Article by Grant Dixon, published in New Zealand Fishing News July 2011

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If planning an extended popper fishing mission, other than to a tackle shop, there is one place you should spend time at before leaving – the gym.

In May, with the opening of duck- shooting out the way, five keen read- ers joined me for a five-day popper fishing trip to New Caledonia target- ing giant trevally. Four of us had ventured to New Caledonia under the wing of fish- ing expedition organisers, Ocean Blue, 12 months before – Peter van Eekelen, Michael Gordon, Murray Stewart and myself. On that occasion we fished from two small but well-appointed boats, and never ventured outside the lagoon, but still managed to nail three fish in the 40-45kg range, along with a dozen or so others.

Popper Fishing Wrasse on Surface

Expectations were high, and with Mike Germann and Paul Davies join- ing us, we boarded the Air Calin for the short 2.5-hour flight to tropical climes.

There is every reason for an angler’s blood pressure to rise when GTs are brought into the conversation. They are a spectacular target species for a number of reasons. Normally caught by casting surface lures – poppers and various forms of stick-baits – the bite is always very visual and the fight arm-wrenching. More often than not, the result ends in favour of the fish: it either escapes or, after being caught and photographed, is released.

Coral Trout Light Tackle Sportfishing in New Caledonia

And it is not only GTs that make for exciting fishing. You are more than likely to encounter their smaller cousins, the bluefin trevally, along with red bass, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, barracuda and the like. On this trip we also landed sev- eral grouper, and Peter caught a large Napoleon wrasse, a slow-growing species that is protected around the reefs from spearfishing but not rod and line fishing.

Nearly all the fish we caught were released, not only for conservation reasons, but because many contain ciguatera, a debilitating and (rarely) fatal poison. The only fish we ate on the trip was a wahoo that Paul caught on a new Bonze lure during a short trolling stint between casting spots.

Noumea Sportfishing Jigging Popper Adventures in New Caledonia

Our host for the trip was Olivier Quach, who owns and runs a partic- ularly well maintained 47ft (14.34m) Ron Given catamaran called Quo Vadis. The boat had recently been back to New Zealand for a refit and was in prime condition. Assisting Oliver was his friend Frederick Paul, whose ‘day job’ is running one of the reef protection patrol boats.

Quo Vadis, which roughly trans- lates from Latin as ‘where are you going?’, is an ideal casting platform. There is room for two to three anglers on the foredeck and three to four in the cockpit, with these num- bers made possible by the anglers rotating from casting to retrieving spots.

New Caledonia Sportfishing - Wahoo

Olivier drove the boat with the starboard side to the reef, which was ideal for the right-handed casters working the cockpit and a mixture of ‘southpaws’ and righties on the foredeck.

We had six on our trip, but four would be better in terms of onboard accommodation, which consisted of two double bunks up forward, the saloon seating, and two matresses in the cockpit for sleeping ‘al fresco’. The latter was fine until it rained, as the tarpaulin the guys were under offered little protection!

Interestingly, it was not only the casts in towards the reef that got the bites. The occasional shot in the opposite direction also got results – and the advantage of this was that the fish generally headed for even deeper water, whereas those hooked near the surf line tended to bolt along the reef and almost inevitably busted off on the sharp coral. Big line weights and heavy drags were the only answer!

Poppers and stick-baits shared the honours fish-wise. We had a range of all the essentials, including Halco Haymakers, Yo-zuri Surface Bulls, River2Sea Dumbells, Nomads, and a new popper out from Strike Pro. I had been given a handful of these to use, and Paul found one in particular to his liking. Coloured red, green, yellow and black, it quickly earned the nickname ‘Rastaman’ for obvi- ous reasons. Before Paul finally lost it, Rastaman accounted for seven or eight fish of varying sizes and spe- cies. You often find on these trips that one lure or colour combo out- performs all the others. For this New Caledonia sojourn, it was the Strike Pro Rastaman’s turn to shine, while in the stick-bait department, it turned out to be the River2Sea’s time to grab the limelight.

Halco Haymaker Red Bass Popping Lagoon

At the end of five days’ casting, we had an interesting range of species to our credit, as well as GTs to 30kg. We didn’t better our 2010 efforts, but we had our chances and couldn’t turn them into runs on the board.

We covered a great deal of ground, finishing some 200 kilometres up the western coastline from the boat’s Noumea base. As well as around 20 GTs accounted for, there were a number of personals bests and new species added to our lists, along with a resolve that before any future GT trips are undertaken, a gym member- ship will be a pre-requisite!