And the fishing isn’t bad either!
FIJI has long been known as a honeymooner’s paradise, with amazing beaches, fantastic resorts and some of the best diving in the Pacific. But the recent development of Savusavu and the northern islands of Fiji as a tourist destination has seen the beginning of a sportfishing revolution. Anglers visiting the area are starting to discover what fishing Fijian waters would have been like 40 years ago.
I recently had the opportunity to spend two days sampling the fishing around Savusavu, a small community that’s developing its tourist potential with recreational activities of all descriptions. And I can tell you now: two days was not enough time to fully check out all the fishing – there are just so many options! But it was enough time to give me an overview of what this fantastic area offers the serious angler.
Savusavu is located in a bay that’s protected from all winds bar those from the south. And when these winds blow, the ocean swell is knocked down by the fringing reefs and the intermittent coral outcrops throughout the bay. This means that serious anglers can find a fishing option regardless of the weather, and be totally happy about their choice.
Fishing inside the bay is carried out from long boats or, as the locals call them, ‘banana boats’. These fibreglass boats are anything up to eight metres long and have a beam of not much more than two metres. Powered by single or twin outboards, these fibreglass hulls are surprisingly sturdy, handle the wind chop well and – as I discovered – can handle a 25km trip out to the ocean FAD in a metre and a half swell. Although a little wet in the big swell, at no time did I feel concerned for my safety, especially when another 1.5-metre long dolphinfish crash-tackled a skirted lure and started leaping all over the ocean.
The first thing to surprise you about the area is that the skippers all start their trolling runs just out from where they pick you up. It’s a well known local legend that the biggest ever wahoo to be caught out of Savusavu was taken 30 metres off the bank, right opposite the Driftwood accommodation complex about 1km from the boat harbour. Like all good fishing stories, this one involves local ingenuity and good luck. Local identity Tim Eden, of the Hotsprings Hotel and Savusavu Draught (the locally-made beer) fame, rigged up a lure constructed of a spark plug, hand-made skirt and 9/0 hook and trolled it just off the shore inside the bay. The wahoo hit the home-made lure in front of Driftwood, was landed after a tough battle and weighed an impressive 27kg. This fish joins an impressive list of species which shore-bound anglers can target that includes GTs, yellowfin tuna, coral trout, barracuda, Spanish mackerel and even sailfish at the right time of year.
There are several game boats that operate out of Savusavu and they range in size from 20-footers through to 33-footers that are comfortable, well-equipped and staffed by crews who know the waters, the fish and how to catch them.
As you pass the lighthouse beacon on the way out of the bay, the swell picks up, the heavy gear is deployed and the skippers start searching for working birds as they make their way to one of two FADs. Baitfish are plentiful and easily located thanks to the birds, and all of the Fijian skippers have a great knack of pinpointing which birds are feeding and which birds are taking a break. Without fail, whenever we came across working birds, one or more of the lures would be attacked and the fight would begin.
Skirted lures are favoured by most of the skippers, with small jet heads ideal for chasing the small tuna and dolphinfish, and larger Kona heads for targeting the marlin, sailfish, bigger tuna and dolphinfish. The mackerel and barracuda will eat almost anything, but it’s fun to troll a Rapala around to procure battle scars on it very quickly (it also takes the lure into retirement quickly). Bibless minnows are not used all that often, but when I managed to get my favourite Leads Bibless in the water for more than five minutes it racked up yellowfin tuna, barracuda and dolphinfish in quick succession.
If the birds aren’t working, it’s almost guaranteed that your skipper will take you to one of the two FADs located on the pinnacle. Rising from 3000 feet up to 600 feet, the pinnacle is an obvious and ideal location for a FAD or two and they attract fish like every other FAD I’ve fished near. Dolphinfish hound the bait relentlessly around the FAD, as do schools of small yellowfin tuna, while deeper down the marlin hunt both the dolphinfish and tuna. While we were drift baiting the waters around the FAD, a surface commotion caught our attention. As we turned around we saw the head and shoulders of a big marlin clearing the water as a four-foot dolphinfish was being bill whacked into submission. The ruckus lasted less than 30 seconds, but showed the potential of the FADs.
