For me there is nothing that compares with spending almost a week away on a live onboard expedition, to fish hard and recharge… Time is different at sea, you’re far away from land and all the details which manage your daily life…

When all things go as planned, the fishing available combined with such spectacular locations, result in incredible experiences that stay with you forever… Plus there is also the hope that fishing further into Vanuatu’s remote islands will deliver the jackpot in the heavyweight tropical sportfish stakes…

So we were 6 anglers bought together for Ocean Blue’s October live on board expedition, the last one planned for 2013. Nick, Rob & Peter fishing onboard Al Dente with guide Eric Festa and decky Tom. Leaving Conor, Vaughan and myself on Azzurra with Andrea Traverso at the helm and Tony in charge of decky duties.

Home was the 60ft Fontaine Pajot sailing catamaran ‘Rendezvous’ which for me is the type of benchmark vessel you need for mothership duties, spacious and beamy for guest comforts, sail power for economy and ideal for trips through the Pacific islands. Enthusiastic skipper Errol has spent years at the helm of superyachts across the globe, plus some fishing guiding himself along the way, and supported by crewman Kevin, they provide great hospitality and service onboard.

We fished a few days in the Maskelyne island group then worked our way down via Epi, Emae, Cooks reef, Matasso, Nguna and Port Havannah, where we were rewarded equally in all of these locations with great sports fishing.
Our boat mixed it up jigging, casting, down rigging baits and trolling between locations. We planned around the wind increasing through the week so we fished comfortably in the lee of many spectacular islands the last 2 days.

We had some epic sessions including double hookups on dogtooth on jig & GT’s on poppers & stickbaits, doggies on light tackle, soft plastics and smaller jigs. Tireless jigger Conor got done by big dogtooth after big dogtooth, Vaughan got some quality fish, a few nice doggie’s and his best GT to date, as well as some great wahoo and plenty of mahi mahi in between. Final morning just out from Trees & Fishes, Conor and Vaughan scored a nice double hookup on mahi mahi on light tackle, both landed. Then Conor lost the biggest dogtooth of the trip and donated yet another of his proven jigs to the depths.

The guys on Al Dente kept us on our toes, doggie’s on popper plus mahi mahi, red bass, GT’s, bluefin trevally, more wahoo & a small marlin for variety. They had some epic dogtooth sessions with fish around the boat responding to soft plastics and poppers, so the bulk of images here are from our boat & really shows only part of the trip through my lens.

Having done this trip and getting a handle on it first hand we are all itching to get back for a return trip!
The mothership expedition ticked every box hoped for and more, & with a top bunch of like minded anglers (and awesome crew) is yet another way to enjoy fishing the remote Vanuatu islands to the fullest….

David Noble

Footnote: Tackle used.
Rods: Carpenter Coral Viper, Hots Gipang 711MH, Hots Gipang 79XH, Shimano GT Special, Saltiga 63S, Jigging Master, M&W Ocean Star.
Reels: Shimano Stella 8000SW, 14000SW, 18000SW, 20000SW, Saragosa 14000, Shimano TwinPower, Daiwa Saltiga 6500

Surface, ASWB 130SS, Maria Loaded, Hammerhead Tobi 123, Heru Cubera, Halco Roosta Haymaker.
Jigs, Jigging Master Fallings, Patriot Design Cyber Edge, SevenSea Hooker, Saltiga Sacrifice Stick II, Ocean Attitude Tacko, FCL Labo

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On the morning of day 1 we took Ocean Blue’s new boat, our second big 32ft EdgesWater ‘Al Dente’, to sportfish Vanuatu’s deep reefs and islands. Our target was dogtooth tuna, the best one came in well over 30kg.

In the afternoon we stopped for some jigging just infront of one of Vanuatu’s steep jungle clad towering islands. During the drift, the reef and ocean floor below goes from 25 meters to 90m depth, and we are literally no more than a few casts out from the beach. From sea level to altitude in one almost vertical climb!

When you’re out on the boat fishing, you see dozens of these impressive island peaks, some relatively near, more are far off in the distant horizon.  Names include Nguna volcano, Matasso, Emao and Monument Rock. These are just a few of the spots that skippers Andrea and Eric like to fish, and you can fish 360 degrees around each one of them.

So with this as a back drop, I enjoyed a fun session jigging on my PE5 outfit (Shimano Twinpower 8000 & Daiwa Saltiga 63S) which is a perfect outfit for the 130g – 180g jigs used for the big variety of ‘smaller’ species found here. (tip for anglers, bring minimum 6 jigs in this size to Vanuatu, not only do they catch the fish, but prolonged jigging is hard work and the smaller jigs are easy to work for longer). Ofcourse the flip side is you run the risk of hooking an average sized dogtooth or GT and getting blown away on too light gear, or simply prolonging the fight long enough for the sharks to move in and finish the job.

