““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
A thousand miles from nowhere
Looking for an extreme fishing adventure? Try this: fly to Paris, then on to Mahe, Seychelles. You're now 1,000 miles off the coast of Kenya. Next, take a charter flight to a group of coral islands called Farquar, 500 miles south of Mahe and closer to Madagascar. Two hours later, your aircraft descends over the sapphire-blue ocean, riffled with strings of whitecaps, and touches down on a wild, windswept runway next to an abandoned coconut plantation.
You're still not where you're going. Now watch your duffel being loaded into an oxcart pulled by a decades-old rusty farm tractor. An 18-foot fiberglass tender skiff whisks you across a stunning turquoise lagoon to a vessel called Sea Pearl that looks like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. You sail overnight for nine hours, with the tropical waves lapping against the old hull while you drift in and out of sleep in your mahogany-lined cabin. Then finally you arrive at your dream fishing destination.
Above decks, the blinding morning sun shines on distant beaches and groves of green palm trees flutter on Cerf Island, part of Providence Atoll. You're really out there. Great flocks of diving sooty and black-naped terns patrol the beaches; hundreds of gangly gray herons roost in the palms; and dozens of undisturbed hawksbill turtles munch away at low tide, their shells half-dry in inches of water.
Fewer than 1,000 people visited this remote paradise during the entire 20th century. The group of outer islands on the edge of Seychelles was perhaps first sighted by Portuguese explorer Juan Nova in 1504. During the 18th century, when the French claimed the tropical Seychelles, one of the most notorious pirates to terrify the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, Olivier Levasseur-known as la Buze or "the buzzard"-roamed these waters and reportedly buried treasure.
But the silver and gold treasure you're after isn't buried. It's swimming through deep green channels as the strong tides ebb and flow, flooding a vast 46 kilometers of shallow white-sand flats of crushed coral and pristine, seemingly infinite gardens of turtle grass. In these rich, unspoiled waters, you're after trophy bonefish, triggerfish, giant trevally, Indo-Pacific permit, milkfish, great barracuda and the huge, exotic-looking bumphead parrotfish. Only a few years ago, no one would have dreamed of casting a fly to most of these creatures.
Now you're living the dream, wading along, warm-wet from your knees to your waist in moving saltwater as transparent as air, following your guide. Suddenly he charges ahead, water flying. He yells, "Stay still!" And you see the object of his attention: a massive lemon shark-six, seven, maybe eight feet long. Its slate-gray, sinuous, ominous, waving shape is closing in fast. The guide slaps the water's surface with a 12-inch hookless plug tied to the heavy monofilament on his stout spinning rod. The shark erupts in a washing-machine rush of turbulence and blasts away at warp speed. She doesn't want a surprise close encounter with you any more than you want one with her. Bonefish are much tastier.
Under the midday equatorial sun, the guide looks back through polarized sunglasses that assist him in spotting every living thing on the crystalline flats and, with a wide grin says, "No worries, mate."
Best season to fish Seychelles:
November to April
Closest international airport:
FlyCastaway, P.O. Box 32135, Kyalami 1684, Johannesburg, South Africa, +27 82 334 3448, www.flycastaway.com
Seychelles by Sarah Carpin (2002), Birds of the Seychelles by Adrain Skerrett and Ian Bullock (2001), Beyond the Reefs by William Travis (1959)