Everyone knows him simply as ‘BJ’, so that’s what I called him, too. I’m picking it’s the initials of his first names, but who knows? What isn’t up for interpretation, though, is the wonderful time he provided over two action-packed sessions...
I was getting used to the scenario: get up before dawn and drive the rental car down to the wharf where I’d find the charter boat waiting, still on the trailer, in complete darkness. This time it was ‘BJ’ and his 6.3m Stabicraft 2050 Fisher Manutahi (Seabird).
After quick introductions, BJ and his fishing friend Geoff (a regular visitor from Waiheke Island) loaded my bags, fishing gear and our bodies on board. Next, the boat’s straps were hooked up to the gleaming yellow beast that is the island’s mobile crane (the regular wharf crane was temporarily out of action), enabling Manutahi to be lifted off the trailer, swung out over the illuminated puddle of sea below, and lowered.
Once in the water, BJ wasted little time getting the lifting straps unhooked and stowed, before placing four 37kg Shimano Tiagra outfits in their allotted rod holders. A couple more minutes were spent providing a safety briefing, then apologetically adding it would be a bit lumpy – but at least we would benefit somewhat from the shelter provided by the island’s high cliffs on the lee side.
Earlier trips with other charter operators had indicated the northern FAD was a good place to be, so I wasn’t surprised when we headed that way, punching into a steadily worsening chop. On the plus side, with 15–18 knots of wind, it was only about half as bad as it would have been on the exposed side – and at least the wind and water were warm.
As with my earlier trip to the FAD, when we arrived we could vaguely see another boat landing a tuna in the slowly lightening gloom. Then, as we got closer, off went one of the outfits, immediately followed by another – and another! What a way to start – a triple hook-up – all the lures BJ’s had out at the time!
Our discussions about who would take the strikes and who would take photos went out the window: it was every man for himself, especially as action like this can attract unwelcome attention from sharks. We needed to get these fish in smartly.
BJ stayed at the controls to help Geoff and me when possible, with the third outfit left to look after itself. Weighing around 7 or 8kg, our yellowfin weren’t very big, but with the lures – a mix of proven skirted lures and Halco minnows – set well back, the tuna still took a few minutes to land.
This proved a bit too long. We boated the first two tuna, but upon switching our focus to the remaining unattended outfit, a heavy thump registered at the rod, followed by slack line blowing in the breeze. Damn! Sharked!
BJ soon replaced the missing Halco minnow and back into the fray it went. What followed was a repeat of the previous scenario, with all three reels howling in unison as tuna raced away!
And, in another a repeat, by the time we got to the third rod it had been sharked, too. But this time the shark hadn’t got away scot-free, the treble hooks holding it firmly. Yay. Guess who was on the outfit? Yep, me…
Ten hard minutes of pumping and winding got the chunky shark boat-side, and just as things started to look tricky for a lure rescue, the treble hook straightened to provide a satisfactory resolution for all concerned.
When further trolling resulted in two more plump tuna, along with one ‘shortened’ one, BJ suggested that dropping jigs might result in bigger specimens from deeper down. Great idea!
BJ is no slouch when it comes to jigging, and he led by example using a large, silvery Zest jig, the rod loading up and his reel releasing line after just a couple minutes. I was happy to follow his lead, also hooking up soon after.
While BJ’s fish turned out to be another tuna of modest size, mine proved to be a beautifully coloured rainbow runner – I love how tropical waters continually throw up interesting surprises. However, when Geoff landed another small yellowfin soon after, BJ decided to try targeting wahoo instead. It wasn’t yet 8am!
Unfortunately, our fairytale first spell wobbled into an unproductive second half, with three hours of reef-edge trolling going unrewarded.
To break up the monotony, BJ made a brief visit to a nearby FAD, which had mahimahi jumping all around it, but they were not hungry. One solid specimen did visit our stationary boat’s berley trail, but left before a stray-lined bait could be presented.
We were back onshore by midday and it was great to see the official wharf crane back in operation. Less welcome though, was the abrupt realisation I’d parked in the wharf’s turning bay up at the main road turn-off. Apparently I’d created a logistical nightmare for the heavy machinery and trucks unloading the container ship in port at the time, so was not a popular man with some of the locals that day!
