The Republic of Vanuatu, formerly called The New Hebrides, is located in what is called the South West Pacific. Vanuatu refers to a group of islands, about 83 of them that stretch about 400 miles, arranged in a “wishbone” fashion. The capital of Vanuatu is Port-Vila, which is located on the island named Efaté, which is the port of entry. The island is bounded on the west by the Coral Sea, and on the east by the South Pacific Ocean. Here are some link that gives much more detail:
This report contains streaming video movies for your enjoyment. To view these movies you will need the following:
Planning for this trip started last February when my brother, Louis, saw an article in Marlin Magazine by a local fishing charter business called, Ocean Blue Vanuatu. The article mentioned that two grander blue marlin had been caught the previous season, so Louis fired off an e-mail to Ocean Blue to get more information. It wasn’t long until Louis and Anthony Pisano, who handles the sales and marketing out of their Sydney office, were in communication regarding the fishing in Vanuatu.
The following 6-minute movie is a slide show and is in two parts. The first part is a summary of our daily fishing aboard the Ymer. It begins with our arrival, followed by Louis's marlin on day 1, sunrise on day 2 and my wahoo, day 3 with the skipjack and finally the day I fished alone and caught 4 marlin, 3 yellowfin tuna, and 2 dorado. It ends with a view of the Ymer returning to the marina with flags waving. Part 2 contains video of our trip to Eton, the barracuda I caught at Mele Bay, our trip around the island, the public market, the local tackle store, the longline equipment and finally a rainy morning at the hotel and departure.
Over the months, Louis did a lot of research on the fishing seasons, catch rates and of course, hotels and infrastructure there. Anthony was a big help in pointing our way to information on the fishing history of that area and also the best time of the year to fish it. The plan was to go in early October and fish 3 days on the Ymer with captain Remy Frouin, with the remaining 4 days to see the island and do some surf fishing. Anthony supplied us with a link regarding the fishing in this area that really got our feathers ruffled up.
Getting there. From the west coast you can fly from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji, then on to Port-Vila, via Air Vanuatu, or you can fly from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, then on to Port-Vila, again with Air Vanuatu. We chose the Auckland route because of the partnership between Alaska Airlines and Qantas Airlines.
The flight to Auckland was a long 12 hours, then a 6-hour wait in Auckland before catching out 3-hour flight to Port-Vila. You also lose a day when crossing the International Date Line. We left Seattle Monday, October 8th at 4:15 PM and arrived in Los Angeles in plenty of time to catch our 9:15 PM flight on Qantas to Auckland. We arrived in Auckland on time around 10:10 AM, just over 12 hours later. Having crossed the International Date Line, it was then Wednesday, October 10th. Auckland is about the same latitude as Seattle, but in the southern hemisphere, so it was basically the beginning of spring and it was a very pleasant 68 degrees. We had a 6-hour wait until our Air Vanuatu flight was scheduled to depart and we couldn’t check our luggage earlier than 1 hour prior to departure, so we just hung out at the airport.
The flight from Auckland to Efaté was a bumpy one with only periods of time when we could see the ocean below which was covered with huge white caps blown up by the trade winds. As we got near Efaté the cloud cover increased but just as we approached the island we broke through the clouds and we got our first glimpse of a South Pacific Island. For me, the adventure starts when the door opens on this tiny island. We landed on time, and made our way through customs, which was a breeze compared to Los Angeles or Auckland and in only 20 minutes. Remy Frouin’s son in law, Antione Boudier, met us and took us to our hotel. Driving through the town I noticed, “this is no Cabo San Lucas”! Few hotels, none more than 2 stories and the whole town is only 2 blocks wide and maybe 10 blocks long. Not a traffic signal on the island. Almost all the buildings looked to be over 40 years old, with only a few banks and a scattering of office buildings that were under 5 years old. Also, there wasn’t any new construction in progress except for one new 10-story hotel near the marina.
Our motel, the Kaiviti Village Motel, was just 3 blocks from the marina, so it was a short drive from the airport and town. The plan was to unpack and then head back to the marina and meet the boat and crew of the Ymer, a 34’ Blackwatch that we chartered for the next 3 days. Antione told us the Ymer was returning from a 6-day live aboard fishing trip and was scheduled to arrive around 5:30 PM.
Ocean Blue has 3 charter boats, 2 of which are docked at the marina right in front of the Waterfront Restaurant, so we were right at home having 5:00 PM cocktails waiting for our “ship to return”. Soon Remy’s wife, Janet, greeted us at our table. We discussed what we could expect for lunches and beverages on the boat because Louis and I are big eaters and we drink a ton of water when fishing. Janet assured us that we wouldn’t be disappointed. The boat was late returning, actually getting in about an hour after it got dark, which was nearly 7:00 PM.
After tying the boat up, Remy came over and joined us. We talked about the schedule for the next morning and agreed to a time to meet. I would need some extra time to set up my laptop and GPS, I told him. Remy said the crew would be happy to assist me with that first thing in the morning. We had hoped to meet the crew this evening, but the crew coming off was scheduled for some time off, so we wouldn’t be able to meet our crew until the next morning. We all agreed to meet at 5:00 AM with a departure by 5:30 AM. Just as we were finishing up our meeting, it started to rain. It was raining in Seattle when we left and here we are 8,000 miles from home and we find rain again. Yuk. Remy told us that a low-pressure system had moved in this afternoon, but it wasn’t expected to have much rain with it, but it might be a little windy at times. Just before we all left, I looked at Remy and I asked where he came up with that name Ymer for the boat? He replied, "I asked my 10-year-old daughter for a suggestion, and she said, well, Ymer is Remy spelled backwards, why not name it that"?
Day 1, October 11, fishing aboard the Ymer
Our first morning, we awoke to a partly cloudy sky, a bit humid with temperatures in the lower 70’s. When we got to the boat, Remy and the crew greeted us: Jean-Luc Cassart (Nono) and Sandy Sur. Nono also fills in as captain when Remy needs his days off. Nono would be the leader man and Sandy was the tag man and cook. While Louis and the crew discussed the arrangement of gear, I connected my laptop and GPS and immediately started getting GPS coordinates on the chart that I had scanned. Louis had put one of our 50-wides on the side of the chair and the boats 80-wide on the other side, which would run on two flat lines short. Then the 2 130’s went on the longs with our other 50-wide running off the stinger.
All of the tackle was in top condition. The 130’s all had fresh line, lures had new leaders, and the hooks were sharp. The boat itself was also in top condition. The fighting chair was also very high quality. I did notice however that there wasn’t a live-bait tank or tuna tubes. Remy said that they rarely use rigged baits and only seldom do they use tuna tubes. The head was small but clean and functional.
We headed out of the marina right on time. It was just a 10-minute run to the harbor buoy, and then Remy put the power on. Nice smooth ride and looking at the GPS I could see we were doing 26 knots on a southwest heading. The run to open water from the marina and Mélé Bay took about 40 minutes. As we rounded Matao Tiupeniu Point (Devils Point), we headed west to what is called the marlin highway which runs adjacent to the lee side of the island. Another 10 minutes and we were slowing down and putting the lures out. The bottom drops off rapidly and we were already in 100 to 200 meter deep water less than a half mile from the shoreline. Just after the crew put the lines out, Sandy brought us some delicious croissants and fresh orange juice. That really hit the spot, as I always get my hunger up when I smell the ocean air.
The wind had picked up considerably since we left Mélé Bay. The swells were also rolling in now from the east to west, with a large chop from the trade winds. The lures were constantly popping out and the lines began popping out of the riggers every 10 minutes or so. They rigged them with rubber bands in the clips, but these would break quite easily. Remy told us that the low-pressure system that moved in last night was responsible for these less than ideal conditions.
We saw a lot of birds just about anywhere you looked, but they were not concentrating on any particular location. With the sun higher in the sky now, you could begin to see the deep clear azure color of the water. It was crystal clear. Un-like fishing in Cabo, the VHF radio was silent and there were no boats to be seen.
