Fishing destination: Fiji

For me, Fiji is one of the world’s best fishing destinations. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled and fished there four times in the past two years. Before I go on and make you all jealous with my fishing feats and amazing adventures, if you’re into your fishing you have to be prepared to do it right. Whether you’re travelling with the family or with a group of mates your options generally involve staying at a hotel on the mainland or one of the islands and paying for a charter through the resort of your choice. This option can be quite expensive and the fishing is limited as the charter captain will almost always troll as he/she is used to inexperienced holidaymakers and trolling is the easiest way for them to catch a few fish. The other option, which I’ve never done but have always heard great reports about, is to book a dedicated liveaboard fishing charter.

I like to do things a bit differently … I enjoy coming home from a hard day’s fishing and sitting by the pool with a cold one or two, and being able to cook the fish we’ve caught that day. If you like the sound of this you have to look into hiring a house. My house and island of choice is Lagoon Point Villa on Malolailai Island. Malololailai, also known as Plantation Island, is the second largest and most developed of the Mamanuca Islands, lying 20kms west of Nadi on Fiji’s main island VitiLevu.

The island consists of four resorts, a number of residential houses, a marina and a golf course. You can reach the island by a 40-minute boat ride from the port of Denarau. Lagoon Point Villa is a private “bure style” residence overlooking Armstrong Island lagoon. Facilities include five bedrooms and five bathrooms, making it perfect for up to five couples or a couple of families. A 15m pool runs along the front of the property, a massive deck overlooks the lagoon, you use golf buggies to get around the island and caretakers look after you during  your stay. It certainly is a home away from home.

Now that you’re sold on the villa you need a boat, right? Well, my partner Riley Tolmay and I are fortunate enough to have a couple of friends living in Fiji who loan us their 25ft centre console longboat when we visit. But you can charter a boat with a skipper from Adrenalin Charters in Denarau. These guys have several boats available including 25ft longboats, a 37ft Kevlacat and a 50ft Riviera. The long boats are perfect for all kinds of reef fishing, flicking a few plastics and trolling. The Kevlacat and Riv are geared up with medium to heavy tackle for tuna, dollies and marlin. If you were planning on heading out for several days in a row, you can have the skipper stay on the island and keep the charter boat at the marina. This will allow you to have some early starts on the water. The guides at Adrenalin are very experienced, flexible and are a pleasure to fish with with.

We take an assortment of quality spin, troll, jig and popper outfits, plus assorted lures, terminals and associated gear. You don’t have to go this level but we’ve never had a trip where a rod and reel has not been used. In fact, we almost always sea freight about 100kg worth of tackle and equipment prior to our trips. You can never have too many Gulps, poppers, lures or skirts, can you?

Now, back to the fishing … Every trip over the past few years has yielded awesome fishing and some amazing sights. Each time I go my angling is improved and my desire for bigger fish grows! Looking back at my first couple of trips I was over the moon with 4-6kg coral trout and red bass, 5-8kg Spanish mackerel and a variety of trevally. These species are easily and abundantly caught on the reefs just out from Malololailai. I also lost my popper virginity – yep, I caught my first GT on a popper. It wasn’t a giant but good fun nevertheless and a first that you don’t easily forget.

One thing you need to be aware of when booking a trip to Fiji is the weather. The climate is very similar to the tropics in Australia. It can rain for days on end in the wet season, which extends from late November though to late February. With the sometimes constant the rain, a cyclone or two occasionally develops. A trip in March/April 2012 was unfortunately scheduled when Nadi was hit with devastating rains and a looming cyclone. Not to be deterred by a little rain, I convinced Tolmay that the cyclone would blow over and our trip would be unaffected. Pretty optimistic, huh? We made it in to Nadi on the last flight out of Sydney before all flights from Australia were cancelled. We were stranded on the mainland for a couple of days with most of the tourists being evacuated. When the hotel started to run short on food and alcohol we started to get a little worried and made it our mission to get to Malololailai before the cyclone was to hit.  It was a pretty bleak situation and more than once it was suggested that we should just go home with the rest of the tourists. But perseverance paid off when we were able to convince a skipper on a supply vessel to take us over. It was a mad dash to get all our luggage and supplies from the hotel to the boat but thankfully we made it and after a pretty hectic ride we arrived at our destination. 

