banks, smooth runs, and countless deep pools created by downed trees and log jams.

The nature of the river made all of the fishing quite interesting. All week long we swung small nymphs on single hand rods with floating lines on a virtually windless river. And the big question everyone wants to know is, did we find fish and were they big? The answer is yes we did and yes they were. We each landed good fish every day and by the end of the week we had hooked 58 and landed 39 sea-runs that averaged just over 10 pounds. Of these, three pushed the 20 pound mark. For the statistic conscious, this was to be compared with a earlier week where four anglers hooked over 120, but only landed 44 sea runs with the same average weight.

I would say that our trip as well as the whole exploratory season was a great success. The river is a true winner and absolutely holds solid numbers of fish. Moreover the fish are big, with the largest of the season conservatively topping 24 pounds. In our opinion the Irigoyen may well win top honors as the smallest stream with the largest trout on the South American continent. And as a topper the river is absolutely beautiful and completely private. Needless to say we are looking forward to the system’s future and all that it will bring!

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