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Back to New Zealand Part 4

Onto USA Stopover

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At last. Tropical climes and the flip-flops, sun-block and shades are back in action. No more hairy-toed trampers in their Berghaus hiking boots and Gore-Tex Y-fronts. No more driving aimlessly for miles in the name of entertainment. No more Eels. And no more crap weather (or so I thought). Just me, some of the most frustrating attempts at fishing in the world (ever), the apparent failure of the bait crop this year, a few million insects, a few thousand backpackers having the same conversation every night... And a psychopathic marijuana dealing evangelist lard-arse called Douglas... 

"Andy! Andy! Shit shit shit shit shit! Get up! Get up! Are you ready to go mate?!" Through the fog I stirred briefly on Aaron's all too familiar two-seater.
"Andy!! It's quarter past six!! What time's your plane man?!"

I sat bolt upright, hair plastered vertically from the side of my slowly splitting head, as my eyes gradually focussed on Uncle Regis, Aunty Sarah's significant other, hurriedly pulling on his sweatshirt and rushing around the flat.
"25 past 6... Whyzzat...?" 

Realisation slowly dawned. "Oh shit shit shit shit shit!!!!" I gazed down at my massive heap of luggage in it's usual disarray in the middle of the floor. The heap of luggage which I'd promised myself I'd organise and pack before Uncle Regis gave me a lift to the airport for my 

flight from Auckland to Fiji in the morning. The same heap of luggage that I'd promised to organise and pack before my final evening out in Auckland had metamorphosed into my final early morning out in Auckland. The very same heap of luggage that I'd promised to organise and pack before Steinlager and Sambuca became part of the equation. Bollocks. A brief flurry of activity was the best I could muster before the futility of the situation finally sank in. 

"It's too late Regis. I've missed it mate." I dropped a handful of T-shirts back onto the floor and admitted defeat. "Suppose I'd better ring the airline and let them know I'm not coming, eh?"
I picked up the phone and by closing one eye managed to focus on the digits and dial the number on the sheet I held in front of me with trembling fingers.

"Hello. I've got a flight this morning to Nadi. I'm really sorry but I've overslept and it looks like I'm going to miss it". I almost managed to string a sentence together and appear coherent. Almost. I felt a tiny pang of pride that I was at least managing to hold it all together for the nice lady at Qantas customer service on the other end of the line.
"Are you sure sir?" said the nice lady, "could you give me your name please".
"Pearson. Andy. To Nadi. Fiji. 7.25 this morning".
"Hmmmm. Do you have the flight number and booking reference?"
"Yeah it's KK5ZRH," I stuttered as I scratched around for yet another scrap of paper.
"Are you sure sir?"

"That's what it says here... Flight number N...Z...2...0."
"Ahh, I think I can help you Mr Pearson..."
"Great. Thanks".
"You could try ringing the right airline." 

I placed the phone down on the coffee table and unravelled myself, head in hands, hoping that the machine for the Qantas "your call may be recorded for quality control and training purposes" message was out of tape. 


















Tropical Fiji awaits. Sucks eh?

Waya Island and another knackered shelter and sleeping quarters, but this time without wheels.

When New Zealand Air flight number NZ20 touched tarmac that evening it was tipping down with torrential tropical rain, and after negotiating the raft of hawkers, touts and taxi drivers ("NO!"), I eventually got a taxi driver under my own volition, and most probably ended up paying the exact same amount as I would have done through one of the touts anyway. On the drive into town, my driver recommended the ever-opulent Nadi Hotel as the cheapest around, and what finer recommendation could the discerning traveller wish for? A creaking metal bunk was secured in a dorm room again, but this time 

with the massive bonus that there was no one else staying there. This was good, but then in all probability a bad sign. After a quick shower with the cockroaches and a large spider, I went to investigate the still soaking streets. Since the Steinlager effect had precluded any attempts at eating so far that day, I grabbed a bite to eat at a grubby roadside cafe, the buffet food kept 'warm' by a single 40 watt light bulb suspended a foot above it in the glass display coffin. Then I finally headed forth into the fray - such as there is a fray in Nadi.

A lady very soon stopped me in the darkness of a street corner. "Hello. Where you from?" she asked. I'd been out of Asia for a while, so I was obviously out of practice, it taking me almost five seconds to realise what the heck was going on. 
"England", I answered.
"You want some company tonight?" she asked as she stroked my back with the sensual touch of an arthritic miner in boxing gloves. 

I looked her up and down and finally focused on her most prominent attributes - her teeth; one black, two white, and then another black one, looking like a set of broken piano keys.
"Not now thanks love, I've just eaten" was the best I could muster as I beat a hasty path onwards up Nadi main street, relieved to escape the pressure zone that only an unexpected encounter with an skanky hooker can create. 

By the time I got back to my bed that evening (further relieved that no other guests had been booked into the room) I'd stumbled upon another dozen taxi drivers and one more dodgy hooker, and 


"Beware the sultry allure of those exotic South Sea Island beauties..." they warned. And forewarned is forearmed I say.

managed to avoid being roped into the karaoke bar on the corner- a result in itself. After waking up the next morning with a lower colon vaulting through hoops after the cordon-bleu meal of the evening before, I then spent the day trying desperately to avoid being ripped off, and then passed an hour or two drinking kava with a local bloke out the room at the back of his shop, whereby he tried to sell me everything from wooden bowls to towels to 4 foot high carvings, which he assured me would be no problem to ship back home to the UK. He also tried to sell me a fist sized bag of marijuana, but for some reason he couldn't give me the same assurances on the shipping for that.

