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Editor Note: Subscriber Don Armstrong has checked in with a report that details his daily outings to fish the skinny water flats of the little-known Cargados Carajos, or St. Brandon’s Atoll. This Indian Ocean chain of islands sits north of Mauritius and is one of the most remote saltwater destinations on any angler’s bucket list, and it is as fishy, as it is remote. Don had this to say about his experience:
I have fished in the Seychelles twice before—mostly with some success—so I finally decided I was ready to try St. Brandon’s Atoll. The question then was, where the heck is St. Brandon’s Atoll? There is very little on the internet to review, other than a few advertisements for the Fly Castaway fishing operation. It seems to be a well-kept secret.
St. Brandon’s is part of Mauritius, about 250 miles north of the island. It is a long journey to get there. I left on Saturday afternoon from Salt Lake City, and the first day of fishing was scheduled for the next Thursday! It took a total of five days just to get there! In all honesty, it was worth it. However, it is important to be ready for the 27-hour boat ride from Mauritius to St. Brandon’s in what are generally rough seas.
We met at the Le Suffren Hotel in Mauritius at 9:00 AM but didn’t depart until about 1:00 PM. Personally, I think meeting at 9:00 for a 1:00 PM departure is a little much, but, understandably, Fly Castaways wants to make sure everyone is all set. And, as always, there were a few issues early on. One angler didn’t receive his luggage and, due to the remote nature of our location, had to purchase enough clothes to last him through his seven days of fishing.
The crew and guides are great and really help in all aspects of the trip. I fish with guides a lot, but these are some of the best guides I have encountered. The fishing operation was very well organized. At Fly Castaway, the guides rotate between all of the anglers each day, rather than stick with one set of anglers throughout the trip, and we either fished two anglers to one guide or one-on-one each time we went out.
On the first day, my friend Doug and I fished with Craig, who is from South Africa. Craig is 23 but has the knowledge of an old-timer. He was very professional and helpful in all aspects and is already the head guide at St. Brandon’s. This is his fourth year working there.
We had big tides that day, but started out our morning on the low tide. This meant we started out looking for bonefish—and it wasn’t long before we found some. I got one on my third cast, and ended up with four for the day. We also had many shots at Indo-Pacific permit, of which Doug had two eats and I had one on. Doug also had a shot at some large GTs as well, but with no luck.
On the second day, I fished alone with Milan and caught four bonefish again. Then we went out along the reef to a coral outcropping. Here we saw a GT following a nurse shark but couldn’t get a shot. After that, I cast at some bluefin trevally patrolling along the coral and got one that was 71 centimeters, or 28 inches. It was a great fish. Later, we moved on to look for permit, but, again, I wasn’t able to catch one.
On the third day, Doug and I fished with Russ. He took us to a huge flat and we watched as the bonefish came in. At first, I couldn’t even get within casting range without them spooking, but we eventually got close enough to make some casts. I ended up with three bonefish, two of them being about seven pounds.
Later, we moved on to a very small island and saw two large GTs and some bluefin trevally. It seemed like the fish had already had some action and were very casual. We had no eats or serious follows to mention. We then went on looking for permit and found a couple, but still no eats.
On day four, I fished solo again, but this time with Brendan. We went to a place called Yellow Flat. At first, it was a little difficult because of a lot of coral to walk through, but the coral eventually gave way to sand, which made things a bit easier.
As before, we started seeing bonefish. Again the fish were bit spooky, but as more and more spilled into the flat, their wariness began to fade, and soon we began catching fish. That day I caught 16 fish in total; nothing large, as most were between one and four pounds.
Later on, on that same flat, I caught a yellowspotted trevally and an orange trevally. I had one eat on a GT but wasn’t able to get the hook set firmly and it got away. I also had a shot at a permit, and though he followed, in the end he chose not to eat the fly. All in all, it was a great day.
On the fifth day, Doug and I fished with Milan. It was a tough day. I think Doug may have gotten one or two bonefish, but I didn’t land any. I hooked a bonefish that broke me off on the coral, and I finally hooked a small permit, but it got off as well. Besides those, I also hooked a golden trevally earlier in the day, but it bent the hook out and got away. It was a tough day indeed.
Oddly enough, that day the wind was down and the weather was great, but the fish did not agree. We saw GTs and bluefin trevally but never hooked any. Doug had several good shots at one GT but never connected. Oh well, that’s fishing, right?
Day six was a great day. I fished with Craig, who took me to fish Snatch Flat. We fished for bonefish with some various trevally mixed in. I couldn’t seem to catch a bonefish, losing five before I finally boated one, but I was able to catch two yellowspotted trevally.
