Head: In the DOGHOUSE
If you are looking to make a start on your bucket list, then the Trees and Fishes resort is the perfect destination to experience the highs and lows of fishing for the mighty dogtooth tuna.
The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is one of the most accessible international fishing destinations for Australian and New Zealand anglers and if you’ve got a passport and a pulse then I hope you adding this fishing trip to your bucket list by the time you get to the end of this story.
The nation’s capital of Port Vila is just over three hours flying time from Auckland. With three flights a week from Air Vanuatu you can depart Auckland in the morning and be fishing a spectacular reef edge the same afternoon.
Staying at the magnificent Trees and Fishes resort which is run by Ocean Blue Fishing Adventures and located at Havannah Harbour around 30 minutes drive north from Port Vila.
Havannah Harbour is a natural harbour that is protected from the prevailing easterly winds which makes it a perfect location for a fishing resort. Trees and Fishes waterfront location means you step straight from your bungalow and onto the waiting sportfishing boats. It also provides direct access to some fantastic reef edges with protected shorelines regardless of wind as well as close proximity to several fads (fish aggregating devices) located offshore that attract the likes of marlin, yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi.
The resort run three 32ft and one 17ft Edgewater centre console sportfishing boats powered by Yamaha four stroke outboards. The big Edgies get you to the grounds quick smart and provide an ideal platform for jigging and casting poppers which is a large proportion of the Ocean Blue business.
On day one I jumped aboard the Azzura with Capt Andrea Traverso. Andrea is also part owner of the Trees and Fishes and Ocean Blue operation. He is a young man with a smart head on his shoulders and a talent for finding fish. Our anglers were Nick Hamiltion-Smith and Dave Rankin who works at Bill’s Marine – an Aussie Simrad dealer in Cairns.
The plan was for all three boats to head in different directions in order to establish where the bite was on. We headed north and were forced to fish a protected reef edge due to 25-plus knots of breeze. We fished a combination of poppers and stick baits and it didn’t take long for the first pack attack from a mob of GTs. One of the smaller models in the pack managed to find Dave’s hooks first but it was still a respectable fish around the 15kg mark and a great way for him to open up the Vanuatu account.
Nick scored the next bite and with a couple of nice GTS onboard we were keen to mix it up and keep rolling through the species list. Next stop was some jigging and as is often the case we lost a lot more than we landed on the jigs. Dogtooth tuna were the target species but these dirty fighters are renowned for quickly diminishing your jig supply and this was no exception. Doggies and sharks seem to always frequent the same water and if you are lucky enough to get a doggy past the reef edge the tax man is often waiting to take his share of tuna. It is a cruel game that’s for sure. Nick did manage to get a Papuan trevally to the surface which is a cool looking critter, but the dogtooth eluded us – for now.
Next stop was one of the fads. It was loaded with mahi mahi and while we were catching one or two on every pass it was very rough, so with a couple of mahi mahi on ice we headed back inshore to do some micro jigging.
Micro jigging is becoming popular in Vanuatu just like it is in Australia and New Zealand. It is particularly effective in shallower waters and the boys had a bunch of fun catching green jobfish, scad and trevally as well as getting blown a way by a few unknowns to round out our day.
Back at the dock it seemed the guys who persisted in the rough at one of the other fads all day received the biggest reward with a blue marlin, wahoo, yellowfin tuna and of course a bunch of mahi mahi. The little boat stayed inshore but managed a couple of small dogtooth and lost more than their fair share.
The meals at Trees and Fishes are truly spectacular and sitting around the dining table literally metres from the waters edge and reliving the tales of the day was a pretty special way to spend each evening.
Day two I was onboard the Al Dente with Capt Eric Festa. I fished with Eric many years a go so it was good to have a catch up with him. Joining me was Trevor Blackstock and Bill Mylonas from Simrad. We hit the fads straight up in the hope of finding a marlin and managed to catch a bunch of mahi mahi, wahoo and small yellowfin before heading to Hat Island in search of a dogtooth or two.
What I found most interesting was the bait they were using. The locals have worked out a way to catch flying fish which obviously make great bait both dead or alive. I had never seen anyone catch flying fish on a line before so it was a real eye opener for me. They are very secretive about the technique so I can’t tell you here or there would be a price on my head.
We fished live flying fish on a downrigger and although we had a bunch of bites we only managed to catch one little doggie – or should I say puppy. The little boat fished nearby with a similar technique and got a couple of medium sized dogtooth and raised a sailfish on a surface bait but it wouldn’t bite.
Day three I was back out on the Al Dente and re-joined by Nick and Dave from day one along with Kevin Smith from Trade-A-Boat. We worked the lee side of Hat Island for a couple for a couple of hours with live flying fish but all we could manage was a stinkin’ barracuda. We pulled out the casting rods and headed to shallows in search of a GT or coral trout. It was tough fishing but Nick finally managed a nice little GT. I could see Dave was struggling a bit so I asked him if he wanted a break. He happily obliged and I swapped over to a stickbait and with fresh arms was making some confident casts. Sure enough a dozen or so casts in my stickbait got smashed and I got a respectable GT.
After lunch we were back on the doggie program and the sounder looked far more promising than it did in the morning. The bait had started to stack up and there were some solid arches around it which we assumed were doggies. Those assumptions were soon confirmed when Dave got his first little dogtooth.
On our final day the plan was to make a 50nm run to a remote island renowned as a dogtooth hotspot. Eric made the first pass past the island and hooked up straight away. It was a doggie but the sharks got it. We followed down the same line with a flying fish on the downrigger on one side and a big minnow on the other. The minnow got bit first then the flying fish and we had ourselves a double header of doggies on. As we were clearing the downrigger ball it got eaten as well. This was obviously an insane place which we quickly named the doghouse. The rough ride out was soon forgotten as the dogtooth piled on with every pass.
We hooked some absolute monsters that just couldn’t be stopped regardless of tackle used and when you did get one off the reef the sharks were waiting. Every now and then we got lucky and got one passed the sharks but boy it was a tough game.
We ended up with several fish in the 15 to 20kg range which are nice fish but the 40kg fish we were after never found the boat – even though we know we hooked them. The boys on Al Dente faired a little better with a few fish in the 20-30kg range. The biggest fish was actually caught on a popper. They don’t have that head start when you hook them on the surface I guess.
Despite the losses it can only be described as an epic day fishing. Dogtooth are such a brutal fish and any size fish in the boat is worth celebrating. The fish we kept were taken to a nearby village where the locals gratefully accepted our gifts with smiles from ear to ear.
As is always the case four days of fishing flew by way too fast. It was pretty impressive to have such a wide diversity of species on offer – particularly when restricted to a lee shore. The day we did the big run to the doghouse a local gameboat had six bites on blue marlin around the fads which is good fishing anywhere.
The Ocean Blue crew do cater for extended mothership trips if you want to get further afield but if coming back to terra firma is your preference then it is hard to go past Trees and Fishes. With comfortable accommodation, outstanding food and a great location with easy access to excellent fishing it really is hard to fault. I will be back for sure and I will definitely be making a return visit to the doghouse and suggest you add this to your bucket list.