The Seychelles, in the western reaches of the Indian Ocean – not too far away from Madagascar, have fast become the GT epicenter of the world. And Astove Atoll is THE place to catch a monster GT on the flats!
GT’ are very accustomed to the wrenching noise of things breaking. They have powerful and jagged jaws; they pack a nasty and lightning-quick bite; and they delight in crushing whatever pitiful prey they manage to hunt down – whether it be a bony baitfish, a hard-shelled crab or even a non-suspecting bird with feathers, beak and all. They hit such things like freight trains – with blind fury and relentless impact, churning them into bits and pieces. And, as a result, the sounds of death and destruction frequently echo through their cranial cavities and straight into whatever primitive minds that have sparked inside their powerful and sturdy frames.
As a GT fly fisherman, one is also destined to get accustomed to – or at least become uncannily familiar with – the noise of things breaking. GT’s are notorious for wrecking tackle, and after a recent week of GT fishing in Seychelles – at the stunningly beautiful and wild Astove Atoll, the sound of rods, fly lines and leaders breaking have become painfully etched into my mind.
For instance, there was that repeated eerie sound of poppers getting completely demolished – hooks getting bent out of shape, the foam being shredded and ripped into pieces, feathers and fibers scattered all about. Along with the knife slash-like sounds of GTs cutting through the surface – backs and serrated fins clear out of the water–in hot pursuit, and the inevitable collision-like explosions, as they thrust themselves forward, open their bucket-sized mouths and thunderously inhale the fly; that’s enough to send shivers down my spine, as I sit here putting symbolic pen to paper.
Additionally, there was that freak incident where the guide – who shall remain nameless – grabbed the leader on a big fish that was close to the boat and in danger of getting snatched by a massive oceanic whitetip shark. His finger got pierced by the top section of the fly rod, as the fish took violently off. Apparently, the leader knot had gotten caught in the rod tip, and as the fish surged downwards, the top of the fly rod followed the directional path of the leader – straight into the guides’ hand, snapping loudly and ultimately piercing his finger, full blank, splintered carbon fiber shrapnel and all.
There was also that incident where a massive GT hit the fly right below the lava cliffs to the far south of the atoll. This fish violently erupted on the fly the very instant it hit the water – as if it somehow already knew that something was going to fall from the sky – and, once hooked, it took off like a bullet along the jagged, corally shoreline demolishing the whole fly line and ultimately snapping the 120lb test leader. Even in the howling winds the whiplash-sound of that leader snapping was loud enough to stun- and stop us dead in our tracks.
Sadly, there was also that incident where an otherwise perfect interception of a massive, jet-black 70-80lb GT in meter-high surf swells followed by a 25 meter+ cast into strong headwinds resulted in a take so brutal that the whole fly line snapped on the strip-set. That fish was to die for, but then again: Had the fly line not snapped on the strip-set, it might very well have surged towards the corally reef edge and broken me off there. Either way, that whole episode was accompanied by the deafeningly quiet sound of my heart breaking.
During the course of six full fishing days at Astove Atoll, my good friend Martin Ejler Olsen and I experienced some of the most exhilarating and nerve-wracking GT fishing imaginable. Before the fishing trip I went to https://www.nitehawk.net/best-9-fishing-waders/, to get some new fishing waders. Reminiscing about the trip, I must admit that I’m still pretty shell-shocked and mind-blown about the amount of fish we encountered and how unpredictable, erratic and (at times) super-aggressive these fish were.
I sometimes find myself struggling to keep my nerves calm during an all-important fight, or when a momentous sight-casting opportunity presents itself. But I’ve never shaken to the core – with such a boiling mixture of adrenaline, excitement and sheer, panicky fear raging inside my body – as I have when fishing Astove Atoll. Wading and scouting for GTs there along the corally reefs, roaring surf lines, and jagged lava cliffs is nerve-wracking enough itself. Casting for one – knowing that you probably just get that one cast before the fish suddenly vanishes again – only adds to the excitement of it all!
Ultimately, however, it is the take that renders one a trembling nerve wreck. It is, by all means, truly frightening! Once fired-up and zeroed in for the kill, the Astove GTs will attack with such fury and brutality that one’s first impulse is to quickly dispose of the fly rod and jump out of the water. If that impulse is foolishly ignored and one counter-intuitively responds to the explosive collision by strip-setting the hook, one is in for a grueling fight; a fight that will stress one’s tackle and physics to a breaking point, and too often result in a harrowing snapping sound.
