Offshore Adventure - Variety is the spice of life
GRANT DIXON - APRIL 2009
One of the great things about fishing in Vanuatu is the variety of locations, opportunities and species on offer.
If one plan does not come together, there is always another to take its place, and the piscatorial pickings will be just as plump.
This was certainly the case for my most recent trip to Vanuatu. The original game plan was to fish our way up to Epi aboard Peter Phillipps’ Shogun, then on to Malakula to test the waters around the Maskelyne Islands, as well as check out some accommodation there before returning via Kakula Island and the Kakula Island Resort.
On the way Pete had some new seamounts to check out (actually the mounts had been there for eons, it was just we had not fished them yet). If there is one thing that gets a tropical angler excited, it is the thought of dropping jigs and trolling around virtually untouched ‘hills’ that rise out of thousands of metres of water, hosting large, naive fish of various species that have never seen lures before.
The weather for our trip looked perfect, and we stepped off the three-hour Air Vanuatu flight into hot, balmy conditions that stayed with us for the week. I was accompanied by three anglers who had fished Vanuatu with me before: Chris Treloar from Te Puke, Dave Weatherly from Auckland, and Christchurch’s Peter van Eekelen, the latter two having undertaken the inaugural Epic Epi Adventure last April.
Nautilus Watersports is a dive-fish operation run by Peter and his partner Leanne Collett, and it incorporates some basic but well-appointed backpacker-style accommodation. While here we spent the first night getting gear together and the boat loaded for the five-day stay-away charter. It is amazing how much you can pack into a 10.4m (34ft) Blackwatch, tackle wise!
An early start saw us ambling down the ‘marlin highway’ to the northwest of Efate, with the drop-offs around Nguna in our sights. Time passed quickly as Pete and I chatted on the flybridge, with just a couple of mahimahi for Peter providing some action, along with a billfish raised that chose not to star in this story!
Around Nguna there are some strong currents that push the bait around the drop-offs – great dogtooth and GT country. Dave did not disappoint. After all getting shots that ended in tears, Dave kept one dogtooth on, and he joined Pete on the scoreboard. Fresh mahimahi fillets preceded by tuna sashimi – it doesn’t get much better than that for dinner!
Our first night was spent at the Kakula Island Resort, on the privately owned, 35-hectare Kakula Island, run by Andy Birtles and Fabiana Viani. The resort was established by a group of American investors, the plan being to make it ‘exclusive’ to the rich and famous by charging them $45,000 a day to stay there.
The beachfront villa was almost completed, along with a luxury treehouse high in a banyan tree, when the ‘wheels fell off’. The American businessman putting the deal together ended up in jail on fraud charges, and the project was put on hold.
The good news is the current resort, originally planned as the staff quarters, now offers five well-appointed rooms, along with a great dining room and relaxing area, at a price the average traveller can afford, to the point where the resort is a popular weekend getaway for many of the ex-pats based in Port Vila.
Fabe, of Italian extraction, did a fantastic job of preparing the fresh fish, and we all retired replete and satisfied that evening.
Fishing with Peter, the game plan is always a fluid thing, and the next day was testament to this. We steamed to the north, where we intended to try a seamount some 30 kilometres away, before taking a more westerly course to Epi.
“We’ll amble over to the seamount, run the lures and knock over a marlin before getting stuck into the doggies later in the morning,” were the skipper’s prophetic words.
The gear had not long been in the water when a feisty blue, estimated at around 130kg, nailed one of skipper Pete’s homemade pusher lures, and the hook stuck.
After a good workout, Dave had his second-ever blue marlin tagged and released, and it was not long before we had more action, this time with Chris in the chair – make that the Black Magic stand-up harness – and dealing with a much bigger fish, perhaps 200kg-plus.
This blue jumped its butt off, and we were soon back on top of it, the double just under the water. However, the fish had become badly tail-wrapped in the midst of all its antics, with the wind-on leader and the main line around its body and ‘propeller’. Then, with a last gasp effort, it ran off again, removing the top-shot from the reel in short order, and it was making inroads into the backing when the line broke where it was tail-wrapped. We could only hope the fish survived.
Unfortunately the remainder of the troll to the seamount was uneventful.
We knew we were approaching our destination when baitfish – small mackerel tuna and skipjack – could be seen breaking the surface and the bird life increased dramatically. These mini-tuna make great baits, and we soon had a number lined up for dogtooth duty later on. With the bottom steadily rising from beyond the reach of our sonar to 160 metres, we had our first shot – a small wahoo crashed the lure – and this was followed by a couple of yellowfin.
“I want to see some chaos in the cockpit,” skipper Pete stated – and he didn’t have to wait long. Four lines howled off as a bunch of yellowfin smashed the gear. One fell off and three others stuck, resulting in a nice triple for the boys. These weren’t big fish, the best was 24kg, but to anglers starved of yellowfin in our own waters this season, they were a sight for sore eyes.
What we had achieved in the first few hours makes for exciting angling, but the best was still to come. If there is one species – well two actually, if you take into account giant trevally – that I live for on these trips, it is dogtooth tuna. These guys are the muscle on the reef, the ‘bovver boys’. A trophy fish is generally hard won; the first run by one of these big boys normally takes you into the bricks, where the line is shredded on the reef. Occasionally you get lucky, but not often. Provided you survive that first devastating run, you have a shot – that is if the ‘tax collectors’ don’t get your doggie first.
There were a number of initial hits we did not survive, with these big fellas taking their toll on tackle and line alike – you certainly need to know your reel’s anti-reverse and drag are up to it! And they also took it out on the occasional jig, which would come back all bitter and twisted, bearing the scars of its underwater encounter.
We managed to put five dogtooth on the deck, the best a 37kg fish for Chris, which put his Shimano Stella 10000 and matching T-Curve rod to the test, before the sharks finally fronted, nailing our fish, baits and jigs with equal abandon. These oceanic white tips get quite big, and could initially be seen trailing fish to the surface before eventually plucking up the courage to grab an easy snack.
By this stage we had eaten well into the day, so the call was made to return to Kakula for another night and then head to Epi in the morning.
That plan, too, was to suddenly change when, following a brush with a coral head on the way in, we were forced to steam slowly through the night back to Port Vila to effect repairs.
The good news was that the dinged prop was repairable, but the bad news was that Malakula was out of the question. Instead we spent a day at the Eremungo Seamounts to the southwest before returning to Port Vila for the night, followed by a return to the seamount off Kakula the following day.
As is quite often the case, the action is not always the same, and while we did land a few fish, the fishery had largely shut down, the birds and bait noticeable by their absence.
The following day saw a 3.5-hour casting session along the reef breaks around Kakula and Nguna, resulting in some GT action, with Chris again to the fore, landing a 24kg fish on a Williamson jet popper.
The troll home back along the Marlin Highway was uneventful.
On reflection, we had enjoyed some great angling action, interspersed with some less busy periods. We had ‘discovered’ a great base in Kakula Island Lodge, which was perfect to access the rich grounds, reefs and seamounts north of Efate. It is a location than many anglers might consider bringing their partners to as well.
If they don’t like travelling by sea, the island can be accessed by a one-hour road trip and a short, 10-minute stint by boat. Fabe is happy to arrange partners’ programmes if fishing is not their bag.
What had made our trip memorable was not just the fishing, but the good service we had received along the way, not to mention the humour and companionship of those aboard. But, as they say, what happens on tour stays on tour!
NZ Fishing News would like to thank Air Vanuatu, Peter and Leanne at Nautilus Watersports, along with Andy and Fabiana of Kakula Island Resort for their assistance in putting this feature together.
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