A non-fisher's viewpoint of Alphonse Island

by Roxtons

Fantala is the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Indian Ocean – pass less than 300km to the south of the Alphonse Group that consists of Alphonse, Bijoutier and St Francois atolls. So was the week a disaster for the fly fishers and their non-fishing family and friends?

This cyclone, all but levelling the directly hit Farquhar Atoll, resulted in heavy wind and big waves in the channel between Alphonse and St Francois and some pretty unbearable rain at points. Fishing manager Devan made the safety (and comfort) call each morning and fishers were restricted to the Alphonse atoll flats and reef for pretty much the first four of the six full fishing days. Thankfully the final two days saw perfectly calm conditions and the team made it out to St Francois then.

Made up of 10 fly fishers and five non-fishers, the group actually had a fishing week that, by the standards of any other saltwater fly fishery, would be exceptional! The oldest husband and wife fishing together were well into their seventies and the youngest couple barely out of their twenties. Between them they landed half a dozen GTs to 100cm, several triggerfish, a beautiful Indo-pacific permit, a variety of LRJs (‘little-reef-jobs’, a name for the umpteen species that smash a fly if you leave it in the water too long on a reef walk) – and dozens upon dozens of bones. The rest of the team, friends from the UK and northern Ireland landed GTs to 60cm, triggers and hundreds of bones to 6lbs or so. Paul, who has returned to fish Alphonse over 20 times in something like 12 years had a Friday to remember with guide Wayne – landing close to 30 decent bones (3-5lbs) in two hours and capped by his largest ever GT at 110cm.

So the fishers, although disappointed by the weather, fished intervals of slightly better weather in the first four days and had a great finish to the week. But what about the non-fishers…. was it hell-on-atoll?

For the first time in something like 30 weeks on Alphonse, I was one of them! I had taken my wife Hannah (a capable but not addicted fly fisher) and promised her – at the very least – amazing weather and secondly that she could witness and enjoy all the improvements to the island operation and non-fishing activities since her last visit in 2004. So confident was I that she would love it that I would be a non-fisher too. The plan was to fish around my favourite Alphonse hotspots when she wasn’t paying attention!

I honestly think that the five non fishers had an even better time during the week than the 10 fishers. Whilst this is not the holiday for those looking to shop or leave kids in a crèche, the on-island team are acutely tuned to ensuring you are happy. Each morning there was a phone call to see if we wanted to learn to scuba dive or head out on a guided scientific reef walk or island tour of the wildlife and birds. If we were too lazy to make it to the beach bar for lunch we could have it dropped to the balcony of our room by golf buggy, along with a chilled bottle of white wine, unless you didn’t want to drink before having a massage in the afternoon!

Everyone loved sundowners (Pimms/G&Ts) and barbecued finger food, and the dinners were better than ever and served in the beach or on the sand under the stars. In fact the evening meals were perhaps only beaten by a non-fisher’s call to lunch on the perfect sand flats on Alphonse’s Point Dot where a table was laid and we enjoyed a three course meal of meats, fish, salads (from the island veggie gardens), deserts and cheese served under the Thursday’s blazing blue skies and looking out over the Indian Ocean. We were in fact entertained by a procession of bonefish, triggerfish, rays and a small lemon shark swimming past during lunch.

I am of course a worryingly addicted fly fisher, so as a non-fisher I was prepared to feel a little ‘trapped’ on Alphonse. I didn’t. I loved it. Not so much for the lovely freshwater pool I knew it had, or the canoes and snorkelling kit or super fresh grilled fish or the bikes you cycle round the island on, but because I felt really, genuinely relaxed. The atmosphere generated by a staff so friendly and considerate – without being overbearing – is ideal. Even on those rare days of bad weather on Alphonse – for us four days in a row – it was still warm and the staff worked double-time in the background to make sure we needed for nothing.

On the final Friday Hannah and I, and Audrey the wife of another fisher, joined the fishers on St Francois and had one of the oddest experiences ever. Wayne took us to a particular point on the eastern flats of the atoll to feed the bonefish. This was nothing short of hand-feeding a group of a dozen large bonefish that Wayne has trained over the course of seasons to eat various bits of lunches directly from your hand whilst kneeling on the flat. It was extraordinary.

So what did I learn from my week as a non-fisher? Well firstly I will never worry about my wife getting bored, and secondly when talking to fishers considering Alphonse I will not hesitate to recommend they bring non-fishing family and friends.