Indian Ocean's Eden for Anglers

From near-virgin flats to bottomless blue water, Desroches Islands in the Seychelles proves a secluded shangri-la for anglers.

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Desroches Island

(This gallery is adapted from the feature"Indian Ocean Eden" in the March, 2014, issue of Sport Fishing_ magazine_.) Locally, they just call it “the drop.” See it on the screen of a color sounder and you’ll understand. As one travels 7 or 8 miles west, away from Desroches, a small island in the Indian Ocean, the depth increases gradually to 150 feet or more, but then begins to shallow up — to just 50 to 60 feet. From there, head on out a little farther: Suddenly the screen shows an almost-vertical precipice dropping away beneath the boat, into water thousands of feet deep. Not so surprisingly, a sounder will also show large fish patrolling along the top of this near-vertical wall that surrounds Desroches (pronounced "da-rōsh). As we found out, it’s not a place for anything but serious tackle. (Photo courtesy Desroches Island Resort)
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"The Drop" in 3-D

This contour chart makes manifestly clear how steep this drop is and why productive upwellings are the rule of thumb at Desroches Island. (Map by Dave Underwood)
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Long List of Species

For many adventurous travelers, the Seychelles — occupying more than a half-million square miles of Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles east of Kenya — evokes visions of the most exquisite, lonely white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons surrounding pristine tropical islands. This nation — with 176 square miles of land among 115 islands — is all of that. For the relatively few sport fishermen who make it out here, the Seychelles also means seldom-fished atolls and islands with untouched flats and, beyond, extensive reefs dropping away to azure-blue depths. From bonefish to blue marlin, the list of species that an angler might hook — in one day — is tremendous.That also includes Indo-Pacific permit, like this beauty, caught on the flats of St. Joseph's Atoll. (Photo courtesy Capt. Karl Simpson)
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A Dream Realized

When the chance to finally visit and fish the Seychelles came along this past October, I jumped at it. Joining me were Frank Yerich, of Houston, and George Large, of Yo-Zuri America (based in Port St. Lucie, Florida). Our destination would be Desroches Island, where we could expect to fish hard all day and, at night, lap up the five-star luxury of the fabulous resort. In fact, there's no other development on the island, hence "Desroches Island" is used synonymously with Desroches Island Resort. One of Large's dreams has been to catch a decent giant trevally. In this photo, he muscles a good one to the boat after it struck a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver. (Go-Pro photo by Doug Olander) The resort has for some years been legendary among the world’s serious fly-fishing fraternity, not simply for opportunities around the island, but even more for the endless flats of nearby St. Joseph Atoll (about 30 miles of ocean away) and smaller, slightly farther, Poivre Atoll. While some in our group dabble in the long rod, mostly we’re really spin and conventional guys; one of our tasks was to document great fishing this side of a fly rod. If only all my tasks proved so easy. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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The Ubiquitous Jobfish

The only fly in our ointment would be the wind. October marks the end of the long season of incessantly blowing southeast trade winds that begins in May — a marvelous breeze for visitors who aren't intent on fishing. Ah, but just when in October those winds cease operation is never certain. They didn't ease up much during most of our visit, so we had to adapt. Early on, we did make it out to the drop on Y-Knot,__ the resort's 30-foot Wellcraft with twin Yammie 250s, but the washboard sea proved a bit formidable to throw large poppers as we'd hoped. We elected to troll instead, allowing us at least one hand free with which to hold onto the boat. In short order, we hooked up, first with one of the most ubiquitous of predators that hang over reefs and venture into deeper water nearby: a green jobfish. Though common throughout the Indo-Pacific, jobfish are exotic for most anglers from the United States, since nothing similar inhabits western Atlantic or eastern Pacific waters. We ended up catching many of these dagger-jawed members of the snapper family while trolling, but also while jigging and popping (like the specimen in the photo here). They’ll hunt down fast-moving lures and fight like hell when hooked. And in areas where ciguatera is not a concern — such as Desroches — they’re superb eating as well. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Dogtooth Initiation

The first shocker early on came when, on the deep side of the drop, a corner rod went off. Way off. As in a dancing rod and screaming drag losing line at an alarming rate. Yerich hung on for dear life trying to slow the fish that had grabbed a deep-diving lure. Then suddenly it was gone. What we reeled up was a real bitch-slap for three seasoned anglers: At the end of the line was what remained of a very tough, thick polycarbonate, completely through-wired lure. Bitten clean off, only the bill and a quarter inch of lure remained. "Dogtooth tuna," announced our skipper, Stuart Mahoune. This species is another denizen of the Indo-— strength that would rival a shark. Dogtooth 1, anglers 0. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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A Doggie in the Boat

