Ollie Craig shares his experience spearfishing in Samoa...
After many years spent abroad travelling and working, I was finally back home on kiwi soil. Then, of course, Covid hit the world like a truck. In a flash, I realised I hadn’t travelled abroad for well over three years.
The urge to travel instantly hit me. Being in the middle of the NZ winter, I started searching the web for somewhere warm, tropical, and new to me, as I love to explore new places. It didn’t take me long to pick Samoa. Looking like a beautiful island, and with reports of great fishing (yet not much info on spearfishing), I knew I had found my destination. I love a bit of unknown mystery, and less information is better sometimes – it can mean less fishing pressure.
On a phone call to my mate, I mentioned I had booked a spontaneous flight to Samoa. Five minutes later there was another spontaneous booking, and I had a travel buddy!
In all my excitement, I had double-booked over my friend’s wedding, so after reshuffling flights, I ended up departing Auckland solo for the first week. A quick flight and I was descending above picturesque reefs, lagoons, and coconut trees; excitement levels were high.
Landing on a Sunday, when the country is literally at a standstill – it’s their rest day – I wandered the deserted streets wondering what I had got myself into and, to top it off, I felt like I was starting to come down with the flu.
The next day, still feeling terrible, I hired a car and decided to drive to where it looked good on google maps for diving, and as far away enough from the main city as possible.
After driving through lush mountains and greenery dotted with craters and waterfalls, I eventually arrived on the coast. Time to find accommodation! After a quick chat with a few friendly locals, I arrived at some beach fales and was welcomed by a surprised yet very warm and inviting family (tourism had been all but dead for the last three years).
My fale was a beautiful little shack right on the sand overlooking an amazing lagoon that stretched out to the point where it dropped off into the open ocean.
I rested up for a few hours then braved my first dive that afternoon – with fully blocked sinuses and still feeling like crap. I told the family, “I’m going out to spear my dinner,” but I don’t think my voice sounded very confident.
I geared up and swam out to the channel and reef edge a few hundred meters away. The closer I got to the reef edge, the more fish I started to see. Once I was in deeper water, I was suddenly greeted by big, beautiful corals. It wasn’t long before some target species showed themselves, along with some unknown species (to me). There was an abundance of turtles around, which was a fantastic sight, along with the loud crackling and popping sounds of a healthy reef system.
My head and sinuses were so blocked that I could barely dive down past three metres before my head felt like exploding. Luckily, there were plenty of fish around and, using a few skills I learned hunting NZ waters, I shot my first fish, a nice ‘mu’ that came too close to my spear. This was followed by a red bass (or ‘moo’ in Samoan), and then, just to top it off, a beautiful bluefin trevally, which buzzed past so quickly that I only just managed to squeeze a shot off. I couldn’t be happier about my first Samoan shore dive!
With the sun setting and the water getting a bit sharky, I made my way back in and was greeted by the lovely family, who were amazed by my catch – so was I!
After a big debrief and many questions about my speargun – something they had never seen before, apart from the dad’s homemade wooden spear, which has a rusty piece of metal for a spear – we decided how we were to cook the fish. I helped squeeze some coconuts into fresh coconut milk, and we had fresh ‘Oka’, a raw fish dish with chili and lime. We put the rest into a beautiful dish simmered in coconut milk and other fresh local ingredients. The catch was shared between everyone, including the pigs who were roaming around under our feet like pets.
I went out again the next day and found similar species. For several days I ate like a king, snoozed beachside in my fale, and listened to the sound of the ocean.
I had booked a charter to take me out on a boat to target big pelagic species, such as dogtooth tuna, but with my flu still holding strong, and my sinuses still blocked, I was unable to dive deep enough (dogtooth tuna typically hold between 15-30m). I made the call to continue my shore diving and explore more of the main island.
