Just got back from a great trip to the West Coast of New Caledonia organized by Ocean Blue Adventures. I went with my fishing buddy Gary from Wisconsin. We fished 6 straight days at two different locations; Nekweta Surf Camp in Bourail and Ouano Surf Camp in La Foa. If you don’t want to bother with the whole report you can scroll down to the pics.

This trip was almost exclusively focused on casting topwater lures for giant trevally, or ulua in Hawaiian. Remote spots like New Cal offer the opportunity to fish for them on topwater lures, which are very tiring to cast all day but offer an exciting visual when a fish comes out of the depths to smash your lure on the surface. There is really nothing that can prepare you for the violence of an ulua strike on a surface lure; both Gary and I struggled to hold onto the rod on quite a few of the initial strikes. Gary lost his balance and nearly sat in a bucket of hooks one time and I was halfway over the railing once when I wasn’t paying attention. When the fish smashes the lure it sounds like someone dropped a small car into the ocean. “Bone jarring strike” is a phrase that gets thrown around far too often in fishing, but this is one of the few times it is apt. If you are not careful you could probably get your shoulder dislocated or something. Even at the end of the week after many ulua strikes I was still taken aback by the force; it’s not something you can totally prepare for. I feel privileged to have experienced it; if there is anything better in sport fishing I would like to know about it.

Every now and then we took a break and fished for smaller reef fish on lighter tackle. That was pretty fun because the reef fish all fight pretty hard on light tackle and you never knew what you would pull up. We ended up with 20 different species including various groupers, coral trout, several trevally species, a wolf herring, and some other cool stuff.

The first day of fishing was really tough. I had a big ulua hit my lure in the morning and immediately found the weak spot in my knot and broke off. That was really disappointing, especially since it was avoidable. Next I hooked a large shark that stayed on for about 2 minutes before biting through the line. The rest of the day was pretty quiet; endless casting in the heat and not much to show for it; just two more ulua strikes that didn’t get well hooked and spit out the lure. The only thing I landed after hundreds of casts in the hot sun was a small grouper. That was a little disheartening but I’ve done enough fishing to know that things can turn around at any moment so I didn’t get too discouraged.

The second day we were out casting like fiends again trying to get something to stick. I saw some bait fish running from something so I cast my lure in front of them and was rewarded by an ulua grabbing my lure and trying to wrench my arm off. I was able to get him into the boat and was glad to have the “first ulua” monkey off my back. I had been waiting for many years for that moment. It was a relatively small fish; around 20lbs, but I was still ecstatic. The rest of the day we did a number on the grouper and other reef fish but no more ulua.

The fishing seemed to get better every day. I landed a pair of ulua in the 40lb class on the third day, 4 fish up to 40lbs on the fourth day, and three in the 60lb class in the last couple days. I ended the trip with 11 ulua landed, with the largest weighing 64lbs. That is the largest fish I have ever caught while lure casting; I have caught many fish larger than that but they have either been on bait or trolling. I actually caught 3 ulua around that size this trip. Gary only landed 3 ulua all week but his largest was an 80lb beast. He did better on the other species than I did, including the largest barracuda I have seen in person. We both lost at least 3 big fish per day for various reasons – cut the line in the reef, spit the hook, etc. That is pretty unavoidable in this type of fishing. My largest fish was hooked in the last half hour of our last day in very shallow water and kept trying to head into the coral bommies that dot the lagoon. Our guide would gun the motor and try to race to the reef before the fish, which would cause it to turn and head in another direction. I was worried that it would get in some rocks and cut the line, and it did briefly get into some but I was able to get it out. It was quite exciting chasing the fish all over the lagoon before finally getting it into the boat.

Whenever we caught an ulua the guide would measure it and then tag it for study. The fish are treated very carefully which was nice to see. They all swam away in good shape. We only fished artificial lures with barbless hooks and released everything except the occasional small reef fish for dinner. Our French guide Etienne was a great guy and a great guide. He had no problem putting in the extra time to find fish. One of the best guides I have fished with. His English was not perfect but it was passable and we were able to communicate ok the whole week.