From the track you can see that we traveled almost 35 miles, past Erétoka Island, called Hat Island by the locals, past Lélépa Island then north of Moso Island and then just west of Nguna Island. This is the area known as marlin highway. That was quite a long trip without any bites I thought. We then headed southwest to a spot where there are two seamounts. Not much luck there either, so we headed south again plowing back down marlin highway. Not much traffic on this highway today, I thought. Sandy served up some outstanding chicken sandwiches, made like a sub with locally grown lettuce, tomatoes and onions. They were great.
Our first bite came at 3:35 PM, about 3.6 miles southwest of Hat Island, when the stinger went off with a vengeance. The fish hit the 50-wide on the stinger. The pecking order was established before we ever left home so Louis would take the first billfish. All at once, everyone sprang into action. Louis quickly got into his stand-up gear while Nono and Sandy cleared the remaining lines. Remy had hit the throttles with perfect timing and the fish was well-hooked and peeling off line. Then Nono pointed to the jumping blue off in the distance. The wind and chop was really bad by now because we had lost the cover from the main island and we were now in the main line of the 20-knot trade winds. The swells also had been getting bigger all day and we were now experiencing some 8-10 foot rollers. This was making it difficult for me to get any video not only because it was hard to stand-up but also I was getting too much spray on the lens. I was able to get a few shots of the blue jumping.
All this time Louis was working the fish trying to get line back. He was really having a tough time, again because of the rough conditions. I doubt that at the time, neither of us were even thinking or were aware of the rough conditions; we were simply too excited about fighting our first south pacific blue marlin. In about 15 minutes or so, the angle on the fish was about 45 degrees, so Louis had gotten back most of the line by then. This is when the trouble started. Louis had widened the spread on his feet, but he was clearly having problems with the boat rising and falling so quickly in the swells coupled with the strong unpredictable runs of the marlin. It was clear by now that this wasn’t a perfect time to be doing stand-up fishing. All of a sudden, after peaking over a huge roller, the boat dropped like a rock, and at the exact same time, the blue charged the boat, and Louis went flying backwards because of the sudden loss of tension in the line.Nono and Sandy, who were standing right next to him, quickly gave aid and in a heartbeat he was standing back up with marlin still attached. Wow was that close! Nono and Sandy continued to help him keep his balance, but it was time to head for the chair on this one.
With Louis now in the chair and able to really put the heat on, we had the marlin up to the leader in just a few more minutes. Nono grabbed the leader and Sandy delivered the tag. After a short revival and a few moments to video the fish along side, it was released unharmed. Nono estimated the weight at 280 lbs, which is what I entered into my log. Total fighting time was just over 40-minutes, but it seemed like only 5-minutes. We probably spent more time congratulating each other over our success than we actually spent fighting the fish! But that is the best part, the hand shaking, the smiles, the sense of achievement, teamwork; it’s all part of the game.
With a good release behind us, we were all a little more relaxed with each other. You might say that the fish broke the ice with the crew and us. It’s hard for a crew to ‘read’ the people that come out on these charters because they see such a wide diverse group. The crew had treated us very professionally, but they were just a little shy in my opinion. Now they were all laughing and joking like we have been fishing together for years. This was the beginning of a great fishing trip I thought.
By the time we had the lines back out, it was nearly 4:30 PM so our chances of scoring another blue today seemed doubtful. Our 10-hours of fishing was over at 3:30 PM about the time Louis got hooked up, but Remy continued to troll towards the entrance to Mélé Bay, about 10-miles away, in an attempt to get me hooked up rather than just pulling in the lines and heading in. As the entrance to Mélé Bay appeared, I realized that my day would have to be tomorrow, yet I was confident of the crew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. We finally backed into the slip at 6:02 PM, almost 13 hours later and with a tag and release flag flying we were all proud of.
Pulling into the slip is a little bit of an afternoon thing for the local people and tourists enjoying their cocktail hour at the Waterfront Restaurant. All eyes turn to the boat as it backs in to see what they caught for the day. Remy’s wife, Janet, was again present to greet us, so we all gathered at a dinner table while Nono and Sandy prepared the boat for the next morning. We told Remy that we would like to meet at 6:00 AM the next morning instead of the earlier 5:00 AM since it appeared that the afternoon was the time of the most bites.
Day 2, October 12, Fishing aboard the Ymer
We trolled south until we were about 6 miles from the point, then headed east to parallel the south side of the island. We would be inside of the 1000-meter line, with a depth averaging 500 meters. At 8:13 AM Sandy and I simultaneously spotted a marlin in the spread going for the right short corner lure. The marlin apparently wasn’t hungry or we were just unlucky on that one. Remy circled the area to no avail. We continued trolling another 10 miles to the east until we reached the 200-meter contour line. From there we headed south again traveling another 10 miles before heading west.
It was around noon when Sandy served up lunch. Chicken sandwiches again. Just as I sat down to take a bite, the left long got knocked down. Unfortunately, we new right away it wasn’t a marlin because it didn’t pull any drag. I was up, so I went to the chair and started cranking. I could tell from the way the fish acted that it wasn’t a dorado – either, a wahoo or a small tuna I thought. In less than 5 minutes we had a nice 35-lb wahoo in the cooler for dinner, and I was back to eating my lunch.
I spotted a small sandy beach situated amongst the otherwise volcanic shoreline, known as Narpow Point. I told Remy that I would like to get as close as possible to the surf so that I could use my surf rod and ranger lures to see if we could get any bites. Remy agreed and we were soon sitting just a few feet from the breakers in about 60 feet of water. The water was so clear that you could see the bottom as if it were only 10 feet deep. I broke out my 11-foot surf rod and spinning reel and put on the red and white ranger while the crew watched with curiosity as to what would happen next. I told Nono to pull in the right outrigger so I could get a full swing when casting. I took aim at a 45-degree angle from the boat and the beach and let it go. Everyone was amazed at how far I could throw that 4-oz ranger, at least 70-yards. With each cast the crew watched the ranger on the surface as I retrieved it.
On the third cast, we saw a huge boil behind the lure as I was retrieving it just beyond the white water then the fish took the lure. No one had any idea what it was, but it was putting up a grand fight on the 20-lb test line and I was having a ball fighting it. After all, I had never done this before while fishing for marlin and I doubt that the crew had either. The calm conditions and the scenery of the palm tree lined island tempered the mood with no visible intrusion from humans. It was simply paradise. Soon the fish was at the boat and Nono reached over the side and brought it aboard. It was a bright red fish with large scales, weighing about 18-lbs, it looked similar to a red snapper that is common in Cabo. Thinking that it was, and knowing that snapper is great table fare, I asked Nono to keep it. Remy said no, because the fish is actually a red bass and is poisonous if eaten, so we tossed it back.
Louis, watching all of this while running the video, now wanted his turn. The leader on the ranger was frayed a bit so he replaced the lure but used the blue and white ranger this time. Louis wasn’t as lucky as I was and soon gave up after about a half an hour. As I took the rod back from Louis, Nono looked as if he wanted to try this too, so I asked him if he wanted to try it. He said yes, but he wanted the red and white ranger, which gave us all a good laugh. Nono soon got the feel for casting and was doing a good job of getting the lure into the surf line. We were all having a great time and we did see more boils behind the lure but were unable to get hooked up again so we went back to trolling again, heading in a westerly direction parallel to the shore line.
It was nearing late afternoon and as with yesterday, my hopes of getting a marlin began to diminish except for the thought that it was about this time yesterday that Louis got his marlin, so I was still hopeful. Today though, we had not seen many birds flying indicating that the bait had moved out of the area. Soon we were back to Pango Point where we had started in the morning when Remy said it was time to head in.
We arrived at the dock at 4:30 PM with the lonely wahoo flag waving in the gentle breeze. We invited Remy and the crew to have a cold beer with us so Louis had the bartender put some on ice while we waited for Nono and Sandy to clean the boat up. After the boat was clean, Sandy brought out the wahoo and cut off several huge steaks and gave them to the cook for our dinner later that evening. Since we only had one day of fishing left to get me my marlin, I asked Remy what he planned on doing tomorrow. Remy and Nono suggested that our best bet would be to go back to marlin highway and work the same area we did the first day because of the lack of birds and bait sightings on the south side of the island today. We agreed and set a departure time of 5:00 AM again to maximize the time on the water for the last day.
