A BIG Fly Fishing Trip Report - St. Brandons Atoll
October 15, 20186 min read
Filed by Epic Brand Ambassador, Andre Van Wyk - South Africa
Where: St. Brandons Atoll - Cargados Carajos Shoals
St.Brandons is an enormous atoll situated about 430 kilometers North East of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean… so yeah, basically in the middle of nowhere. Everything about St.Brandons is BIG.. The atoll itself is around 190 square kilometers consisting of a huge number of flats, sand islands, channels and reef passes.. There is more perfect flats than you could cover in a month of fishing… its BIG.
Getting there is a mission… big distances, big seas.. Fly to Mauritius and then make the 430 plus kilometer crossing via two Sportfishers from Port Louis on the North Western side of Mauritius. Big Seas, Big Winds and Big doses of sleeping and seasick tablets! Lodging is in a small recently built Guest House on Rafael Island in the North of the atoll.
The fish are BIG.
All of them… I doubt there is a better bone fishery or Indo Pacific Permit fishery on the planet. Throw in the largest Giant Travelly I have ever seen on the flats and more big Bluefin Trevally than you can shake a stick at…and Golden Trevally too… oh and Sharks… BIG FUCKING SHARKS…
The Learning Curve is BIG.
The reason this atoll provides such incredible fishing is not just because of its incredibly remote location, but also the fact that it is almost constantly battered by strong easterly winds that push enormous amounts of cool fresh water over its seemingly endless flats systems.. That cool water brings those giant bonefish in incredible numbers, but also means that you will be battling winds for most of your fishing days.. So you WILL be a better angler at the end of your trip than you were when you started, because you WILL learn to handle the wind.. Either through careful listening to your guide on how to improve your casting ( advised ) or losing your mind in frustration with seemingly EVERY fish being upwind of you on a backcast, have a mental breakdown, lose your shit, and decent into a blubbering mess before realizing that you should have listened to your guide in the first place..
The Indian Oceans premier operators have been running operations to St.Brandons for 9 years. I’ve fished with these guys for over 13 years, and very time I do I’m blown away not just by their fisheries, but by the way they run their operations in the most remote and far flung places on the planet, and the quality and calibre of their guides. The St.Brandons crew are no different… 4 of the finest, funniest, passionate, forgiving, understanding and fishy buggers you can ever hope to enjoy spending time with. Good guides make good trips.. Great guides make GREAT trips.. These guys have poured A LOT of time, blood, sweat and tears into this fishery and it shows.
Fishing is 99.99% wade fishing, which in my opinion is how it should be.. Nothing beats sight casting to giant Bones, Perms and GT’s in skinny water with your feet firmly planet on perfect flats..
I fished St.Brandons back in 2015, and had a truly incredible trip, despite horrendously ridiculous weather ( winds averaged 35 knots, and maxed at 52! ) but we still had incredible fishing, mainly on giant hungry bonefish in inches deep water.
So I was frothing for the return trip, and had 9 days on the flats ahead to soak up every opportunity thrown at me. The fishing, and experience was better than I could even have imagined, despite having been here before and having some idea what to expect. I was also super amped about putting my new Epic Bandit 10 weight and Boca 12 weights to work on the St.Brandons residents.. And the first morning kicked off pretty damn quickly.. Within about 3 minutes of getting out of the skiff, walking across a perfect looking inch deep flat, we started seeing big bonefish tails pushing onto the deeper areas of the flat as the tide was starting to push… Ironically my first cast at a paling bonefish was intercepted by a pretty healthy Yellow-Lipped Emperor which pounced on the Shrimp pattern before a bonefish could get to it.. These scrappy bastards give a pretty good account of themselves, and it was a nice way to break in the Bandit which made pretty short work of the chunky Emperor.
