December 07, 2022
By Jim Klug
Pristine angling ecosystems are not, by definition, easy to get to. But when you arrive on waters largely untouched by development, traffic, or excessive fishing pressure, you quickly realize that such destinations are well worth the time, effort, and expense required to reach them. This is why—over the past 15 years or so—the Seychelles have emerged as one of the most sought-after international destinations for salt-addicted anglers. When you take into account the number of species found throughout the Seychellois waters, and combine these opportunities with the seclusion, lack of pressure, and the pure, unspoiled environment, it is easy to understand why many anglers consider this the most desirable flats destination in the world.
While anglers often hear fantastical stories about the fishing at such Seychelles destinations as Cosmoledo, Farquhar, and Providence, Alphonse Island remains the most accessible, well-managed, and consistent of the six out islands. Alphonse has long been the bellwether, flagship venture in the overall collection of Seychelles angling operations. Alphonse Island offers the largest weekly capacity, the longest fishing season, and the finest accommodations, amenities, and non-angling activities. Consistent science-based management, rotating fishing zones, and an operational ethos that protects and preserves the Alphonse fishery have resulted in a destination that has become the gold standard for saltwater fly fishing.
The Republic of the Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, Africa’s smallest and least populated country. Situated off the eastern coast of Africa northeast of Madagascar, the Seychelles are located just a few degrees south of the equator. Positioned 300 miles southwest of Mahé—the capital of the Seychelles and home to the country’s sole international airport—Alphonse is a tiny, triangular coral island that is one of three small land masses in the Alphonse Group: Alphonse to the north, tiny Bijoutier Island in the middle, and St. François to the south.
On June 27, 1730, French Chevalier Alphonse de Pontevez visited this small collection of islands aboard his frigate Le Lys. As it was Pontevez’s birthday, he humbly named the main island after himself—something that would certainly be well deserved if he had actually waded the flats for giant trevally and tailing bonefish while there. Almost 300 years later, Alphonse Island has become one of the most in-demand destinations on the planet—home to a luxury beach resort and a one-of-a-kind saltwater fishing program.
These days, the only way to access Alphonse is via a private charter flight from Mahé that flies only on select days of the week. This is why all fishing trips to the island run seven nights, with six full days of guided fishing (Saturday to Saturday). These Islands Development Company (IDC) charter flights are included in the cost of the overall package, which means that once guests arrive on Mahé, the rest of the trip (including round-trip flights to and from the island) is all-inclusive.
On arrival day on Alphonse, guests can settle in and enjoy a welcome cocktail before heading to the fishing center to rig equipment and receive a weekly fishing orientation. Later in the day, anglers can do a quick exploratory trip around the island to fish an afternoon session on their own. The home flats of Alphonse offer consistent opportunities for huge bonefish, and it is always easy to grab an 8- or 9-weight rod and head down to the island’s southwestern point, where there are reliable schools of 3- to 6-pound bones. For those keen on catching something other than bonefish, the deeper edges of the lagoon can at times deliver shots for snappers, groupers, triggerfish, and the occasional bluefin trevally or GT.
While the flats immediately surrounding the resort on Alphonse can be productive anytime, Alphonse’s focused fishing program takes place largely on the expansive flats of nearby St. François—a massive fishery that offers more than 10,000 acres of hard white sand, turtle grass flats, channels, sandbars, and lagoons. The St. François flats are ideal for wading, and often you can wade and sight fish to many different species in ankle-deep water. It is common to wade with a waterproof backpack and two rods that are rigged and ready to go. The first rod is usually a 9-weight that is set up for bones, permit, and triggerfish, while the second rod is a heavier GT rod, usually an 11- or 12-weight. At all times when you’re wading, both rods should be accessible and ready to go at a moment’s notice, although usually your guide will be happy to carry the second rod.
The St. François fishery is home to massive numbers of bonefish, several species of trevally (including the coveted giant trevally), milkfish, three species of triggerfish, Indo-Pacific permit, groupers, snappers, and numerous other gamefish. And this is far from being an “experts-only” fishery—even novice fly fishers can find consistent opportunities. The prolific numbers of bonefish, usually in large schools that cruise the shallow white sand flats, provide the ideal situation for those who are new to saltwater flats fishing, as well as for experienced bonefishers looking to up their game on the gray ghost of the flats.
Just how good is the bonefishing specifically? To put it in perspective, anglers are awarded a “pin” during Alphonse’s evening bell-ringer ceremony for each unique gamefish species landed. When it comes to bonefish, however, the pin award is based on catching 20 bones in a single session—something that is difficult to replicate in any other saltwater fishery in the world. When you take into account the amazing bonefishing, the overall number of other species (each season typically sees more than 60 different species caught on the fly), the seclusion, the scenery, the pristine environment, and the consistent action, the end result is a fishery unlike any other on the planet.