Louis and I had a few more cocktails and then asked the cook to put our fish on the grill for our dinner. The cook told us he would prepare the fish with two different methods, both being grilled but using a different sauce. When the fish was done, it was served on two large platters. We were each giving a plate with rice, fresh broccoli, steamed carrots and a basket of freshly baked bread. The sauces were a simple garlic and oil and the other was a heavy coconut crème based with cilantro and red peppers. Both sauces were outstanding and the fish was cooked to perfection.
We departed at 5:17 AM for our final day of fishing. As with the first day, when we neared the outside of Mélé Bay the wind and swells had grown larger making it difficult to keep the lures in the water. Also, it wasn’t long before we saw birds working the area just off the point again. Sure enough, Remy soon spotted a huge school of skipjack with birds crashing into them feeding on the anchovies that the skipjack forced to the surface. It was about 6:20 AM when we got the first bite, but it was a skipjack. Louis took the rod and quickly brought in the estimated 15-lb skipjack. I asked Nono to rig the skipjack up but then we all agreed that are best opportunity would be to continue trolling around the school to cover more ground. The school soon disappeared so we headed north towards Hat Island and the west side of the island as we did the first day.
Having 2 trips behind us, it was almost as if we had been fishing with these guys for years. We were always joking around and having a great time together as if we were long time friends. Just before I left on this trip, I had played one of the many games on the Internet that was aimed at “getting Bin Laden”. In one game, the object was to shoot Bin Laden who had taken an American hostage in a liquor store. As he would pop up from behind the counter, you were to shoot using your mouse, getting points for a hit, and losing points if you shot the hostage by mistake. Occasionally, you could hear bin laden say “I kill you”. I gave the link to Louis also, so we both picked up that term “I kill you” and we were both using it all along on the previous 2 days. When I explained all this to Nono and Sandy, they all laughed and started using the phrase too.
After an overcast morning, the sky cleared up as we neared Hat Island around 9:30 AM. We were much closer to the island this time and we could see the surf pounding in on the southern tip of the island. We were less than a mile from the island, trolling the steep contours where the depth ranges from less than 80 meters to more than 300 meters in just a short distance. As I was trying to get some video of the island, my hat flew overboard – my lucky hat that I wore when we got the grander in Madeira 2 years ago. I thought, heck, it hasn’t been all that lucky on this trip so maybe that’s where it belongs. Sandy quickly says, “I kill you”! We all started laughing while Remy turned around to fetch the hat. After a few unsuccessful attempts to grab it with the gaff, Sandy jumped over and retrieved it for me, all the time yelling, “I kill you”. It was hysterical, but you had to be there to understand the humor in it.
Lunch came again around noon and we were now in the area where the two seamounts were located. Sandy served up the subs again, and when I took the first bite, I noticed there was no meat in the sandwich. I looked at Louis and he too had discovered that the meat was missing. We looked at Sandy and he had a big grin on his face and he yelled, “I fool you”, to which Louis and I replied back “I kill you”! We were really having fun despite the lack of marlin.
The day ended up being one of a long boat ride, other than the brief excitement of the school of skipjack early that morning. But we did have some great conversations with Remy and the crew about how they got started, where they were from, and about their families. We also talked about the best time of the year to fish Vanuatu because Louis and I had already decided that we would return. We arrived back at the dock at 4:17 PM, again with a lonely flag depicting our single skipjack for the day. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get my marlin release and that we didn’t have more shots at one, but all in all we had a great time these past 3 days and developed new friendships.
We sat down at the table for a final toast to the 3 days of fishing and all the fun we had. Remy sensed my disappointment, despite the fact that I was trying to hide it, and gave us his schedule for the following week: Tomorrow, the 14th, he had a one-day charter on the Ymer, an opening on the 15th, a crew day off on the 16th, a charter on the 17th, then two open days, followed by a charter on the 20th, and finally a 6-day live aboard leaving on the 23rd. Louis and I were scheduled to leave on the 17th so it looked like we could make that trip on the 15th and still have time to rent a car and drive around the island looking for some spots to do some surf fishing. Without committing one way or the other, we just left it as an open item.
After dinner, we headed to the car rental office near our hotel and reserved a car for the next 3 days. The rental clerk wanted us to rent the more expensive 4-wheel drive vehicle saying that the compacts are only suitable for driving on the paved roads, which were very few. We balked at the $70/day cost and went with the $30/day compact.
Day 4, October 14, a short trip to Eton Lagoon
Today we slept in until 9:30 AM when we were greeted by another partly cloudy sky. It was Sunday and we were planning on having breakfast in town but we were told that most all of the restaurants and shops would be closed. Joy, the manageress drew us a map to get to the Rossi Restaurant which would be open and serving brunch. The Rossi is sort of a meeting place for all the sailing people that frequent the island, as well as the transients that stay for weeks or more.
After completely pigging out on the wide selection of egg dishes, meats, freshly baked bread, pastries, and fruit we headed back to the car rental office to pick up our car. Back at the hotel we picked up a few maps from the front office and loaded up the surf fishing gear and video equipment then headed out of town looking for that stretch of beach we found while fishing 2 days ago. The one thing that we needed the most, I had left behind, and that was my laptop with the GPS. I don’t know why I didn’t take it, I guess I just assumed we wouldn’t be gone that long and it wouldn’t be necessary. We also only took two quarts of water, another big mistake.
About 3 miles out of town, the road turned to crushed white coral with many potholes to avoid. We saw a side road that looked like it went in the direction of the beach rather than continuing towards the mountains, so we took it. Soon we could see the ocean through the thick vegetation and palm trees but there wasn’t any roads that would get us closer than the one we were on. The road was very narrow and we never saw or passed any other cars. In almost a blink of any eye we passed by a sign that said, Tamanu Beach Club, but for some reason we just kept on going thinking that the sandy beach we were looking for must be much farther down the road. Later we would discover that the Tamanu Beach Club was in fact, the spot that we fished previously from the Ymer. We had also seen an advertisement for the resort on the Internet where Louis had previously pointed out that there was a beach shown in a photograph of the resort but none of this came to mind at the moment.
A moment later the road straightens out and was running parallel to the ocean. The road seemed endless, disappearing into the horizon where the blue sky met the white coral road with deep green colors flanked on each side from the lush vegetation, banana trees, palm trees and coconut tree plantations. Occasionally we would pass a small opening on the right side of the road just wide enough for a car to go into. We passed a few of these, then decided on one to turnaround and try and drive through it. What we discovered was that these openings were the results of the local people accessing the beach at that particular spot and they simply had worn a path there. With a little effort and slow going, we were able to drive the short distance from the road to an open area that revealed the ocean where usually we would find a few cars and a few people walking along the rocky shore or wading in the lagoons.
The plan was, that we would take turns with our only surf rod while the other person ran the video. The first two attempts to do this, we didn’t find the sandy beach but instead always found a volcanic rock lined beach with lagoons. Since it was low tide, it looked easy to walk down to the edge of the lagoon and cast into the surf. This was not the case however. The volcanic rock was razor sharp and not a flat spot big enough to put your foot down. It was very rough going until reaching the part of the rock that had been exposed to the surf during high tides. In that area the rock was much smoother from the constant wave action over the years, but it was now very slippery. Once down in the surf line, it became apparent that the lagoon had a very steep drop off that would make landing any fish almost impossible. A fish would undoubtedly head for deep water and the only way to get it in would be over the sharp drop-off, which would assuredly cut the 20-lb test line like a hot knife cutting butter. Undaunted by all this, we each took turns casting our lures into paradise anyway, thinking at least we would get some great video. Besides, if we didn’t make the attempt at surf fishing, having traveled this far, my friend Jeff Klassen would ridicule me forever!
