The Anglers Version of Fishing In Vanuatu

Vanuatu Action

Within 8 hours from lying in bed most kiwi anglers are able to be fishing in world class blue marlin, striped marlin, wahoo, dogtooth tuna, broadbill and bluefin tuna fisheries (to name a few). Anglers from around the world come to the South Pacific to experience what many of us take for granted.

I recently had the opportunity to fly three hours to Vanuatu to experience this world class fishery. Arriving in Port Vila I was greeted by charter skipper, long time friend, and deviant scally-wag Pete Phillipps from Wild Blue Fishing Charters. The drive from the airport is an extremely arduous affair across the whole of Port Vila and lasts at least seven minutes – luckily Pete knows a great place to clear the dust from the throat… and so began a week of incredible fishing, extremely bad jokes, Pete’s special drinks and the usual tirade of humour and he said something about my grandmothers ability to wind faster than me.

We departed the dock at a leisurely 8:30 am on Nautilus’s 34ft Blackwatch, Shogun and had the lures in the water not long after 9:00am. The best marlin grounds are straight out the front of the harbour as the depth quickly drops to well over 400m within miles of shore. While live-aboards are an option, for marlin fishing it is just as easy to step off the boat after a hard days fishing into the welcoming arms of the Waterfront Bar and Grill.

As we trolled out to one of the FADs (fish aggregating devices) we talked to another game boat V-Factor and heard they’d already seen two marlin and tagged one. Pete hates to be out-fished so the pressure was on. We were quickly snapped out of our trolling daze as the rigger popped…nothing ….nothing …. marlin behind the long corner, reel screaming as it turns out and hits the rigger again… nothing. Pete nails the Blackwatch and swings it around – smoke pours out the back as I stare at him from the deck wondering what the hell he is doing. As we swing back around the lures are all flying out of the water then he backs off a little and bang the shotgun is screaming and the gear is getting cleared…silence again as the fish falls off. We go back round again but no luck. As I climb back on the flybridge to assume my position I ask Pete about the speed technique. He grins and says “it works”.

The day continued and we decided to try for a mahi mahi for dinner so drifted strip baits on 6kg line around the FAD. I saw two men in grey coming but was too slow to shout…SHARK… bastard a double hook up on 6kg. All hell broke loose as the two fish screamed out line in opposite directions. We slowly backed up trying to decide which fish we were going to go for. I was on one rod and Ken our deckie and skipper himself was on the other. After about ten minutes my 37kg trace parted and we were down to one fish. Pete calls out for me to come and drive for him…oh yes there is a God. For those of you who have not had the experience of driving a 34ft Blackwatch on a gamefish it is awesome fun.

Ken started to get line as he wound under the shower of abuse he was receiving. After about thirty minutes of chasing the line around the ocean we saw colour and started to get close. Now the fun began as the 34ft hot rod roared around the ocean as we tried to get a shot. Three close calls then the fish s tagged, the leader is grabbed and the fish breaks off. At around 65kg the shark was a great battle on 6kg and awesome fun behind the controls.

After our unsuccessful dinner gathering attempt we put the marlin gear back out and started off. Within thirty minutes I see a marlin up in the gear then disappears again. Hold onto your hats the Blackwatch surges as Pete does his signature speed technique, as I stand on the deck still unconvinced the boat eases and the long rigger ratchet screams as the marlin comes crashing through the gear and monsters the lure. Within ten seconds all the gear is cleared, I am locked into the stand up gear and we are in for a hell of a show.

The marlin went airborne out the back of the shotgun a couple of times and we chased it backwards. I had forgotten how much this hurts as we backed down on the fish. As we got close the fish erupted from the surface about thirty meters behind the boat and porpoises about seven times then down. Next minute he is crashing out of the water and tail walking along his side as we continue to chase. As we get close again he is up again this time surging forward and nose diving back into the water. As he settles again we are all over him like a fat boy on a smartie. Ken makes the call that he is taking the shot and next moment the tag is in, the leader gets wrapped and the fish goes berserk. The hook pulls and a very lively 80 kilo blue marlin swims away. Pete comes down from the fly bridge with a huge grin on his face and says “welcome back”. It was great to be back – awesome teamwork resulted in a tag and released marlin in under 8 minutes on the first day out.

