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.
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.
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
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
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
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 ëread' 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
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 arrived on time at 6:00 AM and were underway at 6:15
AM. This morning we headed south of Mélé
Bay instead of going west to marlin highway. We headed
south from Pango Point, about 2 miles, then put out the lines,
using the same setup as the day before. It was again
rough conditions as this time we were directly in the path
of the trade winds, which were blowing about 12 knots from
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
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
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
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.
Day 3, October 13, Fishing aboard the Ymer
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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. 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
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
We awoke at 6:30 AM to a knocking on our door. It
was Remy, who thought that we had confirmed to fish that day.
He said the crew had been waiting for us since 5:15 AM and
when we didn't show, he came over to see what the hold up
was. Louis had been up all night going back and forth
to the bathroom with a bad case of the "skids", plus we were
both feeling the effects of "too much fun and drinks" from
the night before. Remy told us that a high-pressure system
had moved in and the weather was perfect, but Louis was exhausted
and I wasn't feeling that great either so we passed and went
back to sleep.
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
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.
Remy had spoken to his daughter so he knew about our tentative
plans to extend our trip. Remy said the Ymer was only
available on the 19th but the Bolero was available the 18th
and 19th and suggested that we take it instead so we wouldn't
be switching are gear back and forth. He also asked
us to pay up our current bill for the 3 days of fishing.
He said Antione would take our credit cards tomorrow at the
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
Day 6, October 16, second Mélé Bay Trip
With Louis back at the helm, I was back to being navigator
with my laptop computer's GPS so that we would know exactly
where we were at all times. We headed out as I did the
morning before and in no time we were at the end of the paved
road. From here the dirt road forks; going to the left
it follows southwest along Mélé Bay leading
to a dead end at "Devils Point", and to the right, heading
northwest will take you up and around the west side of the
island where you can continue all the way around the north
side then back down the east side and eventually back into
It was another beautiful morning, no clouds or wind.
We could easily see from where we were at, that the ocean
was flat as paper again. I got Louis set up with the
video then grabbed the surf rod and walked down the 20 feet
or so to the beach. The beach was very wide, I would
say 2 miles on either side of us, with the road running along
the beach to the west of where I was standing. I figured
we could make a couple of casts every ½ mile or so
as we drove towards the point. We could see a small
white sandy beach out towards the point, so that would be
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
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 throught the garden, which then led an awesome view
of Mele Bay. Snuggled
in 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
Day 7, October 17, Trip around the island
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
Once on top we drove across this mountaintop plateau, which
was dubbed "The Little Burma Road" by the 1942 construction
they bulldozed their way through the Pacific War. The
first things we noticed were the undulating plantation lands,
intermittent rainforests, 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
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.
Soon the road came to a dead end, and to our dismay, we hadn't
found the beach yet. We turned around and stopped by
a shack and asked were the "Sanbij" was. This huge man
got up and pointed into the trees. He
could tell that we still didn't understand, so he walked up
to the car and asked if he could get in the car, saying he
would be glad to lead us to the sandy beach. He was
a very jolly type of guy and kept talking the whole time -
I didn't understand a word he said. When we got to the
edge of the road he pointed and said "Sanbij". No wonder
we didn't see it I thought. It was nothing more than
a footpath! We could now see through the coconut trees
a bit of the ocean. Somehow he and Louis understood
each other enough for Louis to determine that we could drive
down the path to the beach.
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 to. The
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.
Day 8, October 18, John fishes alone on the Ymer
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
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
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
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.
the tuna aboard now, Nono started a slow back down on the
marlin allowing me to accelerate getting some of the 400 or
500 yards of line back.
We came real close to getting spooled. Again, Nono yells
"I spool you!", to which I replied "I kill you". "Come
on John, talk to me! Tell me something" Nono barked.
He wanted some audio to go along with the video, but I was
too tired to talk much.
Finally at 9:35 AM the leader appeared. Nono came down
and grabbed the leader while Sandy got the tag stick ready.
This time I jumped from the chair and took over with the video
getting some great close-ups of the fish and also of Nono
and Sandy getting the tag in. We revived the fish for
about 8 minutes, which is a long time and very unusual.
The fish had its color back quickly, but I think it was enjoying
being dragged alongside the boat. Anyway, it finally
swam off unharmed.
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.
Nono briefly came down in the cockpit with the video to get
some close-ups of me in the chair but the wind had come up
and we were getting a lot of spray on the lens so he went
back to the tower.
The fish sounded and for a while it was a long tedious fight
- gaining line followed by the fish taking it all back again.
As in the previous fights, my right arm began to ache again
and Sandy would bring ice cold cool-aid and poor it on my
shoulder. It really helped. This fish was also
the most aggressive and acrobatic of the previous blues.
made long strong runs then charged the boat while greyhounding.
Nono was busy trying to keep the fish directly behind us while
running the video at the same time. He did a great job
maneuvering the boat and was able to get some footage of the
fish greyhounding just off the starboard quarter. 10-minutes
later the leader appeared, and again, Nono jumped down to
leader the fish while Sandy tagged it. Sandy then grabbed
the bill to allow Nono to remove the lure while I ran the
video. This fish was green and Sandy was getting tossed
around like a potato chip in a windstorm. The fish was
too wild to risk trying to grab the lure at this point. One
miss and the hooks could end up in your hand or arm. Finally,
after several minutes, Nono was able to remove the hooks then
Sandy quickly released it. This fish definitely didn't
need reviving. What a rocket.
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
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
I walked up to the bar and ordered a pitcher of ice water
then sat down at a table and reflected on the day's events.
About then, Remy arrived and walked over to my table laughing
and smiling and says, "It looks like Louis's hat is bad luck!",
I replied, "No Remy, you are bad luck!". He didn't think
that was funny but everyone else did.
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
Day 9, October 19, Last Fishing Day on the Ymer
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
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
Day 10, October 20, Trip to Public Market
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
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
24-hour period to use the market, once a week, to sell their
goods. This arrangement ensures everyone has an equal
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
Day 11-14, October 21-24 EOS
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.