A photo essay about the tropical flats fishes of Alphonse and St. Francois atolls (Seychelles)
Text by Leonard Flemming (the uncut version)
Photos by Leonard Flemming (unless credited otherwise)
This photo essay featured in Catch Magazine:
It’s easy to develop an obsession around fly fishing. I suppose theoretically one could compare a fly fisherman’s lust for fish to nymphomaniac tendencies. We just can’t get enough of it and the greater public also don’t grasp our fish-drive.
With the amount of visual stimulation floating around on the internet, it’s become more and more difficult to contain our craving to catch fish. Photos of exotic places and extraordinary sport fishes also mean that high libido can’t always be cured at local waters; however, it is fixed at a ‘brothel’ destination. So when the same old fishes around home no longer provoke the temptation to whip out the long rod, fly anglers tend to travel further and further away from their dwellings for a new experience.
While I still thoroughly enjoy catching carp on fly in my back yard, to venture abroad has become the special ingredient that keeps the flame burning in my piscatorial love life. Ewan Naude and I recently visited Alphonse and St. Francois atolls in the Seychelles on an excursion for the next best fish. I found more than I bargained for in the rich waters of this private place, which was a serious impediment to my angling progress in the Cape Winelands on return.
Under normal circumstances I’d be dangling flies in front of scavenging carp with my dearest five weight, but instead I was glued to the computer, staring at the trip photos. The throng of colourful fish we caught in all shapes and sizes congested my regular train of thought. Understandably, this also interfered with my domestic life. Thankfully we didn’t catch all the sport fishes that live there otherwise I would’ve had to sell my rods and deal with a divorce.
It made me realise that while I may get bored with a particular spot near my house, I could spend weeks on end in the Alphonse Group without packing my tackle away. This may well be the ultimate fishing brothel?
Tropical flats may vary greatly, including the crusty shallows of the wave zone perimeter of an atoll that pose a danger to passing ships. Sand flats, where I catch many imaginary fish at my office desk, give me a thirst for romance though.
These are typical to the inner edge of the atoll, shaping the sexy curves of the lagoon. Another form of flat and a strange phenomenon at that is a finger flat. Finger flats are slithers of sand and coral running from the sand flat edges to the centre of the lagoon, like submerged cat walks. Some finger flats may even cross the entire lagoon. I thoroughly enjoyed inspecting the differences of each flat-type on St. Francois atoll. The pompous parade of fishes was an arousing sight.
Triggerfish tickle the fancy of the ‘rough and uncut’ type, while the metrosexual prefer to catch bonefish. Ewan Naude is a prime example of the former, shown here with a knob of a yellow margin.
I’m certainly more of a bonefish man. The picky bite of a trigger’s gnarly teeth doesn’t appeal to me.
I find their hourly rate exorbitant for what they offer; however, variety is the spice of my life and I enjoy catching new species, so I was delighted with my first moustache triggerfish caught near the Lolly-Pop shipwreck on St. Francois atoll.
A bone will likely be the first thing you’ll catch in Alphonse. Like a condom, the mottled sand and grass flats cover them up, providing safety from STDs (shark and trevally dinners).
Bonefish are abundant and inhabit nearly all flats on the Seychelles outer atolls. The Alphonse and St. Francois sand flats are wide with few snags, so reasonably big bones can be caught on light stuff, like 12 lb tippet. The fish also seem to hang around the shallows all day long, giving the angler the opportunity to catch a bone any time of the day.
For instance, bones were frequently caught in the final hours of the eight hour fishing day on St. Francois atoll, a most pleasing afternoon delight before returning to the mother ship for a sundowner.
Goaties aren’t fashionable in the tropics. They are in fact a nuisance to well-travelled fly fisherman looking for Viagra, i.e., bonefish and permit, in the Indian Ocean. As a virgin and a sucker for diversity, I really enjoyed catching them though.
Merkins are no longer the heat for perms. The Alphlexo crab is the latest trend and has become the missionary position of every guide trying to give their clients the ultimate fly fishing orgasm, catching an Indo-Pacific permit. They hang around the edges of sand and coral flats where they wave over customers with their tall dorsal fins and seduce them with their fair scalps. The Marilyn Munroe of Alphonse is something to perve on from a distance, but don’t be fooled, she’s not cheap and getting your hands on one will cost you plenty pennies and your smoothest line.
Like a downtown tramp, honeycomb grouper give you a nasty surprise when they grab your fly and pull you into a dark alley. If you manage to get them out of their holes you may find their cheesy look rather attractive. Their bawdy outfits, the leopard print tights, orange eyelashes and fins dipped in honey match their sticky personalities. These sporting district ladies should not be underestimated though, they fight tooth and nail right to the end and may scar if not handled with care.
Yellow-lipped emperor have sadly never occupied the centre spread, regardless of their natural beauty. Nevertheless, they don’t require Botox or cosmetic surgery to improve their looks; they were born with it. Their athletic bodies will provide memorable action to those willing to spend some time with them. A most undervalued sport fish in my opinion.
The Moulin Rouge of the Seychelles outer islands is situated on the coral perimeter of St. Francois. Fish parade like courtesans, making it difficult for the customer to pick and choose from the wealth of shapes and colours. Here even the tacky types, like rainbow wrasse, are pretty and won’t let you down.
Pablo Picasso was always a troubled soul, expressing his sexual desires in cubism. However, in the fishing world he will be remembered indefinitely due to the infamous Picasso triggerfish snatching crabs and shrimps from its larger relatives, the more sought after moustache and yellow margin triggerfish mentioned previously. They may be considered pesky, but their beautifully painted bodies serve the name well.
Bluefin trevally are the erotic dancers of the tropics; dressed in alluring blue tights they show off their toned bodies and fitness to the audience by swinging around the fly. They excite guides and clients but seldom take ‘bait’ from neophytes. South African veteran of fresh and saltwater fly fishing, Neil Rowe (shown here), has built up the necessary skill over the years to seduce these fish.
For more information about fishing the Alphonse Islands, please contact the Alphonse Fishing Company (http://www.alphonsefishingco.com/)