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Ross' Fly Fishing Adventures in the Pristine Saltwaters of Astove Island, Seychelles

Astove Island is located 38km SSE of Cosmoledo and is part of the Aldabra Group in the Seychelles. It was previously always fished as part of a package with Cosmoledo Island staying on a live-aboard mothership. From this year it will be a land based operation, much more to my liking (I get seasick). It’s about 4 hours flying time from the Seychelles international airport on the island of Mahe.Astove Island in the Seychelles

Ross’ Daily Fly Fishing Diary

Tuesday 17th March.

I was guided by Cameron today and it was my turn to fish solo. I have always enjoyed fishing with Cameron. He put me onto and landed my 117cm giant trevally last year. There are five regular rods on the trip plus a sixth rod taken by an American film crew with a dedicated guide. Their film will be partly about Astove and will be screened at a Fly Fishing Festival in the future. The working title is “Water's Life”.

The morning was spent walking the flats on the west side on a rising tide, in the lee of the prevailing winds. This is a rare occurrence this year, which meant we didn't have to battle the usual surf found there.

Spotted two blue fin trevally early on and, just as I was casting, luckily, they were joined by a pair of gt’s. Unluckily, the smaller of the two gt’s took my black brush fly. I did everything right and it was good to experience the unstoppable power of a gt again. A lovely 70cm fish. I added a very nice blue fin later in the morning (probably my best ever) and fluffed a shot at a gt. Not a bad morning.

Took lunch back in the camp and afterwards went out into the lagoon, starting opposite the lodge. The water was extremely milky and we struggled to see fish. Because the lagoon is only fed by a single channel, there is a considerable lag in filling and draining the lagoon and there was no fresh cool water yet this far into the lagoon. The dynamics of the water movement in the lagoon are complex and fascinating. We took a skiff to take us part way in, and then walked. I took a 10wt for permit and 12wt for gt’s.

Ross with a GTOnce we found some clear water, I had some practice casting to bonefish with the 10wt in case a shot at a permit came up. We saw two gt’s but neither were in range (at least to a man of my talents). No permit seen or further gt’s.

One of the other guides radioed to advise they were experiencing mayhem near the mouth of the feeder channel, inside the lagoon, and we should get over there. 30 minutes later we were joining the action. I hooked and landed two 1m+ gt’s in 30 minutes, both caught on NYAP Poppers, an exciting way to take the fish. I also had a 2m lemon shark properly try to take the popper but miss.

Harold and Robert, the two initial anglers, had sixteen fish, half of them over 1m including a 1.24m gt (45-50kg). This was fishing at the level that Astove and Cosmoledo have become famous for.

What a start to the week!

Wednesday 18th March

Today I’m fishing with Ollie, a South African I've fished with before at St Brandon's. The Boss, Keith, is our guide for the day and Henry Gilbey, the renowned angling photographer, joined us. The plan was to cross the lagoon, west to east, and then cross the coral fringe to the flats and surf of the east coast. We were then to walk south, past the wreck, and eventually end up at the mouth of the lagoon for lunch, about a 3 mile hike. It was raining and the light was really poor.

Despite this, had a fairly productive morning, catching two gt’s including one that was really spectacular. The gt’s were bashing bait fish on the shore and we came at them parallel to the shore but still in the water. My fish came towards me and was so close I literally roll cast 6m to it and its instincts kicked in and it lunched the fly. Seeing that mouth engulf the fly so close up was special. Once I'd hooked it I had to organise myself pretty rapido! It surged past Henry's legs and headed out to the surf 100m away. I play my fish hard, but that fish almost made it to the sanctuary of the reef - flyline and 50-60m backing out before I stopped it. Definitely the best fight I'd had on this trip by quite a margin.

Stunning Fishing Views On Astove Atoll

Added another smaller gt to make it two for the morning. Ollie had a very good morning - four fish, so a very good session although the walk was punishing. Walking on the soft marl bottom seems to take twice as much energy as normal.

After lunch, we had a fairly quiet afternoon poling around the lagoon on the skiff. We were looking for what was about, but not a lot of action. I had one more small gt.

Thursday 19th March

Fishing with Jan, another angler I have fished with in Cosmoledo and Alphonse. Christian was our guide. Not fished with him before, but very knowledgeable and keen. Represents South Africa at the World Flyfishing Championships.

Plan for the day was to make the same trip across the lagoon, but then head north to fish the northeast coast eventually topping out at the top of the Island and then coming back down the west coast back to the Lodge. We had much better weather and good light.

Very hard morning, not seeing a gt, in fact we didn't see one all day. Had great fun chasing triggers on the flats, which is totally addictive. We had shots at about half a dozen. Eventually I hooked one only for it to spit the hook after a short fight.

