Alphonse -GT's, Triggers & Bonefish

Fishing Week 7-14 May 2022

Destination: Seychelles

Holiday: Alphonse

Alphonse rightly earned its accolades as one of the most desirable saltwater fly-fishing destinations on the planet.   It is blessed with amazing mixed species fishing combined with some of the most luxurious accommodation and service that you might expect to find at a fishing lodge.  In short, it is about as safe a bet of a location to travel to, should you wish to go accompanied with either a fishing or a non-fishing partner or wife.

Alphonse is just one of the remote atolls of the Seychelles that offers exceptional fishing.  It was however the first to be developed, initially in 1999 as a small resort hotel but it subsequently received a major renovation in 2014 that has transformed it into what it is now, a sophisticated luxury resort that continues to offer outstanding fishing, primarily on the adjoining atoll of St Francois, although good fishing can also be had around Alphonse.  

You fly into Alphonse via the IDC (Island Development Committee) charter flight, landing on the runway that neatly dissects Alphonse Island.  Either side of the runway is a dense Coconut jungle, originally a plantation but now left to nature and as dense as it is lush.  On arrival you are whisked away by an electric cart to the main resort building, consisting of a spacious reception room, bar, swimming pool and dining area, both covered and beach front.  Whilst it has all the attributes of a resort, the numerous and exquisite driftwood carvings of Permit, GT’s, Sailfish Bonefish and more reveal all you need to know about the raison dêtre of the lodge.

One the local residents. An Aldabra Giant Tortoise...120-180 years old!!

Arriving before midday on Saturday, with the first guided day of fishing being Sunday, it affords not just plenty of time to settle in and enjoy the surroundings but also time to really get prepared and that takes the form of a session at the fishing / activity centre to get rods, reels, flies and lines set up.   Whilst I can say that I do plenty of fishing, the time I spend saltwater fly-fishing is comparatively brief.  Whilst I can tie a Perfection loop or an Improved Homer Rhodes loop knot, (with an occasional reminder), I am equally happy to let the experts who do this day in day out take on some of the roles for knots and gear preparation.   When fishing for Apex predators such as GT’s but equally any of the trophy fish you might catch at Alphonse ensuring your gear is up to the task is essential.  Backing knots need checking, manufactured loops on fly lines replaced and simply ensuring that your fly box has the rights tools for the week ahead is essential.

It is easy to forget when flicking over assorted fishing reports, Instagram pictures and accompanying images or trophy fish, that those fish are a result of a considerable amount of perseverance, patience, skill and luck.  Removing obvious fail points, such as kit issues is a key component to the level of success that anglers will enjoy over a week and the guides at Alphonse and indeed all of the Seychelles atolls are typically, to an individual excellent! is almost impossible for anyone not focused on catching Bones to rack up less than 10 and as often as not well in excess of 20 Bonefish/day

Breakfast is at 6 am, all anglers fishing St Francois are asked to be on board the mother-boat for the 45 min journey to St Francois at 7 am and all going well, you should be departing with your guide to the flats shortly after 8am for a scheduled 8 hrs of fishing.  Our week in early May was to be the last scheduled fishing week of the season.   From May onwards the weather in the Seychelles enters its dry season.  Contrary to what you might expect, it is the rainy season that offers the best fishing from November to April.  Although there is a higher chance of rain over that period, the winds are generally much lighter.   As it happened our week had a mix of both, with both a few rainy and overcast days and the wind generally picking up.  We had neap tides at the start of the week moving towards a full moon.

A great deal of attention of any of the trips to the Seychelles is focused on GT’s, however first and foremost, Alphonse (St Francois) is a mixed species destination, renown in particular for its Bonefishing.  St Francois consists of a small island at the southern end of the atoll with an outer ring of coral and acres of white sand flats within, which give way to the greenish waters of the lagoon.  To the North is the small island of Bijoutier, also fished but just separate from what would constitute the atoll of St Francois.