Over the course of a week on Alphonse, anglers are guided by experienced professional guides using the latest skiffs and the most up-to-date equipment. The guides are impressive: seasoned, charismatic, and always ready to instruct those who are new to saltwater flats fishing. Guide assignments throughout the week are on a rotational basis, allowing anglers to fish with a different guide each day to experience all facets of the fishery. On normal fishing days, anglers gather each morning at the Alphonse Fishing Center before boarding the shuttle catamaran that takes a maximum of 12 anglers per day from Alphonse to the flats of St. François—a trip of roughly 40 minutes.
Upon entering the St. François lagoon, anglers transfer to specially designed East Cape skiffs, where the normal scenario sees two anglers and one guide fishing together. While the boats are ideal for accessing all areas of the massive St. François fishery—and casting from the boats for trevally, permit, and milkfish can be productive in certain situations—the majority of fishing is done by wading.
Rather than dedicating each guided fishing day to a specific species, the daily program revolves around the tides and the ever-changing conditions. To start each morning, the guide breaks down the fishing day into different sessions, with an overall game plan based on tidal movements. It may include a morning flats walk for tailing triggers, followed by an hour or two of hunting milkfish in deeper water, before moving to a specific flat or channel to hunt GTs, which are likely to arrive on the push of an incoming tide. The day may close out with a one-hour bonefishing session on foot before heading back to Alphonse on the catamaran. Every day brings a diversity of opportunities.
Beyond the incredibly productive flats fishing, the deep-water opportunities at Alphonse are always exciting. The most common bluewater species are barracuda, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, dogtooth tuna, grouper, and sailfish, and Alphonse maintains a number of high-end offshore boats run by experienced captains and crews.
Another non-flats-fishing opportunity involves “bomie bashing” sessions, where fly anglers—fishing from the skiffs—drift with the tides over large coral heads and along the edges of flats. Casting a baitfish fly or shrimp pattern into coral heads and other structures can produce dozens of different gamefish, including members of the wrasse family, groupers, snappers, and more.
It is important to remember that, despite the reputation the Seychelles fisheries have earned—and the high level of attention they’ve received over the past several years—at the end of the day this is still saltwater flats fishing, which means that no matter how much you spend, how far you travel, and how far in advance you book, you will always be at the mercy of the weather, the overall conditions, and the behavior of the fish. This may be as close to a “Disneyland” fishery as anything on Earth, but in the end, it is still saltwater fishing. The weather will always dictate how a week plays out. But because Alphonse is located 7 degrees south of the equator, in a region that is largely outside the cyclone belt, the climate is ideal, with weather that is typically consistent. Visitors can expect year-round summer days with temperatures that rarely drop below 72 degrees F. While Alphonse operates year-round, the traditional fishing season runs from early September to the last week in May, and Alphonse offers by far the longest season of any operation in the Seychelles.
The accommodations on Alphonse are among the nicest found anywhere in the world of fishing travel, and one unique aspect of the resort is that each person (or couple) always gets their own single-occupancy quarters. Guests have the option to stay in one of 22 beach bungalows, five luxury beach suites, or two four-bedroom beach villas. All are air-conditioned and spaced across the island for total privacy. For most standard fishing packages, anglers stay in the beach bungalows with queen beds, immediate beach access, private baths, and outdoor showers. The larger one-bedroom beach villas are ideal for couples, or for those looking for a bit more luxury and space. Alphonse’s new private villa options are ideal for intact groups or families—each private house features multiple bedroom suites, private social areas, a private pool, full kitchen, and copious amounts of space.
The resort’s main reception and dining facilities feature a comfortable lobby and lounge area, freshwater swimming pool, a full-service spa, the Bijoutier Restaurant, and the always-popular Le Lys Bar. The island itself has its own reef-created lagoon, with amazing white sand beaches that completely surround the resort. Non-anglers can explore the small island to find a private and secluded beach of their own, and each guest is issued a bicycle, which is the primary form of transportation on Alphonse. Guests ride their bikes to the main lodge and restaurant area for meals each day, and to the fishing center each morning to meet the transfer boat to St. François for the full day of fishing. Anglers can also use the bikes to fish on their own in the late afternoons and early evenings on Alphonse’s home flats.
Alphonse’s dining experience is exponentially better than what anglers might expect with most fishing destinations. The menu typically features a unique blend of European and Creole cuisines, with an abundance of fresh seafood. After a dinner that is usually enjoyed in torch-lit, beachfront surroundings, guests can retire to air-conditioned accommodations for an early night or enjoy cocktails and the nightly social scene at the Le Lys Bar.
The two most common comments that arise in conversations about fishing Alphonse and the Seychelles are A) it takes a long time to get there; and B) the trips are expensive. Regarding the travel time, it is important to realize that while this can indeed be a long trip, it is usually not a hard trip to make. Most anglers who travel to Alphonse from the U.S. fly through the Middle East, and the U.S.-Dubai-Mahé route is often the fastest, most direct way to reach the Seychelles. Direct flights to Mahé can also be booked from London, Paris, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Dar-Es-Salaam, Dusseldorf, Doha, and several other cities. Emirates flights from the U.S. to Dubai are not only the most direct—and arguably the nicest—but also allow for a quick stopover in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to chase African queenfish in the heart of Dubai—a great way to adjust to the different time zone and warm up for fishing the week ahead. Flights from the U.S. to Dubai are approximately 10 to 14 hours, depending on the departure city. The follow-on flights from Dubai to Mahé are approximately four hours.