Cyclone Daphne was due to hit that evening but with plenty of supplies, freshwater and a generator at Lagoon Point Villa we remained positive about the rest of our holiday. Well, everyone except Tolmay. I don’t think he liked the idea of being stuck in a cyclone in a foreign country. Thinking back to it I still have a laugh at his anxiety. “It’ll be fine,” I said to him. “Just have another beer.”

Sure enough, the cyclone blew over and despite dirty water we  managed a decent load of fish each day including some good sized job fish, red bass, mackerel and trevally.

Our most recent and second trip for 2012 was planned for November with a group of friends from Sydney and Wellington, NZ. It was sure to be a cracker with great weather forecast and an unprecedented amount of tackle, rods and reels. With 14 days of solid fishing planned we had no excuses for not catching a couple of big ones. Our first day saw us take a big run and travel up to the Yasawas, an archipelago of about 20 volcanic islands west of mainland Fiji. The day was spectacular with everyone on board catching a variety of reef species. With big plans and high hopes for our second day, disaster struck. We headed out of the lagoon at about 6am. Visibility was poor due to the low light levels thus it was very difficult to see the many reefs and bommies littering the lagoon. To make matters worse, the tides vary by up to 3m so when you’re following your plotter track from the previous day it’s a good idea to take note of whether it was recorded at a high or low tide. I quite often nag Tolmay to watch out for reefs in areas we have not frequented or at dusk or dawn. You’ve probably worked out what happened next … old mate drove the boat straight into a reef. The throttle was pulled back as we ground across the top. My heart skipped a beat. We trimmed up the twin E-TECs to assess the damage. Thankfully the gearboxes and props were intact.

“What about the hull?” I asked.

“These Fiji boats are built pretty well,” Tolmay confidently replied.

We headed out offshore for about 40 minutes when Tolmay looked aft and casually mentioned that we were taking on water. I somehow refrained from saying “I told you so”. Seriously though, we were in a potentially risky situation. We were a long way out at sea and there’s no marine rescue in Fiji. The guys on board rallied together and started pumping water out with the manual bilge.  It soon became obvious that we were taking on water quicker than we could get it out. Concern amongst the group wasn’t too bad until one of the Kiwis snapped the bilge pump lever.

When the skipper tells you to put some shoes on because we’re going to have to ditch on a reef, you start thinking panic stations. Mercifully, the boat stayed upright and we made a slow run back to the marina. It was a long hour.

Luckily, the guys at Musket Cove Resort had a shipwright on site and were able to repair the hull and we had the boat back in the water that afternoon.

Fishing in Fiji is never dull …

Happily, the remainder of the trip went without a hitch with the most amazing fishing I’ve ever experienced. One of the best things about staying at Malololailai is that the continental shelf is only about two miles out. Targeting marlin, tuna or dolphin fish is a quick and easy affair. Each morning we’d head out to a couple of marks about four miles out from the breaking reef and the dollies would be chasing our skirts all day long.

The last day of the trip came very quickly and with just Tolmay and I remaining out of the group we decided on an exploratory mission to some canyons about five miles out from the island. When we arrived it was the turn of the tide and the fish were in a feeding frenzy. With not another boat in sight, we easily navigated our way through and around the bait schools. With four skirts out ranging in different sizes we pulled in a couple of good-sized yellow fin tuna. After catching dollies all week, we thought we’d hit the jackpot. In the hunt for a bigger fish we decided to leave only the big Pakula skirts out. Within a couple of minutes we struck gold. The biggest lure, generally reserved for marlin, was hit and within a flash we’d lost nearly all the line on the heavy jig reel. I strapped the belt on and prepared for battle – it was a battle I nearly lost several times. In over 1000m of water the tuna had the whole ocean to fight. I, on the other hand, was using 80lb stand-up gear with no harness. After an hour of arduous work, a 70+kg yellowfin was pulled on board and one of my fishy dreams came true.

I could talk to you about Fiji for hours but no amount of words can even come close to describing what is my absolute favourite fishing destination.  Check it out yourself sometime …

Laura Kissin

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