May brings about the start of the Monsoon winds and what ius typically the dry season. We enjoyed the best of both ;-)

You can fish for Bonefish on any tide or moon state, the flats being so expansive and the Bones so populous.   Catching 20+ Bonefish in a day, whilst an achievement is not exceptional and individual anglers racked up consistently high scores of Bones including a good number over 60cm in length.  Anyone relatively inexperienced at saltwater fishing will find this an outstanding training ground, but equally, for those with a passion for Bonefish, targeting the trophy fish will be incredibly rewarding.

Given the neap tide, personally my attentions were diverted by the Triggerfish of which there are three varieties, the minute but beautiful Picasso Triggerfish alongside the more sort after Yellow Margin and Moustache Triggerfish.  The appropriately named ‘fingerlings’ are the best areas to focus on, tentacles of ‘land’ (subsurface but on a neap tide less than a foot deep) consisting of  sand, turtle grass and broken coral that snake across the lagoon.   Trigger fish venture onto these strips, seeking out crabs and crustaceans amidst the coral.  Triggers can be suitably picky and non-compliant, and I think that is what makes them such an exciting quarry, getting one to take is a best unpredictable but equally rewarding in equal measure.  Using an 8-10 wt rod, a floating line with 15-20lb tippet and a crab pattern of which the Alphlexo crabs seem to be the favourite, we set forth, both wading and from the bow of the skiff depending on the water height and wind. 

As it happened, the first Trigger fish that I cast at, after no more than 10-20 mins of fishing on the first day took!  It was a good-sized Yellow Margin of 45 cm (60cm being about the largest they will grow to).  Triggers, when hooked, once they have realised they are hooked, will run at full speed and maximum effort towards their hole, nearest bit of coral or the deeper water off either edge of the ‘fingerling’.   If they achieve any of these, they will invariably snap your leader.   To land one the opposite rules to a Bonefish apply.   You more or less have to hang on with all your might, giving next to no line if possible and hoping for a swift recovery by the guide.   On hooking a Trigger, the guide more or less leaps into action and does his best to get the fish in his net.  This may seem a little odd vs the thrilling runs into the backing that even a small Bonefish can deliver, but it is close to a pre-requisite if you want to have your picture taken with it!  For success, a very firm hand is required and as a result the fight is no less thrilling.

My first encounter with a Triggerfish which left me with an 'uncomfortable finger' and a lucky escape on Day 1!

Triggers are known to be fiercely protective of their nests, will chase off GT’s or sharks if threatened and will deliver a terrific bite if given the opportunity!  I was to experience the latter despite keeping what I thought were my digits very well clear of the bitey end.   Despite what could of been a very nasty encounter my passion for them was not remotely diminished and on the third day I was lucky enough to catch another, which at 55cm turned out to be the biggest of the season and a fish I imagine I would be lucky to beat!

Milkfish are everywhere!   Huge specimens of 1m long populate the flats and annoyingly, from a distance, or in less-than-ideal visibility, can look very like GT’s.   Milkfish feed on algae and unless you are faced with the right conditions, they are otherwise immune to anything you care to cast at them.  Those conditions do not come along all that frequently and neither are they predictable.  As it happened, over the week prior to ours, anglers experienced perfect conditions and there were some amazing battles, mort frequently lost than won!  As they require to be caught on a green alga fly, typically tied on a size 6 and fished with a light rod they are extremely hard to land and can genuinely give anglers or as accurately the guide, a run around lasting 45 mins or more.   Sadly, the brief window when they were taking had passed for our week, but they are certainly one of the species that whilst by no means unique to Alphonse are one of the few places where you stand a good chance of catching one of specimen size.

Brad with his son Nick with an Indo Pacific Permit

The Indo-Pacific Permit that are caught at Alphonse share all the similar characteristics of their cousins in the Caribbean, namely being suitably fickle in their eating habits!  There are specific areas on St Francois where you will have a better chance of spotting one but my most memorable encounter was searching for GT’s on the expansive white sand flats populated by Stingrays and accompanying GT’s. 

There are multiple ways to target GT’s, however one of the most common and effective is to look for Stingrays and sharks on the flats. In both cases as they hunt for prey in the sand, small fish dart away where they are then pounced upon by GT’s which shadow them.   The big black shape of a ray is easy to spot, even on days with very poor visibility and short of blind casting offer one of the best means to bag a GT.   Naturally a good proportion of rays are ‘empty’, but they are certainly the focal point when searching the flats.  