The following few days our focus then was popping for Vanuatu’s GT’s, aswell as light tackle. It was great to spend this time seriously peppering the water with stickbaits and poppers. Picture turquiose lagoons and shallow reefs, deep tidal fed channels between islands aswell as rocky outcrops, blue holes & jagged bommies amongst swirling currents.
GT popping is hot and hard work, and big GT’s aren’t easy to entice. Long casts are essential, and lure presentation, good technique & experience often makes all the difference.

It’s an extreme sport all right, to be good at it you have to be fit and strong, and it’s fair to say I’m not. Aswell as GT’s we had red bass, coral trout, bluefin trevally and jobfish hit the lures. We didn’t get any doggies on poppers this trip, but then again we weren’t targeting them. It all came together for us however with an encounter with a GT of XOS proportions which inhaled my Hammerhead Tobi 123 in shallow water on top of the reef.

A lot of hard slog, a few colourful adjectives and support from the boat pulling the fish into deeper water meant we could land her, get a few photo’s and release her back in the water in good shape.

It was Anthony’s turn next, with another nice GT coming soon after out of the same area. The afternoon session we fished some new territory, and Tony was first up with a nice jobfish on a big popper.

The spot of the day however was deep water hard up against a cliff, and looked like the perfect ambush area for any big fish to hunt. It went as I’d hoped, another damn big GT smashed my lure just after landing, but while I was getting from the bow to the stern to do battle again, the barbless hooks pulled free & I was off…  Wind, wind again, and the popper back on the surface as a big red bass hones in about to pounce, but just before it does, another GT hits it first and I’m on again…. Epic stuff!

A bit more grunt, wind and hanging on to as much drag as I can handle. The fish comes in, a few quick photo’s, release, and Andrea marks another new unfished spot on the GPS. Vanuatu GT popping, it’s certainly delivering for us.

So this is just a taste of the last few days fishing onboard Al Dente, Ocean Blue’s new big EdgeWater centre console, which alongside twin sister Azzurra, operate out of Trees & Fishes Anglers Lodge, Port Havannah.

Back at the lodge each afternoon we’d step off the boat and be welcomed with a chilled refresher towel and cold drink to freshen up. The time ashore is pretty lush… swimming, massages, mouth watering food and attention to detail everywhere you look, all this is served naturally and doesn’t feel over the top or forced. It only takes one sunset and this kind of hospitality to totally lose track of time here.

I’m flying back now, and wanted to write this to fill in the easy 3 hour trip home.,

They say each picture tells a thousand words and I’ve got about 500 odd pictures from this entire weeks Vanuatu fishing experience to sort through now.

I’ll be back in the Ocean Blue office on Monday with a new screen saver of a jubilant angler holding a pretty decent Vanuatu GT, a nice reminder of my week away sport fishing Vanuatu.

Thanks again to guides Andrea onboard Azzurra, Eric onboard Al Dente, Angele at her team at Trees & Fishes, and fisho buddy and Ocean Blue head honcho Anthony for a great week away.

David Noble – Ocean Blue Sydney office

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It seems like an odd combination from opposite ends of the world but last week’s Asia adventure perfectly combined Formula 1 Grand Prix racing, world class entertainment, abundant sailfish caught and dish after dish of superb cuisine and liquid refreshments!

Having the weekend Singapore stop over prior to fishing Rompin allowed some of us to relax and enjoy the city sight, others chose to shop and buy fishing tackle, clothes and gifts while others decided to get amongst the action at the F1 GP and party all night!

Needless to say we all had a blast, with both Singapore and Rompin delivering… The sailfish numbers on the grounds are incredible, we had sailfish swimming, free jumping & feeding around our 3 boats all week. They appear quickly and sometimes move on, with the birds signaling more fish coming in from all directions.

Live baits are the preferred technique, but my casting arm got a work out with 2 fish landed on stickbaits, with plenty more follows, strikes & dropped fish.

The same trip is now planned for next year with a Vanuatu team already confirmed we’ll be adding a few Aussie boats. If you’re keen for a unique trip with plenty of fish & fun, the September 2013 adventure will be a very cool trip…. To find out about getting onboard next years adventure, simply view more details here

Ocean Blue

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Many anglers would know the simple anglers lodge at Rana Beach back from when Ocean Blue founder, Remy Frouin, put gamefishing Vanuatu on the map almost 2 decades ago.

With the winning combination of great fishing, a stunning location & superb hospitality, for years this trip was an annual pilgrimage for countless anglers drawn to Vanuatu from all around the globe.

In the old days the trip to Rana from Port Vila town was a 90 minute bone jarring ride, today it’s a 30 minute cruise on a sealed road. Back then there was little infrastructure on this side of the island. Other than the villages, Remy’s simple cabin was all that fronted the shores of sleepy Port Havannah.

The rainforest & sea has consumed most visible remnants of what was a prominent US Naval Base that hosted thousands of troops & over a dozen US ships during it’s peak. Today the collection of vintage Coke bottles & worn glass seen around the lodge are an insight into the colourful history of this area.

