“Up the steps one at a time, and mind your head,” the Captain said as we boarded the twin engine Dornier 228 aircraft. We were about to embark on the final leg of our journey to a tropical paradise. Located 7 degrees south of the Equator, there is a brace of atolls that are home to one of the world’s best saltwater fisheries. The atolls are collectively known as the Alphonse Group which is made up of Alphonse Atoll, St Francois Atoll and Bijoutier Island.
Once we had all settled in the pilots had us racing across the turquoise Indian Ocean towards our final destination. One hour 15 minutes later the plane was in a steep bank above the Alphonse flats as it made its final approach to the runway which bisects the island’s coconut plantations in half.
We disembarked from the plane straight into a brace of golf buggies which whisked us off to the main part of the hotel. On the way Keith explained that the previous week’s weather had been horrific but the forecast moving forward looked fantastic. On arrival at the bar we were presented with a nice ice cold fresh coconut by the smiling bar staff, and after our introductory briefing, which outlined our plan for the day, the hostesses showed us to our bungalows. Each fisherman has his own villa which consists of a bedroom, bathroom and outdoor open air shower, as well as an island Ferrari (a bicycle) for getting around.
After we had settled in it was time to head to the fishing centre to tackle up and meet the guides. The Alphonse guides are a young team of guys mainly from South Africa who have varying degrees of experience prior to joining the Alphonse team but all of whom are well into their second or third seasons on the Atolls. My guide for the first day was Wayne, who is part of the old guard and is also part of the furniture at Alphonse. He is in his fourteenth season and there is no-one else alive that knows the waters around the island like him. We setup my 8 weight for bones & permit, 10 weight for milks and triggers and the 12 weight for the GT’s. Alphonse is all about the species but to get them you need to have instant access to the required rods. Once the rods were set up we popped into the very well stocked tackle shop. It has everything you could possibly need, from rods and reels to fluorocarbon to the latest design of flies; it was these that took my fancy. Having the right flies for the job when you have to make that vital shot at a permit or GT is key. I stocked up on the key crab and bonefish patterns that Wayne pointed out.
After supper I headed to bed pronto. Having hosted two weeks of shooting back home I was borderline zombified and in dire need of a good night’s sleep and it was lights out as soon as my head connected with the pillow. Next thing I know the phone in my room is ringing, this is not right I thought as it lurched me from my slumber. At supper I had declined the offer of a wake up call. As I picked up the phone a voice at the other end said “Morning Mr Richard are you joining us for breakfast?” I looked at my watch 6:30 am, definitely not right as I had set my alarm clock for 5:30 am. I replied I would be along shortly and then like a whirlwind gathered my kit, camera etc and cycled off for a very fast breakfast. I was expected at the fishing centre at 7 am. Still to this day I am not sure what happened to that alarm.
As we gathered around the fishing centre there was a buzz of excitement. For the last three weeks the island had been battered by strong winds and rain, but not today the sky was clear and the wind was gentle. The guides had loaded all our rods and kit onto the mothership ready for our departure. The mothership which also goes by the name St Francois is a catamaran which is used to ferry guests to and from Alphonse and the skiff boat park. The journey takes about 40 minutes and gives you good time to prepare your kit, catch some sun at the front or just socialise with the other guests. Your guide for the day will also come and have a chat and go through the plan for the day. We arrived at the mooring point and the guides scattered to sort out their skiffs. Before long Wayne had pulled alongside St Francois and David and I had loaded six rods and kit on board. Before long we were racing across the turquoise blue sea heading towards the Cosmic Lagoon, a postcard perfect lagoon on the east side of St Francois island. When we arrived the water was knee deep and the tide was dropping away, perfect bonefishing conditions. We disembarked from the skiff and walked up against the tide, the bonefish were moving down with the current. We had hardly moved away from the skiff when Wayne told me to throw a 15 yard cast to my 12 o’clock. “Wait, let the fly sink, ok now long strip and again, he is on it,” Wayne instructed. Bang, first cast and the reel was screaming. After a couple of good runs the bone was ready to be hauled in and released. He was the first of many bones for that trip. We stayed in the lagoon for a while longer with both of us catching numerous bones. It was a great way to kick off the trip and get a nice bend in the rod. As the tide dropped off we retreated trying to pick off the individual large wilier bonefish. As the tide continued to drop we headed over onto the Milky Way finger and went looking for some triggerfish, larger bones and to see if we could find any patrolling GTs.
Part 2. Coming soon.