We kept on looking for the sandy beach, but each time only found the lagoons and rocky shorelines. Our next stop was actually a real road that branched off towards the ocean from what appeared to be a very small village. We stopped a young native girl and asked her if it was okay to drive down the road to the ocean, she smiled and said yes. The road was about 200 yards from the main road, and as we neared the ocean we passed by a several shacks that were on each side of the road. Chickens and skinny dogs were running as we approached, and the people in their yards stared at us as we went by. We parked the car and looked around spotting a nice spot where we would be able to cast into the surf without too much difficulty.
While I was running the video, a villager had walked up to us. At first we were a little scared not knowing what his motives were. We had been told that most all of the land was private and that we needed to get permission from the “chief” to access the beaches. The native was all smiles when he got up close, which was reassuring. Louis asked him if it was okay to fish and he replied “yeah sure” in sort of a broken Bislama and English language. Bislama is relatively easy to understand to English speakers because 85% of the 8000-word vocabulary is English based. However the Bislama spoken in Port-Vila is more anglicized than that spoken in the villages such as this one. Here are some examples:
Louis explained to the native that we had fished from a boat a few days ago in this area and we were looking for the sandy beach. He seemed to understand this and he proceeded to draw a map in the sand showing where the beach was located. Louis asked him if he was the “chief” and he replied no and we all laughed. He asked us if we were from Port-Vila and we told him yes but we were traveling from the United States - he was overwhelmed at this. Louis then introduced himself and he told us his name. It’s all on the movie. When Louis got out the surf rod, the native couldn’t wait to help assemble it and follow us down to the surf line. Another native soon joined all this excitement of watching us trying to catch some fish.
Continuing on down the road we soon passed through a small village composed of 15 to 20 shacks, a church and a small school. Natives could be seen lying in their front yards in the shade, along with chickens and pigs running wildly along the dirt road. A sign on the Church indicated that the name of this town was Eton. Looking at our map, we could see that we had traveled way to the east of where we thought the sandy beach was and were now traveling north on the extreme east side of the island. A few miles outside of town there was an entrance to Eton Lagoon Park. We could see several cars in the park so we drove in to take a look.
It was a beautiful lagoon with a great sandy beach.
Locals were busy cooking food while a group of tourists were playing volleyball
on the beach and enjoying some cold beers that were cooling in a 50-gallon
plastic trash container filled with ice, beer, wine and champagne. They
were actually in Port-Vila from Australia on business. I
talked with them briefly and was told that a local hotel employed them
and they were here on a 3-month assignment as part of a sales and marketing
deal. They had a ton of snorkeling equipment, which later proved
to be very useful. They asked me if we had a corkscrew to open their
wine with, but we didn’t. In fact, we were really thirsty, so I
used that point to bum some cold ones from them. Looking at our
map, we didn’t see much sense in continuing north any further, so we headed
back to our hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner.
We arrived at the Waterfront Restaurant for cocktail time and as a switch, we were the observers when the Ymer came in from its fishing trip. Nono and Sandy knew we were going to be waiting, so they had run up a marlin flag along with the tuna flag. Since we were skunked the day before, Louis and I were quick to ask Nono and Sandy about the marlin flag. In unison, they loudly yelled, “I fool you”! We all sure got a laugh out of that. They didn’t get a marlin but did find a good school of yellowfin tuna just as they were heading in from a skunk trip themselves. They managed to all get hooked up at the same time, yet didn’t lose a single hook-up.
Sunday night at this place really rocks for some reason. The place filled up and soon there wasn’t any place to stand, much less sit down. After our dinner we moved up to the bar area and met people from many different places, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, New Guinea, etc. Most all of these people were on sail boats or were crew looking for a hop to the next island. What a life I thought.
Day 5, October 15, Mélé Bay Trip
Later that morning we got up and drove into town for breakfast. Louis was really sick by now, and he didn’t want to be more than a 1-minute walk to a bathroom. He ordered breakfast but didn’t eat it. I was fine, so whatever he had seemed to only affect him. As Remy had told us, it was a marked difference in the weather. We could see Mélé Bay from our table and it was indeed flat without a ripple on the water as far as you could see and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The whole marina now looked like the picture perfect post cards you always see.
Today was to be another day of surf fishing around the island, but Louis opted instead to go back to the room and try and recover from what ever was ailing him. I must admit I was not too happy about that. This is too far to come to spend a day in bed I told him. Since we were scheduled to leave on the 17th, we only had today and tomorrow to scout out the other side of the island. Without Louis, who would run the video? Unable to convince him to come along, I ended up going it alone. Leaving the video behind, I headed back through town towards the west to get to Mélé Bay. Nono previously had told us that the beaches in that area were black from the volcanic rock and it was a good area to fish for Jack Crevalle and Giant Trevallys, so that was my plan.
Just out of town the road splits at a turnabout, one headed north, taking you to the airport, and the other headed west around Mélé Bay. Heading west, it wasn’t 5 minutes and I noticed an odd smell that I had noticed yesterday afternoon when we were coming back from Eton. It smelled like burning wiring. Since Louis had been doing all the driving that day, I just assumed it was okay so I kept on driving. The smell got worse, so I pulled over, put on my glasses and looked at the instruments. The water temperature was pegged to the hot side! I immediately turned around and headed back to the turnabout where I had noticed a gas station earlier.
As I pulled into the gas station, the car died right on the spot. A mechanic came out, popped the hood and explained that the radiator was bone dry. We had to wait 30 minutes or so for the block to cool down before filling the radiator back up with water, and I was again on my way.
I had traveled about 15 miles when I saw a narrow dirt road leading towards the water on the left through dense bush land. Having no idea what I would find, I decided to check it out. After about a mile of driving, the bay appeared. It was as Nono had described, a wide beach with rich black sand. The water was flat, with just the gentle motion of the tidal water moving in and out – no waves at all. It was about a ½ mile walk from where the beach began to the water. Walking in the sand was difficult because it was very loose and deep. I spent about an hour or so walking along the beach and casting but didn’t get any bites so I decided to go back to the car and continue down the main road. By the time I reached the main road I noticed the smell from the engine again. Sure enough, the temperature gauge was way over in the hot section. I looked underneath the car and found that water was leaking from the bottom of the radiator.
Luckily, I made it back to the gas station again before all the water leaked out. I topped off the water and headed back to the car rental agency, stopping several times along the way to put more water in. My guess was that the previous renter hit a pothole or something that started the crack and it just got worse as we used the car. I know we were very careful not to cause the car to bottom out as we were instructed.
The car rental agent was very helpful and said we could have another car. Because they didn’t have any more compacts, we got the 4-wheel drive Toyota for a replacement at the same price as the compact. The agent checked the gas gauge and told me I had to either take the car across the street to the gas station and refill the tank, or pay them a surcharge for the fuel used. I elected to drive across the street and do-it-myself. While the gas station attendant was putting in the fuel, I noticed from the odometer that we had only put on 110 miles. So why was the pump still pumping I wondered. It took nearly 75 liters to fill the tank and at 50 cents/liter that was a bit pricey in my opinion. When I returned to the car rental office, I asked about only getting 5.5 miles/gallon and the agent said if you use the air-conditioner your mileage would drop significantly. No more air-conditioning!
Back at the room I found Louis on the phone with Air Vanuatu. After he got off, he told me he was too sick to leave on our planned schedule and asked me if it was okay to stay longer. That was an easy question to answer because it was always Louis’s schedule that limited our time on this trip and I never liked the short schedule to begin with. Louis said that Air Vanuatu only departs on Wednesdays for Auckland, meaning we would have to stay a full extra week. I was running low on cash but virtually everyone took credit cards so that shouldn’t be a problem I thought. The only question was regarding changing are departure dates because we had used our mileage award for the Qantas flights between Auckland and Los Angeles. Again luck was on our side because Remy’s daughter was the ticketing and reservations manager at the Air Vanuatu office downtown and she said she would take care of it personally. She told Louis to check back tomorrow because it was still Sunday in the US and the Alaska Airlines offices were closed. She also mentioned that Remy was also a bit sick and that others on the island were too. Apparently something got into the water supply.