Rana Beach underwent a total transformation in late 2011, new accommodation was built, a private jetty now provides access to your waiting vessel, a sit down bar serves ample refreshments while the kitchen creates dish after dish of mouth watering meals. Angele’s locally inspired signature dishes include green jobfish curry, dogtooth sashimi, Vanuatu prime beef & local lobster, add some good French wine & now the experience is complete.

Reopening in January 2012, Trees & Fishes Anglers Retreat welcomed its first groups of anglers. It’s hard to convey in words the service & attention to detail guests enjoy during their stay here, though fishing journalist and landscape photographer Warren Keelan’s images are the best way to get a taste of what is in store on your next Vanuatu fishing adventure…

Tree’s & Fishes has the unique balance of personalized service, comfort, ambience, location, genuine hospitality & easy access to incredible waters which makes a fishing adventure here an experience for all the senses! Ocean Blue anglers can experience Trees & Fishes Anglers Retreat exclusively on the following adventures!

Blue Water Game & Sportfishing Adventure – View More
Vanuatu Extreme Dogtooth & GT Popping Safari – View More

Photo’s courtesy of Warren Keelan
http://www.warrenkeelanphotography.com.au/

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My all-time biggest fishing mistake was neglecting to pack any fishing gear for my recent endless long weekender trip to Ratua Private Island, just off Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu…

Sure I was paradise-bound, but how many times have I packed fishing gear on the hope to be able get some land based fishing done, only to arrive and realise the water around my resort was barren, and the only place I’d stand a chance would be onboard the boat well offshore? My trip coincided with our 43ft Cabo Sportfisher’s arrival up to Santo, where it has spent the past month exploring the fish-rich waters surrounding this area. As this was a game fishing trip, and knowing just how good marlin fishing Santo in Vanuatu is, I didn’t even consider the possibility of land-based options. Plus I was hosting some travel journalists who were 1st time anglers, and I only had 1 day offshore fishing with them on the Cabo. The rest of the time for me was filled up enjoying the rest of what the incredible place has to offer…

On the first evening at Ratua we enjoyed an incredible sit down banquet dinner on the beach, complete with a few cocktails and selection of fine wines! It was a fantastic introduction to the Ratua luxury experience.

After dinner, I was in my bungalow taking in the atmosphere; the doors and window shutters were open and the water was only 15 meters away. My bungalow, named ‘Monkey’, was one of about 5 located at this end of the island, and my closest neighbours and I were positioned around a little bay that was maybe only 100 meters wide.

The beach was made up of soft sand with some broken coral, and the shoreline gradually sloped away to a fringing reef; it was a fish haven with the strong current of the adjacent Malo Passage pushing past the bay. And then it started, the sounds of nervous fish splashing indicating predators giving chase. I stood outside on my verandah and listened as this incredible display took place, probably all within casting distance! These were no 3 inch baitfish being harassed by lightweights – these things were big, v-e-r-y big… Huge splashes and boofs filled the night air as (what were most likely) big GTs harassed, herded and hammered the smaller fish into submission. Hoots and cheers came from the villas around me, as others witnessed the show. It sounded more like a crocodile attacking a water buffalo in the shallows! I’d left all my casting gear at home and it was killing me, all I could do was to stand there totally impressed, dumbfounded and applaud the show…

The next morning I took a walk around to discover the lay of the land. At the other end of the bay, a nice point jutted out, with the magnificent Malo Passage to one side. We named this point Daybed Point as it was a great place for some of the guys who cast small poppers for a host of fish. Anthony filmed Gregg’s poppers being nailed and promptly dusted on his light gear, 4 casts in a row by GTs and other reefies, while standing on the villa’s daybed deck. In a nutshell it was a very fishy spot; if I had heavy popper gear, I’d expect to find big GT’s off that point for sure.

look over the charts showed plenty of areas to return to to cast a lure, jig or troll a deep diver. It’s all there within striking distance of Ratua and accessible from their centre console dories. NZ journo and keen angler Scott Lee got to experience some fun action casting lures from one of the resorts 25ft dories, with a estimated 40kg GT chasing down his hooked coral trout sending his pulse racing.

Ratua is a place for the senses; visually it is absolutely stunning from every angle. The resort is self sufficient, eco friendly, understated and can only be described as absolute luxury.

The story on how it came to be built will impress on people the lengths and detail the owner has put into this resort. Each building began its life 150 – 200 years ago in Sumatra, Indonesia and have been salvaged, restored and painstakingly rebuilt piece by piece in this setting. The ethical approach of the resort is to contribute 100 percent of the profits to help the surrounding communities.

There are so many details, images and experiences that are now deeply etched in my memory after spending and endless weekend in this magical location. I use the term endless weekend, because although it was only a few nights away, time stood still from the moment I arrived.

Make no mistake, this place is not cheap, but it is worth every cent. Ratua is the ideal destination for the discerning angler, their friends and partners who wish to mix their fishing with an absolutely luxurious experience.

David Noble, Nov 09.

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