We did catch a couple of smaller doggies, and the next day I released this one of 70 to 75 pounds (estimate based on length), which I hooked on a Yo-Zuri Jointed 3D Deep Diving Crystal Minnow. That proved quite a struggle on 20-pound braid. But our chance to tangle with the big boys again (they can be 150 to at least 200 pounds) came later when a couple of calmer days permitted us to run over to St. Joseph Atoll with captains (and brothers) Karl and Brad Simpson on the 35-foot express, Predator. During the calm months, the resort runs day trips to St. Joe's (and also leaves a skiff there). But we'd waited many days for the chance to get there, so the resort's 54-foot power cat, A'Mani,__ was sent over to serve as a mothership for a couple of nights, giving us quite a bit more fishing time during the two-and-a-half days we'd have there. (Photo by George Large)
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Too Many Tuna!

Getting into the atoll proved challenging. The seas, now calming down, weren't the problem. Rather it was all the schools of yellowfin tuna as we drew closer to St. Joseph's. These weren't by any measure monster yellowfin; they were schoolies, a size I find more fun than the sheer work of cow-size fish. And they were hungry for poppers. Though we had to keep running to stay on top of the fast-moving schools, the tuna had no hesitation to smash the Yo-Zuri Sashimi 3D Poppers we threw at them, as evidenced in this photo. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Multiple Hookups Multiple Times

Multiple hookups were the order of the morning. As the tuna became more scattered, we once again started trolling — and hooking the wahoo that had been prowling just below the tuna. No monsters here either but good numbers of ’hoos that made our reels wail, and enough that we were able to hook some by casting poppers. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Home Sweet Home

Late that afternoon, we tied up to the big cat, A'Mani, and with unabashed gluttony a bit later, devoured all the grilled yellowfin, wahoo and mahi we could eat, and maybe a little more. For those wanting more action, casting from the mothership — anchored just off the largest island in the atoll where sparse reef drops into a deep channel — could provide it. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Somewhere, Under -- a Rainbow

Brad engaged in a light-tackle battle from a stern corner of the big power-cat mothership that seemed hopeless, with a fish running fully underneath the vessel to shoot out from beneath the bow. But somehow he prevailed and surprised us all with a lovely 15-pound rainbow runner. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Early Morning Jobfish Suprirse

That said, nothing should come as too big a surprise when casting a line in these waters. Karl mentioned that at various times large dogtooth and GT had been caught off the cat at anchor. Indeed, early the next morning, something inhaled George Large's popper with an impressive explosion. He too found himself up against it but also beat the odds and, after photos, released a big jobfish. Among the other species that anglers and crew variously pulled aboard the mothership with their light gear were coronation trout (astoundingly colorful grouper known as swallowtails here), bohar snapper (per the species name, Lutjanus bohar, aka red bass throughout Australian waters), huge houndfish and more. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Be Careful What You Wish For!

But we had our sights set on larger things. And in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for department, we were soon to hook some. On that second day at St. Joe’s, the seas flattened out (apparently the way they usually are by November and on into early spring — lesson learned). Karl put us over a ledge in the 150- to 250-foot range, and we dropped jigs on an easy (slow) drift. Wham! Long story short: big dogtooth 4, anglers 0. These were serious doggies. Large and I both hooked them; Large and I both lost them. In total, three slammed our jigs near bottom; in the other case I was simply reeling, about halfway up from the depths. Every one of them proved, in a word, unstoppable. We were fishing 80-pound or 65-pound braid on large reels (among them a Shimano Calcutta, 140000 Stella and a Van Staal VM275). To the dogtooth, our locked-down drags were but a minor annoyance, as they powered off, hardly slowed. On deck, that translated into anglers sweating and hurling curses at the fish, with rods bent in a U, arms and back straining, and reels growing hot to the touch. (Photo by George Large)
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Sharked!