For tackle I used a Smith Komodo Dragon rod for poppers and a Carpenter Coral Viper rod for stickbaits. Both rods handled both the casting and the big fish perfectly. Paired with the rods were two Daiwa Saltiga Dogfight spinning reels which were ideal for this type of fishing. We fished 200lb mono leaders with the poppers and 140lb for the stickbaits. Best lures for us were the Orion stickbaits in black and Heru Cubera 125 poppers in red head/green body. Gary’s big fish came on a bright orange Halco popper. My biggest fish was caught on a Nomad Skipjack popper that was retrieved rapidly to skitter across the surface. For the lighter tackle stuff I used 20-40lb class custom baitcasting rods from Performance Tackle in Long Beach. One of had a Daiwa Pluton 200 reel and the other had a Shimano Conquest 400 reel, both spooled with 50lb braid. 30lb flouro leader was the minimum as even the small fish could bury you in the rocks. 50lb was safer but sometimes affected the action of certain lures. Etienne had some very good tackle available and Gary mostly used his stuff.

This sort of trip is definitely not for everyone. It’s a long haul to get down there and you need to be in good shape to hit the ground running and cast those big topwaters 8-10 hours a day. From a physical comfort standpoint it was not great. The sun baked us a lot of the time (no shade on the boat to provide more room for casting; got burned despite religiously reapplying SPF 50), the ocean was often fairly rough because of the wind (luckily no seasickness at all for either of us, but still hard to keep balance), and it rained on us now and again. I think I only had two showers with warm water the whole time. The bugs were prolific especially at the second place we stayed. Arms, shoulders, and back were sore pretty much the whole time from casting and fighting fish and I finished a whole bottle of Advil in a week. Not a trip to bring the whole family.
For both Gary and myself those things were far overshadowed by the fishing. Seeing the giant fish come completely out of the water to smash your lure and then chasing the fish around the reefs in crystal clear water while trying to hang on to the wildly gyrating rod is an experience that has no equal in fishing that I know of. I vividly remember the hookups for all 11 of the ulua I landed and I’m sure that will stay with me for quite some time. Our guide Etienne is trying to get permission to fish a remote spot in a new area and I hope to give that a try down the road. Great trip.

Dan Smith, Los Angeles USA

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Our 5 day fishing trip with Ocean Blue far exceeded our expectations. What made it really outstanding was the committment of the boat skipper, Etienne, and deckhands to make ours an experience we will always remember.

Nothing was ever a problem for them and it was a pleasure getting to know them. Their tremendous respect for their precious lagoon and the environment were inspirational. Some of the bigger fish slammed us against the sides of the boat a few times which was all part of the fun. We lost one absolute horse of a GT which snapped the rod and was fought by hand before pulling the hooks boat side; Etienne estimated it at around 70kg! All fishermen survived, and only one fish didn’t make it back into the lagoon.

Congratulations and thank you to all at the Ocean Blue team!

Tom Offerman

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Back last week from 6 days fishing in New Caledonia with regular crew Mitch and Marinos and our guide Etienne. Plan was 2 days GT fishing and 4 days of flats fishing with light tackle and fly for GT’s, plus chase New Caledonia Bonefish and just about anything that cruised the shallows. […]

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I have just returned from an unforgettable experience fishing for GT’s in New Caledonia, I was really not sure what to expect on this trip but it delivered the goods on all fronts.

Firstly David and our Ocean Blue head office team did a great job of putting it all together, especially with a last minute time frame. The team in New Cal consists of guides Étienne and Manu, who are world class guides and passionate about their fishery, I just can’t say enough good things about these two hard working guys!

New Caledonia is a special place, it has a giant lagoon that surrounds a fair majority of the country and this gives the angler an all-weather option. The wildlife is stunning with countless turtles, plenty of dugongs and an array of seabirds all calling this place home. But the stars of the show are all the fish, we caught an quite a number of different species including, GT’s (of course), Red Bass, giant Coral Trout, Bluefin Trevally, Spanish Mackerel, Wahoo, Long Tom, Blue cod, Barracuda and we also stuck the hooks into some Sharks, Yellowfin and another incredible species I will elaborate on later.. All of these fish were hooked on surface lures with both poppers and stickbaits doing the damage. You will also get to see plenty of sea turtles and dugongs as well while you are out at sea.

