Cosmoledo & Alphonse

Joshua Hutchins dreams of returning to the Seychelles

Even as a narrow-minded trouty, I knew the Seychelles was a sacred place. The promise of remote atolls, honeymoon beaches and gin-clear waters loaded with saltwater species piqued my curiosity. My journey to the Seychelles started in Mongolia two years ago. Jako Lucas, known for producing the popular Gangsters of the Flats short-film series, was a staunch South African, and one of our taimen guides. Like story-time before bed, each night Jako would fill our imaginations with tales of giant trevally cruising shallow flats, with not one or two chances but dozens of opportunities each day. Surely this place was a myth! Jako connected me with Keith Rose-Innes, the head of Alphonse Fishing Co. The planning began and I soon acquired a fishing buddy: Jared Zissu. Jared hails from New York, and runs the social media platform appropriately named FlyLords. I’d been in contact with Jared a few times before and was excited he was coming along. Logistical Beast Mahe, the main island of Seychelles, is already a reasonable distance from Australia, but then getting to the region’s outer islands is a logistical beast. After arriving in Mahe, via Dubai, we stayed overnight and were picked up by a private plane en-route to the outer atolls. A quick stop on Alphonse Island to refuel and we were on our way again. Finally we landed on a small landing strip on Astove Atoll. After some quick refreshments, we boarded, the ‘Lone Star’, our luxury liveaboard catamaran. Four hours sailing from Astove and we arrived at Cosmoledo. I was hoping the saying was true: the greater the effort, the sweeter the fishing. We had come to what felt like the end of the earth, and I was hoping for good fish. Fishing operations always put their best catches on the brochure. Websites can boast impressive fish, yet the photos were taken 20 years ago. So when I read Alphonse Fishing Co’s claim that Cosmoledo is the ‘GT Capital of the World,’ I wondered if it was a little over the top. Or could it actually be true? COSMOLEDO After our long travels, Jared and I made our way onto the water for day one. We both knew why we were there. David Marshall, our guide, a spritely South African, knew exactly what species we were chasing and the 12-weights were rigged up ready for GTs. My first decent fish came off the back of a coral bommie inside the lagoon, and caught me by surprise. After it ran my fly line and backing straight through a field of coral, I knew I’d have to be more alert if I was going to keep my gear intact. The next fish, while I was wading knee deep, ate the fly with true GT aggression. Everything looked positive until the hook straightened. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t land a GT that day, but the shots kept coming, and Jared and I both got on the board with several GTs. The account was open, and after a baptism of fire, we were well informed of the strategy for the rest of the week. Day two, we made our way out with head guide Cameron Musgrave. His sense of humour and long list of Aussie jokes made for some great laughs. But amidst the jokes, I caught my most memorable GT of the trip. Cam and I were wading through the surf, awaiting the cold-water push of the incoming tide. I felt the slightly cooler temperature register against my shins, and almost immediately looked up to see GTs surfing in towards us along the waves. “Five wave sets out, do you see them Josh?” said Cameron, pointing in the direction of three large trevally. I nodded in concentration as I prepared for battle. Pulling enough line from my reel, I tightened the drag and locked eyes on the incoming fish. “Three wave sets out, be ready Josh.” His thick accent washed over me as I watched the fish surf even closer towards us. “Ok go!” Cameron yelled as the fish shot into firing range. As soon as my fly landed, two large GTs lurched forward with one engulfing the fly. I had no time to retrieve, making a quick strip-strike to bury the hook. It connected, and after a ten-minute tug of war, we landed the fish. Just short of a metre and one of the fattest GTs I’ve seen. Our group landed 107 GTs that week, and 106 of those were in the first four days of spring tides. It was spectacular. One day Jared and I landed over twenty GTs up to 101 cm long. These numbers blew my mind. Cosmoledo certainly lived up to its name – GT capital of the world. forgotten Permit The crazy thing about Cosmo is not just the abundance of GTs, but everything else on offer: bluefin trevally, red bass, bonefish, triggerfish, permit and sailfish. I accidentally hooked a sailfish when throwing off into the deep just outside the reef. It came up behind my popper and ate the fly. I did my best to set the hook, but a few jumps later the fly came loose. We were amazed at the diversity of this fishery. Whenever the P word is mentioned I am always keen to chase them. Another client on the boat, David Hirsch, came to Cosmoledo with a permit vendetta. He had three shots over the week and landed all three – an amazing statistic, especially for fussy Indo-Pacific permit. I had two shots at permit. The