I kept driving until I found the most beautiful beach I had seen yet. It had accommodation, the reef dropped off only a short swim offshore and, again, it had very welcoming locals. I sat down with Tapu, who owned the beach fales and who just so happened to be the chief of the village. After a few hot lime teas and lots of chatting, I told him I was about to go swimming off the reef to catch some fish the next morning. He thought I was crazy – most locals have never swum past the lagoon as it’s deemed too dangerous.
This area had a different coastline than the previous spot, with the deeper, cleaner water making hunting more difficult. After duck diving a few sets of waves that were crashing onto the lagoon, I made it out into the blue water. The visibility was excellent – easily 15-20m – and I could see fish buzzing around the coral reef below, which merged onto a bed of clean white sand.
My sinuses were improving, but I was still limited to about 10-15m of depth max before serious sinus squeeze and pain began. This was enough, however, as I spotted a nice red bass below. Luckily, right between me and the fish was a nice little ledge overhang that would provide me with some nice cover.
I breathed up on the surface, took my final breath, and slowly kicked down to the reef below. I tucked behind the small ledge and start scratching the coral and rattling my speargun, which entices inquisitive fish like bass. It worked a treat, and as I peered over the ledge, I could see a fish bussing towards me. It suddenly saw me and turned broadside to swim away, enabling me to get a clean shot off, spearing the fish mid-body before it takes off into the coral.
I was at the end of my breath-hold, so I had to head straight up to the surface to regain my breath. I looked down and could see a big, tangled mess of shooting line, but at least the shot was good.
I know the commotion could entice reef sharks, and my fears were realised when a large shark buzzed in towards the action and started circling. I watched and waited for it to tear my catch apart, but instead, it took off into the depths. Before my luck could run out on the next shark, I dove straight down, untangled the mess hastily, wrestled the stuck spear from the coral, and swam the fish to the surface. It was a lovely fish. Stoked!
On my way back to my entry point, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a nice ‘bombie’, which is a lump of coral reef out by itself in the middle of the sand. These are hot spots for fish – the bombie provides an excellent home to various species. As I drew nearer, I saw it was teeming with fish, from small baitfish to large snapper!
I finned slowly towards the reef, dove down, and was greeted by several large reef fish, including a school of Māori sea perch! The bombie was about 15m down – at the limits of my blocked head and personal limits when diving solo. I dove up and down as best I could, playing cat and mouse with the skittish, clever fish until I spotted what looked to be a red bass (later, I found out it was a mangrove jack) that disappeared into a hole in the coral. I breathed up, descended, and managed to pull off a shot right as it saw me and tried to disappear deeper into the caverns below.
It was a solid holding shot – mid-upper body – and I managed to pull it free from the cave and bring it to the surface. Awesome! Tapu is going to be as stoked, I thought. He had mentioned earlier that I was invited to their family ‘Umu’ on Sunday, and I knew some fresh fish would be a welcome addition.
After giving up on the Māori sea perch who kept outsmarting me, I returned to the beach. Tapu and family were amazed by the catch, and after a few photos, we planned our feast for the Umu. Resting up and enjoying the beach life, I made my way back to Apia to collect my friend Sam and promised Tapu I would return for the feast!
We enjoyed the weekend with a few cold beers (a few too many) and returned as promised to Tapu and his beach fales. After one more dive, this time with Sam, I managed one more nice fish and gave this to Tapu to keep for another special feast; we had more than enough food already, including some succulent wild pork.
We feasted the next day on what has to be one of the tastiest meals I have ever had. There was fresh taro from Tapu’s plantation, a local coconut dish made from coconut cream and taro leaves, pork, fish, and lots more, all cooked in the ‘Umu’ ground oven.
These were just a few highlights from an incredible dive trip peppered with a good dose of local culture and cuisine. From waterfalls, picturesque beaches, swimming holes, friendly people, tasty food, lush forests, mountains, and more, Samoa really is an underrated holiday destination and a place I will be back to explore and dive more! What’s even more amazing here is that you can dive off basically any beach (with locals’ permission) without the need for expensive charters. Cheers, Samoa, to your beautiful island and hospitality!
January 2023 - Ollie Craig
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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