I wasn't sure what effect the dirty dishwater-like kava was supposed to have, and I waited for some kind of cane toad/mushroom-like 'out of body experience' to sweep over me. Or maybe there'd be an amphetamine rush inner body experience? But all I did was walk back out the shop a while later with a numb mouth, leaving the old fella a little hacked off that I wasn't game for taking him up on any of his import-export business opportunities. Yup, I'd been in Fiji little more than a few hours, but it already seemed that things could well be a bit more berzerk than my recent travels in New Zealand. It was almost (well, kind of) like being back in Asia.

Kava man at the souvenir shop had told me in conversation that of all the Fijian islands, his favourite was Mana Island, in the Mamanuca group, so I decided this would be my first port of call.

A Waya Island spear-fisherman displays his wares. But the plastic canister? Unnecessary showboating in my book.



The Space Cowbuoy. J-Kay (I prefer "Twat In A Hat" myself) from out of Jamiroquai shows off a greedy Coral Trout. 

And what a strange port of call it proved to be. Half of the island is owned by some Japanese consortium or other who operate a five star international resort there, while the other is inhabited only by a few villagers and a couple of backpacker's lodges, all of whom have to share the lovely white-sand beach. 

However, to separate the great unwashed of the villagers and backpackers from the more select members of society, our friends of the rising sun have erected an eight foot high wire fence across the width of the island, which actually passed about three feet wide of the canteen table where I ate my meal each evening, a bit reminiscent of slopping out time at Tenko. Very strange, because the punters of the resort were actually made welcome to drink and relax at the backpackers bar, whereas to make good The Great Escape into 'Kuoni-world' could actually see a 














The lovely views of Waya Island. Nasty sweaty walk up that hill to get the picture though.

harmless (if a little scabby) beatnik being forcibly ejected back to the shanty from whence he (or, indeed, she) came. It's a mad, mad world.

Yours truly personally fell foul of this spot of tourist apartheid while trying to tangle with a Trevally from the pier where the Hawaiian shirted fun-seekers would be dropped from the ferry with their matching Samsonite luggage sets and Louis Vuitton toiletry bags. 
I had been speaking to a lad called Will from Southampton during the afternoon about my plans to head up the beach and do a bit of fishing in the afternoon and evening, and since the beach was very shallow, the pier seemed like a perfect spot to start since it protruded way out into the clear blue sea to the spot where a sharp drop off into deep water occurred. Will asked if he could join me a bit later on- all fine by me.

After rigging up with a couple of rods and working my way up to the end of the pier, I threw around a couple of surface poppers for a while on some heavy gear in the hope that some passing Trevally might take a swipe, without so much as raising a smile, before taking up a lighter outfit with 12lb B.S. line and a small blue and silver jig on it to see if anything was stupid enough to have a go at that. First drop down by the end of the pilings of the pier, I quickly jigged the jig, as you do, and what shocked me more than anything was the clear flash of blue and silver as a large Blue Trevally launched itself from amongst the timber and concrete beneath my feet and smacked into the lure deep down in the clear aquamarine water. It took a second or two for me to register that the thing had actually taken it, although the hundred metres of line that disappeared out to sea in the next few seconds left me in no doubt! I slackened off the Baitrunner drag twice to lessen the pressure from the rapidly emptying spool.
"You got one already?" I looked over my shoulder, rod hooped over in the bright sunshine, to see Will joining me on the decking.
"Yup - a Trevally. Problem is it's already halfway to the mainland and... well, I think I've got fat chance of seeing this one on the beach mate" I replied.

Eventually the fish came to a grudging halt, and I began the painstaking process of getting the fish back in range, not helped by ten pounds of brown weed gathered up the line. Inch by inch I gradually refilled the spool. A few times I lost several yards, but patiently teased it all back, and soon I started to believe that I may even have a chance of having my photo taken with the thing.























The future's bright, the future's orange... But socks and sandals? What's he playing at?!!!

















Sunrise over the bay at the southern tip of Waya Island.

 Some twenty minutes after hook-up, we had a beautifully lit up sliver and turquoise Trevally of at least 15 pounds swimming tiredly around the barnacle covered piles. 

And now I had a new problem- that being I was 10 feet above the water. So I decided to walk the fish like a dog on a lead back up towards the beach until it was shallow enough for me to jump in and grab it. Will grabbed my camera and followed.

And this is where things began to go tits-up. As is usual, but no less of a pain in the arse for it's predictability, the sight of a large fish being played by anyone for some reason had generated a level of interest (even amongst the non-angling public at large) well, well out of perspective with the actual event, a fact not helped by the arrival of a gaggle of tourists on the pier to await the ferry.

They were joined by three or four massively obese Fijian blokes who obviously worked at the resort (the evidence being a tuft of franji panii flowers tucked behind their ears and a shirt so tasteless not even Magnum PI would have been seen dead in it), along with a pair of arseheads on that nemesis to all anglers - jetskis (my number 1 entry for Room 101 for many a year now). 

First, Fijian Fatman Number 1 in the gathered throng started: 

"You! You give me this fish!" he demanded.
"No", I replied.
"You sell me this fish!" he tried his luck again.
"No".
"You must sell me this fish! Why won't you sell me this fish?!"
"Because it's my fish, and because I'm going to kiss it, take it's photo, and then put it back alive". He looked shocked.
"You must sell me this fish. Why you put back alive?!"
"Because it's pretty and I like it's colours", I smiled.

He clearly wasn't happy, and in no way wanted to take my answer as final, and so pestered me incessantly all the way along the pier.

 In the meantime, as I managed to work my way through the crowd, the Trevally looked like it had finally given up the ghost and was laid on it's side on the surface, flapping idly in the waves, exhausted. While fielding off Fatman and picking my way through the cluster of gathered tourists, one of the jetski riders had edged his way to within a couple of feet of the fish, and was about to just grab the line and hoist it, something which would have seen the 12 pound line snap like cotton.

