Destination Vanuatu

Around September 2021 I exchanged posts on a NZ fishing site with a fellow NZ fisho I'll refer to here as AL. He escapes the NZ winter to fish Vanuatu waters where he has a second home located at Port Havannah on Efate Island, some 40 minutes drive from Port Vila. The initial discussion lead to some 1700 further email exchanges between then and now covering a wide range of fishing topics pertaining to fishing in Vanuatu, NZ and Australia. I think it would be fair to say that we are both rather passionate about our fishing even though we are both 70 plus years young. The pic below is the view from his front verandah looking over Havannah harbour, Moso Island on the other side. Depth of water in between reaches an incredible 130m. The drop offs are insane around all islands.

 

What you don't see in the above pic is the boat ramp, choice, no queues at this ramp.

AL's second home.

AL has the very same model of boat in Vanuatu as he has in NZ, a 5.3m Fryran plus everything else necessary to fish regularly, weather permitting. How could I decline AL's invitation to fish with him in Vanuatu once the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted from the respective countries? Well I didn't and this post is about my recent fishing experience with him in Vanuatu.

AL picked me up from the Port Vila airport on 29th September. Of my 30kg baggage limit some 20kg consisted of tackle that I just couldn't leave behind in Oz. Months of planning had gone into this despite AL's advice that you don't need to bring any tackle as I have all bases covered, and he was correct.

Fishing methods we engaged in included jigging, deep slow jigging, trolling skirts / bibbed lures / strip baits / dead baits / poppers and drifting dead baits as well as numerous methods of catching live-baits to be deployed as livies. In addition we would deep drop baits in mostly 250 - 400m water depths targeting poulet. Marlin were not on our radar despite regular hook ups and catches of small blues by charter boats in the areas we were fishing. Without going into daily reports AL put me onto some great fish and our captures included the following species:

Barracuda

Coral trout Coronation trout

Dogtooth tuna

Flying fish

Long nose emperor

Mahi mahi

Pygmy red poulet

Queenfish (not the same as the Oz Queenie, but similar)

Randall's snapper

Red bass

Red snapper

Saddle-back snapper

Scad

Sharks - too many but managed a few for the village

Silver jaw red poulet (Pale snapper)

Skipjack tuna

Sottel red poulet (Ruby snapper in WA)

Yellow fin tuna and I'm sure I've missed a few others.

The majority of the boated fish was distributed among the local indigenous population (Ni-vans), shark being their favourite. Hard to figure but they seem to prefer shark to mahi mahi or poulet.

Every fishing trip has a hard luck story and mine was to drop a 'fish of a lifetime' wahoo according to AL at the side of the boat just seconds before it was about to be hit with the gaff. The first run was huge despite 15kg of drag, impressive stuff.

I was fortunate to experience a good stretch of weather and we fished 16 of the 20 fishing days available. Lay-days only on the day after arrival, the day prior to departure and two sightseeing / shopping days.

For me the highlight of the trip would have to be the dogtooth tuna. We had experienced bust offs after being buried in the reef by others before we finally boated a 30kg doggie a few days before my departure. It was a huge buzz with the fish being hooked in 20m of water. 15kgs of drag on the reel again and trying to led it (perhaps bully it would be a better word) into deeper waters before it could bust you off on the reef. Bejesus they go hard. Two happy guys when it hit the deck I can assure you. Job done, tick the box, we eat doggie sashimi tonight, better than YFT.

AL was a great host and one of the most modest guys I have ever met. His knowledge about how to change tactics and fishing methods to catch fish in a fishery that has been seriously depleted (read fkd) by the Chinese long liners and purse seiners is impressive.

AL doesn't frequent this site however I feel obliged to thank him once again for the invitation and his hospitality. Tusker time; cheese, red onion and tomato on crackers; sashimi, fresh pawpaw / banana and yoghurt breakfasts and especially deep fried fish in the secret batter recipe will all feature in my many memories of my journey to Vanuatu. A few pics to finish.

Fruit and vege market in Port Vila

Fish & chips with the secret batter recipe, very yummy.

Trolling at sunrise near Nguna Island

Poulet and Randall's snapper

Mahi mahi time

And another

Dogtooth tuna

Sharks were a problem

But we took a few out

When the onshore terrain looks like this you know deep water is not far away.  We were probably in around 300m when I took this shot.

There are some shallower waters though.  The next two pics is coming through the gap between two islands.  We were pushing the boat through at 5am one morning.  Pics of each side.

Launch a little further down Moso Island.  Broke its mooring during cyclone Pam 2015.

I just had to take a pic of this

This is what is known as a banana boat.  Multiple uses and often used to transport people and produce between islands.  20+ persons in one of these is not uncommon.  Not much freeboard.  Adults on the outside, kids in the middle.  Everyone sits upright and stiff, scared to move so as not to rock the boat.

Lastly the fire dance show on Mele Beach.  Not my pic, I stole it off the internet, great show.

Late edit:

Just to clarify the background effect; there is a guy there which the pic doesn't see rapidly swinging a container around which generates the effect.  This is not a Catherine Wheel fireworks show.