Despite challenging conditions with heavy winds, cloud cover, rain and periodical thunder during most of the week – something very atypical for Astove Atoll, I managed to land 17 GTs, and had I been more stoic, calm and – perhaps – endowed with a little more luck, I might have landed well over 25. And as if that wasn’t enough, Martin and I also managed to squeeze in some absolutely outrageous bonefish-, triggerfish-, and permit fishing. Not to mention an afternoon offshore, where schools of huge barracuda, rainbow runners, milkfish, and sailfish kept us busy.
The real monsters – like the fiery-tempered 70-80lb GT that broke my fly line, the massive black one that snapped a 110lb leader on the corals, and the shark-like 120lb+ behemoth that rejected my fly(and broke my dreams), ultimately evaded me. But there was one thing that these fish couldn’t break – my spirit. And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind: I will be back in search for Astove Atoll’s indomitable and raging apex predators – the masters of destruction!
The atoll offers a rare glimpse into a world, which has changed very little over the years passed. It’s a place of rare beauty, where the daily dramas of a pristine and virtually untouched ecosystem play out vividly in front of your eyes. Wild pigs and goats roam the island as do huge tortoises and colourful terrestrial crab species. Several endemic species of birds can also be seen darting about in the treetops and palm trees among colourful butterflies, but it isn’t until one has a look below the water surface that one realizes just how prolific the wildlife is.
The flats, lagoon and reefs are teeming with life, and along the Astove Wall, which is best described as gazing down into the Grand Canyon, you’re likely to see anything from huge sharks, sea turtles and dolphins to sailfish, rays, barracuda and wahoo. The Astove Wall consists of the large flats and reef dropping a vertical 90 degrees, from knee-deep water to an abysmal depth of a kilometre. No wonder that the famous and acclaimed marine pioneer, Jacques Cousteau, shot his underwater documentary “The Silent World” here!
Fact File – Lodging:
Astove Atoll caters to an exclusive six fly fishermen per week, and the season extends from November to December and March to April. The newly renovated lodge offers full-catering service, exquisite Creole cuisine, and accommodation in single air-conditioned en-suite rooms.
If you’re interested in booking a trip to Astove Atoll, or some of the other renowned Alphonse Fishing Co destinations in Seychelles – including Cosmoledo, Alphonse Island and Poivre, send an email to: email@example.com
For further information, be sure to check out these links: www.alphonsefishingco.com and www.seychelles.travel
Fact file – Transport and logistics
The transportation to Astove Island is usually via Dubai to Mahé and Seychelles International Airport. Here, Emirates is an obvious choice, seeing as they have regular flights with appropriate arrival times in relation to the journey onwards: www.emirates.com/no/English/
The plane to Astove Atoll leaves early in the morning, and as a result, you’ll need an overnight stay in Mahé. We found the villas at Eden Island, which is close to the airport, to be very charming, comfortable and relaxing. Eden Island offers beautiful, newly-built apartments, maisons, and villas situated on its own gated island with ambient marinas, cozy cafes, a shopping center, and a view to the ocean along with pearly white, palm-ridden sand beaches. When time permits, Eden Island is also a great starting point for discovering Mahé, the Seychellois capital.
For transportation services to and from the airport, logistics or tourism requests, Creole Travel Services is your point of reference: www.creoletravelservices.com
You’ll continue your journey to Astove Atoll on a 3-hour IDC flight arranged by Alphonse Fishing Co. It departs from the IDC Hangar outside the International Airport, and getting there involves a 10-minute taxi-ride.
Depending on your itinerary, you might experience a good deal of layover in Dubai International Airport on your way back, and it might, therefore, be a good idea to get some rest in the Dubai International Airport Hotel, which is conveniently located inside the departure terminal: www.dubaiintlhotels.com
Fact File – The Fishing
If you’re in the market for targeting the biggest flats-caught giant trevallies in the Indian Ocean, Astove Atoll is the place to be. It’s shallow lagoon, jagged coastline and endless flats surrounded by sheer drop-offs provides the giant trevally with a unique and versatile feeding habitat and, as a result, giant trevallies are extremely abundant.