"Hey! Please don't! Yes, you mate... please don't touch the line!" He looked up for a second and then just made another grab for it anyway- luckily missing it as the fish lunged downwards. "I said DON'T!!!" And this time his hand shied tentatively away from the line. The fish was finally in water a couple of feet deep at the side of the pier. Will told me he had the camera ready, and I jumped in with my gear in hand. Somehow, the jet skier had abandoned his craft, apparently hypnotised by the sight of this knackered Trevally, and was now stood in the water right by the fish. He just wouldn't let it lie. His hand moved forward to grab the line, as I edged closer to seize the fish by the wrist of the tail:

"Don't touch the line mate!!" I said... as he grasped the line above the leader and pulled... as the fish made one final flap for freedom... with the predictable result. The nylon parted, the beautiful Blue Trevally bolted off between his legs as he tried to dive on top of it, and I watched in despair as it disappeared with a bow wave at high speed across the white sand of the shore. The crowd groaned as one. I smacked my rod into the water in a fit of pique, and stared angrily at the jet-skier:
"Nooooo! I said DON'T touch the line!!! Why DID you touch the line?!! When I asked you NOT to touch the line?!!" 

He just looked sheepish, remounted his purple and white jet-ski and sped off out to sea in the usual obtrusive, noisy, incongruous manner they always do. I was gutted, and I am not ashamed to say I had the hump. Badly. Perhaps my one chance ever to land a Blue Trevally in my lifetime, played against the odds for over half an hour on light tackle, beaten, ready to be photographed and released, soaked to the bone in sweat in the tropical heat and near 90% humidity... only to be screwed up by some knobhead. As we walked back up the pier to where my bag had been left, Will tried to console me a little:
"Well, I say you caught it anyway mate. After all, you had it beat, and if it hadn't been for that arse you would have got it easy - no worries".

"Yeah I guess so. Thanks", I nodded, flicking through the

 

events of the last half an hour in my mind. "But I waaanted it's piiiicture..." I whined, bottom lip stuck out like a six year old who'd just had his bag of sweets taken off him. I really must remember to grow up sometime.

The evening didn't finish there though. As I retied a leader and Will threw a lure around on my heavy rod, Fatmen 1 and 2 came waddling up the pier like a pair of tropical Weebles.
"You cannot fish here. You must go" demanded Fatman 1, who only moments ago was raging keen to take my fish from me for his supper.

And so a dispute ensued which started up quite heated, and then finished up quite comical, as 20

 

stone of Fijian lard threatened to evict us, the strapping 5' 6" ten stone Will stood poking a finger up to his snout, going "Yeah, and I look forward to that... Anytime- just send em down here!!" All eventually diffused when hotel security came down, with two of the local fellas from the backpackers, and after much negotiation, 'our' fellas asked us to go back with them in order to keep the peace, which we did for the sakes of good order. Not a dull moment that evening, but I hoped that the fishing I managed to do in Fiji from here on in was free from any further such difficulties. Little did I know...

Only one more equally unsuccessful, and a whole deal less eventful, short fishing session was managed during the rest of my time on Mana Island, all other activities being curtailed by the tail end of a cyclone arriving from somewhere in the Coral Sea off the east of Australia. The rain fell heavily and virtually continuously for the next three days, and once it had cleared I had decided to leave the island, beautiful as it was, since I was having problems finding anyone who would give/lend/rent me a boat, or indeed even take me out to do some fishing.

That Lynx Effect. The only things it seems to attract have either six or eight legs unfortunately.

So was the Coral Trout stolen? Or did someone eat the evidence? The finger of suspicion pointed squarely at Mr John. Note his badly emaciated frame. Poor bloke.

The village on Waya Island turned out en masse, and Fiji won the Wellington Rugby Sevens. Any excuse for a Kavarama.

Idyllic tropical beach #4357 (and still counting).

I  had been told via a group e-mail from another Perhentian Islands acquaintance, Charlotte "Red-hot Roller Girl" Delsignore (her words, not mine...), that Beachcomber Island was a fun place to visit. Since it was only a relatively short boat journey from Mana Island, I elected to give it a try for a couple of nights. I should have know better once I had rung to book ahead and found out the sleeping arrangements. This really was the dormitory experience to top them all I think. With over a hundred beds, it's certainly the biggest I've ever seen or

stayed in, with the expected mayhem occurring all night long, capped off at about 3am as two drunken Israeli guys came in and decided to have a shower... for an hour or so, while they discussed in Hebrew whatever it is that Israeli blokes discuss in the shower together at 3am. Shalom. "I'm too bloody old for this" was all I could think as I passed another bunch just heading back to their beds while on my way to see if I could find a coffee anywhere at 7 in the morning. Suddenly I actually felt 37!

As beautiful as the beach and sea was (although the huge, rotting pile of seaweed behind the 'resort' which they rake up from the beach each day neither looks or smells very beautiful). I already knew it was relatively expensive on the island, but when I was quoted 130 Fijian dollars (about 45 quid) an hour to take a fishing boat out, this was a clear signal that they were taking the piss and it was time to get on the boat again.

Dodgy Douglas and his mates snap busily to it out on the Dead Sea. Clearly it's hard work being nuts.

 

Out of Beachcomber a.s.a.p., hoping to find whatever the "real" Fiji was sometime soon, the next stop was to be Waya Island, I decided; further north in the Yasawa Islands. The ferry was met by "Mr John", a rotund, happy kind of bloke, in his rowboat and outboard, and on the way to the beach he informed me that going fishing there wouldn't be a problem. This lifted my spirits a bit, and when I saw that I could have a thatched bure to myself beside the beautiful white sand, and that there was next to nobody else about, my spirits lifted even further. Maybe this would be what I had been looking for.

