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Cyclone Fantala Lays Waste to Fly-Fishing Paradise

by Ross Purnell, Editor   |  May 18th, 2016 0
The FlyCastaway lodge at Farquhar Atoll, April 2016

The FlyCastaway lodge at Farquhar Atoll, April 2016

When I wrote the final words of my story “Freaky Farquhar,” (coming July 1 in FLY FISHERMAN magazine) I felt I had given readers an accurate glimpse of what the fishing is like at the southernmost island group in the Seychelles. The bumphead parrotfish, triggerfish, golden trevally, and GTs (giant trevally) I chased on the flats there were strangely beautiful, and unlike anything else I’d seen in 20 years of saltwater fishing.

But just days after I finished the story, Cyclone Fantala passed directly over Farquhar not once, but three times in a back-and-forth mauling that lasted for more than three days. On April 18, 2016, the tempest became the strongest ever in the history of the Indian Ocean, with sustained winds of up to 175 mph. In our hemisphere, that would make it the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

As the storm raged outside, the island’s only 12 remaining inhabitants—including FlyCastaway fishing guides Matthieu Cosson and Justin Rollinson—sheltered in a concrete cyclone bunker constructed in 2006 specifically for this purpose. When they emerged, the idyllic, tropical paradise looked like a war zone with every building razed, and 99 percent of the trees uprooted or stripped bare. “I had tears in my eyes when I saw the photos,” said FlyCastaway owner Gerhard Laubscher. “The cyclone destroyed everything in its wake.”

Cyclone Fantala went back and forth over Farquhar, hitting the island three times with sustained winds of 175 mph

Cyclone Fantala went back and forth over Farquhar, hitting the island three times with sustained winds of 175 mph

FLY FISHERMAN doesn’t often publish stories about places you can’t go fishing, but due to the timing of the storm and our publication schedule, this is one of those cases. When the printed magazine appears on news stands July 1, Farquhar Atoll will be in essence a “no fishing zone.” Nobody can fish at Farquhar right now because there is no infrastructure to support it. The closest place to get a gallon of gasoline or fresh water is 700 kilometers away. For six months the island will be inhospitable while the slow process of rebuilding takes place. Laubscher expects a new lodge to open in March of 2017, nearly 11 months after the storm. The good news is that the new facility will be a substantial upgrade with single rooms instead of doubles, a larger enclosed dining area, a bigger outside lounge and bar area, and a building that serves as the saltwater equivalent of a mud room with freshwater hoses, and storage for wet boots and rigged fly rods and reels.

As far as the fishing goes, Laubscher says monsoon season always rejuvenates the flats and that this latest cyclone will undoubtedly improve the fishing. “It’s a giant flushing of the entire flats ecosystem which is always good for the fishing and quite frankly, we needed it,” said Laubscher. “It brings cooler water and freshens everything up. My guides have had a look around, and say some of the flats are bigger and better than they used to be.”

If you want to be among the first to see the “new” Farquhar you won’t have to wait for the new buildings. Laubscher plans to bring the 137-foot former research vessel Dugong to Farquhar beginning the week of Nov. 14, 2016, to provide accommodations for a slightly delayed season opener. The Dugong currently serves as the FlyCastaway base of operations on the island of Providence. If you’ve seen Jim Klug’s Film Back to Providence then you’ve seen the Dugong. For updates on the evolving situation at Farquhar, and for bookings, contact Michael Caranci at The Fly Shop (530-222-3555).

Here are some Farquhar images taken before the storm in December 2015, and some from shortly after the storm in late April, 2016.

Doug McLean with a Farquhar giant trevally in December 2015.

Doug McLean with a Farquhar giant trevally in December 2015.

Grace Smith and Ross Purnell with a Farquhar bonefish December 2015.

Grace Smith and Ross Purnell with a Farquhar bonefish December 2015.

Ross Purnell with a giant Seychelles tortoise in the forests of Farquhar December 2015.

Ross Purnell with a giant Seychelles tortoise in the forests of Farquhar December 2015.

Richard Clark exercising a Farquhar bonefish, December 2015.

Richard Clark exercising a Farquhar bonefish, December 2015.

The welcome sign at Farquhar Atoll, Nov. 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of Doug McLean

The welcome sign at Farquhar Atoll, Nov. 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of Doug McLean

FlyCastaway fishing guides Matthieu Cosson and Justin Rollinson sheltered in a concrete cyclone bunker for three days. When they emerged, they found and recovered the Farquhar welcome sign.

FlyCastaway fishing guides Matthieu Cosson and Justin Rollinson sheltered in a concrete cyclone bunker for three days. When they emerged, they found and recovered the Farquhar welcome sign.

Farquhar Atoll after the cyclone, April 2016

Farquhar Atoll after the cyclone, April 2016

Farquhar Atoll after the cyclone, April 2016

Farquhar Atoll after the cyclone, April 2016

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