My last morning's fishing in Niue was with BJ, too, this time accompanied by his buddy Guy and sister-in-law Michelle Marsh. First up, we again targeted tuna at the northern FAD. However, after catching three small yellowfin in the early morning gloom, BJ suggested trying for wahoo again.
Mindful of the very limited success other charter boats had enjoyed in recent times, he wanted us to fish the island’s rougher, more exposed coastline, explaining very few boats had fished the area recently and that the turbulent conditions could be good for wahoo action. Time to bite the bullet.
It turned out to be pretty gnarly alright, with a combination of 1.5- to two-metre swells and a strong current kicking up the waves into steep, foaming peaks. Michelle soon fell victim to seasickness, but to her credit, she remained surprisingly upbeat, for quite a while, in the face of her affliction.
On the plus side, the wahoo were present: just 10 minutes passed before one of the rods jolted forward, accompanied by the shrill sound of line unloading at speed – phenomenal speed, in fact. This is what we’d come here for!
With Michelle reluctant to take the rod, it was my turn, and after a surprisingly tough fight, up came the biggest wahoo of the trip so far. Stoked!
Then, just 15 minutes later, down the rod went again, with the other three outfits following suit seconds later. Quadruple hook-up!
Talk about pandemonium! We each held on to a wildly bucking rod unloading line at speed – but one fish quickly fell off, allowing BJ to again take the helm. The next few minutes were filled with ducking and diving anglers threading outfits in and out and under and over as the attached speedsters charged around. It was awesome! I couldn’t believe how fast they made the reel’s spool rotate at times. (It reminded me of my first wahoo: the spool was rotating so fast I thought the reel had been knocked into free-spool, so jammed my thumb down – and lost its print for months in a puff of smoke!)
Eventually the three of us prevailed, with BJ expertly wielding the gaff each time to bring the fish on board.
Then, to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he went back to the same area and hooked us up again – just a treble of wahoo this time, but all were again duly landed. It wasn’t even 8.30am yet!
However, despite the wahoo obviously being on the chew, we could see Michelle was looking increasingly wretched. So, with plenty of good fish on board, we headed back to calmer waters.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the worst thing we could have done, with a blind strike on the calm side demonstrating that the fish were all around the island. Although Michelle had been retching just minutes before, she was quick to accept the bent rod and did a great job handling the big bent-butt outfit to bring a modest yellowfin to the boat. She’d really toughed the day out and earned that 10kg fish.
With one obvious exception, we all enjoyed a fantastic morning of fishing. To BJ’s credit, he’d given us the option of fishing in much less pleasant conditions for a potentially bigger reward, and it really paid off.
To put the icing on the cake, BJ’s an AUT-qualified chef who owns a café called Falala Fa, and he has personally trained his chefs to a high standard. I went there for lunch and enjoyed the freshest wahoo possible – my own, caught just hours ago – cooked to perfection, being flaky, moist and utterly delicious. It’s an opportunity BJ offers to everyone who fishes with him. (N.B. As is common in many parts of the Pacific islands, all fish caught belong to the boat, but in this case a section can be to taken home for a meal.)
I love my time with BJ. This is a man whose face lights up when he starts talking about fishing – the obvious passion is there for all to see. He especially enjoys showing visitors what Niuean waters can offer, getting a massive buzz from their reactions to a reel screaming, the battle that follows, and seeing their faces as they excitedly hold up something, big, shiny and often new for the camera.
BJ’s charters mostly entail trolling lures, as this technique is very effective for Nuie’s most common sportfish – wahoo, yellowfin and mahimahi – and allows anglers of all skill levels to enjoy what’s on offer. I noted BJ’s gear is high quality and well maintained.
However, BJ’s also an accomplished jigger and surface-lure caster (although there’s only limited space for lure casting on board) and is more than happy to accommodate anyone wanting to do something different.
If you like a chatterbox skipper, BJ is not the man for you. Instead, he’ll be focussed on providing the best possible experience for those on board. So when he’s not intently scanning sea and sky for signs of fishing action, he’ll likely be watching the gear or organising new rigs.
Then, when a fish is on, he’ll be quietly but effectively making sure the harnesses are correctly adjusted, that the fish-fighting techniques are as good as they can be, and the deck is clear – before expertly leadering and gaffing the fish on board.
Which is not to say BJ’s the silent type, either. When BJ says something, he’s worth listening to – this is a guy who lives and breathes fishing, loves Niue, and wants you to do well. I really enjoyed his company.
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