April 19, 2007 - Port Vila, Vanuatu
“Natural Disasters, fleas and Bonefish.....”
Greetings from Vanuatu! I’ve had a busy and interesting three weeks since departing New Zealand. My first stop was New Caledonia. “New Cal” is developing a reputation for having some of the largest Bonefish in the world. So of course, I decided to investigate these rumors.
Upon arriving in the capitol city, Noumea, I was informed that Cyclone “Becky” was making a bee-line for us (They call hurricanes “cyclones” in this part of the world). There were continual satellite images posted in the hotel lobby showing the anticipated path and the ETA of the storm. Outside the skies were gray and the wind was already picking up to rather worrisome levels. And that was just the beginning of my troubles.....
After finding the hotel, I was graciously shown to my room in the “luxury” tower. It was, to be kind, a complete rat-hole (no offense to rats). It actually looked like one of those crime scenes you see on TV, sans the yellow tape but complete with the stains, dirt, grime and sweaty walls. I don’t know how much money those photographers earn that make each of the hotels in the accommodation booklets at the travel agency look so nice, but it should be millions because they are truly *&@$@# miracle workers! I swear the hotel looked like a solid “3.5 Star” in the photograph. Well, on top of the filth was the fact that the air conditioner didn’t work. After much haggling and the threat to set up my tent in the lobby, they finally moved me to another room. This one was much nicer, with a whirlpool bath and a remote control that worked. The only drawback? The bed was full of fleas.
I spent 7 days on Isle de Pines, located directly South of the main island. I awarded it winner in the “Island Setting” category of all my travels. It is truly extraordinary. I think it is the unique combination of white sandy beaches, brilliant blue water and the namesake groves of pine trees that make it so pleasing to the eye. To add a bit of excitement to the beauty, on the second day I was notified that a tsunami was headed for our area. My island guide Robert promptly drove me to the airport, which was located at the highest point on the island. There I joined 15 or so other visitors to sweat and wait for news, which was being broadcast to the room over a small radio. After about an hour, the warning was over and we were allowed to get back to our tour. Apparently when the tsunami hit New Caledonia, it was a mere 15 inch swell.
Beautiful or not, I was there to catch Bonefish. Unfortunately, the area was still feeling the residual effects from “Becky.” Winds gusting around 25-30 mph and thick cloud cover made the conditions for sight-fishing rather impossible. Never-the-less, my guide Henri and I disembarked from the lodge every morning determined to ignore the weather and fish on. After 6 days, I had cast to three fish. That’s it……THREE fish!!!! I was beginning to think Mother Nature really had it out for me.
My next destination was Poingam, located at the very North tip of New Caledonia. I was warned that it was isolated but “quaint.” Hmmm….. I’ve heard that one before. Sure enough, after 5 harrowing hours in a rickety Land Rover Discovery I arrived at the “lodge.” I was notified that there was a “problem” with the water. “Problem” in this instance was “not having any.” Riiiiiight…… Okay, so my “quaint” room also had the charming feature of an outside toilet. It was basically a bathroom made up of stone walls but no roof. I found out pretty quickly that the local mosquito population uses these bathrooms (each “bungalow” was identically equipped) as war grounds in which to ambush previously unsuspecting users. I’m sure you can imagine the scene: any function that exposed bare skin and took more than 2 minutes would incite an attack of biblical proportions. I got bites on places that I didn’t know I had places!
Fortunately, the weather improved marginally and the fishing improved greatly. In addition to zillions of mosquitoes, the Poingam area is home to hundreds of kilometers of flats. It doesn’t matter if it is low-tide, high-tide or anywhere in between, there are flats to fish. On the first day I visited “The Rock,” a small outcrop just off the shore. I hooked a Queenfish and began to battle it when a 7 foot Lemon Shark violently swooped in and devoured it. Usually this is the end of the battle, but the shark hooked himself and now the REAL fight began. After 30 minutes, I had him along side the boat. He definitely wasn’t happy and neither my guide Herve nor I could take a photograph. Luckily for all parties involved, the hook finally straightened and everyone went back to their previous activities.
After being shut-out on the first day, I finally struck pay-dirt with a nice 5 pound bonefish. Aside from a fluke in St. John a few years ago, this was my first bonefish. These are truly the speed demons of the shallows. This bonefish pulled off 150 meters of line almost immediately and I’ve heard stories of big fish (12-15 pounders) yanking all the backing off reels. One particular story tells of a professional fisherman who lost everything to a large bonefish; floating line and 400 meters of backing. He went back to the lodge with a totally blank expression, like he had just seen a ghost, packed up his bags and left immediately, never to return. Perhaps that is why they are referred to as “Ghosts of the Sands.”
Over the next few days I caught another 9 bonefish. Each one put on a display of power and speed that was awe-inspiring. All the fish were in the 4-7 pound range and while I would have loved to catch a big one, I was completely satisfied with the results. Heck, at that point I was just glad the weather was cooperating. After a couple of days back in Noumea, I jumped on a flight to Port Vila.
I had an enjoyable time in New Caledonia. Despite their best attempts, the beauty of the island is unspoiled by the proliferation of French people (just kidding!). The place is not, however, a good value. I’d normally use the word “expensive” (even the guidebooks deem it as such), but in this case I have to use the words “over-priced.” I mean, the Four Seasons is expensive and a Ferrari Enzo is expensive, but they arguably provide a great deal in return for the money. Unfortunately, New Caledonia doesn’t return much. I look forward to returning someday when they enclose the toilets and serve something other than baguettes with every meal.
I hope that all my friends and family are happy and healthy. Thank you for the continued support! I’ll check back in after a few days of fishing here in Vanuatu.
Dan with the patriarch of an Isle de Pines tribe
A close-up of a bonefish
A Queenfish that managed to elude the sharks
A nice 6 lbs. Bonefish on the Poingam flats
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