3 casts later I was tight to my first bonefish on the Bandit. 7lbs of cool water bonefish chaos. The Bandit’s bend and bottom half power really puts the hurt on these fish, and being able to fish 16lb, and up to 20lbs tippet at times for these big bones means that you can really pull hard on them and the Bandit was just MAGICAL on getting down and dirty with these big bones. Watching that green bend whilst listening to screaming drag brought a BIG smile to my face that pretty much never left for the next 9 days.
The bone fishing throughout just got better and better and better. My biggest for the trip being 9,5lbs of skinny water shit kicker… the biggest for the group being a 10,5lb fish taken by my fishing partner for the week Randy. We saw fish that fished the 12/13lb mark and I had hooks pull on two fish on my last day which would likely have gone significantly past the 10lb Mark, but that’s fishing. Watching these giants of the flat feeding in ankle deep water is worth the trip alone.
One of the things I was looking forward to most was putting the Boca to work on some of the Atoll’s notorious big Giant Trevally. These fish, unlike most of their Seychelles counterparts are not the “See, Cast and Strip like Hell” brigade that generally eat most flies put anywhere near them. These are GT’s require a lot more finesse. And whilst there are not necessarily the big numbers of GT’s on the flats that Seychelles atolls have, the size of the fish on St.Brandons is truly staggering. I was lucky enough to land a fish of 127cm on my April trip to Providence Atoll in Seychelles with Flycastaway, and I can confidently say that most of the GT’s I saw on St.Brandons considerably dwarfed that fish.
On one day whilst drifting into a small sandbar islet, called Boiler, which is infamous to those who have visited St.Brandons, we watched in awe as an absolute giant of a GT blitzed in across the white sand flats chasing a shoal of big bonefish. It detonated on one on the surface about 20 yards to our left, and not 10 seconds later we watched it engulf an 8lb bonefish less than 10 yards to our right, basically this fish ate at least 15lbs of bonefish in less than 15 seconds… Scary shit.
I’d come prepared with BIG flies to try tempt these Bonefish eating behemoths… I had some good shots too… convincing 3 of these giants to turn and follow the fly, and a 4th to commit and eat… Sadly 3 of the fish committed to the fly, followed and chased for up to 10 meters, but all 3 refused/spooked/ran out of water within inches of the fly, with the 4th eating the fly less than 3 meters off the rod tip with me standing high and dry on the sand on Boiler… Somehow the fly just never found purchase in that huge mouth, the memory of which will haunt me till I go back again…
I did get to break the Boca in on some of St.Brandons resident Bluefin Trevally. These speed freaks are around St.Brandons in solid numbers, and at certain times of the year, on certain moon phases are there in numbers that will absolutely boggle the mind. Bending the Boca on these buggers was superb fun, with my best one going 78cm, a PB Bluefin by a long way. The Boca not surprisingly made short work of these fish, and has me itching to get it bent on some proper fish like their bigger GT cousins soon.
And then of course, there are Permit… On my first trip in 2015, I think I saw 3 or 4 permit in the 6 days of fishing…. On day one of this trip, we saw over 20… and conservatively I’d say we saw at least 300 permit during the 9 days of fishing… yes that’s THREE HUNDRED.
But permit being Permit, just cause you seeing the bastards doesn’t mean you’re gonna catch them. Always upwind of you on a back cast, the damn things will drive you to the brink of hell. But I think there are few places in St.Brandons that will afford you the opportunity to see, and have shots at so many of these Indo Pacific beauties on the flats… I was blessed with my first, and thankfully my second permit on this trip, memories which I will carry for a LONG time… and I now have that dreaded Permit Fever that so many have caught… Plans to go back are already in place, and I will be practicing my casting in the wind A LOT more to give myself a better chance at these things… accuracy is everything.
St.Brandons is a technical, demanding, awe inspiring, intimidating, magical and mind bending destination and fishery… I think of all the places I have been fortunate to fish, I would put it on the top of the list, well and truly…. I cannot wait to get back… and bend that Boca on one of those immense bonefish eating GT’s.
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