The world of fly-fishing came alive to me a long time ago. It started on a small estuary in the Garden Route, and at the time, I could not have imagined how far this “slight” obsession would take me around the world! I had been fortunate enough to have spent time in Botswana, Lesotho, Sudan, Belize and on Farquhar, Alphonse and Astove, and all of this have given me a unique perspective. Spending extended periods in these remote areas helps one understand and genuinely appreciate really “wild” places. Out of all these, Astove Atoll definitely stands out.
We spend the majority of the year in one of the most remote places on the planet and being a small team of only seven people, you get to know your team members incredibly well.
Astove as a destination is interesting enough but most astounding is how a small speck of seemingly insignificant rock in the middle of the ocean, has this incredible ability to etch itself into all the people that visit it – exponentially more so for those of us who work there! We spend the majority of the year in one of the most remote places on the planet and being a small team of only seven people, you get to know your team members incredibly well. I think this sense of camaraderie and “bring it on” attitude is my favorite part about working out there. I am one of a fortunate few guides that have had the chance to share these experiences with my fiancée and best friend, Jess. We have grown along with Alphonse Fishing Co. over the past four years, and have found our-home-away-from-home on Astove Atoll.
Working on these atolls can be challenging as there is no shop down the road and no internet access to do research or stay in touch, and this forces one to face any obstacles head-on and deal with any challenges in an innovative way, as the show must go on! On the other hand, spending time on Astove also has its perks! As a fly fisherman by trade and a photographer at heart, this place is a dream location. These atolls are living, breathing organisms.
Learning how these atolls behave on any given day, on any given tide cycle and in any given wind direction is one of the most captivating aspects of guiding out there. The variety of wildlife including birds, insects, crabs and obviously fish, is just mind-blowing! Most of our guests make the long trek to be immersed in this sense of wildness and share life-changing experiences. Each one of the outer atolls is unique and different in shape, size and behavior; however, Astove nonetheless stands out and offers fishing as unique as the atoll itself.
Having the inner lagoon completely surrounded by land mass except for one entrance to the ocean, creates extremely interesting and dynamic fishing scenarios. There are many challenging areas on Astove, but the one area that has to stand out has become known as “The Cliffs”. This a massive area, covered in prehistoric fossilized coral, that loves to eat fly lines!
My first day on the flats this past season was a definite highlight! I was fishing with father and son duo, John and Teddy Coulter. Another guide, Olive Thompson, was with us as well. As luck would have it, this was also his first exposure to Astove. We had a standard plan for the day, starting with a walk to the mouth, catching a couple of Bonefish on the way down. We would then spend some time in the mouth on the push, before walking West along the cliffs. It’s a pretty standard neap tide plan! As it turned out, there was absolutely nothing standard about this day. Teddy had dreamed of a big GT for many years. Hoping to leave Astove with this dream having been achieved, his energy and enthusiasm was contagious.
Both Olly and I were itching to see what the day had in store! After an hour or so, both Jon and Teddy had caught their first GT at Astove, thereby setting the tone for the day. Our instincts were telling us that the fish were around and there was an air of expectation surrounding us. Staking out rocky outcrops for ice white GT’s is an experience that, I believe, any fly-fisherman in the world that has the opportunity or ability to do so, should do. For Teddy, this day was HIS day. Around mid-morning, a good few Km’s and having gotten some good shots in, Olly and myself noticed a big free swimmer perfectly lined up for Teddy. With a good shot out and now anticipating the first strip, tensions were high.
The words “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…” coming from Olly and myself were interrupted by the hair-raising, adrenaline pumping “Strip!!”. The fish reacted, ate the fly and promptly, all hell proceeded to break loose. The line cleared and with Teddy putting as much pressure on the fish as he dared, Olly ran down the rocks to stand in the slips in case the fish put us in the bricks. It wasn’t long, maybe all of 30 seconds, when I gestured to Olly to jump in. Olly “gracefully” manhandled the leader and brought the fish against the rocks. When we saw him, fish in hand, Teddy, Jon and I all started screaming at the top of our lungs. The fish measured in at 104cm and Teddy’s week was made. More importantly, his dream was fulfilled.
The words “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…” coming from Olly and myself were interrupted by the hair-raising, adrenaline pumping “Strip!!”
This particular day proves that, with these fisheries, you never know what’s going to happen or what you are going to see. Besides the beauty and incredible fishing, it’s these kinds of days and experiences that keep us going throughout the season. These are hostile terrains; places that throughout history have had people up and leave because it’s too remote, harsh or difficult. Today, this is still true. Guiding in these places is incredibly demanding, not only physically, but also the psychological aspect of trying to figure out an enigma like Astove. The logistics surrounding a place like this means it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make everything run smoothly. With very little machinery available, almost everything has to be moved by hand. Carrying guests’ bags across the reef or rolling fuel barrels up a beach, all adds up over the season. It’s often during these times when everyone is being pushed hard, that the bonds between the team get stronger. As hard as it is, we are all still crazy enough to love it. And while we slowly but surely start developing a relationship with this small spec of rock, she sometimes, just sometimes, lets you in on some of her secrets.
The Permit fishing on Astove is incredible, and personally, I think it has to be the most outstanding experience that this little outcrop has to offer. Fellow guide Stuart Webb and I spent a few afternoon sessions concentrating only on Permit, trying to solve the enigma that this fish presents, but in the end the Permit won as it left both of us with more questions than answers and with an underlying infatuation with the nuances of not only these fish but also in the behavior of this atoll. It’s this infatuation that drives us all to go back time and again! It means that, after being home for only a short while, you can’t help but think, “I wonder what’s happening on the flats at Astove right now” whilst secretly looking at the tides and weather for the atoll.
In the end, places as unique as Astove gets under your skin and drives you crazy, but it also offers you true fulfillment.
Join Kyle and the expert team on Astove for the next exciting season, October 2018 – April 2019. We have 4 rods remaining for the week of 3 to 10 December at Astove. The rest have unfortunately already been sold out.
Alternatively, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about last minute cancellations, being added to the waiting list or to check on availability for the 2019 / 2020 season.