At dawn the next morning, I took a walk up the hill behind the beach with a local bloke called Sam. As we talked, I expressed an interest in catching a large Giant Trevally during my stay in Fiji. Sam informed me about a spot near his village where a huge shoal of sardines gathered, only to be systematically hunted down by packs of roaming GTs. Furthermore, he and his friends would often catch them on livebaits and handlines, and had taken them to over 30kgs. I then became very, very interested. I became even more very interested when he said that he could take me to give it a try. A 9am rendezvous was arranged for that morning, after which Sam said we would take a boat, net some livebaits, and then go and sit in the appropriate spot to await the attack of the Trevally. I made my way back down the hill to my room to get a bag of gear ready, had a bite to eat and a coffee, and sat down to await Sam. 9am came and went. No sign of Sam. Mr John came down and sat by to talk, and told me that Sam would be at work. Confused, I told him what Sam had told me.
"No- he's at work. But I can arrange fishing for you this morning. I can get a man to take you in the boat. Cheap cost too- you just pay fuel".
"For Trevally? How much is the fuel?"
"Yes Mr Andy. Trevally. 15 dollars". This sounded fair enough to me, and half an hour later I found myself out on the ocean. I explained to the boatman that I was hoping to find some GTs. He just smiled. I took this to not be the best of signs. 
"You get Giant Trevally here?" I asked. He just nodded. Hmmmm indeed. 

There was no net to catch bait as I'd discussed with Sam, and when I asked where the Giant Trevally spots were he merely swept his arm in a wide arc at the ocean surrounding us. And so we trolled. My favourite. One daft, if pretty, Coral Trout hung itself on a Yo Zuri being dragged out the back of the rowboat, the compensation being that at least they make very good eating. En route to base I briefly tried a small jig over a bommie of coral but the only taker was a small wrasse of about six inches long. Some three hours later we were back at the beach, and as the boat slid up the sand, Mr John slid up to meet us:
"You have fish my friend?" he enquired, and as I held up the lonesome Coral Trout he launched into a fit of joyous celebration.
"Oh!! Best to eat! Best to eat!" he rejoiced, although he was a bit put out that I released the small wrasse to fight another day. I looked forward to a meal of fresh fish with the standard plate of rice that evening. At least something positive had come out of the disappointment of the day. Strangely I never saw Sam again...

An entertaining evening was spent watching the Wellington Rugby Sevens, whereby the whole of the village turned out to watch the finals on the only TV around, an aerial having been lashed to a post outside the bure and manoeuvred until a signal was received. When Fiji actually won the competition, it signalled great merriment in the cramped, sweaty room, and the kava bowl did yet another round. The Coral Trout failed to put in an appearance though, my rice being served with curried veggies and bread. "Maybe tomorrow" I thought, hoping that the fridge kept it's cool once the generator went off that night in the 90 degree heat. The day was rounded off a treat by having to move out of my nice thatched shack into a shared room with four people who turned up that day, all due to Mr John's "random" booking policy. The night was spent sweating under the claustrophobic swathes of a mosquito net, and entirely sleepless as I listened to the resident rodents and huge arachnids scuttling around in the rafters above my head. At least it was cheap.

The beach at Waya was a really beautiful spot, with a lovely white beach, azure seas lapping, and thick green vegetation coating the rolling hills and sharp escarpments in the backdrop. And the sunsets 

 

 

 


Reader's Fishwives: our helpful and informative fishmonger, Lewa, puts aside her inhibitions and proudly displays her prize-winning kipper for the camera.

there were amongst the most spectacular I have ever seen, with burning orange and yellow filling the sky from the horizon to the heavens. 

The fishing, however, proved to be less than spectacular. I tried to arrange to fish for GTs the following evening. Mr John assured me that for the same cost as before I could have the boat and a boatman, and he would sort out some bait- as well as a net to try and catch some bait. As I boarded I asked the boatman (my toothless friend from the day before) if we had bait, and he held up a bucket at the far end of the boat as he reversed the boat off the sands. When we got out onto the ocean beyond the bay, I inspected the bait. My heart sank. The tail and spine of a Coral Trout (where was the rest?!) and a slimy bolus of chicken skins. Bloody useless.
"You have a net?" I asked... no, almost pleaded. Boatman shrugged his shoulders while mine slumped.
"Trolling good for Trevally", he advised with a toothless grin. I wasn't keen, but faced with little alternative, we dragged lures about, without such as a sniff of activity for what seemed like forever, but was actually perhaps a couple of hours, before I scraped together a single flap of flesh from the trout tail and caught yet another wrasse, and finally discovered the hard way that fish like eating chicken skins no more than I do.

Upon arrival back at base after dark, Mr John was again mortified that I returned a half pound wrasse alive (he didn't get in that shape by pure genetics it seems), and my rice waiting on the table was also without any Coral Trout-like embellishments either. What had happened to the rest of it I guess I'll never know for sure, although if I looked close enough I'd guess there would be plenty of evidence down Mr John's vest. As I picked through my rice, Mr John bemoaned the release of the small wrasse, while I bemoaned the lack of any Trevally action in return... or even any sightings of Trevally. A bloke called Tom who worked for Mr John came over and joined us. Tom was another local who had a history of catching Trevally it seemed, and he inspired me with his stories, having caught, between forty and fifty of them, all on handlines, with the largest being an amazing 45 kilos in weight. He held up his hands to offer the proof. The skin covering them was covered in several deep, striated scars.

"Nearly all from a special place. If Mr John agrees, I take you there tomorrow morning. We need much fuel though. We need to leave 5am too to get livebait- better than lures". Mr John cast him a sideways glance, and they disappeared out the back to talk.

