With the borders still closed, John Eichelsheim takes the time to reflect on his favourite ‘exotic’ fish species he has travelled all over the world to target.
I’m quite liking the ‘favourite five’ theme in NZ Fishing News, so I thought I’d write about my favourite fish to catch.
But it didn’t take long to realise that five wasn’t going to cut it, so I’ve decided to split my favourites into groups, starting with five I’ve travelled overseas to catch. I’ll leave the fish I most like to catch at home for a subsequent article and may at some point also explore my five favourite freshwater fishes.
The following favourites are all fish I’ve caught in places other than New Zealand, listed in no particular order. I’ve excluded species I’ve caught overseas which are also available in New Zealand, such as mahimahi; blue, striped and black marlin; big-eye and yellowfin tuna.
I connected with my first giant trevally (GT) in Taveuni, Fiji, around 1990 while fishing with Mark Kitteridge.
I was woefully unprepared. The heaviest casting outfit I had taken on the trip, and indeed the heaviest casting outfit I owned, was a Shimano 8-10kg spinning rod paired with a Penn Spinfisher 750 reel spooled with 10kg nylon. My poppers were largely homemade, supplemented by a few Cotton Cordells.
The outcome of my first and several subsequent encounters was entirely predictable: a spectacular surface explosion, a short, screaming run and then a bust-off on the reef. This was the pattern for the rest of the trip, though I quickly ran out of poppers so fishing for GTs became moot.
I did land my first GT that trip when one took a Rapala trolled beside the reef on 15kg gear. That fish was touch and go, too – I think the wire trace saved me. Like all the others, it found its way into the reef, but this time I managed to horse it out. At perhaps 10kg, it wasn’t even a big one, but I was completely infatuated. What a fish!
On subsequent trips to tropical destinations, I was much better equipped. My success rate improved, but GTs have never stopped being challenging fish to catch. The advent of GSP (superbraid) lines and specialist topwater casting gear has made life a lot easier for anglers, but GTs remain a tough adversary, perhaps the toughest.
My biggest GTs have come from the Cook Islands. I’ve been going to Aitutaki on and off since the late 1980s. I haven’t caught any really big ones there but scored plenty of fish between 15 and 20kg.
But that’s not because there aren’t any big GTs to catch – I was fishing for bonefish with Mark Kitteridge one year when he caught and released an estimated 40kg-plus fish inside the lagoon. I’ve certainly hooked GTs over 30kg, but failed to boat them, and I’ve seen some real monsters inside the lagoons of Aitutaki, Rarotonga and Manuae (an uninhabited island in the Southern Cooks group).
If catching GTs from a boat is challenging, hooking and landing them from a land-based position is tougher again. In the early days of wading reef edges, we certainly hooked fish but landed very few – I only remember a couple of GTs over many years of trying, though we caught some large bluefin trevally.
The problem with standing on the reef is that you are pulling hooked fish towards trouble: the razor-sharp coral of the shelving reef edge. From a boat you can at least attempt to lead hooked fish away from the reef and into deeper water.
However, I have enjoyed a few GT successes fishing from shore, most notably a couple of GTs from a reef gutter at Manuae. Both fish made the mistake of biting my lure in the surf zone and I simply locked the reel and scooted backwards, dragging them onto the reef flat with the help of 37kg braid and the breaking waves. The biggest was around 20kg. Stoked!
Giant trevally always put both angler and gear to the test.
Bonefish was always a bucket list fish. I’d seen a couple taken on cut baits during one of my earliest trips to Aitutaki, years before I caught my first one – a small fish hooked on a fly in Aitutaki’s lagoon.
That bonefish turned out to be the first of many, most of them caught fly-fishing. Some of these were sighted fish I could cast to and others were unsighted fish taken from channel edges and deeper parts of Aitutaki’s lagoon. Some were hooked land-based fishing and some from boats.
I’ve also caught bonefish on spinning tackle, using a variety of lures, including small jigs, metal spoons and soft-plastics.
Bonefish are amazing sportfish no matter how you catch them. On flyfishing gear they are truly awesome, especially Aitutaki bonefish which are among the biggest in the world. A 4.54kg (10-pound) bonefish is not unusually large for Aitutaki and I have caught at least two that were estimated to be considerably bigger. 5-6kg fish are caught and released there every year and 3kg fish are common.
Hooking a bonefish on a flyrod results in one or more blistering runs that take the angler deep in the backing. And I mean deep into the backing, like 100m and more! Bonefish of any size run hard and fast, but big bones can strip reels of all their line.