Guests should always plan to arrive on Mahé the day before and overnight on the capital island to catch the Saturday morning flight to Alphonse. The price tag for fishing Alphonse is indeed higher than many other fishing lodge destinations, running approximately $12,000 for a week of fishing and $7,000 for a non-angling package. But when you consider the remote location, combined with the included private charter flights, amenities, level of service, quality of boats and equipment, and the overall health of the fishery, it is easy to understand why Alphonse packages come at a premium price.
For non-anglers and accompanying family members, Alphonse may very well be the top saltwater couples and family trip in the entire realm of saltwater destinations. For more relaxed visitors, the resort offers amazing beaches, a large freshwater pool, and amazing and secluded places for sipping a cocktail or enjoying a snooze in the warmth of the Indian Ocean sunshine. More energetic souls can use SUPs and kayaks, or choose to snorkel the Alphonse lagoon or wander the shoreline. Every guest on Alphonse Island has a bicycle as the primary mode of transport during the week. This is the perfect way to explore Alphonse, as there are numerous small, sandy paths that provide access to the most remote places on the island. (Be sure to check out the old cemetery located deep in the coconut groves.)
Other non-angling activities include guided ecotours, à la carte fishing days that can be booked on site, island-hopping excursions, and a weekly flats lunch, where a barbecue buffet and bar are set up on a pristine, white sand flat in the middle of the St. François ecosystem. A full lunch spread and cold drinks enjoyed while relaxing in calf-deep water on brilliant white sand often makes one of the week’s most memorable experiences.
Divers also choose Alphonse Island as the best option in the entire Seychelles region for scuba divers of all abilities. Alphonse Island’s on-site PADI dive center employs a team of certified professionals. Dozens of unique dive sites surround Alphonse, all of them easily reached in less than 30 minutes via the resort’s dedicated dive boats. Dive group sizes are always small, with no more than six divers per guide, and private dive excursions can also be arranged. The incredible numbers and sizes of fish make diving Alphonse particularly special, giving people the chance to see what an isolated, pristine coral reef can look like when it receives total protection and almost zero pressure.
American citizens need only a valid passport to enter the Seychelles, and anglers from the U.S., UK, and EU do not need a visa to enter the country for vacation purposes. It is important to note that, due to the incredibly remote location of the lodge and fishery, the operators of Alphonse require that all guests submit proof of applicable medical evacuation coverage, such as Global Rescue or Ripcord.
Other important travel considerations to keep in mind are the luggage weight restrictions. Guests to Alphonse are limited to 33 pounds of checked luggage, with an additional 11 pounds of carry-on hand luggage on the inter-island charter flights. This rule is enforced in a very consistent manner—the open-water flights are always full, and safety regulations and protocols are taken seriously. That said, Alphonse does make it easy for anglers to keep luggage to a minimum, with a fully stocked fly shop, demo equipment, and daily laundry service. Alphonse offers a full lineup of rods and reels available for clients to use for free, although it is recommended that anglers bring their own primary equipment. Flies, leaders, terminal tackle, and a variety of soft goods are available for purchase at the Alphonse Fishing Center.
There is no doubt that it takes more time, effort, and cost to make the trip to Alphonse than to other faraway fly-fishing destinations. That said, few other places compare in terms of species diversity, angling opportunities, and the chance to spend time in such a pristine environment. Alphonse itself is the true definition of a tropical paradise—an incredibly unique destination that offers the perfect setting for a relaxing, private beach vacation and the fishing adventure of a lifetime.
Book Your Destination
Most U.S. visitors to Alphonse fly to Dubai in the UAE and then Mahé, the largest island in the Seychelles. You should arrive in Mahé on a Friday so you can catch the Alphonse Fishing Company charter flight on Saturday morning. The charter flight from Mahé to Alphonse takes about 50 minutes.
For bonefish, triggerfish, permit, and small trevally, a 9-weight rod is ideal. For GTs, you’ll want an 11- or 12-weight rod with a quality saltwater disk-drag reel. A waterproof backpack (ideal for carrying a raincoat, boxes of flies, extra tippet, sunscreen, water bottle, camera, and other essentials) is a key piece of equipment—the majority of the fishing is by wading, sometimes far from the boat.
Jim Klug is the founder and chief operating officer of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures (yellowdogflyfishing.com). He’s also a co-owner, producer, and writer of Confluence Films, creators of the films Providence, Drift, Rise, Connect, and Waypoints. For decades he has been a leading photographer in the outdoor industry, and he is author/photographer of the book Fly Fishing Belize (2014). He is a former chairman of the board of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.