Louis was feeling a little better by now, and I was ecstatic about the possibility of staying the extra week. I told Louis we had better go into town and find a tackle shop because we were really low on surf lures if we were to stay longer. He agreed and we got a list of tackle stores from Joy and headed into town.
That evening we returned to the Waterfront Restaurant for
dinner and found Nono and Remy preparing the boat for a day charter out
of Port Havannah on the west side of the island. Nono was going
to take the boat over to their camp at Port Havannah this evening and
early the next morning Remy would take the clients to the camp by vehicle.
This maximizes the time on the water.
After dinner, Louis and I discussed what to do the next day. Louis didn’t want to commit to much of anything, but he did agreed to get up early and head back to Mélé Bay with me and run the video while I fished the beaches, but with the stipulation that we would return if he got too weak.
Day 6, October 16, second Mélé Bay Trip
With Louis now running the video I made my first cast. It was 7:36AM. It was a good cast, a 45-degree angle from the beach and out about 80 yards. The ranger lure that I was using floats on the surface during a retrieve but will sink when you stop reeling. I had only brought in about 20 yards of line when a huge fish leaped out of the water and inhaled the lure. The lure was so far out that I couldn’t tell what kind of fish it was, but it was pulling off line and heading straight out from shore. Checking the drag I found it a little loose so I carefully tightened it down and immediately felt the increase. The rod was bent way over and the fish was still having no problem taking off line. Louis was getting all of this on video. I was beginning to think that I was going to get spooled, and without any more line, I decided to put on more drag and risk losing the fish rather than all the line. Finally the fish slowed and I began to get line back. The fish made a few jumps but was still too far out to tell what it was. I asked Louis to come down to the waters edge and video from there.
After about 15 minutes, the fish was clearly beaten because I was getting line back much faster, but the drag was still very heavy and I was still afraid the fish might pop off at any moment. I could now see the outline of the fish but not enough to know what it was when all of a sudden it made another leap out of the water. It was a huge Giant Barracuda. I had expected a large tarpon or something similar, so this took us by surprise. I carefully maneuvered the fish into shore and let Louis get some close-ups of the huge fish with the lure hooked in the corner of its jaw. The fish was at least 12 inches in diameter and nearly 5 feet long. I guessed it must have weighed nearly 45 lbs. The teeth looked like the rows of teeth on a mako shark, so I was very careful to reach down and remove the lure to release the fish.
Just as I was about to let the fish go, a native and his wife happened along that had been watching from the road as I brought the fish in. He ran down and asked me if he could have the fish just as it was about to swim off. It didn’t matter to me so I said go ahead and grab it. It was only when he picked it up and stood there with it that we realized just how big this fish was. The native was just under 6 feet tall himself so the fish looked huge as he struggled to hold it up. As he walked away, he through it over his shoulder and we could see just how thick it was. It was truly a monster. He and his wife kept thanking us for the fish. It turns out that it is dangerous to eat these fish because they sometimes get diseases that can be poisonous to humans, but I was told that the natives are pretty much immune.
Louis was feeling much better now and was casting away trying to hook another one. He soon gave up and said that these are very solitude fish and they are very territorial, patrolling a large area in most cases. He didn’t think there would be any others in this area so we packed up and moved down the beach a mile or two. We stopped at the corner of Mélé Bay where the beach ended and the road started heading more of a southward direction. Louis took a few casts here too, but no bites. Looking at our chart we could see that the water was very shallow out as far as a ½ mile in this area and we would need to drive about 5 miles more until the water had better contours.
The drive along this road was simply beautiful. On the right hand side of the road there was a very steep mountain covered in dense foliage and tall trees with only an occasional opening that would reveal an old farm or a few abandoned shacks. On the left side we were passing what appeared to be a recent development of newer homes on beachfront property. The individual lots were very wide but shallow. Each house had a magnificent garden between the road and the house. The gardens were perfectly manicured and were beaming with bright colors of flowers and tropical plants with shady areas provided by the leaning coconut trees.
Soon we came to what appeared to be a restaurant, from the old sign on
the road, and being hungry now we decided to pull in and see what was
for lunch. It
turned out that the restaurant was part of a group of cottages that were
rented to tourists in the past. The restaurant had been converted
into a house and the cottages were all vacant. There were a group
of 4 men at the house who told us that a couple from Australia owned the
place and that it was for sale. While Louis used their bathroom,
I walked through the garden, which then led an awesome view of Mele Bay.
the garden were these 4 cottages all of which had this wonderful view
of Mélé Bay and a large lagoon. In the center there
was a steep set of stairs built right into the coral cliff that led down
to the lagoon below. Nestled into the lagoon at the foot of the
steps were two small deep natural pools about the size of a Jacuzzi. Inside
the pools I could see small brightly blue colored tropical fish that Louis
said are worth hundreds of dollars back in the states. Back
at the house, I let the 3 men look at the video of my barracuda I had
caught earlier. They were overwhelmed at the size of the fish.
We asked directions to the sandy beach that we were looking for and it
turned out that one of the guys said it was on his property. He
was so impressed with my catch that he not only gave us permission to
fish from his property, but he asked us to get his son out of his house
and take him with us. He gave us detailed directions on how to get
to the beach.
We couldn’t find his son, but we did get down to the beach. It was a small beach with a surrounding lagoon. We were nearly at the end of the bay were the bay meets the ocean so the view here was breathtaking. The water was still flat as paper with not even a ripple on the surface. Polaroid glasses made seeing into the water very easy. I waded out a bit then made a few casts but it was still to far to deep water. On one cast, I got a backlash and while fixing it the lure sank to the bottom. When I got the backlash cleared I found that the lure was snagged on the bottom, so I waded all the way out to retrieve it, all the time thinking about the size of that barracuda and the rows of razor sharp teeth.
Louis was sitting in the shade under a tree on the beach waving at me indicating that he wanted to head back. It was nearly noon now and I was hungry and thirsty so I agreed. As I was nearly out of the water I glanced down and spotted something metallic looking. I reached down in the shallow water and retrieved what were old navy brass rifle bullets. They had been shot but were duds and were completely intact after all these years. Not a barnacle on them. There were more too. I found a total of five of them, 3 had blunt nose bullets and 2 had penetrating armor style bullets. All of these years they had sat in this shallow lagoon and from the constant tidal action, were kept spotless as if someone had just polished them with a brass cleaner.
Back in town we stopped by the Air Vanuatu office and checked with Remy’s daughter, Crystal, about our flights. Everything was taken care of and booked she said. We even had the same seats. Crystal told Louis what he needed to get at the pharmacy to help him with his dysentery, so we headed off to the local pharmacy. I bought some to, although I hadn’t had any problem as of yet, I’m usually a late bloomer and didn’t want to take any chances.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the Ocean Blue office to settle up our bill for the prior 3 days of fishing. (This is another point I want to make about how nice it is to work with Ocean Blue. So far, the only money they had received from us was the initial deposit of $600 to cover the first day of fishing that we sent in weeks before leaving. Here it was 6 days after arriving and we are finally paying our bill. Never happen in Cabo. Each day after fishing we asked Remy if he wanted us to pay up – we were supposed to prepay the day we arrived. Remy just smiled and said don’t worry about it.) We went over the schedule of the Ymer and Bolero with Antione and decided to go ahead and prepay for the 18th just to lock in the boat.
Louis spent the rest of the day on the toilet while I hung at the hotel pool with a few bothersome flies and the hungry kittens.
Another perfect morning greeted us. No wind, no clouds. The night before we shopped for a small cooler to carry some food and water for the trip around the island, but the prices on even a small cooler were a bit more than we wanted to spend, especially knowing we couldn’t take it with us. We ended up buying a non-insulated plastic container. On the way out of town we filled it up with ice, drinks and some ready-made sandwiches. We headed down the same path as yesterday morning to the fork in the road, but this time taking the right at the fork that would take us over “Klem’s Hill” and drop us onto the west side of the island. Klem’s Hill is named after an early French planter who arrived on Efaté in 1886.