On one such occasion we spotted a very active grey shadow darting every which way surrounding a ray.  With quite strong winds we anchored the skiff and then stalked on foot, GT rod at the ready.  Unusually the fish was so immersed in its activities it allowed a considered cast which maybe unusually landed in the right place but with zero reaction!   It was only belatedly that our guide Jason realised that this was no GT but a huge Permit.   Feeding as unreservedly as this one was it would have probably offered one of the best chances that I could of ever wished for at.  By the time I had realised my error, rushed back to the boat, picked up my 10Wt with crab, the Permit was gone!!  It is not frequent that you find Permit on rays and with low light and windy conditions identification is never straightforward.

Hideko with a colour co-ordinated GT fly and shirt

So much saltwater fishing is opportunistic.   Being in the right place at the right time with the right rod!   Had we been stalking the flats on foot, then either the guide would have had a 2nd species rod or one would have been clipped in my backpack.  Given our absolute confidence that we were on a GT hunt this did not seem necessary, but it is a good illustration of the need to be prepared for any eventuality if you are to make the best uses of the opportunities that arise, frequent or infrequent that they might be!

I managed one good GT of 89cm from behind a ray on GT Friday, but it was a relatively small GT vs a couple of potential opportunities that I had had earlier.  One of these was to two huge GT’s circling just on the edge of the flats in the lagoon, chewing their way through baitfish as they washed off the flats.  On this occasion a powerful wind defeated my very best attempts to get a respectable cast to them and all fairness I think would have defeated most!  The second opportunity at a huge GT on the same day was on the flats, behind a ray.   It is not all that frequent to see really big GT behind rays however this was a true giant well over 1m in length.  Again having anchored the boat we stalked it on foot and I was presented with about as good an opportunity with a favourable wind.  

My first cast was a failure.   I simply did not make the cast with total determination and punch.   Fishing for GT’s is not a delicate process, although placing the fly correctly does require accuracy.  This cast fell woefully short and although on a smaller less seasoned GT, a second or even a third cast might have met with success, big GT’s are wise and this will not have been the first fly it had seen!   The simple act of having to pull the fly from the water and repeat the process provides all the noise and warning that an old and wise GT needs to know something is not right.  A similar error would be to slap the water with your fly as you are lengthening your cast.  Although my second cast was better placed, what was an aggressive, actively hunting fish now looked on with disinterest.  Equally frustrating was that had I hooked the fish, the expansive flats without a coral bommie in sight, or the shelter from the deeper water in the lagoon, there could not have been a better area to safely fight a big GT.   It was a valuable lesson that I have been taught a few times!   Whilst the smaller GT’s can be easily deceived, to claim the proverbial scalp of one of the true monsters, you need to be at the top of your game!!

At 55cm this was the biggest Yellow Margin Triggerfish caught during the season

My notable tallies for the week were 3 GT's and 2 Triggerfish.   That scorecard might seem dismissively small when fishing in one of the most exotic locations in the world, but it is also a fair indication of managing expectations when fishing for trophy fish or apex predators.  By comparison the numbers of Bonefish caught by our group was 323, of which my contribution was a single fish!  An equally interesting statistic from our week would be that of the 7GT’s caught during the week 5 were caught on Friday.   Although we were heading towards a full moon with bigger tides and consequently what should translate to more GT’s on the flats, it also represents a culmination of skills honed over the week.  Given the fact that for most of the group they had never fished for GT's before and 4 of the team had not even caught a Bonefish this was a reasonable return.

Of course, fish landed only ever tell half the story and I will die by my mantra that ‘it is better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all’.   The final day did however produce one stand out tale, by Willem.  Along with his fishing buddy Adam and his guide Jason, they were finishing off the day fishing the surf surrounding Bijoutier.  Willem said that he made what was in essence a blind cast into the surf, out of which a Big GT charged the fly, and the fish was on.  As the fight was nearing its conclusion two sharks suddenly appeared in hot pursuit of the GT and despite Jason charging into the surf to scare them away, it was to no avail, as one smashed into the GT and the line went slack.  