Besides GTs, Astove Atoll boasts trophy-sized bonefish, Bluefin trevally, triggerfish, barracuda, milkfish and Indo-pacific permit. And if one ventures offshore, one can catch yellowfin tuna, dogtooth tuna, wahoo, groupers, sailfish and much, much more – just meters from the coral reef edge.
Fact File – Gear and Equipment
Since the species diversity at Astove Atoll is quite overwhelming, you’ll need a versatile range of tropical fly rod-and-reel setups. You’ll generally need a minimum of four setups: An 8-weight setup for bonefish and triggerfish, a 10-weight setup for permit and milkfish, and two 12-weight setups for giant trevally – all of them pre-spooled with tropical floating lines. The reason why it’s a good idea to have an extra 12-weight setup on you at all times is that it enables you to switch quickly between poppers and streamers when sight-fishing for giant trevally. Furthermore, because giant trevallies are known for breaking rods, melting down reel drag systems and emptying backing reserves, a backup 12-weight setup is essential.
While the gear required for bonefish, triggerfish, milkfish and permit is similar to that used elsewhere in the tropics, the gear needed for giant trevally is in its own league. Here, you’ll need the very best saltwater fly rods in combination with a fly reel that can stop a herd of wild horses. I found the Scott Meridian rods and Waterworks-Lamson reels (including the Cobalt) to do the job beautifully!
As a life-insurance during the utter mayhem and chaos of a giant trevally outburst you’ll need a minimum of 300 meters of 80lb backing in combination with a specially designed fly line – such as Scientific Angler’s 100lb test Sonar fly lines. The fly line is then linked to the fly via a 2-metre long 100 – 130lbs fluorocarbon tippet. It may sound completely out of proportion, but it is all due to the fact that a giant trevally needs to be treated with extreme strictness and maximum pressure during the fight. Otherwise, they will run off and you’ll risk getting spooled or being cut off on corals and other subaqueous structure.
The flies, that are most commonly used at Astove Atoll, are specifically designed and developed for the fishing here. Fulling Mill, in England, have launched a series of flies developed in close cooperation with the guides at Alphonse Fishing Co, and they can be found here: www.fullingmill.co.uk
The giant trevallies are fished with either NYAP poppers or gnarly streamers tied on the strongest possible 6/0 – 8/0 saltwater hooks like the Gamakatsu SL12s. They should be bulky, pulsating and have big, staring eyes – and it’s an advantage if they’re made out of materials that don’t suck in too much water. Among the local favourites are the Brush Fly, GT Mullet, Bus Ticket and Serge’s Wrasse.
When it comes to wading equipment, clothing and such, you can pack like you normally would for similar tropical trips. Otherwise, Alphonse Fishing Company provides in-depth information about what to bring prior to the visit at Astove Atoll.
Fact file – Giant Trevally (Caranx Ignobilis)
The Giant Trevally – or GT – is a member of the jack family, Carangidae – a family of aggressive predatory fish distributed throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. GTs are found across the marine range stretching from South Africa to Hawaii including Japan in the north and Australia in the south, and although they sometimes school up, they are predominantly solitary predators.
Phenotypically, the giant trevally is recognized by its rather steep head profile, ovate and moderately compressed body, protruding eyes, powerful tail scutes, its spiny dorsal fin and strongly forked cordal fin. It varies in colour from a charcoal black to a silvery colour with occasional dark spots and discrete marbling’s. They are broad-shouldered and muscular fish that are capable of both explosive bursts and long-distance surges.
Size-wise, GTs have been recorded up to 170cm in length and weights in excess of 80 kilos. However, a 50lb+ fish caught on a fly rod is considered a trophy. They are ferocious apex predators that grow relatively fast, reaching sexual maturity at the age of roughly three years and 60cm in length, and it is believed that they can live to about 25 years of age.
GTs inhabit a very wide and varied range of offshore and inshore marine environments, but the biggest individuals seem to prefer deeper seaward reefs and drop-offs with good structure and diverse forage resources.
They will, however, patrol shallow water on occasion both for hunting and reproductive purposes. GTs primarily feed on other fish such as bonefish, mullet, snappers and eels – but they will also feed on squid, shrimp, crab, lobster and even birds and turtles. ■
Words by: Rasmus Ovesen
Photos by: Rasmus Ovesen, Martin Ejler Olsen, Kyle Reed