Past the fork, we didn’t travel more than a ½ mile when the road suddenly seemed to go straight up into the sky. Even with this 6-cylinder Toyota with 4-wheel drive, we were barely able to make 10 mph going up the steep side of the mountain. The road was very rough and narrow. After negotiating two very steep gradients and a hairpin bend, we finally reached the crest that revealed a panoramic view of Mélé Bay to the south. Later I read that the US Army, 515th Engineer Company, carved this road in 1942. They were ordered to forge a link from Port-Vila to the proposed naval installations in Havannah Harbor. Apparently they weren’t thinking of us when they built it with their multiple geared vehicles.
Once on top we drove across this mountaintop plateau, which was dubbed “The Little Burma Road” by the 1942 construction teams as they bulldozed their way through the Pacific War. The first things we noticed were the undulating plantation lands, intermittent rain forests, and massive banyan trees with parrots and minor birds everywhere. We traveled about 4 kilometers past the crest when we encountered two long steep hills, the last of which suddenly revealed a dramatic view of Hat Island. We could have followed the road all the way down, but we spotted a fork to the left that looked like it might take us to the beaches below. The road was, again, very narrow and was overgrown with grass, but it did look like it was lightly traveled. The road wasn’t on our map, but it headed in a direction of Mangaliu Point, which is directly east of Hat Island.
We actually slid most of the way down because the road
was so steep and I wondered what
it would be like going back up. About ¾ of the way down we
saw a small red pick-up coming up the road. They saw us and backed
up to the side so we could pass. We stopped as we went by them and
I asked for directions: “Skiusmi,
Mi blong USA! Wehem Sanbij/solwota” translation: Excuse me; I’m from the
USA. Where is the sandy beach near the salt water? There were several
natives in the back of the truck that just smiled and pointed down the
road. I thanked them and said good-by: “Tankyu tumas, tata”.
At the bottom of the hill we came out into a level area where some of the jungle had been cleared with small little patches of farms scattered around. Pigs and baby pigs, small goats and dogs were seen just hanging around in makeshift pens. No telling what they were growing, although we could see some little farms that were growing some type of melon, similar to our watermelon but much smaller.
The road then led to a small village consisting of about
5 habitats where we could see natives outside resting in the shade of
the coconut trees. None of these shacks had any electricity or other
modern conveniences, although one house had a large solar panel.
The man told us that he was 86 years old and that he had
met the “Great General” back in 1942, and that the General is now feeble
and walks with a cane. He
was proud to be in such great health and physical shape - which he was.
He was more than happy to let me video him standing by some dug out canoes
that were on the beach. No telling which “Great General” he was referring
sandy beach, however, was to small to afford any surf fishing, so
we took a few pictures and headed back to the main road.
The climb up the road wasn’t as difficult as we had thought; after all, if the red truck carrying 5 people in it got out, we shouldn’t have any difficulty. Once on the main road and after passing the remnants of coconut plantations and more bush land, the road swung left and suddenly we had a sweeping view of Lelepa Island. Another turn in the road and Moso Island came dramatically into view. Next we saw a signpost announcing “Lelepa Beach Landing” located in Havannah Harbor. Just past the signpost was a large Banyan tree under which were displayed for sale shells and native handicrafts, with an honesty-box system.
Our next stop, 4 kilometers down the road, was a historical spot called Samoa Point. It was off this point that the HMS Havannah first dropped anchor in 1849. Also at Samoa Point we found a plaque recalling the missionary work done there by Dr. and Mrs. Daniel MacDonald from 1872 to 1906. The plaque was situated on the edge of a small cliff overlooking one of the best spots we had found for surf fishing. Both of us took turns casting into the calm deep blue water with the very steep drop-off from the beach. It was easy to cast just 20 yards or so and be in a water depth ranging from 300 to 600 feet deep. This place was so picturesque that we ended up spending nearly an hour here. Although we didn’t get any bites, we had several follow-ups from some unknown species. My guess is, with the proper lures, someone could catch tuna, dorado, and even possibly a migrant sailfish at this spot.
We left Samoa Point, heading inland now, and passed through Ulei Village, when we saw a huge hole on the left side of the road. Later we learned that this was actually a water hole, constructed by the US troops during the war as the military’s main fresh water system for the area. Another kilometer down the road we spotted an old US military bulldozer tucked under a Banyan tree near a small stream, where it was abandoned nearly 40 years ago. It was solid rust and covered with graffiti.
While we were observing the bulldozer, I noticed this young native girl, clad only in underpants, about 50 yards into the dense trees. As I zoomed in on her, I could see her wave at us in a cautious but friendly way. Just beyond, we noticed, what was perhaps her mother, washing clothes beside the stream. Just ahead, a bridge crossed over the stream that was also constructed by the US troops.
Leaving the Northern tip of the island, we followed the road south going down the eastern side. For the next 24 kilometers the road closely followed Efaté’s northeastern coastline and afforded some great views of South Pacific rollers tumbling on the outer reef. Pandanus palms hugged the shores and dramatic coral outcrops could be seen in the small bays. Occasionally we would stop and walk up to the beach were we sometimes saw natives from nearby villages out for a walk on the beaches. The wind was blowing quite hard on the eastern side, which would have made it difficult for surf fishing. It was now about noon and Louis was getting anxious to get back to a legitimate bathroom because his diarrhea problem was beginning to occur more frequently. We stopped one more time alongside the road to service Louis’s “emergency” at which time I was able to get some video of one of the many butterflies that habit the area. Unless you stop and get out of your car, you could easily miss these fascinating insects.
The wake up call came at 5:00AM as planned. However, Louis had been up most of the night again racing to the bathroom every hour or so and he said he wasn’t up to a whole day of fishing. This was a big dilemma for me because I still hadn’t caught and released a billfish. Louis understood and said he would go along if we came back in at noon, otherwise, he would pass and I could fish alone. Before I could say anything else, he said don’t worry, he would just forfeit his share of the charter if I elected to go alone. I accepted this and left for the marina.
When I arrived at the Ymer, Nono and Sandy were getting things ready and I asked where Remy was. Nono said it was Remy’s day off and that it would be just himself as Captain and Sandy as the deckhand. I explained that Louis would also not be present today because he was still too sick to last all day. In a few moments, the three of us would be departing - for what was to be, one of my most unforgettable days of fishing.
I hadn’t even bothered to ask or to discuss with Nono where we were going to fish as we had usually done with Remy prior to leaving the dock on past trips. I had this feeling of just three friends going fishing - not a charter at all. We were joking with each other all the way out just as friends would be doing. Nono headed south, hugging the eastern side of Mélé Bay. We had traveled just over 2 miles from Pango Point when Nono slowed down to trolling speed. It was 5:35 AM; this would be our earliest start I thought. It was a breezy morning with a few scattered clouds, but there were high concentrations of birds everywhere you looked. 5-minutes later all the lines were out and I started my usual watch of the spread.
Not having Louis aboard meant that I would have to rely on Nono to run my video so I climbed up the tower and gave Nono a few quick lessons on how to operate it. This is a very busy video I explained, buttons, switches and controls covering just about every square inch. I went over the basics of zooming in and out, and starting and stopping the recording. I told him about not touching the button labeled “PHOTO” because that is used for acquiring a still photo, and once pressed, it locks the camera up for 8-seconds while it adjusts itself for the photo. It’s located right next to the “Start/Stop” button, so it is easy to accidentally press it I told him.
No sooner than I had climbed back down into the cockpit, the right chair rod got a knock down. It was 5:55 AM. The fish only pulled a little drag and Nono yelled it was a dorado. I reeled the fish in while it rested in the chair rod holder and found it to be a nice 25-lb bull dorado which Sandy quickly gaffed and brought aboard. All of this happened so fast that Nono didn’t have time to get the video running which wasn’t a big deal anyway.
