08 April 2009

Alphonse Island, Seychelles

7° 04’ 55.87” South, 52° 45’ 00.49” East:  Heaven on Earth—in techie terms and times.

The story could end here, because each of us can easily picture their version of Heaven on Earth. With the utterance of that phrase ensues an unspoken, omniscient understanding—a picture of paradise, ambience included, easily within our imaginations.

Well, maybe the story should not end here, because fly fishers envision paradise better than others, and to not tell a story of paradise would be devious, a quality not associated with fly fishers. Being true to the sport I love so dearly, I will try to do justice to Paradise, may she graciously forgive my shortcomings. Weather, airline inefficiency, airport poor customer service—all tried to cheat me out of seven glorious days in Fly Fisher Heaven. Their weak and vain attempts could not keep me from Alphonse Island and St. François Lagoon, Seychelles, Indian Ocean—more specifically, Bonefish Bliss.

Being given a guided trip to the Seychelles with Tailwaters Fly Fishing Co., this fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, no-list-making Girl prepared for this trip-of-a-lifetime! Reading and rereading David Leake’s wonderful travel guide with sincere reverence, I bought travel books; I increased my repetitions and learned yoga with WiiFit; I tied flies; Norm, Cody, Brother Mike, and Jason helped me build a 10wt. rod (that endeavor was worth the trip alone!); I researched and bought fly lines; I learned how not to pack like a girl (all were limited to 33lbs of luggage, total—a goal I met perfectly), and—I made a list (people who know me, passed out when they heard this)!

Gluttonous or greedy, I am one who wants to catch an enormous amount of fish; size is irrelevant. Having never been bonefishing, I was näive to “the fight.” Now, I am no longer näive and have included “the fight” amongst my gluttony. (Just in case you aren’t familiar with the species, a bonefish peels line off the reel and makes the drag sing in high-C! It fights like no other species!) Fishing with Christmas Island Specials, fluorescent orange-legged Gotchas, Big Dale’s Bonefish Fly, and Crazy Charlies, Cody and I collectively caught 153 bonefish for the week, and that’s not counting the “specialty” fish. St. Francois turned on her majesty, splendor, and beauty, and like a child, her personality differed each day. Due to the remnants of a cyclone swirling off Madagascar, our first day of fishing occurred under cloudy skies and cool breezes. What a rough day to learn to “read” bonefish; however, Wayne, our guide with exorbitant amounts of patience, taught me how to see a bonefish, tweek and jerk the fly to get their attention, effectively slipstrike, and play the fish. Being true to the species, yes, I kissed my first bonefish, and no, Cody wasn’t jealous; he was snapping photos. Wayne’s lessons stayed with me throughout the week, and James, Scott, Serge, and Mathieu guided us on to plenty of bonefish daily.

Day two dawned differently. Where the water and sky were cool shades of gray the day before, day two shone brilliant blue—shades of dark blue with hues of teal green. Over an hour-and-a-half, Cody moved about 100 feet and landed 19 bonefish. I struggled to learn effective back-casting but managed to catch three sizeable bonefish. As different as the day appeared, so was the fishing. Cody decided he wanted a Giant Trevally, (GTs or Geets, as they are reverently called by those in-the-know). Having heard “The Boys’” tales of this fish, it was not a fight I wanted. Cody did not catch any Geets this day or any other, but the fish he did catch delighted and amazed us—Bonito, “Ancient Trout,” Black tip Grouper, and a fish James had never before seen—a true smorgasbord of beauty.

Trying not to be “girlie,” I decided I was not going to provide the oohhh/aaahhhh soundtrack for this day. However, in every good fishing story there is “the one that got away,” and so it was on day 3, a myriad of pale skies, water in blues and greens, and pristine white flats, I aaawwwed for my one that got away.

Scott put us on a flat that oozed bonefish. Every other hook-up ended up being a prayer for the “long-distance release,” because as that fish was being played, an even bigger bonefish or a school of bonefish swam by just teasing us. Tides receding as they do eventually caused this flat to go dry, figuratively and literally, so on to a new flat, which produce as many fish as the first. We had neighbors, though, three beautiful, circling Lemon Sharks. Did you know Lemon Sharks like to eat bonefish? They really do.