Another tough day in the office.  This was the best weather day I had.  We were at a location called Scott Rock, approx. 6kms east of Emao Island.  There were a few lumps coming up to about 12m from 100m+ not far away from one another.  Doggie country but sharkie.

    

Locals were always friendly, happy and would give you a wave.

Many of the Ni-Vans do it hard.  These structures are typical of their houses outside of Port Vila.

During WWll the Americans introduced a fast growing vine to act as camouflage for their equipment.  It has taken over in places and just smothers the natural jungle / landscape.

 

We later added a single hook further back to the FF rig.  We went 100% hook-up rate on this rig but AL's since missed a couple.

My last nights scooping efforts, eleven fresh FF for AL to rig up. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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big john's picture

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Awesome

Sun, 2022-10-23 00:13

 Great stuff Alan. Dogtooth is still on my bucket list.

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jighead's picture

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.

Sun, 2022-10-23 05:09

 That's pretty cool. Looks like you had a great trip well done.

 
still trying's picture

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 Sounds like you had an

Sun, 2022-10-23 06:06

 Sounds like you had an awesome time what a great experience. 

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 rather be fishing

carnarvonite's picture

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Magic stuff

Sun, 2022-10-23 07:30

 Magic report, will make a lot of people very envious

 

backlash's picture

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Magic

Sun, 2022-10-23 08:24

Awesome to see, Alan.

the photo of the markets took us back to when we eloped there for our wedding 

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Sounds like a great

Sun, 2022-10-23 09:58

 trip Alan well done

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What a epic trip

Sun, 2022-10-23 11:06

Gongrats on the Doggie!  

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sea-kem's picture

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 Cracker report Alan, very

Sun, 2022-10-23 12:29

 Cracker report Alan, very jealous. 

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Great Read

Sun, 2022-10-23 13:18

 

Great read Alan, thanks for sharing,

Would have been an awesome trip and your host (Al) did well putting you onto some tremendous fish.

 

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 Skull

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 That was great Alan really

Sun, 2022-10-23 13:23

 That was great Alan really enjoyed reading this great photos too , excellent stuff

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 Happy dayz 

BlueKiaser's picture

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A friend worth having

Sun, 2022-10-23 16:29

Thanks for your efforts sharing that superb report.
What an amazing place to have a holiday home.

Is that an Interline rod on the right in the sunset photo (I'm struggling to see any rod guides on it)?
I bought 4 of the Daiwa Sealine-X Heavy Duty Tuna Sticks back in the day (early 2000's) ... super strong yet still light & ultra sensitive.
I had 3 mates bought themselves one after trying mine.

One powerball and we'll be wanting to know his sale price for his house.
 

Alan James's picture

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Interline rod

Sun, 2022-10-23 17:39

Yes it is an Interline rod.  The one in the the pic is the Med - Heavy model rated as a 20-50lb rod.  This is my go to bottom bouncing rod and I wanted to show AL how it performs.  I didn't get a lot of use however.  I had planned to use it as a 'shallow' deep drop rod but this didn't eventuate given the drift and currents we encountered.  I also have one of the Extra Heavy models rated as a 50-80lb rod.  Like you I have mates who would take these off me in a flash, but they are not going anywhere.

It was a really interesting place to fish.  Some days the target species were very hard to come by and you had to change tactics to find something that worked.  Sharks would take almost everything at one FAD including any dead skip baits that were allowed to sink even a foot or so.  Let the skip bait sink while cornering and you would be hooked up to a shark.  Livebaiting in these situations was a waste of time.   

Two pics added.   

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 Jeez that's a decent shark!

Sun, 2022-10-23 19:52

 Jeez that's a decent shark! What type was it?

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Shark species ......... ???

Sun, 2022-10-23 20:16

Sorry I can't tell you what species it was.  I asked AL the same question and he said it was different to most he had caught.  This one took a live scad in open water meant for a a doggie, wahoo or YFT.  It was a fatty and the villagers loved it. 

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 You are a lucky man

Mon, 2022-10-24 17:49

 You are a lucky man

davewillo's picture

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 Great report and great trip

Fri, 2022-10-28 23:00

 Great report and great trip Alan! How lucky to make a friend like AL. I'm in the Mackerel Ialnds on a fishing trip right now and a big doggie was agreed as a bucket list fish. Well done!

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Awesome

Sat, 2022-10-29 08:05

 Just awesome

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What a trip

Sat, 2022-10-29 08:19

 What a trip, looks like paradise

Alan James's picture

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Thanks for the comments guys

Sat, 2022-10-29 19:28

A few more pics added. 

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BlueKiaser's picture

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Fascinated

Sat, 2022-10-29 20:44

Your report and photos are fascinating.
I wanted to know more about the grounded launch (Blue Gold) & cyclone Pam and quickly found this video (blue-gold footage starts at about 8:00min) and article;
youtu.be/LTU_748Y-hY
(from: www.superyachtfan.com/yacht/blue-gold/ )

I bet you are wanting to get back to Vanuatu again after having a taste of that good life.
Those deep water Atoll locations take your fishing expectations & anxiety to their limits.

