IFD: Former top UK skipper Roger Bayzand accompanies Russ Housby on an epic trip from Australia to Vanuatu to see how the fishing has recovered since cyclone Pam. Vanuatu is one of the top fishing destinations in the world with giant trevally and dogtooth tuna specialities of the region.
Vanuatu by Roger Bayzand
“ Would you like to give me a hand to deliver a 40 foot Blackwatch from the Gold coast to Vanuatu?” That was the message I received from Russ Housby earlier this year.
I have known Russ since he was a young boy; his father Trevor was a great friend and mentor of mine. Trevor was a well known angling author and photographer who wrote many books on the subject and is noted for inventing the “Dog Nobler” trout fly and putting the Azores on the map as a big game destination.
Russ has gone on to become a great game fishing captain and has been involved in the capture of 6 world records, over the past 10 years he has been based in the Pacific Islands of Vanuatu which lay about 3 hours flying time East of Queensland Australia.
It did not take much thinking on my part to take up the offer, our first planned departure was deferred which was fortuitous as soon after category 5 cyclone “Pam” trashed the islands.
In mid April I joined Russ on Queensland’s Gold Coast to start preparations for the voyage. Luckily this is a major center for boatbuilding and equipment and expert technicians are easy to find. The 40-foot Blackwatch is a big complex piece of machinery; powered by Caterpillar C9 500 hp diesels, which give it a top, speed around 30 knots! There is a host of ancillary equipment that also need attention such as a generator, fresh water maker, 2 deep freezers, 2 refrigerators, air conditioning, live bait well, plus 2 complete Fururno Navnet Plotter/Sounder/Radar units. It took over a week to get everything up and running and the boat equipped with all the household goods such as linen, crockery, cooking utensils and supplies for a week at sea. Just before departure we were joined by Steve and after filling the 2000 liter fuel tank plus another 1000 on deck in flexible bladders we set off for our first stop at Koumac New Caledonia.
It’s 750 miles from port to port and we chugged along with the engines just in gear making around 8 knots and burning 15 ltrs per hour. Fishing was not really an option with all that fuel in flexible tanks on deck, the idea of hooks or sharp teeth puncturing them was too likely, so we towed 2 lures without hooks just for something to pass the time, about day 2 near the middle of the Coral Sea Russ spotted a stripped marlin come up on the teaser then crossing near a reef we had what we thought was a barracuda bite which shredded the skirt of the lure, then a spearfish made an appearance. It is often the case that the open ocean where there is no structure is sparse on fish. After 4 days we were glad to arrive at New Caledonia and the very sheltered marina at Koumac.
We soon found it was time to break out the schoolboy French as the harbour master had little English. Eventually we managed to get the clearance paperwork sorted and arranged for 1400 ltrs of fuel to be delivered. That was quite amusing as the guys turned up with 1000 ltrs in a big plastic tank on the back of a truck plus two 45 gallon drums. The hose they brought was only 4 feet long so there was no way we were going to fill the bladders and the tank. Then we thought of our electric transfer pump that we used to transfer the fuel from the bladders to the tank at sea. Job sorted! They we so impressed they wanted to buy our pump. Later Troy and Mick from Vanuatu joined us ready to start the final leg. As it was late in the day it was decided to leave at first light the morning.
Dawn broke to the sound of howling wind and glum faces; no way we were going anywhere soon. In fact we were stuck in Koumac until we got a gap in the weather 12 days later. Whilst we were there we made some good friends, including Serge who had Le Skipper restaurant, which became our land base, great food and Wi-Fi. It was there we met Oliver the owner of a 42 foot Catamaran moored astern of us, he was really helpful running us around town to do shopping even giving us a freshwater pump when ours broke down on the day of our departure. The lads also found he had a wicked taste in rum as could be seen by the hangovers after one of his visits. We passed the time by fishing in the harbour, catching some nice mangrove jacks then wolf herring and hairtails.
Finally the weather cleared and we were on our way again. New Cal is surrounded by reefs second only to the Great Barrier Reef, after 6 hours running at 25 knots we found ourselves at the remote Surprise lagoon at the very northernmost part of the island. The fuel on deck was transferred into the tank and finally the deck was clear for some fishing, Russ set out a teaser chain of rubber squid and we towed 2 bibless minnows towards the surf breaking on the reef’s edge. We had not gone far when the teaser was attacked by a pack of dogtooth tuna then one of the lure rods went off. Troy grabbed it out of the holder and hooked it onto his standup harness, by maneuvering the boat Russ kept us over the fish which was now in only 11 meters of water, Troy piled on the pressure to stop the tuna heading into the coral which they are notorious for and with the combined efforts of skipper and angler we were able to land a magnificent 35 kg fish. As there was so much activity we only put one line in next time and the next hookup brought the sharks! I have never seen such surface mayhem as the ravenous hoard quick mauled any fish we hooked. It was starting to get dark by then so we decided to slowly steam through the night to our next fishing destination of Petrie Reef 60 miles to the East, towards Vanuatu.
We arrived there before dawn just as the first hint of light was beginning in the eastern sky, we could pick out the breakers hitting the reef on radar and set out two Yozuri Bonita lures as we headed towards the shallow water. As the sounder showed bottom starting to climb quickly a ratchet started screaming, with some quick maneuvering and good angling a plump yellow fin tuna hit the deck. We repeated this several times and soon had some fine fish on board, which needed to be filleted and packed into the freezer.
By that time the sun had risen high enough that we could see the “bommies” (shallow coral outcrops) that need to be avoided when we started fishing for the dogtooth tuna that live close to the reef edge. Unfortunately the sharks were here too, I got mugged several times and only managed to get the heads back and on occasion had to unhook lively sharks at the side of the boat. We then found a corner of the reef that was loaded with rainbow runners and scad which I had a great time catching these speedy 3 to 5 kg fish on a light jig rod. Russ rigged them up as skip baits and Troy managed to land the best dogtooth on a bait that weight over 10 lb!
All to soon it was time to get on our way and leave this remote fishy paradise. We trolled some marlin lures when we were well clear of the reef and during the afternoon ran into some big shoals of skipjack tuna, they may not be huge (around 10 kg) but boy do they pull. As night wore on we were back into the stronger easterly winds that had been holding us back for nearly 2 weeks and it was a sloppy end to the trip making us very grateful to see the calm of Port Villa harbour as dusk approached. Total distance steamed 1260 nautical miles in just under 1 week at sea, total time taken for the voyage just short of a month.
The boat is now based in Port Villa Vanuatu and is going to be used for live aboard charters to the distant reefs and atolls. Vanuatu is well known for it’s blue marlin and yellowfin tuna fishing but it is also a spot where you can find some superb GT and dogtooth action. The boat is equipped with first class Shimano tackle to cater for any of your trolling, jigging or popping needs and the bait and lure rigging is done by one of the worlds best, so if you are interested in a first class fishing trip to areas that seldom see another boat contact. Russ Housby (Sportfish Vanuatu on Facebook) or email Troy Neel