(@CRABFLY) Seven days is a long time in politics. The same can be true of living aboard a catamaran bobbing about in a remote corner of the Seychelles without Wifi. Surely a breach of human rights? Haha. This is my tale of an expedition to Poivre and St. Joseph atolls that took place last week, 13 to 21 March 2020. Last August, Wil Flack, renowned permit whisperer, lodge owner, and Renaissance man, offered me his spot on a forthcoming Poivre trip.
I immediately accepted. For the permit cognoscenti, available spots to Poivre are as rare as hen's teeth as the limited number of charters to this remote and small Indian ocean fishery each season are typically sold out well in advance.
Getting There Seychelles is far from everywhere, but readily accessible via hubs such as Paris and Dubai. I flew in with my old fishing buddy Sam from Dubai to Mahe and spent the first night at the Eden Blue hotel, a pleasant hotel located only a few minutes from the airport. After a restful night, we congregated at the domestic IDC terminal and met the rest of our party (a Swiss couple) and other anglers heading to Alphonse island and beyond.
The little waiting room is a tiny space full of some of the most adventurous saltwater anglers on earth, some of whom are already in their flats boots, all wondering if they have managed to keep to their 15kg luggage hold limits... From Mahe, we flew to Desroches in a private charter and from there met our crew, guides Serge and Shaun and MV A'mani, a 54-foot catamaran, our floating home for the next week.
Everyone was excited and ready for the week ahead. The sail from Desroches to Poivre is approximately 4 hours and we barely had time to familiarize ourselves with our new quarters before Sam was strapped into a large pirouetting sailfish. Extraordinary start. Before we anchored at Poivre we had caught 2 sailies, 1 yellowfin, 1 dogtooth tuna, and my contribution was limited to a solid wahoo. You're welcome team. In short, we were in fresh fish and sashimi for the week (expertly prepared by Chef Sam).
Accommodation on the A'Mani is just how it should be. Simple, comfortable and functional. 4 private staterooms and 2 shared showers. Perfectly suitable for this exploratory trip.
The Fishing This trip focusses on two small fisheries separated by only 13 miles, Poivre and St, Joseph atoll and the Indo Pacific permit. After a fairly choppy first night, Sam, Shaun and I fished the flats of Poivre, concentrating on the turtle grass and sandy flats where permit are likely to be found. We saw a small number of permit, but those we encountered were somewhat spookier than usual. We also noticed that another charter party of anglers was already wading the flats, which may have caused the fish to flee.
The highlight of day one was an encounter with a small pack of GTs marauding baitfish and mullet very close to the shoreline. We spotted the fish in deeper water and followed them in. There were at least 6 fish in the pack colored variously from light grey to jet black. All 6 were in aggressive feeding mode. Large blacktip sharks were also spotted. A long cast with a brush fly on an 11wt and a long steady strip and I was latched on to something heavy and angry. Underneath the skiff, a black horse of a GT glided by.
While I was fighting my fish Sam unfurled a long cast with a NYAP popper to the returning pack and it was charged down by a meter plus fish with extreme prejudice. Our guide Shaun played his part admirably by distracting a large shark that was following the GT. Within a relatively short time, we had two large GTs to the boat. After a quick photoshoot, we kept on fishing. Other than the GTs, we caught a small number of bones and one large bluefin trevally.
Trachinotus blochii Day 2 was a special day. The previous evening we left Poivre and headed north to St. Joseph, some 2 hours' sail away, hoping that no one had beaten us to it. St. Joseph's is simply beautiful - and resembles a deserted island atoll a child might conceive and draw. The atoll comprises the islands of Fouquet, D'arros to the west and St. Joseph.
Inside the atoll is a lagoon and various sand flats, sand bars and turtle grass flats. In short, textbook permit feeding grounds.. We saw fish fairly soon after entering a sandy flat- they were dropping out, singles, doubles and small schools. By 9 am, I had caught a nice Indo Pacific Permit. By around 930 I had caught another much larger fish. Sam came very close as well, but I fear permit fever may have gotten the better of him.
The first fish was traveling towards me at 12 o'clock in a group of three fish moving steadily across the white sand bottom. The water was ridiculously clear. I cast my flexo fly to the side and to the right of the lead fish, it immediately spotted the fly and was agitated, it darted and turned on the fly.
I stripped long and slow and good and went tight. A relatively short but nervous fight later veteran guide Serge had a permit in his net on a sandy bar with a small islet in the background. A short time later, another school approached. This time a squadron of ten fish that looked to be moving in a perfect diagonal formation, like ducks in flight. I cast to the nearest two fish and hoped my presentation would trigger a little competition. It did.
The near side fish jumped on the fly and I struck firmly and once again and the fish darted off taking much line with it. In short, a magical 90 minutes of action that was not to be repeated again during the remainder of the trip. But that doesn't matter one iota. It is not about the numbers, it is about presenting the right fly at the right time to the right fish and most importantly.. keeping your shit together when the opportunity presents itself, as that might be the only one you get.
That evening we celebrated and toasted the capture of 3 permit (Roger from Switzerland had also caught a nice one), Sam's GT and rang the bell in traditional fashion. We returned to Poivre once more and then returned to St. Joe's for the last two days, where we learned over the satellite phone of the global lockdown and travel chaos due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
Italy was in lockdown, the situation in Spain, France, and UK was worsening by the day. We also learned that from 19 March UAE residents were no longer allowed to enter the UAE meaning that I could no longer return to Dubai, my home. Our permit may well be the last permit caught during this aborted Seychelles season.
Our trip ended with a gentle sail back to Desroches and one last night spent on the A'mani. On the last day my pal Sam caught a bat fish from the boat. It is somewhat apt that a trip and season ruined by a virus that may have originated from a bat is bookended by our collective delight in the capture and release of a bat fish, a reminder that better times are ahead for all of us.
At the time of writing (26 March 2020) I am still in the Seychelles with little prospect of leaving any time soon. Would I return to Poivre and St. Joe's? Sign me up Jim.