Tackle test

Rick Huckstepp | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 5
Hal Harvey puts the new Wrex Stick jigging outfit to the test.
Taking the latest in fishing gear and testing it in remote parts of the world is a pretty good gig if you can get it…

Step inside your local tackle shop and you’re sure to be overwhelmed at the rows of rods and racks of reels that we must have if we are to enjoy angling success. There are now so many quality products on offer that choosing a rig is not the simple process it once was.

Be it rods, reels, guides, braided lines or the plethora of lures that are all ‘must haves’, they are all gleaned from every corner of the earth and finally end up in your tackle box.

There is a lot of aggression in the fishing retail world and we, the end users, benefit as major companies forge ties with tackle buying groups, who chisel away at prices to stay competitive.

Shimano is at the forefront of conferencing with retail dealer groups and has taken buying groups to out-of-the-way places to look, touch and fish with tackle in environments it was designed for. Remote Arnhem Land fishing camps and Melville Island, to the north of Darwin, have, over the years, played host to some of these sorties and it is here where crucial decisions are made that result in which products eventually end up lining the shelves of your local tackle shop.

The most recent of these evaluation trips went a little further, taking place on Epi Island, which is one of the 82 islands that make up Vanuatu. The buying group that I hooked-up with was Tackle World, which now has 40-odd stores dotted around the country.

From various airports around the country, we exited Australia, landing at Port Vila, Vanuatu. Without any ado, it was straight aboard a 12-seater Air Vanuatu charter flight tracking over Havana Harbour towards Lamen Bay on the sheltered side of Epi Island. The seasonal trade winds had kicked in and from just under the clouds the swell and white caps below were quite sobering to say the least. At least we would be fishing on boats large enough to cope – one 30-footer and two 40-footers.

The flight terminated a half hour later as we touched down on Epi Island’s coral and volcanic sand air strip, lined on one side by tall coconut trees and on the other by bommie-filled, gin-clear blue waters.

Epi Island is typical of the Vanuatu Group, aside from Efate and Santo, which are more populated with modern buildings and bitumen roads. Lamen Bay’s main highway is a single vehicle dirt track running around the rim of the bay, which is flanked by thatched roof huts and basic brick and mortar structures. The local school bears some resemblance to more modern structures seen on the more populated islands. The backdrop to this spread-out community is a steep mass of cliffs and ravines, which are extinct volcanoes layered in mats of dense, impenetrable jungle. In the distance across an expanse of water, the apex of a not-so-extinct volcano, with an active crater spitting lava, hid in the steamy clouds.

With luggage aboard one of the very few motor vehicles on the island, we took the short walk to the conference base and settled into one of the ‘dongas’. Amenities were basic, but with only one night on land and the next live-aboard, a night under a mozzie net was no big deal.

Many of the islands in this large group are big on mountains and small on grazing area. The geography is reflected in the eating habits of the Ni Vanuatuans, whose diets rely heavily on poultry and pork, which run wild in the jungles, and tropical vegetables. Beef, while a top-class export product from Vanuatu, is not as common in the diet of islanders, due to the minimal flat grazing land. The welcoming meal, consisting of local produce, was mostly cooked on fires, and was a pure tropical feast.

After breakfast the next morning, it was into the rubber ducky for the short trip to one of the boats moored off the beach. Heading out of the shelter of Lamen Bay, we were faced with some big seas, but with trolling lures astern we punched on through it over water that was more than 500 metres deep, which also disguised numerous seamounts with attendant brutal members of the food chain. We nailed a few of them in transit, with wahoo showing plenty of attention towards Squidgies Blue Water Livies.

No matter which direction one looks in this area, there is a distant extinct volcano marking yet another inhabited island that offers shelter, should the need arise.

DOING THE JIG

The most recent aspect of sport fishing to enjoy a huge surge in popularity is deep water high-speed jigging. It follows hot on the heels of the soft plastic boom, which is still on-going and yet to be explored by many anglers. This style of jigging, in concert with braid lines and big reels with incredible drag systems and high-speed gearing, necessitated the implementation of some specialised rods that can handle the furious pace.

Typically, Shimano has been at the cutting edge of this technology and its rods and reels across the range were going to get the work-out they deserved.

The proven game plan from the group that preceded us was to troll big, deep-diving Mackerel Magnums until a hook-up on any fish species occurred. Two or three jig anglers were always at the ready and with the boat pulled out of gear, the knife jigs were sent to the bottom.

Masses of bait swimming in the area were also offered some knife jig attention and especially so when shown on screen as a solid ball, with attendant large fish on their peripherals.

The style of jigging changes from angler to angler, depending on their strength and agility and endurance. What is noticeable with this style of fishing is that a jig retrieved rapidly will attract more attention, but it is also a fact that it should stay in the strike zone for as long as possible. So, short, sharp and fast jabs of the rod tip and corresponding winding of the reel to retrieve the slack line worked a treat and saw quite a number of double hook-ups achieved over the two days we were on the briny.

What was also painfully – literally – obvious was that there were some beasts down below that were just too strong, even for the fittest anglers with the heaviest drags. The trip before us scored some pretty tough fish, one of which was a dogtooth pulling the scales down to over 60kg! Well, its grandparents probably lumbered us because some of the hook-ups were very brief affairs indeed. Jig, strike, grunt, swear and then, ‘pop’, as 80lb braid parted was a not unusual scenario as some hook-ups ended rather prematurely.

Others were a little more protracted and there were plenty of dogtooth in the 25kg range to sate the hunter instinct. One good thing you’ll find in this part of the world is that there is very little wastage. The crew kept all the fish (excluding GTs) until a certain number was reached and then fish thereafter were released.

No sooner had we set anchor and rafted up at night in the shelter of an island – often with a village on its shoreline – than we had a flotilla of locals in dugouts or basic powerboats bobbing astern. Generally, they had bundles of mud crabs trussed with vines and leaves or other vegetables – even the potent kava root – with which to do trade for fish. Now don’t get me wrong; these guys know how to fish, but the size of the fish we could offer them was such that they could feed a small community. They were generally much bigger than the locals were used to spearing from their carved canoes.

With all the bartering and transfer of goods over the coamings of the game boats finalised, the evenings settled into the usual ‘one that got away’ stories, until the day’s activities caught up with individuals and they faded into the cabins to repair muscle tissue with a good night’s sleep.

With two days fishing behind us, it was back to Lamen Bay for a night with the local band. A hangi-cooked pig graced the table, along with various baked local vegetables and bread that was good enough to eat on its own as a meal. Not bad for a stone wood-fired oven.

Our departing flight was on the beach early next morning, with the next group arriving keen to get amongst some backbreaking fish. The small openings in the low lying clouds showed that the ocean had changed little over the last couple of days and, with fish in abundance, those on the water would soon be slow trolling for the many pelagics on offer.

We landed at Port Vila and took in a couple of beers on Hideaway Island, just out of the town centre. Then it was back to reality and to all those shops with Shimano tackle tried and proven in some of the toughest testing grounds the world’s oceans have to offer. It had been a tough couple of days, but as my editor put it: “Rick, you owe it to our readers to go to Vanuatu and test that gear to the limit!”

It can be a tough job at times, but I thrive on the punishment…


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