New Caledonia Sportfishing – GT Popping Initiation

After a very, laid back and relaxing flight of less than 3 hours, the outer reefs, blue lagoons and white beaches of New Caledonia came into view. We all remarked on the mild 20 degrees temperature and blue skies upon disembarking, little did we know it wasn’t like this all the time.

Etienne was outside the airport to meet us and whisk us away in his ute, this was easy. Our surf camp was about 60kms up the coast, the drive was a little unnerving due to the left hand drive vehicle and rules, but otherwise very pleasant with an insight into another country. The terrain was rolling grassy hills with steeper mountains in the background, covered in bush/scrub. It appeared the main form of agriculture was beef farming.

Our beach front lodge was buzzing with people as it was a long weekend in New Caledonia and the camp was booked out by a large group from Noumea. Etienne helped John and Eddie set up their rods for the next day and the French chef cooked us the first of many great meals.

After raining overnight the first day was a little cloudy and windy, however fishing was on. Guide Etienne took us out the channel some 10kms to the outer reef for our first ‘go’ at the Giant Trevelly’s. A point of interest near the reef was a large shipwreck, the next day we were to see another one further up the coast attributable to the same skipper. The sea was a much darker blue outside the reef and the 3 of us took our positions in line to begin casting our poppers/stickbaits. The rods we were using were heavy duty (20-30kg) with high quality spinning reels (Diawa dogfights and Shimano Stella) spooled with 80lb braid and screwed down drag settings. If you hooked a big G.T., a minimal of line was to be conceded or the fish would gain sanctuary in the reef and bust you off. This makes for an extreme fishing experience.

John hooked the first G.T., which was a mini specimen but still pulled like a maxi. This gave us a taste of what was in store. I hooked the next fish from the raised section at the front of the boat, this was rather disconcerting as the boat was pitching in the swell and with very little gunwale height, I was sure I would be pulled overboard, however strong hands helped me down into the boat and I was literally dragged to the back of the boat by the power of this fish. It was like nothing I have ever experienced. With the drag set so tight and many instructions from guide Etienne I soon wrestled the fish in and we landed a magnificent G.T. of over 20kg. Then it was Eddies turn to nail a nice G.T. which rounded off a great first day. We caught a couple of non target fish such as Coral Trout and Red Bass to provide some variety and John had a huge splashy strike on his popper, only to lose popper and fish.

The next day was rather dismal with drizzly rain, and despite trying our hearts out, only John scored with a Spanish Mackeral, which was kept for the pot.

The next part of our adventure was to be played out at Nekweta surf camp, a further hour’s drive up the coast. The scenery was quite different here, with much more vegetation and sandy beaches. The beach here has quite a surf, due to a break in the reef and this has created a special environment for loggerhead turtles to lay their eggs on the beach. The locals are passionate about conservation and have put tonnes of extra sand on the beach, planted lots of shrubs and trees, and place cages over each nest to protect the eggs from dogs and predators. The surf camp we stayed at was unique, with a thatched roofed bungalow and many native carvings. We were well looked after by Stephanie and Manu, with sumptuous meals of mud crab, and local fish, and even Rusa deer steaks shot by Manu’s father.

The first day out from here was by far the best, weather and fish wise, and Manu took us well up the coast to an idyllic lagoon inside the reef, with beautiful clear blue water and coral bommies. We all caught huge Barracuda up to 20 odd kilos, Coral Trout, Red Bass and Cod. We even managed to get some chances at G.T’s. John landed a superb specimen of over 20kgs and I landed two (the 2nd over 30kg’s) both of which I broke rods on, apparently because I point loaded them when the fish was close to the boat and decided to go right under. My inexperience at playing big fish was showing, but a learning curve was developing with lots of helpful advice after the event. While out fishing many highlights such as sightings of large Green and Loggerhead turtles, Dugongs and leaping fish were constantly occurring.

After fishing we relaxed with a drink or two and relived the days events prior to another top restaurant class dinner (as with every night of our holiday).

On the final days fishing after heavy rain all night, we woke to a strong off shore wind and clearer weather. We boated up the coast to the scene of our previous successful day and had a pleasant mornings fishing until the wind changed after lunch and the clouds moved in again. Eddie had an enormous strike on his popper, which he unfortunately missed and retrieved a very, mangled popper. John had a follow, take and spectacular aerobatic display from a large Barracuda which made his day. My day was made when a large shape appeared, shadowing my stickbait, then suddenly, a larger shape came up at lightning speed under the first and won the race to nail my lure. I was rapt to land a magnificent G.T. which was the icing on the cake for me, especially as I landed it without the rod breaking, maybe I am learning? Sadly the final GT I hooked gained the sanctuary of a bommie and took my favourite stickbait, a green/yellow 140g Orion bigfoot. I had hooked almost all of my fish on this lure so had become quite attached to it.

The exciting part about this type of fishing is the visual nature of skipping your popper or stickbait across the surface making great splashes like bait fish, and suddenly seeing a large shape appear behind it and nail it in a great spray of water. You then have to give the rod a strong sharp jerk to set the hook, not as easy as it sounds, the casting and retrieving are bloody hard work and the hook up quite hard to achieve. We missed quite a few G.T. chances, Roger 11 for 4 landed, John 3 for 2 landed and Eddie 2 for 1 landed.

There is talk of a return visit next year, particularly from Eddie, who declares he has unfinished business!!

By Roger Bowman

I think I can say on everyone’s behalf we had a simply wonderful trip with all of us catching our first GT’s plus Spanish Mackerel, Coral Trout, Red Bass, some huge Barracuda and a few other species.

Without question the service provided by Etienne was simply superb. He went out of his way to make us welcome and show us around the areas we were fishing. We all learnt so much under his expert guidance and that of Manu who was also absolutely excellent. All three of us have had quite a bit of experience with guides and charter operators and both Etienne and Manu would be two of the best we have experienced and they were a pleasure to be with throughout the entire trip.

The weather could have been better as we had rain and some winds that were less than ideal, however that’s fishing and very much out of anybody’s control. We are all very keen to go back and ready for a return New Caledonia trip with Ocean Blue.

John McCarron

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New Caledonia Sportfishing – GT Popping Initiation

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