Where the Wild Things Are - Pop Till You Drop Fishing
‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Brent Delaney
I floated along a board walk that snaked through verdant tropical gardens. Land crabs scuttled into their holes. Fruit bats screeched. Silhouetted Palm trees framed the sky as my bure came into view, awash with the emanations of the near-full moon. I entered the bure, my fishing equipment fell to the floor and I collapsed on the big four-poster bed and exhaled – muscles aching, heart racing, a dream achieved.
A tropical zephyr caressed the mosquito netting around me as the rhythmic sounds of lapping warm water on the beach only metres away slowed my thoughts. As I melted into satisfied yet exhausted sleep, a faint hint of guitar and melodic island voice carried on the breeze across the small island to my ears.
“If it all sounds like heaven, that’s be- cause it is – Oneta is a tropical dream with world-class fishing on its doorstep!”
That day was the apex of an aston- ishing two weeks of piscatorial action based out of the Oneta Resort, located on Fiji’s remote Ono Island. It was my second trip to this tropical paradise for Modern Fishing, and proof some things really do need to be experienced more than once in a lifetime!
Oneta is set among tropical gardens on the small island of Ono in the south of the Fijian archipelago. Ono sits in the lagoon of the Great Astrolabe Reef – one of the longest continuous reef systems in the world. The resort is boutique and only caters for single groups. Guests stay in Fijian bures and are fed amazing food and strong Italian coffee (important to an addict like me!) – all at a reasonable price.
The fishing stirs…
The main game here is throwing surface lures for GTs (and sometimes big yellowfin tuna) and jigging for dogtooth tuna and reef species.
For those looking for a lower energy alternative there is some premium bluewater trolling for wahoo and Spanish mackerel and the lagoon and reef flats are great places to flick small soft plastics and metals for coral trout, red bass and bluefin trevally – a stack of fun on light tackle! For those not in the know, bluefin trevally provide some of the finest sashimi tropical waters can produce. Chef Kara will prepare any you catch to perfection.
Blowing in the wind
Our early efforts were focused on the northern lee side of the Astrolabe Reef as the exposed side of the reef was inac- cessible due to strong winds. That’s the beauty of being based at Ono – there’s always a place tucked out of the wind.
The lee side of the reef is comprised of clustered bomboras and reef passages and provided plenty of red bass on poppers but no GTs. We switched our focus to jigging over the next few days and caught dogtooth tuna, amberjack, mangrove jack, some massive coral trout, puka puka and the usual reefies.
The wind finally abated later in the first week and we launched our attack on the outside reef edge. We started the day by jigging up some reel-scream- ing doggies and big coral trout off the top corner of the reef. We then moved in and launched poppers and sinking stickbaits at the reef edge. Instantly we were knee-deep in GT chaos!
Pop ’til you drop
Over the next week we worked differ- ent sections of the reef and found large GTs to well over 45kg in residence, gorging on fusiliers. We were soon shaking off 25kg ‘tiddler’ GTs at the side of the boat – in between losing popper after popper to GT’s that were just unstoppable. We landed fish to 38kg and had near-captures of larger fish that always managed to escape!
During the trip, patterns started to emerge. I began by using predomi- nately sinking stickbaits. When it was windy, these lures seemed to out-fish poppers by a wide margin. When the wind calmed slightly, poppers emerged supreme. When it went dead calm, sinking stickbaits again rose to the fore.
We also found ourselves hoping for hook-ups right on top of the reef in the impact zone – contrary to instinct! If a large GT took the lure more than half- way back to the boat, it would associate the boat with danger and would make a high-speed run back to the hard- line, through the breakers and into the sunset, never to be seen! If a large fish took the lure on top of the reef, that would be its ‘danger zone’ and it would usually arc out to deep water, with the boat arcing out after it.
During this arc to deep water, big fish were often rubbing their faces on the coral and busting off our heavy mono leaders. This forced our hand and we added a short section of heavy wire above our poppers and the number of big fish we landed increased. As we got closer to the full moon, the fishing got hotter. On one afternoon Piero was blown away by eight GTs in succession – each powered straight back through the pounding surf and into the lagoon – brutal fishing!
Finally all of the pieces of the puzzle linked together and I dragged one of the big fish into the boat. Read my Classic Catches column on page 122 for the full details of the capture of a GT of more than 100lb that saw me finally break a personal hoodoo.
The reef was clearly fishing well due to the presence of the fusiliers. How- ever, Piero had an extra two years’ ex- perience on the reef since my last visit and knew where the huge fish resided. In another improvement, he and head- deckie Simeli have mastered position- ing anglers close to the impact zone and using the boat to drag fish off the reef as they arc to deeper water. In big-GT fishing, the captain plays a huge role in any capture – positioning is crucial!
Farewell to heaven
Of course, my idyllic island lifestyle had to end. Kara and the locals marked the occasion by preparing a traditional ‘lovo’, where pork, fish, taro and other local produce are wrapped in palm leaves and buried in hot coals. Simeli and co pulled out the guitars and sung village songs into the night as we gorged on the lovo meal. Swinging in a hammock; listening to island music; muscles sore from huge fish…Heaven.