Ross and Friend with Permit FishWe carried on walking around the northern point hoping the rising tide would present opportunities. The prevailing winds were pushing very warm water and tons of turtle grass into the shore margins and the flats both on the north and west making them unlikely terrain for gt’s.

Christian then came up with plan B for the afternoon - fish the lagoon for permit. Because the wind was blowing east to west and we were on the western side, the water was extremely coloured. That didn't seem to put the fish off, and within 30 minutes we spotted our first permit tails. With such milky water, the fish fortunately couldn’t see us very well, but the fly needed to be on their noses.

I was fishing a Darvie's Mantis Shrimp, size 2 with bead chain eyes, and I managed to put one in the right place - bingo. Having mentioned I fight my fish hard, I have to confess I was a bit ginger with this one - no permit have been landed at Astove this season....

After a somewhat protracted fight Christian netted the fish. During my fight, Jan hooked up with another fish we think was from the same pod of three or four. He was a bit more assertive than me and Christian netted his fish shortly afterwards - a permit double..!!

Just shows how, in fishing, perseverance pays.

Much high fiving and hugging and some great pics from Henry - Happy Days.

Friday 19th March

Woken during the night by tropical storms and it wasn't any better in the morning. This week has seen some terrible weather, probably the worst Seychelles week I've had weather wise. This is a sight fishing game, so with no light and lots of ripple, it's tough, and the guides were doing an admirable job.

When we got down to the boats, the heavens opened, and we sheltered for 15-20 minutes, waiting for it to ease off.

I was with Serge, a Seychellian guide I've known for a long time, since the early Alphonse days.

We've got a bit of previous, as when out with Serge I didn't set the hook properly on a huge gt at Alphonse last year and we were both keen to make amends.

The plan was to slowly work south down the lagoon, and then moor up near the entrance and walk the southwest corner heading north.

Not much seen in the lagoon, but a gt on a ray woke us up when we were mooring the boat, but no opportunity for a shot.

Plenty of Laughs Whilst FishingThe light was abysmal and the only hope of seeing the fish was to either spot a ray and study it for passengers, (gt’s often follow rays hunting fish and crustaceans they disturb) or to see the fish in the walls of the waves and try to chase them in the surf (tough work).

We actually had four decent shots in the morning, nearly all off of rays. One just wouldn't connect, despite going solid twice, two did connect, and in the final case, a big blue fin beat the gt to the fly. So two gt’s (although one was a baby) and a decent blue fin - not bad considering the lousy light and weather.

We had lunch back at the boat and then had a good look around the mouth of the lagoon and then worked the lagoon itself.

We had a very difficult afternoon - several shots, but fish fading away from the fly, probably because they had seen us, or me not getting the fly to the fish in the right place or at the right time.

Frustration and fatigue were setting in at this stage so I wasn't fishing at my best and no chance to make amends with Serge..!!

When we got back to the moorings I decided to take my 10wgt and go for a walk on the flats where I'd taken the permit the previous day. Partly to cool off, and partly because casting the lighter rod after a day of chucking a 12wgt and a brush fly was something to enjoy.

On my loop back to the mooring I spotted a tail pop out of the surface once, near the shore, close to some overhanging vegetation. I was using a shrimp pattern again and a cast connected to a decent fish. The water was still extremely milky and I played the fish for a good 5-10 minutes convinced I had a permit again, as the only sight I had of the fish was a silver flank through the milky water.

Anyway after a decent fight, it turned out to be a small gt of about 60cm...

A good morning, frustrating afternoon - as always, lessons learnt.

Saturday 20th March

Thunderstorms again in the night but the day broke much brighter - good light at last. Fishing with Jako, or Captain Jack today. Jako's combined passion is flyfishing and movie making. Hope you can get to see his productions of gt and milkfish fishing in the Seychelles - absolutely sensational and produced under the 'Captain Jack Films' banner. Incidentally, most of the anglers in the movies are the guides - it's great to see them get blown out by the fish..!!

We crossed the lagoon high up and we planned to fish the upper east side, walking south on the falling tide (the drop), taking an early lunch and then walking back on the rising tide (the push).

Ross Catching Awesome FishThe walk south was quiet, apart from a decent bonefish, until we found some feeding triggerfish. These guys have an absolute cult following and I'm a member of the club. They don't run to massive sizes, 3-5lb are the norm, although they can reach double figures, but they are so powerful, stopping them is like trying to stop an express train - almost impossible. Several have been hooked this trip but none landed so far. I hooked a good fish and with the clutch set hard and 20lb tippet I wanted to show the fish who was boss - no chance. The fish ran 20m in a few seconds and clamping down to try and stop it going down a hole popped the 20lb tippet.... They are addictive.

