Fishing in tropical destinations

  • Destinations, International

I have just spent an hour looking through my passports and reliving some of the trips that I have taken fishing around the world over the last 20 years.

Giant Trevally

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A thought came to my mind; what if I won Lotto, where would I like to go? Sounds simple enough, but the more I thought about it the harder it became to formulate a plan.

While I still had a mental image of a 10kg steelhead I hooked in the Atnarco River in British Columbia, cartwheeling down the rapids on a frosty B.C. morning, I knew that it would be the tropics that lured me on my trip of a lifetime. But where?

Hawaii is a great destination, particularly for those who haven't experienced the tropics. The infrastructure is there to make your stay memorable and enjoyable. I am not referring to Honolulu as such, although it has its charm too, but rather the outer islands away from the rat race and high population centres.


Kona, on the big island of Hawaii, is a place where I have spent time during a couple of trips. Kona is great. It has the facilities of a city so that you can keep cool and comfortable and it has world-class marlin fishing five minutes offshore right in front of town. The town has a village atmosphere and has a very user-friendly feel about it. The weather there is great in August and September when the blue marlin are running.

One of the greatest drawcards for Kona fishing for me, though, is a quirk of nature. In that part of the world, trade winds are a fact of life and they blow every day. This can lead to some wild waters when the trades blow against natural currents. In the case of Kona, the island formed from a huge volcano creates a barrier to the trade winds. The result is an area up to 20 miles offshore and all down the southern coast of the island that remains flat-calm at all times, except of course when there is a violent localised storm. I have fished there when the only ripples on the ocean were the wakes from other boats. The fishing is best in this sheltered area, so it really adds up to the perfect place to go marlin fishing.

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tropical fishing

It is not uncommon to catch marlin very close to shore on this coast. Sam Mossman and I fished south of Kona at a place called Captain Cook one August morning and 30 minutes after putting the lines out I was hooked into a small blue marlin. Well, small by Kona standards anyway – it was a lot bigger than I was! It can be that easy.

I don't think that I would pick Kona on this trip though, although it could be a great place to go and plan something a bit more adventurous. Something like landbased gamefishing from an island that is perched in the tidal stream of the Pacific Ocean like a rock in a river. Niue is such a place. The ocean currents push against the shoreline, upwelling and swirling food to the surface where baitfish and gamefish gather to feed. The shoreline is sheer, dropping off to over 2000 feet within 100 metres of shore in places. Gamefish are well represented in the waters near the island and include species such as sailfish, wahoo, yellowfin and skipjack tuna, marlin and dolphin fish.

Around the shoreline, and of great interest to the landbased gamefisher, is the mighty giant trevally. These fish grow as big as Volkswagens and have the low gear power of a Mack truck. They are one of the ultimate challenges for the landbased angler. Catching one is not impossible, but you will need dedication, tenacity and more than a little luck to be successful.

I have been to Niue several times and have caught giant trevally over 20kg from the shore. I have seen and hooked bigger ones only to lose them in the coral. They demand quality gear, fresh baits and aggressive fishing styles. Any trevally over 10kg is a worthy trophy from shore.

Niue is very user-friendly: the local currency is the New Zealand dollar; the locals speak English; goods in the shops are from New Zealand and Australia and they drive on the left-hand side of the road. You will love the place – it makes a perfect tropical holiday destination – but I am afraid that I wouldn't pick it for my trip of a lifetime.

Tonga is another nearby destination with promise. There the tropical breezes blow, a little hard at times, but pleasant, and the fishing is varied enough to suit almost any angler with a hankering for tropical waters. In the northern areas the marlin can offer some exciting fishing for those who put the time in. Sailfish and tuna are bonuses. Through the central area – the Haapai group, where I have spent a lot of time fishing – the dogtooth tuna is king and wahoo, giant and bluefin trevally, mahimahi, yellowfin and skipjack tuna, and big coral trout abound. I loved wading the lagoons with a fly rod or light spinning outfit. There were plenty of species to catch and usually plenty of action. Landbased facilities are good for visiting fishermen. Many resorts and hotel accommodation are available and food is generally good. Don't drink the water! There are exceptions, but it is a good rule to go by. Royal Beer, the local brew, is great as a substitute.

I am afraid that I wouldn't pick Tonga for my trip of a lifetime either, although it certainly requires another visit sometime.

Australia has enough different types of fishing available to make it an attractive destination for the hardcore fisherman. I have been lucky enough to have experienced the landbased gamefishing on the south coast at Beecroft and Jervis Bay at the ‘Tubes’ and Tathra and have fished Bega and Wonboyne Lakes. Now I am thinking about it, I will have to get back there – it is a great part of the fishing world.

Places like Merimbula and Pambula are beautiful seaside settlements a lot like New Zealand. The fishing can be great down this part of the coast. Green Cape further south on the New South Wales-Victorian border is another place I need to return to. There I saw one of the most dramatic sights of my fishing career.

The East Australian Current rages down the coast like a river in flood, sweeping trees, containers and anything else before it. Seals wrapped in seaweed and fast asleep swept past us while we fished, as though they were in the Tongariro. It was no place to fall in the water that is for sure.

Near Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay was host to big snapper and kingfish were possible near the entrance. Interesting fishing, but not any better than we have here.