first was looking good, with a tailing fish right in front of me. Moments later a school of GTs swam by a little too close and managed to spook the permit. Shot one gone. My second attempt was quite funny. Jared and I were with guides Surge and Alex, of Seychellois nationality. Our day kicked off with GT packs of ten to twenty mauling anything we threw at them. Once that quietened off we made our way to the outside of the atoll and I landed a good size GT over a stunning white sandy beach. “Guys we need to go, the tide is moving out fast,” Surge said. But as we began to move on, a school of large bonefish appeared, all five to eight pounds. “Can I catch one?” I asked. “You only have time for one, we need to beat the tide.” I jumped out of the boat and waded towards the tailing fish. Only moments before I was due to cast, I saw a permit sitting at the front of the school. I led the fish, and the first to eat was the permit — more luck than skill. During a frantic fight I was in and out of the boat, trying to keep the fish on the line and to protect it from two eager lemon sharks. We landed it, and I was ecstatic. It was a stunning fish, golden yellow, and as per the guide’s tip, it loved the Al-Flexo crab pattern like a fat kid on cake. I came into the trip with three targets: a GT over a metre, a permit, and my first milkfish. Cosmoledo delivered the first two, and I still had a week on Alphonse Island to fulfill the third. Milks, Sails & Triggers We were dropped off at Alphonse and greeted by our very friendly host, Gordon Rankin. Gordy had spent quite some time in Australia, and immediately made us feel at home. The Alphonse Island fishing experience is based around more of a relaxed island resort. With a few days to spare before our next fishing program began, Jared and I made use of the time to relax. It’s one of those places where you can’t help but chill back. Jared came into the trip wanting three things himself: a permit, a sailfish and a triggerfish. Unfortunately his only shot at a permit was met with a slight wind change, and his crab fly ended up wedged into my shoulder blade. But we cut a deal for our time on Alphonse. I would give him all the shots he needed at triggers and sailfish, and he would let me waste the time needed to conquer my ever-looming nemesis — a milkfish. Jared had his trigger shots, and put a nice ‘moustache trigger’ on the board. We went bluewater fishing one afternoon, and after losing a big wahoo, Jared backed it up with his first sailfish on fly. We were on a roll, but the milkfish kept eluding me. On Cosmoledo I had managed to hook three. One even made it to the leader before popping the fly. My first few encounters at Alphonse were beginning to show similar signs: 20–40 minute fights to eventually throw the hook. One fish even ran us the entire length of a two kilometre flat into St Francois Lagoon before finding the first coral bommie to wrap me around. I was beginning to feel defeated. Keith Rose-Innes took me aside one night and gave me his milkfish pep-talk… “Josh, their mouths are soft, they never tire, they are difficult to get an eat, but Alphonse is one of the best places in the world to make it happen. When you hook them, go hard. If the hook falls out it’s not the right fish. Anymore than 20–30 minutes and you’re messing around.” By that stage I had hooked and lost six, so going hard on them was my main concern. On our second last day we went out with Alec Gerbec, head guide of the Alphonse Island operation, so I guess that was a good sign. Another guest also decided he wanted to go for milkfish that day too, and of course it wasn’t long before he hooked his first milkfish and landed it in sight of our boat. I couldn’t believe it! Having hooked my first of the day, I went hard on it as instructed. After 15 minutes it wrapped its tail around the leader and the fly popped loose. Things were looking bad. Five minutes later I hooked up again, fishing weed- style flies dead-drift through schools of surface feeding fish. Despite the frustration of not having landed one, the excitement of seeing milkfish schooled up was exhilarating. Twenty minutes passed and I was still hooked up. The fish was getting quite close to the boat. By that stage I could barely breathe — I just wanted that fish in the net. It seemed an eternity, but I landed it. I yelled some child-like scream the moment I knew it was mine. “I am happy to never go through that again!” I said as I held it for a photo. It felt good, having conquered a fish I had so desperately wanted. It was the perfect ending to my trip. SATISFIED Two weeks in the Seychelles felt like a dream. From the first-class catamaran and golden sunset dinners of Cosmoledo to the sunny resort and pure white beaches of Alphonse Island, it was incredible. The fishing was everything I could have hoped for and more. The guides were the most professional team I have ever dealt with. After such an amazing experience, one would think I could leave satisfied, ticking Seychelles off my list, but the truth is, a return trip is all I have dreamed about since.

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