The walk back, on a rising tide was very good. I spotted the first gt and it presented itself for an ideal cast. The fish missed the fly at its first attempt, overshot but regrouped and had it the second time, all on the same retrieve. A nice fish of about 80cm to start the day.

The next fish was hooked but came unhooked after a short period, so one all, fish and me.

We then had two very good fish of about 90cm apiece. Great dramatic takes, big rushes, flaring gills, chomping mouths, all happening with a second or two of the fly landing and the strip retrieve starting. Classic gt fishing and the best part of catching them. Both fish fought well and hard probably taking 10-15 minutes each to land.

Our walk on the eastern flat finished when we reached a band of hot yellow water that was being pushed along the flat by the incoming tide - not good fishing water.

We then popped over the rim back into the lagoon and cadged a lift in one of the boats back to the place I had caught the permit on Thursday, near the boat moorings. It hadn't occurred to me, but Jako was trying to get an Astove Grand Slam - gt, bonefish, permit.

We had one permit almost run into us in the milky water, but apart from that, we didn't see a thing, so no Astove Grand Slam.

Nonetheless, a great day, 4 gt’s seen, 4 hooked, 3 landed.

Last day tomorrow.

Sunday 21st March

Fishing solo with Keith today and Henry snapping. Low tide was at midday, so the plan was to fish the final drop and the rise on the east shore between the wreck and the mouth.

Weather was grim to begin with, poor light, but we'd planned the first hour exploring some edges of the lagoon first.

When we did get out on to the surf side, starting at the mouth, the sun and cloud obliged and we had pretty decent light.

We walked up to the wreck and back again on the fall, walked back up to the wreck on the turn, rested for a while, and then walked back to the mouth on the rise. The light and wind were good, and we could see the flat and the edge of the surf pretty well.

Apart from some fun with some bones, several hooked, none landed, we saw virtually nothing gt wise. The flats were alive with fish, just not the sort we were looking for. We saw two small gt’s out of my casting range and already heading for the horizon. It was really frustrating, because above the wreck, Robert, guided by Christian, had caught 3 fish and seen several....

One highlight of the walks was stumbling across a massive bonefish sat quietly in one of the deep cuts that run in parallel channels from the ocean into the flats. Nobody has been able to give an explanation for the existence of these cuts, but they’re 30cm or so deeper than the surrounding flat, and they occur every 4-5m or so in some places. A pain for walking, but these channels are used by the bigger fish when the levels are low. The bonefish had seen us and was cruising out. It was so big I initially thought it was a gt and chucked my 12wt with a Brush Fly at it. Keith put the fish at 15lb and I wouldn't argue - stunning.

So we finished our walk with no fish - frustrating and perplexing, given the conditions were good and everyone else was catching. Keith worked hard and was determined to give me a good send off, but it wasn't to be.

We spent the last hour at Permit Point, but no fish seen.

Stunning Sunset from Astove Atoll

Ross' Final Say

It was a great week of fishing with a really good crowd of anglers and the usual superb guides, expertly organised Cameron who’s in-charge on the ground all expertly overseen by Keith. The land based operation was good, especially considering the transient stage the operation is at. I saw the new guest lodge that will be ready, hopefully for the next season - looks superb - built with the bedrooms, dining area, relaxing rooms, all as the perimeter to a central courtyard.

Special mention to Corrado, our chef, who did a great job in the kitchen along with all the Island staff, Elvis, Mr Brown and the others who enabled a smooth operation.

We didn't have the best weather, probably the worse week weather wise since I've been coming to the Seychelles.

But the guides did a great job of the difficult weather and we ended the week with 92 gt’s. I ended the week with 12 gt’s, a bit less than the average, but three over a metre, some bones, got roasted a couple of times by triggers, and caught the first permit of the season, made extra special by doing the permit double with Jan. Great memories.

I used Sage Salt Fly Rod (12wt and 10wt), Charlton Mako reels. GT flies were on 8/0 Gamakatsu SL6 hooks by H2O (South Africa) and smaller flies by Rupert Harvey on Gamakatsu hooks.

Photo credits to Jako and Christian, Alphonse Island guides. Plus Henry Gilbey, fishing blogger & photographer.

Ross Brawn
Although I’m best known for my career in Formula One motor racing, I am also a stalwart fisherman who enjoys fly fishing both in fresh and saltwater. I enjoy travelling to new places to fish and relish the challenge that a new destination brings. I particularly like spending time with fishing guides learning the subtle things that make a big difference to a day by the water.