 
















"Right, let's clear this up. How many fish did you say you've caught since 1987?"

A double-take moment! Grey enough to be Hokitika in New Zealand.

It seemed that Mr John didn't agree because Mr Tom had work to do in the morning. However, Mr Tom agreed to tell Mr John where the magic spot was, and Mr John agreed to take me there himself. I wasn't too sure about this, with Mr John seemingly more into eating fish than catching them, but again, faced with little else in the way of options, we confirmed a 5am rendezvous on the shore- once the fuel price had been agreed, and I had ascertained that a net for catching livebait would be brought along too. I was once again mildly enthused.

And once again it proved to be a false dawn. We steamed for an hour to the other side of the island, until Mr John advised me we were at the hallowed place. Very fishy it looked too, outcrops of volcanic rock pounded by the waves, and occasional paler patches of coral visible through the deep, clear blue water. "Nice", I remember thinking.

"Ok, where do we go and net some bait Mr John?" I asked. His face turned from his usual jovial, gappy smile to a big, round blank. He made a show of looking in a plastic bucket. 
"What's up? Problem?"

'I love my life'. Sometimes.

 

"I forgot the net" he grimaced. My head sunk into my hands. It thereby came to pass that I spent hours drifting round the rocky outcrops chucking surface poppers until my arms ached without a single offer from (or sighting of) a fish. Mr John recommended that we trolled, which I didn't want to do because it's so boring, but after a bit more throwing lures around I relented on the basis that we might get something (...anything!). Nothing was daft enough to snag itself on the big Yo Zuri again, although a scad type species I couldn't identify of a foot or so long did grab a small lure I hung out the back on a lighter outfit. This in turn was quickly nose-rigged up on a

nasty 10/0 hook and an 80lb mono leader and slow trolled around a reef for an hour or so until it passed away unmolested. I was going to give the pale, limp, beaten looking fish a burial at sea, but Mr John hastily intervened and stowed it under his seat: "No Mr Andy! This fish good to eat!!" he laughed. How silly of me. 

I was just looking at some distant rocks, about to suggest that maybe we could try some lure casting over there, when suddenly Mr John looked at his watch, and remembered that he was going to take a someone snorkelling in the boat at 10.30am, something he hadn't mentioned the evening before. I disembarked the boat more disillusioned than ever. When a cruise liner pulled up in the bay, dropping off dozens of tourists in a couple of aluminium landing craft onto the previously peaceful beach- complete with masseur, tables, parasols and a special consignment of their own bead and bracelet vendors- like some kind of opening sequence to Saving Private Ryan launching into Sandals, I decided to leave Waya the next day to continue my Trevally search elsewhere in the Fiji Islands. Waya was a beautiful place, and Mr John and his people on the beach there were really as friendly as could be. I felt a little sad and frustrated that the fishing didn't work out on the fish-front really, otherwise I'd probably still be there now!

My journey around Fiji continued with fishing cock-up after fishing cock-up to be honest. I could go through the full list of them here in detail, but a quick skim over it should suffice! There was the visit to Nananu-i-ra Island, yet another lovely beach in an idyllic setting, which, however, is primarily a dive centre and as a result is operated by what could be termed as 'Dive-Nazis'. My tentative enquiries about fishing from the beaches were met with a firm negative, and after another enquiry into renting a boat to get out to the reef to fish, I was informed that if I went to fish on the reef that "that bloke over there will be after you with a spear gun" as a stocky & cocky shaven headed loon was pointed out to me. I took it that they were joking, but the inference was lucid enough. And the irony that they occasionally used spear guns instead of hook & line was seemingly lost. A local bloke called "Zed", who was more camp than a row of tents with a shower block, told me he could maybe arrange for me to go fishing with some local commercial fisherman, but after that conversation I didn't see him again despite hanging around for a day longer. Who knows; maybe Zed's dead? I didn't stay at Nananu long.

Actually, I know I said I was going to skim the disasters- of which there were several- but there was one day to maybe top the all time list which does perhaps require the full treatment: the day that "Dodgy Douglas" lurched into my life (and thankfully out again).

It was on one of my passes through Nadi Hotel that one of the kindly ladies that worked there, Suzy, told me that she knew a man who could get me out on the ocean really cheaply as we talked at the front desk early one morning. She placed the call, and a few minutes later a bloke who's name escapes me now appeared in reception. We spoke about issues fishing, and he assured me that I could go fishing that day, he could arrange the boat, that there were Trevally to be caught out there on the reefs, the boys on the boat would be able to net some mullet for livebait, and when he asked me how long I wished to fish and I replied "as long as it takes" he laughed and said it wouldn't be a problem. The cost? 40 dollars (about 12 or so) to cover fuel, and then I should give the boatman a few dollars for a beer or two. It sounded too good to be true...

Mangrove Jacks. Loads of them, and they demolished that lure in a single evening- aggressive little suckers. Nice grub too.

The man drew out his mobile phone and placed another call, and very soon yet another man lumbered into reception, and strangely enough it turned out that he was staying at the Nadi Hotel too. This I thought was a bit strange, but stuck with it. Man number 1 left, and the big man I was left with introduced himself as Douglas. He was dressed only in a sarong wrapped around his waist, and his dark chest and back were covered in tattoos depicting large crosses, hands clasped in the manner of prayer, and even declaring his undying love for God and the baby Jesus. At the sight of this, my alarm bells started to chime, wisely taking this to be some kind of sign of a latent instability. 