At Brisbane we fished Moreton Bay. Longtail tuna were the target but we only caught one. We had our fun with smaller species and big sharks – interesting, fun and worth repeating, but nothing special.

There is a lot more to Australia than these areas, though, and a lifetime would be required to do it justice. Steep Point on the west coast sounds like my kind of place – big fish from the shore, remote and wild. Reality is not always the same as you read in the glossy magazines, though, and I wouldn't risk my big trip to go there.
No, Australia misses out and probably only because it is so vast.

Over the last few years I have made several trips to the Solomon Islands north of Australia. The fishing in the Solomon Islands comes close to offering the perfect mix for the type of angler who wants to experience all that the tropics can offer. During the past few years I have been able to identify what I consider ‘The Place’ to enjoy all that the tropics mean to a fisherman.

The location is idyllic: crystal clear waters, friendly natives, swaying palms, basic but comfortable accommodation, good food, and most of all a good variety of fishing. The fishing possibilities include wading white sand flats for a variety of species that will take flies; spin fishing and popper fishing reefs for giant and bluefin trevally, red bass and coral trout; trolling the lagoon in sheltered waters for spanish mackerel, trevally and barracuda; night fishing for sharks from the front steps of the restaurant and big game fishing for tuna, marlin and sailfish. How's that for a grab-bag full of goodies for the visitor to this beautiful tropical paradise?

There is a lot of fishing still to be pioneered there too. Landbased sailfish and marlin, wahoo and spanish mackerel are definite possibilities – we just need to put in the time. Offshore there are FADs (fish attraction devices) which attract schools of tuna, mahimahi and other smaller predatory species, as well as the marlin and sailfish. There are great opportunities there for saltwater fly-fishers.
All this is within half an hour of the resort we call home.

But I wouldn't pick the Solomon Islands for my trip of a lifetime either, because I am already planning to return there in May and August this year and know that I will visit there many more times yet.

Fiji is another destination that I have visited a couple of times and really enjoyed. Again, quite a variety of fishing is available. On one trip we did for a week to the Nadi area, we fished from small runabouts and landed a variety of fish, including sailfish, yellowfin tuna, queenfish, mackerel and sharks. Good (if expensive) onshore facilities made the trip enjoyable and the friendliness of the locals really sticks in my mind. But being a close destination accessible for New Zealand anglers even for a long weekend makes this less desirable as a trip of a lifetime location, though, and I am afraid that I would give it a miss. My Lotto winnings could be spent in a better manner for the ‘Big Trip’.

There are other places worldwide that I would like to visit. Places where 100kg tarpon are common and where sailfish queue up behind the boat to have flies cast to them. Places where roosterfish cruise in behind the breakers looking for baitfish and others where salmon, in preparation of their spawning run, stack up in big numbers just outside river mouths.

I would really like to stalk a permit in Florida and cast a fly to it or wade out at a Costa Rican river mouth to cast to cruising snook. I could spend a week in the Everglades casting flies under the mangroves for a variety of species and I would really like to send out a live tuna under a balloon at South Point in Hawaii.
New Zealand offers world-class fishing too and a couple of weeks at 90 Mile Beach chasing the snapper and big trevally in the surf could easily be the trip of a lifetime.
There are other places in the Pacific where few if any anglers have been and plenty where fly-fishers have never cast a line, and that is a really attractive thought too. Imagine: your own island, friendly natives, warm waters and fish in the lagoon that have never seen a fly before.

But if I have to decide then I would have to book a two-week visit to Christmas Island. This is a remote spot 1000 miles south of Hawaii. It forms part of Kiribati. It is far from undiscovered, though, and many anglers, New Zealanders amongst them, visit this island every year. The attraction at Christmas Island are the schools of bonefish that feed daily over the sand-flats, offering one of the worlds best opportunities to wade, fish and fly-cast to these esteemed fish.

The bonefish is a speedy, strong and tenacious fish that looks similar to our grey mullet. They feed on crabs, shrimps and other shallow water fare that they dig from the sand in the shallows. This makes them visible to the wading angler who must stalk them and then present a fly that imitates their food in a lifelike manner. They spook easily and are constantly aware of any changes to their environment, such as the presence of an angler. They are a great fly rod challenge.

I have cast to a few in Tonga and the Solomons but I am yet to hook one. Christmas Island will give me the chance to cast to many and achieve a life-long goal. I tied my flies for Christmas Island many years ago and one day will get to cast them over the brilliant white sands of the Christmas Island lagoon.

There is more to Christmas Island than just the bonefish. Trevallies are present, two species in particular – the giant and the bluefin. These grow to world record size and can be caught in the lagoon and in the ocean around the island. I have some poppers and big streamers ready for them. I can just imagine holding on as a 30kg trevally engulfs my fly in knee-deep water and decides to vacate the flat in a hurry. It is going to be an expensive trip, but then the trip of a lifetime could be costly if one is to achieve the peak of a fishing career.

It won't mean that I have done all that I want to do, just that another goal has been reached and another dream fulfilled.

A Blast From The Past!

 February 1998 - by Gary Kemsley
This article was originally suppled by
NZ Fisherman Magazine

and reviewed for
2013 by John Eichelsheim
      Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited          



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