Somewhat crestfallen Willem had a few moments to sit back and reflect on what could have been an amazing culmination to the trip, this happening late PM on the final day.  His thoughts were interrupted by a holler from Jason.   Not only had he spotted the GT in the surf but it appeared to have been ‘knocked out’ and he promptly grabbed it.   Wilhelm somewhat apprehensively looked up, anticipating half a trophy fish, but other than some cuts the fish was dazed but otherwise in fine health.  It measured exactly 1m and after a short recover period was successfully released!  

Willem with his 100cm GT bearing the scars from its encounter with a shark and a very close escape - Happily it was just dazed and swam away strongly

Stories of this nature remind me of my days as a schoolboy reading tales of ‘Monster Salmon’, some of which of course were landed and some lost, but they formed the initial glue that sucked me in to what has become a lifelong passion.  Each week at Alphonse there are multiple similar tales, all of which have an array of amazing or unpredictable endings, all of which are thrilling and what makes a trip to one of these remote atolls so special.

Returning to Alphonse it is worth trying to explain what sets the resort apart from most other fishing lodges.  On returning each day from St Francois, back to Alphonse, most of our fishing group headed to the main pool for a very welcome cool down session.  In the evenings we assembled around the bar to hear the honour roll call of daily fishing, enjoy a beer, cocktail and appetizers and then enjoy consistently outstanding evening meals, a mixture over the week of a la carte or buffet.   For those who do not like fish there are plenty of meat dishes however I happily and unashamedly only ate fish all week; sashimi, sushi, ceviche, grilled, barbecued…all fresh from the waters surrounding Alphonse!

Transport around Alphonse is by bike, as the resort is suitably dispersed.   There is a network of beautifully maintained paths connecting all the major areas of the resort and a slightly more ‘rural’ path that circumnavigates the island, a fun 30-minute bike ride which we did on the first afternoon by way of a gentle orientation.   Although the furthest sections of Alphonse feel quite remote, the most dangerous aspect is liable to be a falling coconut, or an encounter with one of the Aldabra tortoises, both admittedly something to avoid!!   Along the path from the main part of the lodge to the activity centre you will go past the Aldabra Tortoise creche with their larger family members free to roam.   George universally seems to be the name given to the oldest specimens across the atolls that I have visited who is of an indeterminate age, with suggestions ranging from well over 100 to 180 years old, depending on who you speak to!

Sunset at the Beach bar-enjoyed almost as much as the free cocktails!!

For those wishing to escape on a ‘boys’ trip, the level of comfort and degree of luxury on Alphonse might make it significantly harder to justify to the wife.   This appeal to non-fishers was very much behind the upgrade to Alphonse in 2014.  With a spa, beautiful beaches, pool, excellent scuba diving, varied nature activities, a tennis court, all with accommodation and service to match, it is very much aimed at looking after the fishing widows that would otherwise miss out.

For newly-weds, if only one of the party fishes, a full week’s fishing package might not be the most endearing start to a life together due to the early starts and relatively late returns, although there may of course be some couples who might be delighted with this arrangement!   A good compromise would be to book in on an Alphonse leisure package.   You can then enjoy the virtually untapped fishing around Alphonse, sneaking in a day or two on St Francois if some anglers choose to take a day of Blue-water fishing.   Similarly, if you were inclined to focus a bit more on the bluewater fishing, where catches of just about anything is possible, from Marlin & Sailfish, down to assorted Snappers which might make their way to the dinner table, and everything in-between, that would allow for a thoroughly enjoyable couples trip.   One thing that is not a pre-requisite on Alphonse is fishing expertise, the numbers of first-time anglers that visit is ample testimony.

Beach Barbecue on Alphonse & Lunch Barbecue on St Francois

The Seychelles is blessed with some quite incredible fishing.  For trophy hunters, focused exclusively on GT’s there are wilder and more remote atolls that can deliver more consistent results.  Those atolls, whether it be Farquhar, Cosmoledo, Astove or Providence typically offer better opportunities to more experienced anglers.  Alphonse by comparison is the softer option, more refined, more generalised but more than capable of offering an absolutely knock out experience.

Caught during 'extra time' on the final session on Friday afternoon

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