It seemed he needed to call for a taxi and make sure the other members of his group were ok with the boat. His mobile was out of credit, so asked if I had a phone card he could borrow, so I loaned him it. Douglas also asked for 20 dollars for a few beers, and since this was as discussed with man number 1, I handed it over. He reappeared twenty or thirty minutes later to say he was ready (having swapped his sarong for some shorts) and that the taxi was waiting. I grabbed my rods and we exited into the baking heat. Two of his mates were waiting in the taxi, and we were introduced, but again, I can't remember their names. Douglas assured me that his friends were good fisherman as the taxi wound it's way through the dirty streets of Nadi and out to the harbour at Denerau, whereby everyone deserted the taxi, and left yours truly to pay the man. Another ten dollars. I could see a pattern developing here.

While the boat- an 18 to 20 foot aluminium number- had it's tank filled with fuel, Douglas and I perused the shop for drinks, and he said we needed some ice, which I paid for... along with the drinks and the fuel, which now came to 50 dollars, not the agreed 40. I was now looking for an ejector seat.





Irish Sean with Ziggy and a Mangrove Jack. Ziggy's the one that isn't bright pink.

 

 Thinking about previous mishaps while trying to fish in Fiji, I asked about bait.
"We can catch livebait out there can't we? You do have a net and everything?"
"It is on the boat" he replied.

And so we set off out the mangrove channels of Denerau onto a flat, breathless ocean. The mirror calm sea stretched around us and the sun beat down from an empty blue sky. The boat pushed out into the reefs and islands for perhaps three quarters of an hour, until the engine was cut and we slid to a halt. It was almost midday.
"Ok. Where do you want to fish?" asked Douglas...

And so my little aching heart crashed down through my shorts for the 512th time since I began my journey. "I thought your friends here were good fishermen? Don't they know some good spots?". Douglas spoke in Fijian to the two other blokes. They just shrugged in a non-committal manner and curled up on the duckboards of the boat..
"Anyway. we need to catch bait first. Aren't the mullet in the mangroves?" 
"I'm thinking you have net" shrugged Douglas.
What the???!!! What the????!!!! What the????!!!!
"But but but when I asked you whether you had a net you said it was on the boat...???!!!" 

Douglas looked down at his bare feet. I sat down in the bottom of the boat and put my head in my hands for about the 513th time since I began my journey. 

Another wasted day, and more wasted money. I fought the urge to tell them to turn the boat round and head for port, knowing that refunds were not an option. We ended up catching some small fish on the crusts of the bread they'd brought for their sandwiches, which I then cut up and used for bait. I hardly need mention that all I caught were small grouper and snapper, which I deliberately threw back even after Douglas and his friends had asked me to keep them. This did not amuse the boys, icy stares flitting back and forth down the boat, but quite frankly, my dears, I couldn't give a shit. They suggested trolling, which we did half-heartedly - yours truly yawning my way through another hour as my faithful Yo Zuri rattled the rod tip somewhere out the back, while trying to get the boatman to slow down a bit and skirt the edges of the reefs rather than just drive in straight lines across the barren ocean with the rod bent double in my hands. Douglas and one of his mates actually went to sleep. Suddenly, one of the blokes remembers that he has to go and visit some family, and with that we were off back to port. It was 3pm. So much for fishing for "as long as it takes". However, I really wasn't bothered about the session terminating early; I've had more fun picking the scabs off my mosquito bites.

Back outside the hotel, I was left high, dry and pissed off as Douglas absconded up the steps leaving me holding my bag and looking down at the outstretched palm and bloodshot eyes of our Indian driver. Another ten dollars. Somehow, and don't ask me how because I have no idea, I ended up going for a bite to eat with Douglas that evening. Maybe it was because he promised to buy me a couple of beers? Who can tell? 

 

Playing with the Trevally. The word "Giant" was lost in translation somewhere.

 

This apparently required a cab journey round the less salubrious districts of Nadi, before we finally took a seat at a restaurant not 200 yards from the hotel, for some reason. The meal was delivered to the table, and as I stuck my fork into the rice, Douglas reached across the table and touched my arm:
"We must always do grace before we eat", he whispered. And so I sat for an uncomfortable, embarrassed minute while he bowed his head and said his thanks, and again declared his undying love fo de Lord. As we ate I enquired why we had journeyed out to the suburbs. It turned out he had visited a friend's wife to buy a bag of ganja, since it "helped her out" while her husband was in jail for eight years for drug-pushing. 
"It help me too. I can make a little dollar when I sell it with my friends". Fair enough.

It seemed that times were a little tricky for Douglas at the moment all round, and he was staying at the hotel while he was suspended from work and awaiting a court appearance.
"What for?" I asked.
"I had an argument with my foreman at the factory".
"What about?"
"I needed a weekend off to go to my girlfriend. So he changed my shift. Then on Friday before, he changed it back and made me work. He wouldn't change his mind. So I was angry".
"Angry?"
"I hit him over his head with a chair. Then I knocked two his teeth out. I punched his temple and then I kick his chest and break his ribs and arm. He went hospital for two month". 
If I was in any lingering doubt, I now knew for sure I was dining with a mentalist. 

