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As an incurable, itinerant angler and longtime reader of The Angling Report, I have often glanced with at least passing interest at the Online Extra FREE trips that have been offered in recent years. However, when I read about the opportunity for an angler and spouse to visit Desroches Island Resort in Seychelles, I was immediately smitten and sent off an inquiry letter to Editor Don Causey.
Fortunately, Don chose me and my spouse, Victoria, to sample the delights and diversity available at what turned out to be one of the world’s truly outstanding island resorts. Initially, my interest was fueled by my 30-year passion for Caribbean flats permit and the opportunity this trip offered to encounter their Indo-Pacific cousins in reliable numbers. Other anglers might salivate equally over the eager schools of tailing bonefish, bluefin trevally, and the spectacular chaos of a marauding giant trevally. But for me, the overriding lure was the chance to pursue an Indo-Pacific permit.
An equally important benefit of this trip was the chance it provided my wife and me to enjoy a long overdue vacation together, immersing ourselves in a plethora of activities and indulgences unrelated to fly fishing. Indeed, there proved to be ample time to satisfy both our individual interests and to reconnect with each other in shared pursuits, luxurious accommodations, and quiet time.
We all know that first impressions are enduring. As Americans making the long trek from Salt Lake City to Atlanta to Johannesburg to Mahe, we were pleased to have been met by Desroches Island Resort personnel at the Mahe Airport, where lodge guests enjoy their own private cabaña concession with food, drink, and comfortable furniture while awaiting the 40-minute charter flight to Desroches. Once at the island runway, the entire staff was on hand to greet us. you, as the ratio of staff to guests there approaches two to one. While we were there, it seemed every request, however quirky, was met with genuine enthusiasm in an attempt to work out a plan and a solution.
The rooms at the lodge are spacious, air-conditioned, and beautifully appointed, with ocean sunset views and total privacy from your neighbor. Early in the morning, Victoria and I would visit the well-appointed gym to ensure all of the creaky body parts were still working, then we’d wander over to a sumptuous breakfast replete with fresh breads and fruits, smoked salmon, great coffee, an intriguing custom menu, plus attentive service that ensured on-time arrival for any organized activity.
On four of our days on the island, I met either Cameron or Hayden, the two flats fishing guides, while Victoria wandered off to experience one of five types of massage offered at the spa, a swim in the pool, or some snorkeling. Impressively, the tackle shop there can outfit any angler who arrives unprepared.
The boats available for fishing include a center-console Scarab or Citation 900, both swift and beautifully equipped inshore/offshore boats. Depending upon the tides and/or preference, we would head for Poivre Island, 17 miles northwest of Desroches, or St. Joseph’s Atoll, a 27-mile run due west of Desroches. In smooth conditions, either destination is a comfortable and easy run of less than one hour.
St. Joseph’s is an exquisite atoll with a lagoon in the middle. Mostly hard white sand bottom, it is easy to wade. Bonefish of four to six pounds abound, and feeding permit can be intercepted at the right tidal stages. A smorgasbord of other species can be caught in the lagoon at the drop-off edges. The guides eagerly walk along with you, carrying your spare fly rod and drinks in their backpacks, and they are adept at spotting fish. It is important to be in decent physical condition as you frequently cover long distances while wading.
Fortunately, it is not always necessary to wade for miles. Much as you would see in the Florida Keys or Bahamas, there are a number of finger channels that create intersections where you can patiently wait for bones, permit, oversized barracuda, or sharks. Primary food sources for permit there are several species of crabs. One species is opaque, nearly a ghost white color. There are also mixed brown-colored crabs with hairy legs, commonly found among the various corals. Most prolific, however, are small, medium-brown creatures resembling octopi (but locally called starfish). These starfish have six tentacles that look like hairy, two- to three-inch legs, anchored by a rounded core section. I would love to have tied and tried some imitations. Occasionally, I also observed two- to three-inch pink shrimp popping out of the water, evading bonefish.
Poivre Island is the other prime location here. In general, the guides like to fish Poivre early in the day. It is essential to have a decent push of a couple of feet of water, either on the incoming or outgoing tide. Under such conditions, one can see many tailing permit feeding on the dark turtle grass sections of the several-mile-long flat.