Later, we moved toward a reef looking for GTs. We were walking through the small waves into the surf looking for the nurse sharks, as the GTs seemed to follow them. While there, I caught four bluefin trevally upwards of about 75 centimeters. Although there were plenty of the bluefins around, we were focused on GTs. However, we only saw one in that first half of the day, and it spooked very quickly before I could get a shot in. Later on, I finally got a shot at a smaller GT. It took the fly, but it soon came unhooked. Oh well.
We ended the day looking for Indo-Pacific permit in Paul’s Island. We came upon a good-sized school, and on my fourth or fifth cast Craig said, “Set!” The line went taut, and the fish was on! I landed my first ever Indo-Pacific permit. It weighed in at 11 pounds. This is what fishing is all about! It was a fantastic day in the end.
On the seventh and last day, Doug and I fished with Russell. It was a beautiful day with less wind, so we went back to the Yellow Flats again. But this time we fished around an area called the Guava Sandspit. Fishing was somewhat slow, even though I landed seven bonefish—and lost a couple more. And Doug caught a 10-pound bonefish!
I had a shot at another large bonefish that was clearly feeding and charged my fly, but it pulled away at the last moment. Doug also hooked a good bluefin trevally for a minute, but it got off as well. Not the perfect ending to our trip, but in the end we caught a lot of amazing fish.
As for the accommodations, they were basic but adequate. It was a block building with concrete floors. The building had just been completed in 2016, so everything was new. There are four rooms with two beds in each. The rooms are a little small for two people and all the gear, but they were very clean.
The food was actually a little less than expected. I think they need to hire a good chef or cook. Some of the lunches were minimal and some were good. Fly Castaway does not operate the rooms and the food, so they are at the mercy of the people that actually own the rights to the island. There were, however, plenty of soft drinks and beer. Both the soda and the beer are included in the price—as well as all the water you want.
They wash clothes twice a week and there are clotheslines to hang and dry them. There is also a separate building for fishing rods, boots, and wading equipment with water and a plastic barrel for washing items in fresh water.
Water had to be conserved to some extent. The fresh water on the island is primarily collected rainwater, and some water had to be brought in each week. But we had enough to last us throughout the trip.
Basically the fishing is with 9- and 12-weight rods. The 9-weight is for bonefish, permit, and small trevally. The 12-weight is for the GTs and larger trevally. I used an 11-weight with an Airflow 12-weight GT line, which was a great combination. For the 9-weight I used an Airflow clear tip floating line, which was also great.
The reels must be able to withstand the strength and power of the trevally, especially the GTs. St. Brandon’s Atoll—and all of the fishing in the Seychelles, for that matter—really tests equipment. The guides told us many stories of broken rods and failed reels of all types. I primarily use Orvis Helios 2 rods and Orvis Mirage reels. They held up fine, but, admittedly, they did not have to withstand the full power of any GTs. I haven’t broken an H2 rod for at least two years and I have never had a reel fail.
Again, Fly Castaway has found the best flies that work for them, and thankfully, they are located on the Fly Castaway website, including directions on how to tie them. I have never seen any operator do that before. Generally, the bonefish flies are shrimp variations. The permit flies are small merkins with small bead eyes to keep the weight lighter. The GT flies are large and hard to cast, and I recommend practicing with these huge flies before the trip, especially casting into the wind.
Anyone considering this trip should thoroughly prepare. Test all your knots; bring extra lines, rods, backing, and lots of tippet. They generally use 130 lb tippet for the GTs, 80 lb for the bluefin trevally and maybe 50 lb for other trevally. They use 16 lb and 20 lb for bonefish and permit. If you do lose a line, Fly Castaway has extra lines, rods, and reels to rent as well.
Additionally, the fishing here is at the height of saltwater game fishing. While tarpon fishing, especially in Florida, requires great casting ability with large-size rods and reels at shorter distances, at St. Brandon’s the fishing requires long accurate casts, with the wind blowing heavily almost all the time. All of the guides are excellent casters in this environment and can help you, but it’s best to hone your skills before the trip.
Many of those who come to St. Brandon’s are world-class anglers and are prepared for this situation. For those of us not in that class, I suggest practice casting as much as possible and even hiring a coach or guide to help you. This is a far different situation from fishing for trout on rivers and streams or even most bonefishing scenarios. The Indo-Pacific permit also require perfectly accurate casts, and the trevally require long casts into the wind with fast-moving target zones.
Would I go again? Absolutely. This is a great trip and I am trying to find the right schedule to go back. The Fly Castaway group really knows what they are doing, and they do everything to make the trip a success.
Fly Castaway lists the cost of their St. Brandon’s trip at $8,000. More information and booking options can be found at http://www.flycastaway.com/st-brandons-atoll/.