Bonefish Dreams in the Seychelles

For a few of us, the dream goes like this: big uneducated bonefish in a perfect setting, no people or jet skis on an endless hard gleaming white flat. Punctuate this scene with beautiful hawksbill turtles, fairy terns and blue crabs the size of a dinner plate. Imagine the bonefish to be so naive that they would eat a bare hook. Picture giant black and silver fish the size of a semi truck tire so intent on eating that you can’t swim in the water. Visualize grouper and snapper so plentiful that a fly in the water is eaten within twenty seconds. Grouper on poppers? Yes! Bonefish to twenty pounds? Sure! Giant Trevally over one hundred pounds? Better have a big stick!

About the Seychelles

This is not a mid winter dream — the place is real and it’s in the middle of the Indian Ocean off the East coast of Africa. The Seychelle Islands are a series of beautiful mountainous rock piles jutting out of the sea in what feels like the middle of nowhere. In fact, it is a popular European travel destination. Not widely visited by many in the U.S. because of it’s daunting location. It’s about eighteen hours of air time from the East coast and nine hours of time change. From our slightly myopic perspective none of that mattered. We heard the rumors about the quality fishing, booked it and packed up.

bluefinOur group arrived at the three tiny coral atolls after a beautiful Air Seychelles Coast Guard charter flight, two hours over an azure nameless section of the Indian Ocean. Alphonse is the main land mass of the area. It is barely large enough for a real length paved landing strip. We happened to meet up on the runway at Alphonse with the group of anglers that did the same trip the week before us. They proudly told that they landed 818 fish between four people in six days of fishing! We glanced at each other, eyebrows raised in disbelief. The load out to the mothership went smoothly and within an hour we were skirting the coral heads out over the reef on our way to the neighboring area named St. Francois. The flats of St. Francois are stunning and teeming with bonefish. I hooked up within five minutes of stepping out of the skiff. It was a nice fish of about three pounds. What I did not know was that I had just caught the smallest fish of the trip!

The Main Event

That afternoon was ridiculous. We caught and landed so many fish that we quickly lost count. The jet lag began to kick in just after one of our group landed a fish over ten pounds. Upon returning we realized the amazing fact that we only fished for three hours. The remainder our the week was just as amazing. The members of our group had all bonefished for years throughout the Bahamas, Belize and the Keys. Nothing any of us had seen in twenty years of experience prepared us for the quantity, size and eagerness of the St. Francois fish. I suspect that the area is surely what the Florida Keys at the beginning of the 20th century.

stormy_boneNeedless to say the bonefish are large. One “grandpa” bonefish was hooked and ran about three hundred yards of line and backing off the reel. As the drag increased the fish slowed but did not stop. Since we were fishing twenty pound tippet (in order to heavily pressure the fish) the weak link seemed to become the hook. The fish continued to run for deep water and fractured a size two hook! We guessed that the bone in question was somewhere between fifteen and twenty pounds. The largest fish we landed were between eleven and twelve pounds.We managed to hook a few in the fifteen plus range only to be spooled or experience hook and tippet failures. All tolled, every member of our group landed several bonefish that measured over ten pounds (the fish were about thirty inches in length). We lost track of how many fish we landed but I am sure it was near the mark that the prior group had mentioned.

We found that any selection of bonefish fly worked fine. One angler in our party used the same fly for three days straight before all of its materials were stripped off the hook. In fact, just to see if they would eat it we tore the remaining shreds of material off the hook so that it was just steel and a pair of bead chain eyes. Guess what, they loved it. We got the impression that in the Seychelles, if it looks alive and edible, someone will eat it. We did have particular luck on the tougher falling tides with larger shrimp type patterns and with Berke’s Boneworm, an Umpqua Feather Merchants pattern.

The Giant Trevally Bonus

me_and_my_galThe falling tide signaled departure time for most of the fish up high on the flats. The bizarre thing about the tide was that it arrived and departed with unusual speed. It seemed to us that once it turned and started to fall, it fell especially quickly. It was most likely an illusion caused by the fact that the difference between the channels and the flats is so slight. A net drop of nine inches can leave many flats on St. Francois entirely bare. During the low tide we spent our time blind casting off the edges of the reef for the remarkable giant trevally.

The trevally is a menacing fish. They are so aggressive to the fly that an eleven to twelve weight rod is a must. 4/0 poppers tied on Owner Aki hooks were the only flies that didn’t break or bend out. These fish are huge and smart. The basic tactic is to blind cast large poppers off the edges of the reef. Usually the trevally don’t follow the fly, there’s just a huge explosion and the fly disappears into the depths. They will eat the fly, run like crazy to the nearest coral head and break you off almost every time. I hooked thirteen fish and landed one, 20 lbs. Bright and silver, these fish are awesome specimens and great fly rod quarry. Heed my warning, if you tangle with the G.T. go ready for a gun fight.

Garden of Eden

grouperNear dusk we enjoyed the festivities of hand-lining our dinner on the nearest coral head. We had no problem catching all we could eat on the way back from the flats. The reef is so prolific with life that catching dinner is almost a guarantee. How’s this for sporting? We used a piece of thin nylon clothesline tied to an 8/0 hook baited with a piece of fish. Every cast, and I use this term loosely, produced a violent tug of war that actually threatened to pull you out of the bobbing little skiff. The net result? Amazing laughter and fifteen to thirty pound red snapper and marble grouper.

The Seychelles are Eden for the bonefishing enthusiast, but the anglers in our group caught fourteen total species of fish on flies. We accomplished this with marginal weather and light. We had substantial rain every day and winds that never fell below twenty knots. The natural beauty of this untouched paradise has to be seen to be believed. A first class lodge is under construction on Alphonse and is scheduled for completion in January 2000, but this trip is not for the faint of heart as the journey is long and tiring. However, the payoff is without doubt the finest trevally and bonefishing on the planet today.


Mark N. Cahill has been writing and editing for since 1995. He started fishing in the mid-1960's and caught his first striper off World's End in Hingham in 1966. From there on in it was an obsession. He loves fishing for tuna, and fly fishing for striped bass. In a pinch, anything with fins will do...

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