May 14, 2007 -- Vladivostok, Russian Far East (still.....)
I was in Vanuatu primarily for one reason; to catch Blue Marlin on the fly. Fortunately, Vanuatu turns out to have wonderful people (natives and Aussies), incredible food and splendid scenery. It is worth a visit for those attributes alone.
Our crew was made up of Dean Butler, Russ Housby, Pete Phillipps at the wheel, and the amiable Mr. Tom, who did a bit of everything. Dean is recognized as THE authority on catching marlin on the fly. Back in early April, we exchanged a few e-mails and put this plan together. Our goal was simple: catch the largest blue marlin EVER on the fly. I was hoping for something about 500-600 pounds. Since I have no intention of killing a marlin, we decided to beef up the tippet to 30 lbs. Dean felt this would give us just enough strength to “give it a good pull” while still allowing us an “escape clause.” Made sense to me.
We figured 7 days was enough time to hook one up. It also turned out to be enough time to put on a few pounds of our own. Everyday, Pete’s fiancée LeAnn put together feasts fit for a king. Homemade everything: cookies, cake, pastries, fresh salads, local meats, chicken. This, of course, was a wonderful and welcome surprise. On our last marlin trip, we were fed microwave pizza for lunch.
After a couple of cool, damp days with little action, we caught a couple yellowfin tuna and a nice-sized wahoo. Then, around 2pm on day 3, we had our first encounter with a Blue Marlin. Basically, bluewater fly fishing is lengthly boredom interrupted by intense excitement and then an ensuing chaos. Russ spotted the fish on the near teaser and grabbed the rod as the fish gave it a good chewin’; Dean grabbed the far teaser and rapidly began to reel it in; I bounded up, clutched the fly rod, fed out 25 feet of line and prepared for Dean to bark the all-important orders: “NEUTRAL! CAST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Those orders never came. This fish, as described later, was a “pissed-off killing machine.” In an instant it had disappeared about 50 feet off the back of the boat and reappeared as it was taking the drifting fly. It was so intent on eating everything in sight that I didn’t even have time to cast the fly to the last place it was seen. These things are fast! Well, for a fraction of a second I thought “he’s on!” and about time I finished that thought I felt a tug and a loud SNAP. I looked down and simultaneously yelled “LUCK!!!!!” or something that rhymed. The line had a wrap about the butt of the rod. Dean had attempted to drill into my head that my SOLE responsibility was to be ready to cast the rod. This meant, simply, have the line clear of the rod and reel and NOT be stepping on the line. Even though the fish didn’t play by the rules, I was furious with myself. “How could I have NOT noticed THAT????” I kept asking myself quietly.
Dean and Russ busily began re-rigging the primary rod as I slumped back into my corner and alternated between trying to stop shaking with excitement and trying to stop beating myself up. Dean stopped by later to offer some encouragement, saying that that fish was going to get us anyway, even if everything had gone according to plan. The fact that the fish came back for more, even with a big hook in its mouth, was evidence this fish was not to be messed with. I looked at the bright side; we have 4 more days to get our fish.
We did have more opportunities...... 4 of them to be exact. Unfortunately, for various uncontrollable reasons, the fish we teased up never made the switch to the fly. We did, however, catch a few more yellowfin, wahoo and even reeled in a big Skipjack tuna. In addition, over the 7 days we saw 5-6 sperm whales, numerous pods of dolphins and a group of sharks viciously feeding on the surface. Even though we didn’t accomplish the goal of tagging and releasing a huge marlin, it was more than compensated for by the people, the food, the excitement and the camaraderie.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Pete Phillipps and his company Nautilus Watersports. Nautilus offers a range of activities besides big game fishing, like scuba diving, parasailing and scenic boat tours. And like I said...... the food is awesome. He can be reached at www.nautilus.com.vu.
The same can be said for Dean Butler. Dean proved to be a vault of fishing knowledge and I am extremely grateful to him for sharing some with me. Even after a “few” trips chasing these sea monsters, his enthusiasm and energy is inspiring. He certainly does love his “job.” Anyone looking to catch a marlin on conventional or fly tackle, I’d recommend going straight to Dean. He can be reached through his website, www.deanbutler.com.au.
Thanks to Dean and everyone who contributed to my incredible Vanuatu experience!
Russian Far East:
I left Vanuatu behind and flew to Vladivostok, arriving on May 2nd. Due to flight schedules, my travels took me to Osaka, Japan for 5 hours and Seoul, Korea for 2 days before arriving here. Although it was a brief stay at the airport in Osaka, I can tell you that the Japanese are some of the friendliest and most polite people I’ve ever met. At least, that’s the impression I got from the employees at the Starbucks. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to see me, which was refreshing!
After my experience exiting the Seoul airport, I have a new rule: “cab drivers that aggressively solicit customers inside the terminal are exponentially more aggressive when driving.” The ride was so disturbing I could only laugh at each near collision. It never occurred to me exactly what the terminal velocity of a minivan is, but I must have been just a hair under it. It reminded me of the intro into the “Six Million Dollar Man” TV show starring Lee Majors. I bet Steve Austin experienced something similar before he uttered the memorable words......”I can’t hold it...... it’s breaking up!!!!” Then comes the huge, fiery crash...... and then the huge (at THAT time) investment by the U.S. government. Anyway, about 90 minutes into my 1 hour taxi ride, the inevitable happened; at an intersection...... confusion who has the right-of-way...... screeching brakes..... CRASH!!!! Okay, it was more like a fender bender. That hardly mattered as my driver and the other interested party stepped out, looked at the bumpers and began yelling and pointing. They seemed oblivious to the mile or so of traffic that was backed up. After 10 minutes they agree to move the cars down the street and commence another 10 minutes of yelling and pointing. My driver was thoroughly disgusted when he got back into the car. The next 30 minutes was comparatively uneventful, save for the fact he couldn’t find my hotel.
After that introduction to Seoul, I was prepared for an interesting visit. Fortunately, things went smoothly. I ate authentic Korean food (nice and spicy!), toured the city and did a bit of shopping. On my visit to Deoksugung Palace I was immediately surrounded by hundreds of children who wanted to look at me and practice their English. It offered a brief glimpse into what the lives of celebrities must be like. I was waiting for them to call me "Brad Pitt" but instead the throng of 10 and 11 year olds shouted "Harry Potter!" Hmmm......
I've been here for almost 2 weeks now, awaiting for the rig to clear customs. I've met fabulous people and have had a great time. However, for the sake of everyone reading this already long update, I'll save the stories for the next one.
Thanks for all your support. A special "howdy" goes out to all the guys at Man Financial. Get out from behind those desks! Cheers!
Dan with the first fish of the trip
Catching yellowfin never gets old
A nice wahoo
A beautiful end to a great day
A nice example of a wahoo
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