Let’s address what might be the elephant in the room right from the start. There has been much talk in the press about tourism in remote places. We have to travel further and further, and deeper and deeper into the wilderness to experience proper wildness. Cosmoledo might be a case in point for such a debate. A very remote atoll at 560 miles or 1209 km from the capital city of the Seychelles, Mahé. 2.5 to 3 hours flying and then an hour’s boat ride away. Do we really need to use it for fishing or eco-tourism? Why not just leave the place alone and untouched, so few such places are these days.
The answer lies in that very remote bit. If you look south, Cosmoledo is only 200 miles from Madagascar, an easy boat ride for some. I often describe these Seychelles atolls as akin to marine parks because they are so full of fish as I will describe later. The temptation for raiders to come from Madagascar, Comores or passing ships, and rape such an atoll is overwhelming and the truth is, without protection and without human presence there (Cosmoledo Eco-lodge in the season and scientist presence in the off season – May to November) such a place would not exist as we like to imagine it. I am not saying that this is always a justification for human presence in remote areas but in this case it is valid.
Cosmoledo is named after a Portuguese navigator who was part of the Juan de Nova crew, an early visitor to the island. The main two islands, Menai and Wizard, where the eco-lodge is located, were named after ships that explored the atoll on the Moresby Expedition in 1822. It is a raised coral atoll 17 km east to west and 12.5 km north to south. The land area is about 5.2 sq km while the reef and flats are 145 sq km. The lagoon is 8.2 metres deep at its maximum. Geologically it is on the same volcanic base as its neighbour Astove with a maximum depth of over 4 km. Unlike its neighbour, the sea floor drops away gradually over the first kilometre to just 50 metres and then begins to drop more dramatically, another 500 metres in the next half kilometre. In total there are 26 islands in the atoll but what little habitation there has been was only on the main islands. Habitation commenced around 1895 and ceased in 1992. The main reasons for habitation were turtles, mangrove bark, fishing and guano.
It is an important bird area and holds the Seychelles’ largest colonies of all three species of booby. The atoll holds the last healthy population of brown booby which breed mainly on South Island. It also has the Indian Ocean’s largest population of red-footed booby censused at about 15,000 pairs. Exploitation has wiped out the lesser frigate bird and has almost done the same to the great frigate bird which is down to just 15 pairs compared to hundreds of pairs in the 1970s. Despite this, hundreds of non-breeding frigate birds of both species can be seen, they are probably from the neighbouring atoll Aldabra. Cosmoledo also has the Seychelles’ largest colony of sooty terns breeding on the northern end of Wizard Island. It is second only to Aldabra for the numbers of breeding red-tailed tropic birds and black-naped and crested terns. The lagoon is also an important feeding ground for migratory waders such as the crab plover and ruddy turnstone. There are three endemic races of land bird: the Madagascar white-eye, the Souimanga sunbird and a strain of the Madagascar turtle dove as well as the Madagascar cisticola and some pied crow.
Cosmoledo was the last Seychelles atoll on my list. I have a lot of experience with Alphonse having fished it for the first time from a live-aboard boat in 1995 and run the fishing operation there from 2003 for a few years. The other atolls, Farquhar, Astove and Providence (boat based) I have fished over the years. I had an outstanding team with me – four friends from the US, a South African, and four Brits. I knew it would be a happy party and so it was. As is the case with every Seychelles atoll, the adventure begins with check-in at the IDC (Island Development Company) terminal at the airport where the weigh-in, bags and your body-weight, commences. Remember your passport… you are not leaving the country but you do need your passport to check-in. If you keep your weight down to sensible levels of the basic required kit, you will be fine. None of these atolls require a lot of clothes but especially Cosmoledo with its sand-based tented dining area and excellent turnaround on washing.
As mentioned, the Beechcraft flight time is an hour to Alphonse and then 1 hour and 45 minutes to the airstrip at Astove. From there, you will be assisted aboard a transfer boat by varying methods depending on the tide and then do the one hour (35 km) crossing to Cosmoledo itself. It is a good idea to have your wading boots handy from your luggage (or wear them on the plane) in case you have to walk across a flat to get to the transfer boat.
I remember sitting around a dining room table and being asked about the accommodation at Cosmoledo by a pretty high-end team interested in going and I began to describe the ‘containers’ and the conversation ended there. I got shouted down and they were written off before I could get another word in. Their unwillingness to listen to what I had to say is their loss because I was really impressed by everything about the eco-lodge, the accommodation, the dining tent, the showers, water pressure, the crew, everything.