Just as we were setting up V-Factor calls up and they have tagged another blue. We decide to troll for home and make it a big day the next day. It was great to see first hand that Vanuatu still has an amazing blue marlin fishery. On average the game boats targeting marlin are seeing two marlin a day and tagging one. Obviously this is made up of some quiet days as well as days where six to eight marlin are being sighted. While I was there another game boat saw seven in one day. On this trip we had two days where we saw none despite catching a heap of wahoo and yellowfin. The marlins vary in size from 60-70kg to the average of around 160– 70kg with some monsters being seen and tagged. The most amazing thing is that the best marlin fishing starts within six miles of where the game boats are tied up. As the boats leave the harbour entrance the depth falls to over 350m almost instantly and quickly drops to well over 800m The marlin are around all year with the best time of year supposed to be November to May. Luckily no-one has told the marlin this as the fishing can be awesome anytime of the year.

A Sneaky trip to the Sea Mounts

It is weather dependent but when it fires this trip will burn your forearms and ruin you for game fishing for the rest of your life.

Despite being surrounded by very productive fishing grounds Port Vila often has a shortage of fish for the markets. The charter boats can purchase licences to allow them to sell fish commercially. Pete, from Wild Blue Fishing Charters had had a number of calls over the last week from restaurants asking for fish. As the weather was great he suggested we make a trip south to the Erromango sea mounts which start 40 nautical miles from Port Vila.

The fishing at the sea mounts can be awesome when it is on. I have been pack attacked by wahoo big enough to ride. Every lure in the water has been taken then the other wahoo hit the swivels or even the place where the line is moving through the water. At other times it can be very quiet and the day is very long. Needless to say I was excited at the prospect of a day of action.

We left Vila at 4am with coffees in hand and the effects of Pete’s special drinks at the front of my skull. Two and a half hours later the throttles are eased back and the lures are in the water. While this was sport fishing the pressure was on to catch a heap of fish for the restaurants. Twenty minutes trolling and the hint of doubt starts to set in – where are the fish? Ten minutes later the rigger pops and the ratchet goes off, I grab the rod and get the fish quickly to the boat – a great looking 6kg yellowfin tuna. Lures are set and we start to see birds patrolling the area. The riggers go again and we have a double on and Ken and I quickly deal to two nice yellowfin. The next hour slowly rolled over with a couple more fish being caught.

As the morning seeps by a torpedo shape launches itself four feet behind the long corner and lands on the lure – wahoooooooo… next second every ratchet is screaming as we are pack attacked by these speedsters. Two deckies and myself are all fighting fish and we still have two more fish on in the rod holders. One quickly drops off and I try and switch between keeping pressure on my fish and winding the rod in the holder. Ken’ fish is in first so he manages to leader it, gaff it and get it onboard by himself. He then grabs the other rod and we are all in business. Wahoo on 15 and 24kg game gear usually have two to three blistering runs then can be wound into the boat. These guys on light gear are unbelievable. We often fight them on 6kg and this involves a lot of chasing in the boat to avoid getting spooled or popped off by water pressure.

We all managed to get our fish in and then the day really got going. For two hours we were not able to get all the gear in the water and set up before we were hooked up again. After a year of not game fishing a few muscles began to feel the pressure.
The fish tended to come in waves throughout the day. When wahoo are on the bite it can be spectacular. We had numerous fish attack the lures from above and many skirts shredded by their razor sharp teeth. The most spectacular sight was a 17kg wahoo erupt from the wake and launch itself to the height of the flybridge and land on the lure on the short corner. I had time to yell out Wahoo and Pete from the fly bridge to turn around and see the wahoo at eye height on its way down.

At 2pm another frenzy started as fish after fish were hooking up. If you are slightly squeamish this is not the trip for you. At times the deck is awash with blood and fish as we try to clean and gut the fish in between hook ups and get them in the ice slurry ready to be served over the next couple of days at the local restaurants. By 3 by pm we had worked our way to the northern most point of the seamounts and it was time to head home. It is always hard to leave the fishing when the bite is on but we had over 400kgs of onboard and a long way home. The end tally was 17 wahoo, 16 yellowfin, three mahmahi, three rainbow runners, a very disinterested marlin up in the gear, two exhausted deckies one knackered kiwi and an aussie skipper ready to do it all again the next day. To put this in perspective this was a spectacular day. It is often too rough to make the trip to the seamounts and occasionally they don’t fire…but this day they did.

It was great to see that the Vanuatu fishery is still spectacular. Like everywhere there are quiet days but the odds are stacked for some amazing fish. If marlin fishing is your passion then Vanuatu can feed this addiction. For light tackle the mahi-imahi, wahoo and yellowfin can make your reels scream or you can go head to head with marlin. The locals are awesomely friendly and the restaurants are great. There are a number of top rate charter operators in Vila with great boats, a heap of experience and the finest gear.

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