One morning at Poivre prior to the incoming tide, I stood blind casting in one of the cuts with my guide, Hayden. I wasn’t drawing any attention from one of the super realistic crabs that I tied. So, I switched to a rubber-legged, suggestive crab. Instantly, I began to catch fish of all varieties on nearly every cast. There were wrasses, grouper, and ten other species I have already forgotten, whose names I need to look up. Eventually, the flats and turtle grass, accented by deep red and black-colored grasses, began to fill in. We found a good bonefish school and I hooked a six pounder that got loose after a frantic run. One of the great things about having the guide next to you is the chance to swap rods at a moment’s notice. Indeed, I had a moment like that one morning when a 50-pound giant trevally swam though the cut. I immediately handed off my lighter rod, made a long cast, tucked my 12-wt. rod under my arm, and stripped with both hands. I drew the giant fish all the way to my rod tip, but it ultimately refused to eat. A smaller consolation prize appeared soon after, in the form of a big bluefin trevally that slammed back into the surf, taking me deep into my backing.
Finally, one morning, my prime target, a permit, appeared. In fact, at one point I had three of them tailing in front of me in the slack water between the buffeting heavy surf. I will always remember when all three of those permit surfed in the wave toward me. Their yellow fins stood out prominently. I made a good cast, drawing one of the permit toward the fly. However, the fly got hung up on the coral bottom.
Fortunately, that same morning Hayden spotted a 15-pound permit for me, tailing between the waves in the heavy surf. Forced to wade way out, I found myself being jolted as the waves broke against me. That permit allowed me at least eight shots as it tailed consistently in front of me before finally heading to deep water. The experience left me a bit demoralized until Hayden spotted several more tailers farther up on the flat. I tiptoed to a spot where I had a good cast downwind at about 50 feet. The permit farthest left saw the fly, surged to it, and stopped. Knowingly, I strip-set, and the permit was on. I jabbed him a few times and he took off way into the backing, meeting up with his fleeing buddies. On foot, with coral abounding, I alternately walked, ran, and danced, rod held high, doing my best to avoid an evasive sideways dive or tippet scrape into the coral. With no skiff or net, it took 25 minutes to tire the permit enough to finally tail him. It had beautiful colors. It was a most satisfactory catch of about ten pounds.
Tides at Desroches, St. Joseph’s, and Poivre fluctuate between 1.2 feet and slightly more than three feet. So they are very significant to the fishing, perhaps more like Florida than Belize. On Poivre, when the tide is off, great pockets of stagnant water become overheated like a bathtub. On a good day, one might expect to encounter at least a dozen permit. However, I heard more than one account of 50 permit sightings in a day at Poivre. After an exciting and productive afternoon of hooking and catching permit, I have the “bug” for Indo-Pacific permit. I definitely want more!
On my nonfishing days, I looked forward to tennis with my wife, played on an Astroturf-inspired court. The borrowed racquets and balls could have been of a slightly higher caliber, but the tennis was still a fun diversion for both of us. Significantly, the court has night lighting. The resort grounds are beautifully landscaped with abundant palms and indigenous trees. A highlight is the life-sized, driftwood sculpture of a whale that captivates everyone’s attention. Bicycles are provided for all guests, who can easily ride around the entire island. An island bicycle tour along a series of nature trails and the coastline beaches is spectacular.
Victoria and I enjoyed a great ride on the bikes to Madame Zabre beach, which we then explored with our snorkeling gear. We swam between fantastic 40-foot-tall coral heads of unimaginable shapes and vibrant colors. Many of the coral heads were tipped in an iridescent blue. Giant wrasses and parrotfish were everywhere. On the way out of the water, Victoria and I spotted a hawksbill turtle flipping its way up the slope of the beach to lay her eggs.
One of the most intriguing scuba diving sites at Desroches is a series of underwater caves situated in extremely clear water with an abundance of fish. Several guests raved about it; a fleeting problem with my left ear forced me to miss out on this highlight. Later on, though, we visited the tortoise sanctuaries. Desroches has a wonderful and successful conservation program in place. These are incredible animals capable of living for 200 years!
Back at the hotel, the infinity pool is magnificent with its intricately tiled bottom and tropical fish inlay that creates a festive atmosphere as one crosses the footbridge over the pool. At night, the ambiance of lit floating candles further illuminates the underwater lighting. It is the perfect backdrop to appreciate the elegance and tranquility of a rare and exotic island resort tucked away in its own private world. At night, strolling along the beach, the complete lack of an urbanscape dramatically frames the night sky, which radiates with shooting stars and the Milky Way.