The bonefish’s power and speed are unbelievable. Add their propensity to frequent easily waded lagoon flats, an extremely wary nature, a highly reflective silver colouration that renders them almost invisible against the bottom and a rather fickle attitude towards artificial flies, and it’s easy to grasp why bonefish are so highly regarded by fly fishers everywhere.
Bonefish are a prized catch for any fly fisher.
I always liked the idea of a medium-sized tuna you can target close to shore. This species is not present in New Zealand, but common in most of the Southwest Pacific, including the east coast of Australia and as far south as Sydney in summer.
I’d encountered long-tail tuna in Moreton Bay and seen them busting bait while fishing for marlin with the skyscrapers of the Gold Coast in the background. But my first long tail tuna was caught in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Far North Queensland.
I was engaged in a week-long mothership fishing adventure and we were chasing schools of long tail and mackerel tuna from one of the mothership’s small skiffs. The tuna moved quickly, busting bait for a few minutes and then moving on. We charged around trying to get close enough to cast into the bust-ups before our boat noise spooked them.
My first couple of fish were taken on spinning gear. The tuna schools were mixed, but you could tell whenever you hooked a long tail tuna by the speed and duration of the first run. Phenomenal – and the drags get hot!
Mackerel tuna is a great sportfish on the right tackle, but long tail tunas are bigger, faster and stronger. They are also better eating if that’s your deal.
With a few long tails under my belt on spin tackle, I then devoted considerable effort to catching one on a fly. It was frustrating fishing in windy conditions, but I managed to hook a few between several mackerel tunas. Sadly, I lost them all to mishaps: a tangled fly line, a bent hook and once by snagging the spinning reel with my sleeve!
So, I can tick long tail tuna off my list, but I still want to catch one on a fly.
Long-tail tuna are common in northern Australia.
Queenfish is another exotic species that really made my Carpentaria trip memorable. I’d caught small specimens fishing on the Gold Coast, in Fiji and the Cook Islands (there are several species), but Far North Queensland is where I made contact with some really big ones.
Queenfish are voracious predators. They like inshore habitats on open coasts, in bays and harbours and also enter estuary systems and rivers.
We caught queenfish pretty much everywhere on that Carpentaria trip: in the open among the tuna bust-ups, off the beach and up the rivers. They’re great fun to catch, pulling hard and darting about erratically. They make spectacular leaps as well, so staying connected isn’t easy – you lose plenty when they jump.
Although they don’t grow especially large – 20kg is a really big one – they look spectacular and are big fish for their weight. A great light tackle target, queenfish love all sorts of lures and can’t resist livebaits. I wish we had them in New Zealand!
Queenfish fight just as hard as our kingfish, and will take a range of topwater lures.
Known as the ‘speedster of the ocean’, wahoo is a pelagic species that feeds around seamounts, islands and reefs swept by warm, blue, oceanic water. While wahoo are only very occasional visitors to New Zealand, they may become more common if our waters continue to warm.
Wahoo are fast-swimming, fast growing fish equipped with impressively sharp teeth. They feed exclusively on fish, including flying fish, saury, scads and a whole range of tropical reef species. Wahoo are generally taken trolling, but they can be caught jigging and topwater casting as well.
My biggest wahoo is from Manuae in the Southern Cooks, caught on a trolled Rapala. It weighed an estimated 40kg and dumped most of the 24kg braid on my Shimano 30 two-speed in its first run.
A wahoo strike always results in a searing run – even small fish manage it – but, depending on their size, one run may be it. Bigger fish sometimes take several runs, especially on lighter tackle, but getting them to the boat is usually a matter of getting line back onto the reel. In some places, sharks quickly attack any hooked wahoo so light tackle is not an option.
The most prolific wahoo fishing I’ve ever experienced was in Gatokae in the Solomon Islands. The fish were not big – 8-12kg – but they roamed the reef points in packs, resulting in multiple hook-ups.
We were able to troll relatively light tackle for these fish and also hook them on jigs. As soon as the trolling gear loaded up, the other angler would either cast and retrieve a lure or drop a jig behind the boat. Multiple hook-ups were almost guaranteed.
Wahoo are hard-fighting predators that will take a range of lures and jigs.
Of course, there are many more exotic fish I love to catch: bluefin trevally, giant barracuda, dogtooth tuna, sailfish, Napoleon wrasse, spangled emperor and coral trout – this list is far from comprehensive.
May 2021 - John Eichelsheim
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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