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.