The cuisine at Desroches is world class, featuring a superbly presented array of dishes drawn from European, Asian, and African traditions. Executive chef Norhayati (Yati) hails from Malaysia, yet her menus are richly eclectic, aimed at pleasing a wide range of palates. It is worth elaborating on the cuisine, not only for its excellence, but also for the benefit of nonanglers participating in other island activities that include cooking classes and island tours of local flora and organic gardens.
The resort’s culinary emphasis is on fresh, available foods, be they the abundant fruits of the sea (such as yellowfin tuna, kingfish, Indian ocean prawns, octopus), the resort’s own organically grown herbs and greens, or the luscious tropical fruits used to great effect in soups, condiments, and desserts. A typical menu might begin with a wahoo coconut ceviche or a papaya gazpacho soup. Main courses present meat, fish, and vegetarian options, and might feature, for example, rosemary-mustard baked lamb loin, a gourmet selection of wood-fired oven pizzas, or a seared reef fish with roasted garden vegetables and pesto–lemon zest couscous or herbed rice. Desserts artfully combine the more familiar flavors such as chocolate and coffee with more exotic Asian and African island spices and fruits such as coconut, ginger, cardamom, papaya, guava, passion fruit, and mango.
Somewhat surprisingly, I found the offshore angling here very attractive. After hearing a fellow guest’s story about hooking a large sailfish that subsequentlystraightened the hook on his fly, I approached Kyle, who operates the offshore fishing program. It was the next-to-last day of my trip, so I arranged to fish a couple of hours with him the next morning prior to leaving the island at midday. Kyle’s boat is powered by a pair of 440-horsepower Cummins diesel engines. I had two rods rigged; one for sailfish with a 550 grain head and pink popper, the other with a 120-pound shock tippet (no wire available) in the event we had a shot at a wahoo.
Kyle favors days with bright overhead sun to accentuate the colors of the teasers. He definitely prefers fishing when the tides switch and there is a push of current. We found ourselves fishing one of three different shelves at approximately 40, 60, and 80 meters in depth. The sailfish tend to congregate on these shelves. Not far away lies the huge drop-off of thousands of meters. Only a couple of days before, Kyle was fishing a guest who hooked a yellowfin tuna, which started acting funny. Shortly thereafter, a 600-plus-pound blue marlin launched into the air with the tuna clenched between its jaws. Eventually, the marlin got off.
Kyle fishes these waters year-round. His offshore fishing is not as impacted by the southeastern monsoon as the flats fishing, which is effectively ended by the weather shift in May. As far as sailfish are concerned, April is Kyle’s favorite month. I recall him mentioning he caught something like 140 sailfish in April last year. Kyle also shared stories of encounters such as a day when three sailfish fought each other at the transom to see which one got to eat the fly!
I wish I could say our brief offshore trip was more eventful. There was a short rousing of rain and generally overcast skies. Early on, a bonito slashed at the starboard bait, but disappeared before I could cast. Later on, a large wahoo launched into the air, slashing at the same bait. Unfortunately, we could not tease either of these fish in close. In front of the bow, a flock of terns fed intermittently on baitfish, locally called scad. For a minute or so, yellowfin could be seen busting the bait, launching spray in all directions. Far too soon, our morning foray was over. As Kyle and the mate, Ray, reeled in the teaser baits, I grabbed my fly rod and made a couple of casts. To my total surprise, a 60-pound dogtooth tuna was drawn to my popper, rising up from the depths to within two feet of the surface. I made several fan casts, but could no longer find the tuna.
Around Desroches Island itself, casual flats fishing opportunities await. Bonefish can be found around Bombay Beach, and smaller permit can show up at any time. While you are sharing a kayak with your spouse, you might sneak a rod on board with you. From a flats fishing perspective, think about booking a trip here during neap tides rather than full or new moons. Particularly at Poivre, avoiding extreme highs or lows will provide more hours of advantageous tides. From November through May, the prevailing winds are from the northwest. During the monsoon season winds become unfavorable and shift to the southeast.
All in all, Victoria and I consider our trip to Desroches Island Resort one of the most enjoyable and memorable we have taken. We heartily recommend the place to fellow subscribers.—Jonathan Olch.
Postscript: As for costs, a standard fly fishing package for couples, which covers seven nights’ lodging and four days of fly fishing for one angler, currently costs 5,370 euro for the angler and 3,570 euro for the non-angler. That includes luxury accommodation, three main meals daily, tea and coffee, local spirits, beers, soft drinks, and house wines, four full days of fly fishing, return domestic flights, shared skiff and guide, and all non-motorized land- and water-based activities. The lodge is open all year but flats fly fishing starts in October and ends in June.