Day 1 and 2 were the pretty quiet compared to the rest of the trip but we still managed to get into some nice fish, a couple of GT’s over 30 Kg were landed and some bigger ones hooked and lost including a real ripper inside the lagoon which stripped some real line off before earning it’s freedom in the coral. These two days were spent at the Ouanu surf camp which has a neat little bar and the hosts looked after us with huge meals and some nice local beers.

The evening of Day 2 we moved up to the Nekweta surf camp and met Manu and Stephanie for the first time, upon arrival Stephanie whipped us up a delicious batch of fresh Wahoo and it is a fish that earns its reputation for its eating qualities.

Battling away with some dehydration problems, day 3 went ahead and our new destination was proving to be a little bit more productive. A few good fish were landed but nothing to write home about, during the afternoon Etienne unleashed the secret weapon, a sinking Orion Big Numbas and from this point on, this lure become a legend. I had attack after attack from big GT’s but I couldn’t get one to stick and was soon getting a hard time about my rubber hooks!

I had some stomach issues to contend with, that combined with too much sun and not enough water saw me go downhill fast and later in the afternoon I was not in a good way.

We did come across a patch of yellowfin tuna and hooked into a few of these but they were soon torn apart from hungry sharks, one attack was brutal with 3 big sharks fighting over the carcass on the surface not far from the boat.

Thankfully on day 4 I awoke feeling really good and ready to take on some of the big fish New Caledonia is famous for, this was the day things started to heat up for yours truly. I don’t know if the bite was better or it may have been that all of us had changed to Orion lures but we were greeted with a steady flow of fish throughout the day. Nothing huge for the day but some quality fish including coral trout to 18kg were caught.

Day 4 was also the day that a fish came in and hit the lure right in front of me and I have to say it was a sight I will never forget. The fish was a giant sailfish that shot up out of nowhere and grabbed hold of the Orion stick bait, it then didn’t move for about 30 seconds…but just sat in front of us shaking its head from side to side. After this it shot off in a blistering run and unfortunately the hooks fell out. Wow!

Day 5 was the day of giants, we hooked plenty of them but landing them proved to be difficult, of course there were some pretty big bust off’s & on really big fish. Towards the end of the day Etienne and Manu took us to a nice point with plenty of current and loads of bait. With darkness approaching time was running out for me to get my big GT.

A GT appeared with a big swirl enclosing around the lure, followed immediately with line ripping under heavy drag from my reel. This was going to be my last chance so I was very nervous to say the least, the Carpenter Monster Hunter rod was too much for the fish and soon after it was boat side a nice GT in the mid 30kg range.

With that I was happy and hung my rod up for the trip, I handed over the big Numbas to Steve for the last 5 casts of the day and on his very last cast another big swirl behind his lure and with some good technique he was locked and loaded onto a good fish. This beast proved to be a real fighter and it took some time to drag it out into deep water and even then it still battled hard. When in the boat this fish ended up being the fish of the trip in the mid 40 kg range.

For those of you interested in heading to New Caledonia then I suggest you give Ocean Blue a call and try to get on with Étienne, he is a genuine top bloke and a great guide. If you do head up take a range of big poppers and stick baits, get Orion’s if you can they were lethal. Take a powerful rod and reel; these things are unforgiving even on heavy gear. Don’t expect any of them to come easy, some bites are few and far between and you need to make the most of every one. Practice striking the fish! This was my downfall and I intend to work on this before I head back. You really do need to ram the hooks home to make sure of a good hook up.

Cheers,

Mark Armistead
Ocean Blue New Zealand

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Hey David,

What a trip and what a beautiful part of the world. Etienne is a great guide and really puts out a 1st class fishing trip experience. The accommodation and hospitality of the 2 lodges / surf camps are really good also, great food and people all round. The GT popping was a little bit quiet for the first couple of days but they really turned on for us in the end.

Another trip with Etienne is definitely on the cards with a bit of the east coast mixed in would be perfect. Here are just some of the GT’s we caught, I have the bragging rights of the trip with the biggest fish caught GT popping was around the 45kg mark… it’s the one with the big blue popper in the mouth.

Anyway thanks to you for organising this, definitely not a once in a life time trip for us and hope to be organising another one with Ocean Blue Fishing again soon. Thanks again. Regards,

Jade Evans

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