The cabins or rooms are indeed converted 20 ft containers that have had both long-edge sides cut and the majority removed. On the one side sliding doors have been fitted to enter the room. On the other a doorway to the bathroom, first the sink and WC and then on into the spacious, super-water-pressured shower. I can hear you thinking… metal container = heat, oven, cooker etc! Well, the cabins had excellent air-conditioning and at no point did we want it any cooler. I imagine if we hung out in the cabins in the middle of the day with no air-con on, they would get hot. Beds were a good size and comfortable, there was plenty of cupboard and hanging space for the amount of gear we had. If a couple want one big bed, they switch the cabins around and have the beds together one end and the cupboards and draws the other. There is a nice covered patio outside the room with wooden flooring, each cabin has its own tap and hanging line for washing salt off the gear.
The dining tent is very spacious with a nice big dining table at one end with serving tables up against the outside wall. The other two-thirds is a large sitting area which was used some of the time but the fire pit and outside seating area was used more. The tent is broad enough for an excellent bar set-up along the inside tent wall. It is all simple, functional and yet tasteful and all you could need for such a camp when you are out the majority of the day.
A word about the food and the camp crew. I knew Rob and Robin Colepeper from Astove and they do an excellent job but I am equally aware that they are able to because they are supplied with superb ingredients. The food was the best I have enjoyed at a saltwater lodge and, indeed, almost any fishing lodge. It was creative, presented beautifully and consistent. It was incredible to think that producing such food where we were was possible and yet. The lodge crew were superb too. It is no secret that guides have to earn their way up to guide at Astove and Cosmoledo and therefore one does get to enjoy the best but they need to be able to find their way around 145 sq km! A word for what I describe as ‘the invisible crew’, the team which make everything work so the visible crew can do their job. It is as, if not more, important to have a good team behind you and they did a great job.
We all dream of a classic white sand flat, of spotting of GT, Geet or Giant trevally, making the perfect cast, stripping with increasing speed and then enjoying witnessing the fish set itself (the body language is unmistakable) before it accelerates into what must be one of, if not the, best take in fly fishing. Cosmo is probably the most likely place for this classic experience with its endless white sand flats. It claims to be the GT capital of the world and it is probably not far off though one or two other atolls, particularly Providence, might want to dispute that. There are very good numbers of GTs and few places on earth can boast the occasional week of over 100 fly-caught Giant trevally to ten rods. For me, the added appeal was the environment in which they could be caught, namely on the white sand flats. They are not as big on average as some other places with many in the 60 to 75 cm range but they are excellent fun and good training for when the big guys appear which of course they do.
But Cosmo is not just all about GTs… in fact I would say it is folly to come to Cosmo and be totally obsessed with GTs. Due to poor weather, we decided to see how many different species we could catch and reached 36. The guides seemed to love the idea of this, it took the pressure off them for the relentless search for GTs which may happen on other weeks and we were never without something to focus on. As I have alluded to, the atoll is like a marine park, full of fish of every shape and size and all trying to eat one another. You just have to drop a fly to the bottom where there are coral heads and witness the number and size of fish which come to look at your fly.
Rather than give a blow by blow of each day, the type of fishing and habitats one fishes are far more interesting. There are drop-off reef edges similar to Astove and Alphonse and there are beaches along those reef areas too. There are also entrances and exits into the atoll, smaller and larger, which are gathering places for fish and therefore GTs. There are miles of classic white sand flats, good for bones, GTs and permit. There are more obscure flats annexed to mangrove areas where both bones and GTs cruise in high water looking to raid baitfish coming out of the mangroves. The GTs also literally hide out under the rock cliffs ready to ambush. There are channels between flats which harbour GTs and other species and then areas of dense coral heads which can be extremely productive either with a brush fly or heavy dredger fly. On our last day we did fish a brush fly and caught GTs up to 95 cm, some big Bohar snapper and were broken by bigger and some nice Bluefin trevally amongst other species, all fishing blind due to poor light. On another day we fished deep, dropping heavy flies maybe five metres down and caught some stunning Napolean wrasse as well as some big grouper. We hooked some that were as big as we were, no exaggeration, we could see them and there was no landing those, they would snap 120 lb test like cotton. We would also hook a grouper and see it taken by another, which, in turn, would be taken by another bigger fish! It was chaos at times! We fished in the main channel and hooked milkfish and GTs. We teased outside the lagoon and raised GTs and one huge barracuda about two metres long. We also fiddled in the smaller coral heads and caught Picasso triggerfish among many other species. We had one day when we hooked but did not land surgeon fish by dropping flies off the cliffs under which they lived. We suspected they fed on droppings from the birds above and mistook our flies for bird dropping. They were extremely strong and broke us! In summary, we did not hunt GTs all the time, far from it, we enjoyed a really broad experience of Cosmoledo with all types of the weather which, for us, was limited on sun. Had we had better weather, we may have hunted for GTs more but there seemed little point with dark skies and we elected to enjoy ourselves with so many other species to catch.