Two powered their way to the deep reef and cut us off. I popped the line on one, as I knew I would when I kept palming my spool with more and more force, since the alternative would have been to hear the dreaded snap at my arbor knot. The fourth fish apparently disappeared into the maw of a shark 180 feet down in a scene I shudder to imagine. After all, what simply ingests a tuna of 150 pounds or more? For a few moments, the slow but ceaseless run of a dogtooth pulling out full drag was replaced by the high-pitched scream of a much larger fish moving much faster — until teeth or sharkskin inevitably abraded the line. The last of the doggies didn’t completely get away. Just most of it. Ultimately, Large reeled in a piece of his tuna; the sharks took the tail section and the front half. We took the intact 20-or-so-pound chunk for a lovely dinner. I hate the-one-that-got-away stories, but truly, the monster dogtooth of Desroches left us broken-hearted. I can only dream of getting back someday for a rematch. Next time: 130-pound braid. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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We also had a chance to wade the phenomenal flats of St. Joseph's. As we were just on the cusp of the real fishing season, the resort had not yet left any skiffs at St. Joe's, so we rode onto the flats via kayaks launched from Predator. After a briefly exhilarating ride over small breakers, we hopped out and towed the two kayaks effortlessly behind us. Bonefish are of course a major draw in this fishery. We understood that the atoll is home to some huge schools. While I didn’t see any aggregations quite in that category, as the tide continued to ebb over the sand, I spotted a few schools of perhaps 30 or 40 fish — enough to quicken the pulse and get the palms sweaty. The good news: They weren’t particularly spooky. The bad news: They weren’t particularly aggressive either. My 3-inch Gulp! grub tails were ignored, but Large did manage to hook up on fly, as this photo shows. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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We did catch a couple bonefish on fly that morning, and lost two more to the army of blacktips that, along with lemons, patrol these vast flats. Although we had no shots at other skinny-water trophy targets such as the beautiful golden-tipped permit or trevally (GT and bluefin), we did catch some small, feisty spangled emperors and a variety of small, very colorful grouper on shallow-running diving minnows. But clearly, as this Mark Hatter photo taken another day on the same flats shows, huge GT do patrol the flats around all these islands. Small diving lures such as the Yo-Zuri 3DB Shad, by the way, proved quite effective trolled on very light spinning gear over sand and reefs in 10 to 20 feet of water close to the beaches along the northwest side of Desroches Island for a variety of species. (Change out small trebles with stout single hooks, however.) (Photo by Mark Hatter)
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Popper Sail

You'll find marlin — blues, stripes and especially blacks— in good supply at times, if that's your game. And sails can be abundant. They seem fond of chasing houndfish in these waters; several times we watched them shower the long fish in silvery, broad-jumping waves over the surface. We raised and hooked sailfish on topwaters — poppers and Yo-Zuri Sashimi Metallic Sliders such as the one I used to catch this sail. Desroches and its nearby atolls constitute one of the world’s particularly exciting and very fishy destinations for anglers of all persuasions. We noted that without traveling more than 2 miles or so, we had caught bonefish on the flats and hooked sails in deep water. (Photo by Frank Yerich)
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Desroches Wildlife

Make no mistake: Getting here is not easy (figure 24 or more hours of airplane/airport time); staying/fishing here is not cheap. But for anglers with the means, who seek that lifetime bucket-list adventure in a special venue (complete with a herd of giant tortoises), Desroches has to rank high. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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Planning a Trip to Desroches Island

Getting there: We flew into Johannesburg, and from there, via Air Seychelles, to Mahe, the main island/city of the Seychelles. (Air Seychelles was a nice surprise, with its fleet — at least our planes — newer and more comfortable than U.S. domestic carriers, its food better and staff friendlier.) Other hub options to catch direct flights to Mahe include Dubai and Frankfort. The resort arranges daily flights from Mahe to Desroches Island and return flights. As noted clearly in the text of this feature, peak months for fishing are November through March. October and April might offer good conditions but no guarantees. Places to Stay On Desroches of course there's only one place to stay, and that's the resort. Expect five-star luxury (and prices); it's a phenomenal place, one named as among the top-10 destinations in the world by Forbes magazine. This photo was taken looking down the courtyard of our villa toward the ocean. En route, we overnighted in Joburg very near the airport at the homey, inexpensive Sunrock Guest House, and overnighted on Mahe at the jaw-dropping Constance Ephelia Resort. General information on visiting the Seychelles is available here. (Photo by Doug Olander)
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What to Bring

Exclusive, but casual — that describes Desroches, which makes the job of packing clothing easier. For fishing, the resort has gear, a description of which can be found at desroches-island.com. To the extent one can bring gear (on the last leg of the trip, from Mahe to Desroches, passengers are allowed 33 pounds and beyond that must pay a bit more than $6 per pound over that), I'd suggest at least a couple or three of your favorite rods, reels and lures — poppers, deep divers and metal jigs (which accounted for this nice rosy jobfish and a relatively rare dot-dash grouper), particularly. For the flats, if you're not a fly guy, small bucktails and plastic tails should work. And good wading boots are a must if you'll fish the flats. I brought Patagonia's Marlwalkers — surprisingly light for the great comfort and protection they provide during hours of walking. (Photo by Doug Olander)