The meal finished and the bill came. Douglas shifted a little nervously in his plastic chair and looked down at the table. I looked him in the eye: "Don't tell me. Let me guess. You haven't got enough money to pay for the food, right?"
"I would like to thank you for a most delicious meal" was all he said. At this point I forgot all about his perchance for throwing chairs around, and the fact he was about 50 pounds heavier than me:
"You're taking the piss now. All day long I've been haemorrhaging money since I met you and I'm sick of it. Where's the 20 dollars I gave you earlier?"
"I gave it to my friend's wife".
"And so you sit here, order a table full of food, eat the lot of it, knowing that you've got no money to pay for it, and expect me to pay and don't even ask?!" 
The waiter came over and stood over us, staring. Douglas just shrugged his shoulders and in turn stared at his place mat. My gaze flicked from one to the other of them, gradually realising that I was going to have to pay up just to be able to leave the restaurant without a tail of half a dozen Asians with machetes from the kitchen. I spooned out yet again. Walking back round to the hotel in silence, Douglas eventually broke it by promising that he had money back in his room and he'd buy me a beer in the hotel bar (eh?!) I soon sat in the bar waiting for him, with a beer, on my own - apart from the two and a half thousand mosquitoes that had joined me. No sign. I became determined to winkle a beer out of him. So I went up to his room and knocked on the door. It took a moment until he answered, the door creaking open slowly. The vision that greeted me was like something out of the movie 'Seven', but without all the blood. There were candles arranged all over the window cills and table, a mat was rolled out on the floor, and the mystical Douglas stood naked except for his red wrap around towel at his waist.
"I, erm, wondered if you were coming down to get me... well... erm.. that beer you mentioned...." I muttered, a little overcome with the smell of incense and having a 17 stone tattooed Fijian stood half naked in the candlelight in front of me.
"I will be there soon, Mr Andy. But at this time I always pray to the good Lord for half an hour every day". He looked at the bottle of Fiji bitter in my hand. "But get me one of those and I will join you shortly".
"Forget it". 

As I turned down the stairs, I heard the door creak and click shut, and that was the last I ever saw or heard of Dodgy Douglas. One of the true 'characters' I have met on my trip, and the like of which I hope I don't encounter again. Oh, and when I tried to call home with the (brand new) 20 dollar phone card I'd loaned him, the remaining credit on that was exactly zero. I guess he must have called his lawyer.

Having just re-read the preceding drivel, I realise that it must sound like Fiji was nothing but pain and disappointment. But I have perhaps painted an unfair picture. As I mentioned, the islands and beaches are incredibly beautiful places, and for the most part the people were extremely friendly, helpful and happy. And on one island I even managed to catch some fish. 

Having just left the Coral Coast, I took a bus up to the town of Sigatoka, where I hoped to maybe find a fisherman at the market there, either to wrangle a boat, or to get some local advice. I spent an "evening of luxury" at the Riverview Hotel. A shop keeper directed me there when I asked for "the cheapest room in town", and for the first time in what seemed like an eternity I had a room to myself instead of sharing in another bloody dorm. When I got into the 'suite', the cleaner was still hard at it. I helped her out by nudging a used condom and it's torn packet out from under the bed into the line of her dustpan and brush with the end of my flip flop. She smiled pleasantly; "Vinaka".

After eating a cold noodle dish of some type from a cafe near the bus station, which I suspected would be through me faster than a speeding bullet (I was right, although I never expected it to be a dum-dum), I retired to my room to read and, as it turned out, listen to drunken Fijians brawl, screech and smash bottles across the street outside until long after midnight. The melee was something like you'd expect to hear if you gave a classroom of 12 year olds Vodka Red Bulls with their Smarties (the blue ones, of course). Next day, a really nice lady called Lewa who worked at the fish stall in the Sigatoka market told me that there was some good fishing to be had on Robinson Crusoe Island, not a million miles from the town itself. So, a couple of calls later I was on my way, although not until I had been told by one 'conductor' at the station that there were no more buses in that direction that day... and then told by the 'conductor' at the very next bus (when I double checked) to get aboard because "Yes sir, this bus goes there now. Leaving 5 minutes". Confusing.

Later that day I was on Robinson Crusoe Island. Why it was called that I have no idea, because it would have taken no more than a steady half hour paddle to get to the mainland at low tide, let alone get marooned there for an age. Still, again it was a lovely beach, and after talking to a couple of people there, it seemed that Ziggy was the fisherman to talk to, and he would be on the island the very next morning.

I tracked down and spoke to Ziggy as soon as possible, and he told me he would take me out onto the reef that 

 

Above and below: some freaks from the creeks.

Irish Sean with a Grouper that managed to avoid my hooks! At last- after a few hundred of them now he's most welcome!

very day, in an hour's time. I went back to the dorm to get some gear ready. When I got back to the beach, Ziggy was putting a box full of handlines on the boat, and a queue of people were gathered. It seemed that Ziggy had decided to turn the excursion into a resort day out. Not what I had in mind. 

Clearly the Trevally fishing he so enthusiastically spoke of would have to wait. One amusing moment occurred that morning though. Very little was being caught, I'd had one Grouper (really?!) of a couple of 

pounds ("Oooh, big fish, big fish!" shouted Ziggy - Oh gawd...) and a few of the ubiquitous small wrasse and snapper things, and that, to be honest, was about it for the whole boat of eight, apart from a couple of tiny wrasse. There had been a long, bored silence, when out of nowhere sprang the voice of an Irishman:
"Ziggy?"
"Yes?"
"I wanted to ask you something".
"Yes?"
"Do you always catch this much?"
"Yes sir. Sometimes even more!!!" he replied with a proud smile. 
The problem with irony eh?

In the afternoon, Irish Sean, Dutch David (also from the boat trip) and myself were down on the beach doing a spot more fishing, having spotted stingrays and garfish patrolling the edge of the waves, when along came one of the rotund Australian owners of the island to tell us that fishing from the beach was not permitted on the island. Another kick in my piscine nuts. After chucking my gear back under the bunk, I decided to go and speak to them about it. I guess I was fed up with the whole ordeal by now. After explaining my predicament, and listening to their reasoning behind the fishing ban- the locals had basically netted everything out a few years back anywhere close to the island, so they'd put a row of buoys about 200 metres offset from the perimeter of the coast and called it a 'no fish zone' for everybody. I understood. Seeing my frustration, one of the owners finally said:

"Look, Andy, I love fishing too. Take Ziggy and one of the boats for a go up the river this evening for a bit. there's Trevally in there, big Mangrove Jacks- allsorts. I even have a couple of lures you can use that I'm sure will do the trick". It sounded promising. When I told Irish Sean (who did a bit of fishing back in Ireland) and Dutch David (who had never caught a fish in his life) what had been discussed, they both wanted to come too. 
The more the merrier I guess...