For those addicted to cast and retrieve fishing, poppering the reef edges for GTs, coral trout and assorted other ooglies is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Heavy, cup-faced bloopers or heavy, skipping poppers that can be cast right in to the reef and worked back over the drop-off are deadly. Sturdy casting gear is called for, and a high-speed reel helps make retrieving the skipping poppers easy. I took a seven-foot threadline rated for 10-15kg line, and matched this to a Shimano TSS4 spooled with 25lb monofilament. This enabled good casting distance and some degree of control over average fish, but the big ones were unstoppable!
Others in our group fished baits on the bottom for all the usual reef suspects, or drifted unweighted chunks of tuna over the drop-offs for wahoo, GTs and coral trout. And trolling the reef edges was fraught with danger as GTs smashed lures and took them home, coral trout aggressively tackled any offering and some fish I’d never seen before ate Rapala CD-18s, Yo-Zuris and Strike Zones. The reef is alive and vibrant and well in need of a full week’s attention by serious sportfishers.
The rivers that empty into the bay hold the mighty mangrove jack. I had only an hour to check out the smallest river in the bay and, as we turned into it and saw the tropical vegetation coming right to the water’s edge, I have to admit to a few goosebumps appearing on the casting arm.
I wasn’t prepared for lure casting in rivers, but I clipped on my smallest fizzer and worked it in all the likely areas. There were a couple of boofs deep under an overhanging mangrove, and then my fizzer came out with three trevally in hot pursuit. Two peeled off and one followed it all the way to the boat before eventually connecting to the lure. Action stations!
The small 2kg trevally started a memorable little session that saw a few more trevally come aboard, and before long Graham Kent from the Gold Coast had hooked and landed his first mangrove jack on a deep diving Gold Bomber.
We fished about a kilometre of river, and when I go back to Fiji I’ll be spending the majority of my time up these tropical island creeks in search of the 50cm mangrove jacks the locals all talk about. The river’s potential is staggering. I strongly recommend that anglers take the time to visit this amazing location.
We flew to Fiji via Air Pacific, which runs flights from both Brisbane and Sydney. There are five flights a week from Brisbane and this will increase to six flights a week from April 2003. Sydneysiders can travel to Fiji daily on one of Air Pacific’s 747s.
International flights land in Nadi, and from there it’s a short 55-minute flight in a Twin Otter to Savusavu. The Twin Otter offers a high transfer frequency of up to five flights a day from Nadi to Savusavu. Unfortunately, the Twin Otter is limited in terms of rod tube and weight restrictions, although I had no problem transporting my seven and a half foot rod tube. An alternative to the Twin Otter is the high-speed catamaran Lagilagi (pronounced langee-langee), which operates twice a week out of Nadi. The owners are currently looking at increasing the number of sailings to fit in with demand. The boat journey is five hours from Nadi with the Lagilagi running at 33 knots.
Once you’re in Savusavu there are approximately 250 beds available in a variety of accommodation venues. Bures are a popular housing style, and there are backpacker-style bunk house bures that cost as little as $50 per night, right up to self-contained private bures with air-conditioning, fans, bar fridges, cooking areas and fantastic views. As the locals say, in Savusavu there is an accommodation style to suit everyone and an activity to suit all tastes.
[FACT BOX 1]
You can organise travel to Fiji and Savusavu through Corporate Fishing Charters. They will organise all transfers and accommodation, including fishing trips, leaving you to enjoy the beautiful country, its people and its fishing. You can contact Corporate Fishing Charters on (03) 9807 6622.
[FACT BOX 2]
ACCOMMODATION AT SAVUSAVU
Features: Pool, bar, airport transfers
Contact: Tim and Lorna Eden
Phone: + 679 885 0046
Beachcomber’s Driftwood Villiage
Features: Pool, bar, airport transfers
Phone: + 679 885 0195
1. The view over Savusavu Bay from the Hotsprings Hotel is spectacular.
2. Ivan Bean hard at work on one of the plentiful dolphinfish to be found inside and outside the bay at Savusavu.
3. Wahoo are regular visitors to Fijian waters and can be targeted with skirted lures, bibles and bibbed minnows.
4. Grahame Kent from the Gold Coast with a great Fijian mangrove jack, his first, taken on a deep diving gold bomber.
5. Simon Nagle loves Fiji and catching the abundant dolphinfish is fun and rewarding.