Lines out again, we were back to trolling in less than 5-minutes. It was about 5-minutes later when Sandy began looking for the knife to fillet the dorado when we got another knock down. It was 6:08 AM now, and we had a double hook up on the two chair rods. I guess we both thought it was a pair of big dorado because we both had decided to again reel them in while the rods rested in their holders. Nono was now running the video and joking with us: “Come on, bring the fish in! I fool you!” “I fool you” Sandy replied. We were having a ball. Nono then barked at Sandy to move his rod to the port side rod holder to avoid getting our lines tangled. That was quite a bit of juggling, getting the safety line disconnected and going under my line, all while holding the 130 with the big tuna tugging. Sandy soon got his fish gaffed and on board with the quick help of Nono, leaving me to battle mine. 6:15AM and mine finally came to gaff, again, Nono coming down to help pull the monster over the rail, a huge yellowfin, weighing nearly 180#’s. Sandy’s tuna was smaller, but still over 100#’s. This was an example of coordinated teamwork that paid off on this double hook up that could have easily turned into two missed fish.
Nono headed east this time trying to follow the birds that were flying over the school of yellowfin tuna looking for marlin feeding on the tunas. Scarcely an hour later the left chair rod went off singing the sound of a large marlin on the run. Nono hit the throttles and the fish was hooked solid. I quickly helped Sandy bring in the remaining rods then got into the fighting chair. Sandy passed me the rod and I hooked up the chains from the harness to the 130. The fish had pulled about 300 yards of line off and Nono didn’t waste anytime backing down on the fleeing blue marlin. This was it I thought, this is what I’ve been waiting for. Nono was again joking with “I fool you, I spool you”. I yelled back, “I kill you!”. Everyone was laughing as I struggled with the fish and the waves breaking over the transom as we backed down. I had been fighting the fish for about 20 minutes now and I was already getting tried. My right arm felt red hot and was aching from the reeling. I asked Sandy to help me to take off my t-shirt because it was soaked from the saltwater spray and it felt like it weighed 20-lbs. Nono hit the throttles momentarily to relieve the pressure on the line long enough for me to get it off.
Since the fish never jumped, we had no idea what the size was but we all agreed from the pull that it was over 500-lbs. Suddenly and without any warning, the fish turned and charged the boat. I had to reel faster than I have ever done before to keep the slack out of the line while Nono reversed gears and headed in the opposite direction away from the charging fish. Then the fish, now only about 20 yards off the stern, jumped clear of the water revealing what Nono said was a 700-800 lb blue. The fish shot past the stern coming up on the port side while I was reeling as fast as I could. Suddenly the leader appeared and Nono jumped down and grabbed the leader while Sandy went for the tag stick. I was just seconds away from a tag and release I thought. The second Nono grabbed the leader the line went slack relieving me of the intense pain I was in. I was exhausted after this 35-minute fight. Nono was struggling with the green fish while Sandy was trying to position himself to place the tag. I wanted to get up and run the video but I was just too weak. The fish was about 15-feet at the end of the leader and Nono was having a tough time trying to pull the fish any closer. Nono barked at Sandy to tag it from there, and with the long tag stick Sandy just had enough length to deliver the tag. In an instant, the hooks pulled. Without anyone at the helm, we were lucky to have leadered the fish close enough for a successful tag. Nono looked at me, still slumped in the fighting chair, and said, “I kill you”. We all laughed, but I was over overwhelmed knowing that I had finally gotten what I came for. Although we never had the chance to get any video of the fish or the fight, the memory of this fish will not soon be forgotten, nor will be the expert teamwork that these two people displayed.
While I made my way to the cooler for something to drink, Sandy and Nono got the lines back out and we were soon trolling again. We were still in the school of tuna with birds crashing on the surface feeding on the baitfish that the tuna were chasing up from the depths. I went up to the tower and looked on the fathometer, which revealed a solid line of bait from about 200 feet down running up to the surface. Nono said they were sardines. We hadn’t been trolling more than an hour when we got another double knock down on both chair rods again. I couldn’t believe it. It was 9:01 AM and we had another huge tuna but this time the second fish was another blue marlin. Again it was a race to clear the remaining 3 rods and get to the two fish before they crossed otherwise, risking getting tangled up. Nono brought in the stinger and Sandy and I quickly brought in the two longs and the teaser. With Sandy busy on the tuna I had to get into the chair by myself, so I grabbed the rod out of the left holder and moved the butt to the gimbal of the chair as I stepped over the rod and sat down. Here I was again, fighting yet another blue marlin. Because we had a double hook up, Nono wasn’t able back down on the fish right away because the tuna was heading in the opposite direction of the marlin. I could really feel the 45-lbs of drag now and I new that something would have to change or I would quickly be exhausted again. I relaxed for a second and mentally went over in my mind the correct methods of fighting from the chair. Rise from the chair while reeling, and then use your body weight to fall back into the chair, pulling on the fish. I began to get this down fairly well, as well as trying to time this with the swells for additional leverage. It was working, as I was now gaining on the fish but not getting as tired while doing it.
15-minutes later Sandy had the leader of his tuna and since he was fighting the fish from the rod holder it wasn’t necessary for Nono to come down and help, thus not risking another charging marlin, or having to stop the video. Sandy had the leader in one hand and the gaff in the other so gaffing this tuna was going to be a bit tricky. I was amazed at how well he handled the fish. One more pull on the leader and he sunk the gaff on his first attempt. The fish was too big for one person, so I quickly reached over and grabbed onto the gaff along with Sandy and we both pulled the fish over the transom. The fish hit the deck with a loud thud and slid underneath the chair – it was nearly 200-lbs and was jumping widely, almost ejecting me from the chair every time it hit it from below.
Underway again at 9:50AM, I decided to update the data
on my laptop. I try to mark a waypoint at the instant a hook-up
occurs, then later I can return and add a narrative about the fish and
include the tag number. So
far the tally was a dorado, 3 yellowfin tuna, two blue marlin, and it
was only 10:00AM. I had just finished the entry when we got yet another
knock down. I couldn’t believe it, just 10 minutes underway and
another bite. Yes, it was another blue marlin. Nono and Sandy
were laughing hysterically as we cleared the cockpit, now something that
was routine task. In no time I was chained up to the harness and
putting the heat on the newest bite.
It was 10:30 AM when I returned to the laptop to finish entering data and the newest tag record. Sandy had made me a sandwich but I wasn’t all that hungry, being too excited about all the marlin we had gotten so far. I took a few bites and tossed it. I had, however, an insatiable thirst. Making my way to the cooler I found that they hadn’t brought any bottled water, just the single quart of cool-aid that I wasn’t very fond of. Not only that, it was over half gone. I wondered how much longer the 3 of us could stay out here with the limited supply of drinkable fluids we had remaining. Then I discovered that we didn’t have any ice in the fish box. I guess Remy forgot to give Nono a shopping list last night. Usually the fish box was filled with plastic bottles that contained frozen water as a substitute for ice. This practice is done because regular ice will melt and the liquid will ruin high-grade sashimi. The plan was, each morning Remy would replace the bottles with new frozen ones. This morning, apparently that didn’t happen. So I just took a sip of the cool-aid and decided it would be best not to bring this up, after all, this was already the best blue marlin fishing that I have ever experienced and the day was still young.
The action continued with another knock down at 11:00 AM, this time on Louis’s 50-wide running on the right short corner. It turned out to be a small female dorado, no more than 12-lbs. I wanted to release it but the hooks did too much damage once the fish was on the deck so we had to keep it. Underway quickly this time, we were still in the school of tuna that we had been following all morning. Because the tuna were feeding on the large school of bait, we were able to keep up with them despite stopping to work a blue now and then. Normally the tuna are just passing through and it’s tough to keep up with them. I had expected that the bites would slow down with the sun directly overhead and the abundance of food.
