Electric Blue

The following informative article about catching bluefin trevally around Alphonse Island was published in Africa’s Original Fly Fishing Magazine:

Ewan Naude and I had barely stepped onto the sandy shore in front of the Alphonse Island resort and the blinding blue of the tropical flat turned electric. Baitfish started jumping in front of us. It seemed like they were as nervous to the moving patch of brilliant blue as we were. Then it changed colour, the blanket of predatory fish instantly transforming from sky to azurite as they charged into the schools of juvenile brassy trevally hugging the beach.

Things happened quickly, too fast for us to follow properly and the hungry mouths slurping at airborne fodder left us startled. By the time Ewan and I made eye contact there were brassies flapping on the sand at our feet. “Did you see the size of those bluefin!?” we shouted instantaneously, which was more a case of self-confirmation to disbelief than conversation. I ran back to my A-frame chalet and rigged a 12 wt fly rod with what felt like two left hands I was so excited.

When I got back to the water’s edge Ewan was already there, waiting for the action with his rod in hand. The activity on the flat had turned back to normal and the brassies were now frantically feeding on something smaller. The tropical ocean is a brutal place; there is something bigger and hungry for everything that swims.

This image sums up tropical fly fishing for me, idyllic! Neil Rowe casting at schools of bluefin trevally from the Alphonse Island shore.

We didn’t wait long for the school of bluefin trevally to return. Similar to the previous attack, the shallows erupted in the frenzy. We cast our baitfish patterns high in anticipation but nothing happened. A few casts later without a touch to the fly I realised that these bluefin were smarter than we thought and it reminded me of the fussy fish Ed Truter and I encountered in the Socotra Archipelago – it seems like bluefin trevally are the vegans of the sea, scrutinizing the fine print of every food parcel they come across. Then I hooked a brassie, which tried to eat the fly even though they were similar in size. Out of frustration I lobbed the rat back into the water and it got devoured instantly. That’s how I landed my first bluefin on Alphonse Island, on live bait.

The flat went quiet after that and I started blind casting, as one does when bored with a fly rod in hand. Stripping my arm tired with no chasing fish also worked my nerves after a while and then I simply left the baitfish on the ocean floor. I saw movement to my right and then the big school of bluefin trevally made its way past me and over the fly. A take came on the first strip, which was likely a reaction strike from one of the fish in the thick of the school.

The fish sped off and dragged me two meters over the sand as I tried to gain control over the line that was slipping under my tightest grip on the cork. The fight was short, but as intense as any and it left a deep cut in the ring finger of my stripping hand. I didn’t feel it then, but the infection that crept into the wound was the reason why I tackled down early on the final day of our stay.

However, it was the last fish of the first evening that opened my eyes. My trick, leaving the baitfish on the substrate, never worked again and a nice bonefish crossing the flat just before sunset convinced me to try Chris Bladen’s tiny tan Clouser on my 9 wt instead. It was tied to 15 lb tippet and as with the baitfish pattern it got eaten on the first strip when the school of bluefin trevally swam over it. The fight was spectacular, the ~12 lb bluefin running me deep into my backing three times before it came to shore. Being the last fisherman on the beach, I took a few recording shots of the fish in the water and set it free. Hard work, but “not bad for a first afternoon’s fishing” I thought and returned to my chalet to rinse the sweat off my body.

On most afternoons, after arriving back from a day’s fishing on St. Francois atoll, I stalked schools of bluefin trevally along the Alphonse shoreline. The best bluefin of the trip ate a #2 Merkin about a meter from the side. As previously, I had left the fly sitting on the bottom, waiting for the fish to swim past. I was fishing the tip of a sand spit where the bluefin trevally gave chase to brassies in the shore break. Leading the fish in with smallish crab flies or tan Clousers resting on the bottom was my calamari and chips. If I was patient enough, I’d hook a good fish on almost every perfect presentation (which didn’t happen often due to the random appearance of the shoal of trevally). I made firm strips, but not super-fast, and every take was a visual experience, some of the best fishing in recent memory.

The bluefin of St. Francois atoll were more forgiving, mostly, but the average size fish we landed was also much smaller than that of Alphonse. It was one of the few fishes that appeared in all areas; they were on the ankle- to waste-deep sand, grass and coral flats, in the waves on the perimeter of the atoll, as well as off shore in approx. 60 – 90 ft of water.

Flats fish ate most permit and bonefish flies, i.e., Alflexo crabs, Merkins and Tan Clousers, while the bigger fish in the wave zone engulfed natural brush flies and also small crabs. Most trevally species are suckers for crabs. My favourite baitfish fly was a blend of light green, mackerel blue and white with no flash at all. I believe that it imitated the tropical mullet and perhaps even juvenile bonefish.

Sparsely tied Merkins fished with short, sharp strips are deadly for catching bluefin trevally.

Natural brush fly

Recipe:

Thread                                  Danvilles 140 Denier white

Weight                                 Lead wire

Hook                                     Owner Aki 4/0 or 6/0 (model 5170-141)

Brush                                    Enrico Puglisi EP Ultra brushes in white and LT olive

Tail                                         Enrico Puglisi EP fibre in white and Sculpting fibre in mackerel; SF fibre in grey and mackerel; and white saddle hackle (and 30 lb monofilament to prevent the tail from wrapping).

Tying procedure:

  1. Wrap thread from the hook eye to just above the bend of the hook;
  2. Tie in white sculpting fibre – approx. 10-12 cm long – on top of the hook bend;
  3. Layer grey SF fibre on top of the sculpting fibre – same length;
  4. Add sea green sculpting fibre;
  5. And then Mackerel Blue SF fibre to finish the tail (remove flash from SF material);
  6. Tie in lead wire in front of the tail and wind it tightly to the hook eye – leave a few millimetres space for the thread to tie the brush material off at the end;
  7. Secure the wrapped lead with thread and clear varnish before tying in a white saddle hackle on each side of the tail;
  8. Tie in two nylon loops (approx. 30 lb line) above and below the tail to prevent the tail materials from wrapping when casting the fly;
  9. Tie in the translucent white brush and wrap it 50% towards the eye;
  10. Then tie in the sea green brush and wrap to the hook eye;
  11. Tie off – whip finish and varnish;
  12. When the varnish is completely dry, add two holographic stick-on eyes with superglue gel;
  13. When the superglue is completely dry, add a thin layer of clear epoxy to the head of the fly so that it covers the front third of each eye.

The glue steps are a bit time consuming, but it secures the materials so that the fly will last for multiple fish/trips. Note that if saltwater flies are rinsed well with freshwater and sprayed with 100% pure silicone lubricant, corrosion will be minimal and the hooks will last a very long time (a few years). Don’t see flies as disposable things, treat them like lures and pack them away neatly after saltwater trips.

When you visit Alphonse Island and St. Francois atolls do not overlook the bluefin trevally. They are phenomenal sport fish with an extraordinary colour. In fact, their reputable performance on fly tackle has earned them a well-deserved spot amongst the top twelve fish species to catch in and around the Seychelles outer atolls by Alphonse Fishing Company. For more information about fishing Alphonse Island, please contact Keith Rose-Innes on keith@alphonse-island.com or visit www.alphonsefishingco.com.

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