Scott wanted us to catch larger bonefish, so he taught me how to make my fly invisible to the smaller fish and tantalizing to the bigger ones, and did I ever hook a big one. It saw those twitching orange legs and inhaled it; then, that bonefish took off, zinging out all my line and 150 yards of my backing on that pretty purple Nautilus reel (an exceptional Christmas gift, I must say). I worked hard to keep slack out of my line, and with 30 yards left until the leader was in reach, Zing 2, and out went that line and 150 yards of backing. That bonefish began to tire and the Lemon Sharks began to circle and Cody began to shoo away those sharks. Scott told me to back-up and watched to ensure I would not step on any sting-rays gliding behind us. Cody shooed and fished; I reeled and walked and reeled, and just about the time I had 15 yards of line left to the leader, that fished zinged out line again, going 125 yards into the backing. Those Lemon Sharks recognized that Cody is a good guy, and they knew he meant them no harm. I cranked that purple reel in triple time. The Lemon Sharks swam 10 feet, circled nearer, swam another 10 feet; I reeled; Cody splashed, and that Lemon Shark circled 8 feet, splashed, and ate my bonefish! Scott and I both aaawwwed. I really would have liked to have seen the one that got away; I really would.

After lunch, we spent the remainder of the day fishing from the reef, catching Peacock Hind Grouper, Thumbprint Snapper, Blue-Speckled Emperor, and then, the Giant Trevally appeared. Being too far away from the leviathan, Cody hollered at Scott and I. I simply handed my 10# rod to Scott, who waded through shoulder-high water, and tried chasing that Geet down. Scott said if he hooked up, the tip might break, but I told him, that I built that rod and Norm could rebuild it if necessary. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see that 10# tip bent with a Geet, but it was fun to watch a grown man act like a child.

Serge taught us to see bonefish in turtlegrass, and for a man who could spot big bonefish 300 yards away, lessons were learned on day 4. Roy Washburn and Jim Cochran desired to catch Milkfish. My guilt ran high that day, because Milkfish abounded. For those who don’t me, I am all of 5’2”, and because there were so many Milkfish, they spooked at my domineering stature, and when the Milkfish spooked they frightened and chased the bonefish away. Serge would not allow us to catch just any bonefish either; it had to be one of size, so he kept telling me that my blue shirt and tall stature, seriously now, scared the Milkfish, so I had to spend a good part of the morning hiding in the water from the fish so I could cast to and catch them. Definitely a first for me to tower supreme to frighten. Tides were incoming, so channels began to deepen, and as a result, a Trigger fish, which had Cody Bell’s name written all over it, appeared. Listening to Serge and casting precisely, Cody striped that crab to the Trigger’s delight and ended up with a beautiful bragging right.

I guess I took my earlier lesson to make myself invisible too seriously. Casting perfectly for a nearby Trigger, he became interested in my crab. As I retrieved, I noticed a white moray eel coming at me about 100 feet away. No problem, I wasn’t bothering him; however, that snake-like creature continued to approach at me, with mouth open, and realizing that catching a trigger would be electrifying, at 10 feet, I gracelessly side-stepped that eel and waved good-bye to Trigger. Alack and alas.

Matthieu guided us on our last fishing day and the flats turned out their most resplendent colors—what a way to end the trip! Matthieu is about 6’2,” so I had to work hard to keep up with his pace as we chased Permit who swam parallel to us on the opposite side of the channel (we fit!). Those tailfins create adrenalin rushes that boggle the mind, not to mention, it is the fish of my dreams, numero uno on my species list. Suffering poor back-casting skills, facing a headwind, and having to cast 60 feet across the channel found my rod-tip straight; nevertheless, we hunted them, and when they thwarted me, the barracudas, Lemon shark, and pufferfish offered thrilling entertainment. Making the “one last cast” before the tide completely receded, found me landing my biggest bonefish of the trip. Matthieu’s excitement was catching. The fish’s runs were numerous and deep into the backing (but not quite like Wednesday’s fish), and Cody Bell, cameraman, was a 150 yards away catching bonefish in his own flats niche. Needless to say, for 10 minutes I walked that 23 inch, 7lb. “pet” bonefish across the flats towards Cody, so I could have my photo taken. Exhilarating!

Throughout the years, fly fishing stories, whether read or heard, entertain me delightfully so. A photograph of a fly fisher’s catch creates a vivid tale in my mind’s eye, so real, I feel the tug and hear the reel’s drag, and I have often wondered how does this happen time and again? I believe the Seychelles taught me the answer. Rather simply stated, Fly fishers don’t fish; fly fishers live in paradise, if only for a brief time. And as we flew off into the sunset, “What a wonderful world, ohhh yeahhh!”

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