I was wrong. 11:58 AM, just less than an hour later, we got another knock down on the left chair rod. These chair rods, both 130’s were hot today! We cleared the cockpit in record time. In less than two minutes I was back in the hot seat. Nono came down with the video again to pick up some close-ups and a little dialog. I asked Nono, “is this number 3 or number 4?”. “This is number 4” Nono quickly and proudly replied. “Lets see, 3 huge tuna, 2 dorado, and 4 blue marlin” I summarized. “You guys are good,” I added. Nono and Sandy laughed and it was clear they were just as happy at our success as I was. The leader appeared at 12:18 PM and again, Nono expertly leadered the fish while Sandy dispatched my last tag. Another tag and released blue marlin. This was surely beyond my wildest expectations. I had not only broken my prior personal record of 2 blue marlin releases in one day, but also my largest blue of 700+lbs (the 1004-lb blue I caught in Madeira was fought by multiple anglers), and my largest yellowfin tuna at an estimated 200+lbs. What could be next I wondered? Nono told me the boat record was 6 blue marlin releases in one day. We were only 2 fish shy of that record with 4 hours remaining.
It was clear that we had struck it rich with a large school of tuna feeding on a seemingly endless supply of bait, coupled with a migrating “school” of blue marlin. The problem was, we were out of drinking water and were very low on ice to maintain the tuna in the fish box. I suggested to Nono that we return to the marina, transfer our tuna to cold storage, replenish our water, pick up Louis, and return to fishing. Because we were, by now, some 18 to 20 miles from the marina, that wasn’t such a great idea. Instead we decided to troll back towards the marina. Having lost the school of tuna, coupled with the sudden disappearance of the birds, it wasn’t surprising that we would have no more bites. I think we were just enjoying the reflections of the intense bite we had in the morning rather than thinking about another one.
We arrived at the entrance to Mélé Bay around
2:00PM without any new excitement. Sandy reeled in the lures and put the
rods away while I ran the video. Once the lines were all in Nono
hit the throttles. Sandy then brought out the flags.
Was it 4 blues or 5, Sandy asked? Nono hearing this said 5.
I couldn’t remember for sure. Then Nono said, “4, I fool you!”.
Sandy and I immediately replied, “I kill you!” Sandy ran up a blue
marlin flag followed by 4 red “T” flags for tag and release, followed
by 3 tuna flags and finishing with 2 dorado flags. There wasn’t
any more room on the outrigger for flags.
We arrived at the marina around 2:30 PM. We put Sandy
on the dock with my video then went back out so Sandy could get some video
of the boat coming in with the impressive display of flags. It
was an odd hour to be coming in; the restaurant was deserted and there
were few people around, mostly restaurant employees. Normally, the
restaurant would be full of customers, and the display of flags would
have brought a lot of interest and story telling. My chance to be
in the spotlight didn’t materialize.
Soon Louis arrived and upon seeing the display of flags he asked if they were just airing them out? I spent an hour telling Louis about the days events. He asked me if I would be up for one more day so he could have a chance, thinking the marlin would still be around. Sure I said, I still need some video footage. We spoke with Remy and he said that the boat would be available for the next day, Friday, but that was it; it would be going on a 6-day extended trip leaving Saturday he explained. We said yes, well take it and we went across the street to his office and prepaid.
We left at 5:30 AM with our expectations running high. For me, I was done fishing and looking forward to getting some good action shots and hoping that Louis might get a shot at his grander. Sandy wasn’t with us this morning, instead he was put on Ocean Blue’s Bolero and we had a new deckhand. The morning started off almost the same as the very first morning, a little windy with large rollers coming from the east. We headed out to the southwest, just south of marlin highway and began trolling with the usual pattern.
It was markedly different from yesterday morning, however. No birds and no bait on the fathometer. It looked like a desert. How could things change so fast I wondered? We trolled and trolled and soon Nono headed in a direction towards where we had been yesterday, but it too was lifeless when we got there. We had been trolling for over 2 hours now and I new that the bait and marlin had moved out of the area but we kept up our hopes. The new deckhand did a great job of changing lures, hoping to find the right colors to entice a strike, but to no avail.
We were back to the dock at 4:30 PM lacking anything reminiscing a day of fishing. No flags, no stories, nothing. We had been “skunked”. Well, that was okay with us, being skunked in Vanuatu is better than catching stripers in Cabo any day. Louis and I dug very deep in our pockets and came up with a very tidy tip for Nono. Although we had been tipping them after each trip, it wasn’t a whole lot at the time because we had been trying to conserve our cash. When Louis attempted to give it to Nono, Nono flat refused to accept it. “No fish, no tip”, he announced. We explained to Nono that it is customary to tip based upon the service we received and not on the catch results. To sweeten the deal, I gave Nono my Polaroid sunglasses and told him to wear them at all times to help his eyes heal from his motorcycle injuries.
Saturday morning we were awakened by the sound of thunder and rain. We got up and made some instant coffee and tea then sat outside under the porch and watched the rain poor down. Guests that were checking out were getting drenched in just the few seconds it took to dash for the taxi and get in. It was raining so hard that at times you couldn’t see across the parking lot.
Today we had planned on visiting the 2 fishing tackle stores in town and the public market so we stopped by the hotel office and got the addresses of the tackle stores from Joy the manageress.
Both tackle stores we visited were actually just a section in a larger store. The first one was in a sporting goods store. I was surprised to see that they had 2-speed Penn International reels for sale, 130-wides and 80-wides. They also had a small assortment of lures, but a very good selection of line and terminal tackle. Prices were about 20% higher than in the US.
The second tackle store was inside of an office supplies store, which
I thought odd at first, but they actually had a wider selection than the
other store. They
had tackle that supported the commercial bottom fishing business on the
island, as well as the few charter boats. They also had a small
selection of diving equipment. We
met the owner, Colton, of a small 28’ charter boat who was also the co-pilot
on Air Vanuatu Airlines. He was in the store rigging up a trolling
system for yellowfin tuna. He said when he doesn’t have a charter
that he fishes for tuna commercially.
Our next stop was the public market. Each day, except Friday and Saturday, at 3:00PM the market changes over. The villages and islands around Efaté are each allocated a 24-hour period to use the market, once a week, to sell their goods. This arrangement ensures everyone has an equal opportunity. Friday and Saturday are open to everyone so today we were able to see a sample of most everything. There were fresh fruits, vegetables of all kinds, crafts, freshly cut flowers, sacks of shellfish, chickens and piglets wriggling in rice sacks, peanuts or virtually everything and anything made or grown on Vanuatu was on sale. It’s first come first served, so when the tables were filled, wares were displayed on grass mats on the floor attended by ladies in their brightly colored cotton Mother Hubbard dresses.
The last stop of the afternoon was the Waterfront Restaurant for a few cocktails while waiting for the Ymer to return from its day of fishing. They arrived shortly before 6:00PM and returned with a very interesting catch. It wasn’t the many tuna that they had caught, but it was the, illegal, long-line radio buoys and equipment that Nono had confiscated that was interesting. After we returned to USA, I e-mailed Nono about the details of his find and here was his response to my questions:
The long-line was found at a seamount located south of Erromango Island where they had located a large school of yellowfin tuna. The radio buoys were spaced 3 kilometers apart on the long-line. There were 20 floats between the buoys, and 100 hooks between each float. The total length of the long-line was estimated at over 80 kilometers. Nono had captured only 4 of the radio buoys and a few floats with hooks as evidence. Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion on long-line fishing, but it does decimate game fish species if allowed to occur within established territorial limits that have been set up by international treaties. This was obviously a case of fishing within those limits.
That evening we got a surprise visit at our hotel from Nono, his wife, Mere, and 2 of his 3 children. Louis had asked Mere to help pick out some inexpensive gifts to take back with him and they delivered them that evening. I played some of the video on the TV that we had taken and their children were very excited about watching that. Nono told us that he would be going on another 6-day live-aboard charter in a few days, so we planned to get together with him and his wife on Monday night and go to a secret place to drink Kava.
Sunday, October 21, it rained again this morning only this time we got 120mm’s in less than 2 hours. That was quite a downpour. I got some great sound of the thunder to go along with the video. Monday, October 22, we spent around the pool after the weather storm had moved out. That evening Nono and his wife, Mere picked us up and took us to a “place” to drink Kava. We each had 3 glasses. Kava tastes and looks like trench water, but it is very relaxing. Tuesday we went back to town for some last minute shopping, before packing up our things. We departed Efaté early Wednesday morning for our flight back to Los Angeles, via Auckland, New Zealand.
End of Story.