Tackle and Equipment
The ideal set up is as follows:
2 x 12 wt
2 x 10 wt
2 x 9 wt
In each case, the spare as back-up. Shilton reels sold by Fin and Game seem to be rising to the top as the most reliable reels for the Seychelles. Other reels may be fine or, they may not, the guides say most not. Reels in the Seychelles spend more time under the water than any other type of saltwater fishing and it is probably fair to say, the Seychelles is the ultimate test of any saltwater reel. Bring spare backing, a spare fly-line for each line class, 19 lbs leader for bones, 25 or 30 lb for permit and milkfish and 120 lb for GTs, groupers etc. It is worth having some wire trace, there are some huge barracudas about. The most important piece of kit is a waterproof back-pack and/or boat bag for your gear especially if you have cameras or video etc. You do need proper saltwater wading boots (the new Simms ones are excellent) and a waterproof jacket for boat spray if not the rain. We recommend Hyper-cool tights and shorts for sun protection of the legs and ease of wading to avoid wet trousers flapping in the water or being pulled down! For around camp, shorts and a T-shirt, or regular casual clothes with or without shoes, flip-flops or crocs. Sun screen, sun gloves and a pair of sun buffs plus a spare, one for your neck and the other to come up and over you face. Some bug spray for evenings around the ankles is a good idea.
What could have been better?
I admit some might want more luxury but for me, the camp, the rooms, the food and the crew all get a very large tick. At some lodges the staff come to your cabin and help you with taking your bags and rods down to the boat. This would have been a nice touch and maybe a rod rack where it was clear whose rods were whose according to room number so they could be put in the boat before fishing. The weather could have been kinder and as a result, the fishing offered more choice, not in terms of what there was to do but in terms of having the choice. We may have continued to have fun and focus on mixed species but the weather took away the choice and we had to go with other options with enthusiasm. We still caught over 60 GTs and 36 different species on fly. There was something like 6 personal ‘first’ GTs that week so we were not the most experienced GT team but still did well. To put things in perspective and compare to other destinations, had we had the weather we were dealt in the Bahamas, Mexico or Belize, there is no way we would have caught anything close to what we landed during our week. Some days, or parts of days, we may not have even gone out but at Cosmo, we did not miss any fishing time except when an electric thunder storm would make its way past. To me, this is the value of the Seychelles, somehow, you can still see fish in the cloud and rain and you can certainly catch plenty. That is simply not the case elsewhere.
So, is Cosmoledo the cream of all saltwater destinations for both the fishing and accommodation? There are nicer lodges elsewhere in the world but for its remoteness, I thought the lodge was very comfortable. Where the nicer lodges are located, the fishing is not even close to Cosmo. Cosmoledo is probably the ultimate combo of good accommodation and excellent fishing, not just for GTs but all the species, they are plentiful and large. Cosmo does lack Bumphead parrot fish which is a small negative compared to Farquhar and Providence. Providence would match Cosmo if it was land based with a lodge of the same standard. Farquhar would be close if the food and food presentation was improved, it is not bad at all, it is just not as good as Cosmo. Astove is unique, much more physically demanding with less classic flats, it is an incredible fishery in its own right but different and difficult to compare. Alphonse certainly matches and exceeds Cosmo for its accommodation and food and of course the fishing is superb, but it falls short of all the rest for sizes and numbers of the other species which sounds crazy to say given that it is a world class fishery in its own right exceeding almost all others.
Would I return to Cosmo? 100%, but then I would go back to them all given half a chance!
59 Giant trevally
8 Napolean wrasse
4 Saddleback grouper
COSMOLEDO 2019 FISH SPECIES LIST
Big Eye Trevally
Yellow Moustache Triggerfish
Yellow Margin Triggerfish
Orange Barred/Lined Triggerfish
White Blotched Grouper
African Marbled Grouper
Lyre/Swallow Tailed Grouper
Yellow Lipped Emperor
Spotted Cheeked Emperor
Blue Spangled Emperor
Long Lipped/Faced Emperor
Three Spotted Pompano
Pick Handled Barracuda
White Tipped Shark
Dog Toothed Tuna
(May be a couple more)