 


Oooh... Trout Porn.



Sai Baba! Wandering the markets and stalls of Nadi town, and I noticed that boxing promoter Don King's brother- Juan King- was doing ok in these parts as some kind of a hair-do-guru. A barnet to aspire to I reckon!

After the heat of the day began to dissipate into evening, the fishing down the mangroves was great fun. Ziggy had be kept in check from trolling at water skiing speed every now and again, but soon a couple of spots were found that obviously held concentrations of predators- deviations in the underwater topography that had the lures bouncing briefly across the river bed until it dropped away into deeper water. These spots would provide some action at every pass, the Mangrove Jacks hit the lures regularly with aggression, and Dutch David caught his first fish, a small Trevally, with which he was delighted and subsequently hooked himself. At one stage I caught three Trevally in a row... a tiny one, a tiny bit bigger one, and one a bit larger still. We finished the session off by heading out of the river mouth into the ocean to try for a big Trevally before darkness fell, chucking the big surface poppers around, all on tenterhooks in the hope that the next hit would be the one I wanted. The evening concluded without any monsters, but who can complain when you're fishing and slurping down a couple of cold beers under an amber and ruby sky?

Next evening, with David having left to carry on his journey, Sean and I headed up the mangroves with Ziggy again in search of some fish action. We headed straight for a couple of spots we'd found, and the fish kept chewing with Sean notching the first three fish in the first three passes, before I finally got a look in and a Mangrove Jack crunched to pieces the lure I'd used the previous evening, which was had been just about hanging in there until then.


After this, more Snapper species, Estuary Cod for Sean (another Grouper... he was welcome to it!) and freakishly enough, a large Pufferfish- which was hooked fair and square in the mouth- hung themselves on the lures one after the other all evening long, and left us happy with what we caught. Although Ziggy didn't seem quite so happy that we only kept a few of the fish to eat, releasing the rest. His little face was a picture when the Pufferfish was dropped back over the side, adamant that they were good to eat. A final hour was spent attempting to track down a large Trevally on the reef again as the sun set, but again to no avail, despite Ziggy insisting this was the best time to get one. I wasn't convinced, but you have to put your faith in local knowledge.

 

Back at the island after dark, one of the Aussie owners quizzed us on how the fishing had gone, and as we waited for the Jack we had placed in the campfire to cook, wrapped in foil with butter, garlic and onion, we told him what had happened, and that his freezer had some new stock:

"I'm telling you now" he said, "Robinson Crusoe Island has the best fishing anywhere in Fiji!!". I felt this was a grand statement considering we'd had two decent evening's fishing up the creek... "But Ziggy's not exactly the best Trevally man here. I'll ask one of the other guys who knows this place inside out to take you for a go at first light tomorrow if you like, cos that's the best time to catch them". Again I was mildly enthused. "I'll be down the beach at dawn. No worries".

An Indian employee on the island, who's name I regrettably can't remember, took me out in the morning. As the sun broke the horizon, we tried spot after spot with his favourite lures, and a couple of mine, but when the sun finally wound up to full strength, I was just sweaty and fishless despite all efforts. We headed back to the beach, with my guide for the morning seemingly in disbelief that we hadn't encountered any Trevally, and me cursing the bloody things for being so elusive! The Aussie hosts commiserated that I was still Trevallyless, but said I should head out for an evening with Ziggy again that night, it being my last on the island.

The familiar pattern ensued, with lots of fish hanging themselves at regular intervals up and down the creeks- the same spots still producing the goods. The choice of lure didn't even seem to matter too much by now either- as long as it didn't work too deep- and I have to say I was really enjoying the fishing, the beautiful surroundings and the perfect tropical weather. Only Ziggy didn't seem overly happy, this being every time I released a fish alive on the basis that plenty had been dropped in their freezer over the past couple of days. I'm sure his bottom lip was trembling a couple of times. "Soooo good to be eating!!" he wailed at one point. The final fish of my jaunt in Fiji was a bit of a surprise too, being a metre long fish resembling a highly polished sword with teeth that seized a Rapala as the mosquitoes swarmed around us on the cusp of darkness. I had never seen, let alone caught one before, but I was assured later by our hosts that it was a "Haretail" (or "Hairtail"?). Unless, of course, anyone knows better: please see photo above left.

Just before I left the island, our host proclaimed yet again that "Robinson Crusoe Island has the best fishing in Fiji mate. I'm telling ya. And please tell ya mates!" I smiled and said that it had been fun. "And I have to say that no one we've had here has ever caught as much as you have this last few days. I mean, we had Rex Hunt here a year or two back, and he only caught one fish in four f***ing days". It took me a moment or two to rearrange that little cluster of contradictions. Whether it meant that the fishing is any good or not, or that he thought that I could fish and Rex Hunt couldn't... or both... or neither I have no idea at all. Whatever it meant, I sure as hell couldn't catch a big GT I'm all too sorry to say. "Yibbida yibbida", as the bearded burbler would say.











Another Boomshanka moment. Conversation would be going as follows - guaranteed:
"So how long have you been in Fiji then?... Really? Cool... So where do you go next?... Really? Cool... So did you go to New Zealand?... Cool isn't it?..." Blah blah blah etc blah titty blah blah blah....titty blah blah titty...

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