St. Brandon’s Atoll Trip Report 2018 – Derek Hutton:
In mid-September I received an email from Craig Richardson who is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It said to the effect, “something has happened, we have an opening for a group to St. Brandon’s, it is next month, you should come.” Usually, a trip of this magnitude and logistical challenge is often booked well in advance. He was suggesting an ultra-short runway.
Craig has guided the last trout season in Victor, Idaho with WorldCast Anglers, where we have become friends and professional peers. He is a salt water loving South African raised on Indian Ocean flats, but he loves to see a Cutty rise to a dry fly. As guides, we got along immediately after our first conversation and he insisted that I needed to fish with him at some point in the Indian Ocean, more specifically, St. Brandon’s Atoll, Mauritius. As we both agreed, our favorite type of fishing is casting a fly to a fish that we can see, preferably in shallow water. He reminded me of this and that I want to fish the best water in the world. He suggested that at some point I would find myself in the Indian Ocean, and as his email indicated, the time was now.
Craig is the Head Guide for FlyCastaway on St. Brandon’s Atoll, a part of the small Indian Ocean archipelago and African nation of Mauritius. WorldCast Anglers has hosted several clients and groups to St. Brandon’s, so I was not without friends I could lean on, to answer my questions. They responded, “It is far, as far as you can go. The open ocean crossing can be brutal, the seas can be heavy, 26 hours in a boat each way. It will hit you at some point how isolated you are, on a small atoll, in a huge ocean. It is windy, the casting can be tough, the water can be rough. You will be wading with sharks.” You get the idea. It’s hard, kind of crazy. What sane person would do that? I was even more attracted to the trip.
St. Brandon’s is legendary as the premier shallow water flats destination for large bonefish on the planet. Bonefish, fish that you can see, that push onto the flats, in skinny water, foraging for shrimp and crabs. It was outlandishly skinny water, water barely over the ankle, so shallow that we fished un-weighted flies. I’ll get to the fishing later.
With the assistance of World Cast’s COO/Destination Travel Manager, I was able to pull together a small group of WorldCast Anglers clients, including my father. We took the trip. Four of us rendezvoused in Paris, two anglers passed through Dubai and two anglers originated from South Africa. We all overnighted in Port Louis, on the main island of Mauritius. The next day we separated into two groups of four anglers and boarded two, blue water sport-fishers to make the open ocean crossing to St. Brandon’s. We were all hoping for a smooth crossing, but when we received clearance by the Port Authority, they indicated the winds would be high and it would be rough. The Captains decided for safety reasons there would be no alcohol during the crossing. We had prepared for this with our scopolamine patches and sleep aids, some of us also packed anti-anxiety meds if things got really uncivilized, but we all survived. The crossing is what it is, a long open ocean boat ride. It is not for queasy people, even with the patch. The crossings offered spectacular Indian Ocean sunsets and sunrises, it also challenged how long you can sleep in a rocking bunk in the bow of a boat. The entertainment becomes counting and watching how far the flying fish can fly.
The initial crossing took us twenty-four hours and we arrived on the smooth, lee-side of the islands and flats that make up the atoll. We took tender boats from the sport-fishers to the land-based guest-house and had an afternoon orientation, mainly a safety briefing with a tackle check and prep.
We fished St. Brandon’s over the next 7 days. The basic daily program was to disperse us in groups of two by skiff with one guide throughout the atoll. The tides are carefully considered as the trip dates are set for the season and carefully monitored by the guides daily, once on site. Our fishing was characterized as a spring tide with the absolute low occurring relatively early in our day, between 7:30am and 9:30am or so. From that point on we would fish the tide as it came in on the flat. The guides called this “the push”. We would start on the edges of the flat as the fish came in to forage. As the water level increased as the tide came in, we would retreat to higher ground and eventually end up on small sand spits and islands for the afternoon’s high water. The mornings consisted of sight fishing to the largest bonefish in the shallowest water I have ever seen. St. Brandon’s delivered, and delivered handsomely to all anglers in our group. The bonefishing is absolutely spectacular. I truly can’t imagine it being any better. As the water rose, the other predatory fish would begin to show up on the edges and eventually right on the flats. During the higher water we would target the bonefish as they schooled for safety in numbers, trevally as they hunted, and permit as they mainly ignored our flies. There were sharks, turtles, skates, rays and all sorts of marine life everywhere on the atoll, so much marine life it was almost overwhelming. I loved it.
Every member of our group was successful with career bonefish. Phil Kenney and Mike Dunn each had huge bonefish pushing double digits. As a group we landed career Bluefin, with Golden, Yellow Dot, and Blue Dot Trevally mixed in. The group had 3 Indo-Pacific Permit and 1 Giant Trevally landed during the week. Chris Bladen, a professional bronze and ceramic sculptor from South Africa, managed a St. Brandon’s Grand Slam of a Bonefish, Permit and GT all on the same day. This was also a career day for his guide Milan Germishuizen. This feat has only been accomplished 5 times since St. Brandon’s has been accessible and open to international anglers. Chris had two of the permit, Andrew Veglio of South Africa had the third. Giles Eustice of England had a double-digit permit on, but it threw the fly at the end, before it came to hand. Giles and Andy Brooks of Seattle landed many trophy bonefish and bluefin. Giles put it best when he told me one evening “the permit chase can be maddening.” Giles can focus on that chase as he has several monster GTs from the Pacific Ocean.
Chris Bladen is now a legend of St. Brandon’s, he was absolutely happy, yet humble with his success. He is an elite level angler, with humility, which might be more rare than a 100cm GT. He shared with the group that it was his personal best week of fishing, and that he felt lucky. I think he’s just really good, and has put in the time and effort to be successful. Clearly, the fishing was excellent and everyone achieved personal bests, especially with Bones and Bluefin.
On the last afternoon, of the last day, I had a Giant Trevally eat my fly near Isle Paul. It was in the face of a breaking wave on the edge of the coral reef that surrounds the atoll. Let me say that again, a St. Brandon’s GT ate my fly, right in front of me. It was a big fish. We were connected and the fish headed away towards Perth, Australia quickly. I had him on a twelve-weight fly rod with heavy drag on a big game reel. It didn’t matter, he peeled off line with ease and I held on for a bit of time, but I never even turned him or felt like I slowed him down. He took me into the backing and then sheared off my 110 pound leader on a coral head on the fringe of the atoll. I lost the fish of a lifetime. The guide I was with was Paul Boyers, a well-known and recognized, career Indian Ocean guide. He complemented the fish. “That was a proper St. Brandon’s Geet. We call them Kingfish in South Africa, because they are King. As for you, congratulations, not many fly anglers have gotten that close or even seen a fish like that eat their fly.” His words were a tender mercy that helped me accept the lost GT. I plan to return.
Most importantly, I was able to share this experience with my father, as I have several destination trips. We have chased Taimen together in Mongolia, Tarpon in Costa Rica, Permit in Espiritu Santo and Ascension Bay. We have ridden horses into the wilderness of Wyoming, fished the golden stonefly hatch on the Teton and the South Fork of the Snake. We have driven the back roads of Belize, even been shaken down by a corrupt motorcycle cop in Felipe Carrillo, Mexico. So, we have enjoyed ourselves. We both agreed that the Indian Ocean, and St. Brandon’s Atoll, with FlyCastaway was truly the trip of a lifetime. It will be a memory that will never fade. If you have the ability to commit the time and resources to this trip, don’t hold back, don’t hesitate, I would go. Craig, thank you for the email back in September.”
St. Brandon’s Atoll, Mauritius
October 22nd-November 1st, 2018
WorldCast Anglers Head Guide