 

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...

Sat, 2022-10-29 22:25

The info that AL gave me was that the owner of the superyacht was a very wealthy gentleman of German descent.  The yacht was impounded by the Vanuatu Gov for whatever reason and moored in Havannah Harbour until it broke its moorings during cyclone Pam.  A Vtu Gov fisheries vessel also came to grief slightly north of this vessel but was able to be righted with bush pole scaffolding by the Ni-Vans before the hull was compromised.  No such luck for the vessel in question.

AL has a WWll photo which shows something like 27 US large warships / vessels anchored within the Havannah Harbour.  At 130m deep it was a great deep water port.  Many of the roads and other infrastucture were constructed by the Americans during WWII.  It is a very interesting place.         

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BlueKiaser's picture

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There had to be a colorful story

Sun, 2022-10-30 00:23

I thought there would be an intriguing tale for a luxury ship like that to just be left grounded for years after cyclone Pam (2015).

That website link I posted before says what you were saying;
"The yacht Blue Gold is the largest sailing yacht built by Benetti. She sleeps up to 12 persons in five staterooms.
In 2012 the yacht was seized by the Vanuatu government for unpaid taxes. Blue Gold was under investigation, as according to sources a significant amount of money is owed to the yacht’s crew."

And another link for the owner says;
"Van den Nieuwenhuyzen was accused of insider trading. In 2006 he was convicted of fraud.  In 2020 he was ordered by a Dutch court to pay $ 15 million to the Dutch authorities. The prosecutor had claimed $ 110 million."

Apparently you don't get to own a ship that size by being the best payer in the world.

I also read Cyclone Pam had wind gusts recorded over 150knots and smashed up most of the country (killed 15-16 and injured too many) ... your mate was lucky to still have a holiday house standing. And we reckon 20+ knots is a bit too fresh for us, imagine 150knots.

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 Another interesting fact

Sun, 2022-10-30 04:39

 Another interesting fact about Havannah Harbour. 
The USA fleet threw so much rubbish overboard during ww2 that the beach is multi coloured due to all the broken glass in it. 

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Alpha's picture

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Top report

Sun, 2022-10-30 10:37

Awesome report Al. That's what fishing holidays are made off.  

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 Loving the pics Alan, best

Sun, 2022-10-30 10:42

 Loving the pics Alan, best report on here for a long time. 

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 I agree Andy. Different to

Mon, 2022-11-07 10:30

 I agree Andy. Different to what we normally see!

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Alan James's picture

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...

Mon, 2022-11-07 14:54

As a follow up to my initial report I thought I'd put up a few fishing observations gained from my Vanuatu experience. Over the years I've done a bit of most styles of fishing including surfcasting, trout fishing, jigging, trolling, bottom bouncing, game fishing etc but my hosts efforts to put me onto fish blew me away.

Fishing the FADs was mostly hard work. Any fish holding on the FADs see heaps of boat traffic and they are super wary. We saw mahi mahi come charging in to take a lure / bait or fly and bail out at the last minute. Tactics were everything and this was where my host AL excelled. Each tactic would get tried for 20-30mins max, if that didn't produce a result or strike the tactics would be changed again.

Tactics at the FADs would range from trolling skirts and bibbed lures, trolling swimming / skipping dead baits (flying fish[FF], mackerel and small skipjack tuna), trolling dead baits on a downrigger, drifting dead baits, working poppers while trolling, trolling saltwater flies, jigging for YFT and baitfish, trolling trout flies for live bait and I've probably missed a few. Skipping a FF proved to be the most productive method and these accounted for numerous mahi mahi and the dogtooth tuna. Good bait and presentation was the key. We caught small skipjack tuna, scad, FF and a few other species on the trout flies. The most productive method of catching FF was to attract them to the boat at night with spotlights and scoop net them. This was most entertaining and I imagine could be even more so with a few beers under the belt. One other fishing method that was a stand out for me was 'working' small poppers (120mm or so), wide of the FADS, 50-60m behind the boat when trolling at slow speeds. Many of the hits were amazing and very explosive. The poppers accounted for skipjack tuna, mahi mahi, sharks and other unknowns.

AL catches most of his YFT on the poppers. He told me or stories of yesteryear where there would be 100s of acres of YFT workups with most fish in the 20-60kg range. Now you are struggling to catch a YFT of any size. Whilst the recreational fishos and the charter boats benefit from the FADS which were deployed by the Chinese there is just not the numbers of fish there now days.

Trolling deep divers was mostly unrewarding with not much action. Live-baits worked but most were taken by sharks.

Perhaps the above is food for thought, especially on days when there doesn't seem to be a lot happening.

I've again added a few pics.

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BlueKiaser's picture

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Invaluable knowledge

Mon, 2022-11-07 16:22

Thanks again for another great update and for sharing.
It sounds like you were given a masterclass while there.

Some of those bait rigs pictured are as good as you'll see.

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 I agree the rigged baits

Mon, 2022-11-07 16:34

 I agree the rigged baits look great! I recently learnt how to rig skipping gars and then had the satisfaction of catching marlin and sailfish on my baits!

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