We were sipping our cappuccinos on the boat on the weekend in Neiafu, wondering what we were going to do for the day. We had been getting pretty bored lately, waiting for a weather window to leave Tonga. We were thinking of heading out to Mounu to kite. We had been there to check it out the previous day, but it was too windy to anchor safely by the island and the one mooring was being used by our friends on Marilyn. We were thinking the winds might have dropped enough. The kiting window is two hours either side of low tide and low tide was very late in the afternoon, so not ideal. Did we really want to motor-sail out 6 miles with the uncertain prospects?
A catamaran on the mooring next to us had some people arrive with beach wear and picnic supplies. We knew three of them and wished them a fun day. Barry and Charlotte, from Winnipeg, run a local deli and The Hideaway, a houseboat serving up fish & chips and fresh squeezed margaritas. Char’s dad, Ralph, who recently moved here, was also along. The skipper, Gerry, is a local US expat. They headed out the harbour but turned around and came back about a half later. As they picked up the mooring, we asked what had happened. Gerry’s boat’s steering broke.
Monty and I felt bad for them, so we invited Barry, Char and Ralph to come out for the day on Whistler. We motored out of the harbour and had a few chuckles listening to Barry tell stories. He is quite the talker! I asked Charlotte for some advice on lures to use to catch the various species. She selected a couple, one for tuna or mahimahi and one for wahoo or Spanish mackerel. We rigged the lines and got fishing. She also went to work decluttering and untangling some of our hooks and lines from the tackle box. Her Dad, Ralph, hung out on the back seat, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He was good about standing on the back steps when he smoked.
We were heading out towards Mounu. Maybe we could anchor off the island and Monty could still go kiting. We could all do some snorkelling there too. It started to get a bit choppy once we got passed the protection of Mala Island. Ralph slipped and scraped his arm, not bad, but it was a sign. We turned around and anchored off Nuku Island.
Charlotte had organized a nice lunch, mostly a selection from her deli and some fresh bread and fruit. We had BLTs, Chicken salad sandwiches, pineapple, passion fruit and coconut bread.
From the anchorage, we spotted a few whales in the distance. How nice, our first whale sightings of the year!
It has been showering a lot in Vava’u lately, so when we saw the skies clouding over, we decided to head back to the harbour.
With the lines in the water, we made a plan to go out to the western entrance of the Vava’u Group, where Char and Barry had caught fish a few times. Not half way there, a loud zing came from one of the reels! We looked back and a sailfish leapt clear out of the water and did a little tail dance! Spectacular sight! When he saw the boat, he took off. The line was being pulled out so fast, the reel was smoking hot!
I got on the helm and slowed the boat down. Berry reeled in the other fishing line. Monty looked at the spool and could see the knot at the end of the line. Only one and a half wraps left on the spool. Monty told me to reverse to get some slack in the line. The fish was not coming to us so we had to go to it! Monty started reeling in the fish and handed it over to Barry. The rod was bent over from the weight as it tried to swim away from the boat. Char got her dad set up with a video camera and then took turns with Barry reeling the fish in.
Monty and I were inclined to release the fish but Barry and Char wanted to keep it. By the time we got the fish near the boat, it was exhausted. The hook was stuck in its bill with a wrap of line around it. That poor guy was not getting away unless the line broke. It would have been hard to release it and have it survive.
Monty had to gaff it a few times before he got a good hold on it. It bled out in the ocean for a few minutes before he and Barry dragged it up on the steps and into the cockpit.
Its fin turned a bright indigo blue and the skin silver with stripes for a few minutes. We took turns posing with the magnificent fish.
From the end of the bill to the end of its tail, it was 9ft 7in. The more traditional way of measuring it arrived at 7ft. The estimated weight is about about 40kg. One guide for food quality says “Tag and Release” and another says “zero” but the locals enjoy it. It certainly was an exciting fish to catch!
Char and Barry invited us for a margarita at the Hideaway. We admired the huge fish as he filleted it on the porch.
Catching one billfish on Whistler was enough for us! With teamwork from Barry and Char, we were able to land it, but it would not have been possible double-handing. It was certainly a memorable experience but we hope these enormous beautiful creatures avoid our lures in future!