The Varzina River is running a new program for the…
Just back from a week on Anaa Atoll in the Tuamotus of French Polynesia and thought I’d share my experience here for those who might be interested in going.
Anaa is a very beautiful atoll with a resident population of around 300. The economy is based around copra production and not much else, although it is well known in French Ppolynesia for its abundance of shells for jewellery making. There’s one flight a week in and out of Anaa from Papeete on the same day.
The lagoon is about 20km long and stretches roughly south east to north west with miles of shallow flats on all sides that scream bonefish. Some of these are pure sand and others liberally dotted with small coral heads. The flats are interspersed with outcrops of broken reef, the preferred hunting grounds of the Bluefin trevally that cruise around smashing schools of small goatfish. The deepest part of the lagoon is only about 20ft and there’s plenty of coral bommies spread throughout. There’s a small, adjoining lagoon in the north west which is shallower but still fringed with flats.
The inner reef on the seaward side runs about 100m from shore to an outer reef edge that is fishable on the low tide and drops almost vertically into deep bluewater. Target species on the outer reef edge include, GT, Bluefin, Bohar Snapper (Red Bass), Napoleon Wrasse and a variety of other reefies. The inner reef contains the usual shallow reef species (incl. parrotfish, butterfly fish, angels and a few triggers), but as the rising tide washes in over the reef edge these are joined by the big boys from the bluewater.
Lodging is at the Pension guest house run by Joel, the island’s resident entrepreneur. The cabins were clean and spacious and the food plentiful and varied with a heavy emphasis on seafood. Overall a big step up from from the basic fare on CXI a couple of years ago. Local Hinano beer and soft drinks available at the lodge, but anything else you’d need to bring with you from the duty free shop in Papeete or Auckland.
The head guide is Raphael, a lifelong resident of Anaa and a fish spotting machine. His English is also very limited, but he knows the essential guiding words and the rest you can read from his body language. Although we barely spoke 100 words to each other the whole week, I really liked the guy. I could just tell that he was always working hard to find me fish and his concentration levels (unlike mine) never wavered. Didn’t meet any of the other guides as it was just me fishing, but I’d imagine they’d be equally adept at seeing fish and similarly unfamiliar with English.
I was very lucky to be joined every day by Alex Filous, a marine biologist from the University of Hawaii who has spent the last year and a half studying the bonefish of Anaa and their potential to provide the island with a new sustainable income stream from hosting and guiding catch and release recreational fishing on the atoll.
Unfortunately our week on Anaa was marred by some appalling weather. Needless to say our first four days involved a lot of walking and searching with under very difficult conditions. Once the wind eased back to a more manageable 20-25 knots and a bit less cloud made visibility much better as we moved onto the first flat of the day (a big one that we fished for several hours) which had some good fish moving on to it. Some singles and some in groups of 2 or 3. All decent size fish and a couple of serious horses pushing the 10lb mark!
For me this was the best few hours of the trip. Regularly spotting fish and getting numerous shots. By lunchtime I managed 3 bones landed and 1 lost, all around the 4-5lb mark and all in great condition.
I did manage another couple of small bluefin and had a few shots at some big ones that tore up to the fly only to reject it at the last second. Also saw the only GT encountered inside the lagoon, but we never got closer than 50m to him. He would’ve run 40-50lb maybe bigger.
We saw numerous Bluefin, big and small, hunting goatfish on the rocky points. I had several shots, some good some admittedly pretty bad, but the result was always the same. Charge in, eyeball the fly and then clear out just as fast without taking. Exciting, but really frustrating. We did however manage quite a few smaller bluefin throughout the week.
Walking back to the boat I offered Alex a go with my new Meridian which I was really enjoying casting. No sooner had he flicked a couple of metres of line from the top ring, than a decent bone appeared out of the sun, no more than two rod lengths away. A quick roll cast, one short strip and he (she as it turned out) was on and heading for the deep. Alex cranked the drag down hard and got the fish to the net within a couple of minutes (he doesn’t like exhausting fish with protracted battles, especially with opportunistic sharks about).
The fish was around 5-6lb and wearing one of Alex’s tags, having been tagged and released only about 4 months earlier. Even so the tag had a healthy growth of algae on it, so Alex removed it and put a new one on before re-measuring it and letting it go.As it turns out, it had grown 4cm in that time! He was totally stoked. This was only the second recapture of a tagged fish on fly in 18 months out of around 3,000 dart tagged Bonefish. His excitement was infectious and we all celebrated with high fives. I called him “the one shot kid” for the rest of the trip.
Over the last few days the winds were down to under 10 knots with only a little cloud. The next stop was right down at the bottom of the lagoon – a really beautiful clean sandy flat and a distinct drop off. With not a head of coral in sight, this would be a great spot to hook and play a big bone. I saw nothing for the first 200m, but then saw a massive bone coming up over the edge of the drop off – easily 10lb plus. I got a good cast on him and he moved straight to the fly. My pulse was really racing at this point. It followed for a few metres before three sharks swung in from the drop off, moving much faster than usual towards my fish. Whether it was them, or the bone just didn’t like my fly, I don’t know. In any event, he just peeled off and disappeared back over the drop off!
Saw a few more good size bones over the next hour, but not nearly as big as the first one. I hooked two and lost them both and had a couple more follows that resulted in no takes. The rest of the day the bonefish went quiet again, but I hooked and lost another 3 bluefin (2 cut off on the coral and one that snapped the fly off my 20lb tippet with a really savage strike). I did get another couple of small bluefin on the bone rod, but overall the fish got the better of me that day. Still, nice to fish a whole day in clear blue water under a relatively cloudless sky with light winds. We even had a visit by a few wild pigs!
On the final day with just the morning to fish before the afternoon flight out, we decided to hit the outer reef edge for the big boys. The ocean swell had backed right off with the drop in the wind and a low tide around 9am meant conditions were in our favour.
I’d never done this kind of fishing. In fact I’d never even cast a 12wt before. Turns out it’s pretty brutal for the uninitiated. Stand as close as you dare to the breakers pounding the edge of the reef around your ankles, pitch a massive fly out on a 130lb leader, crank the drag down to maximum and cross you fingers.
Making two or three casts into each likely looking hole and gutter before moving on, things started pretty slow. But when the tide turned the fish started to appear, seemingly eager to get up over the ledge and into the shallow inner reef. Over the next 90 minutes we saw multiple bluefin, a few GTs, several Bohar Snapper (Red Bass) and a couple of big Napoleon Wrasse, one around the 40lb mark.
With less than an hour to go a big Bohar emerged from nowhere and snarfed the fly with such force it pulled rod right out of my wet fingers. Luckily I managed to grab the butt with my left hand before it disappeared into the abyss. However, those few seconds were enough to allow fish to duck under the ledge at my feet with the line bent at right angles over the sharp coral. Pulling hard at that point would have been disastrous, so I let the line go slack and after 10 seconds the fish came out far enough for Alex to grab the leader and skull drag it onto the ledge. He had nowhere to go and with the next wave we pulled him up and landed him!!
The whole thing took seconds and I’d have surely lost it if not for Alex. It was far from pretty with a total lack of finesse but I was over the moon.
A few minutes later I got a small Peacock Grouper (really pretty fish) and two casts later a monstrous Napoleon Wrasse (easily 50lb) charged up onto the ledge and sclooped my fly into its gob lying on its side, no more than 2 rod lengths out. However, the wash was big, creating some slack in the line and by the time I stripped enough to tighten up, the fish spat the fly and was gone. Alex and Raphael were gutted.
Even if I had hooked it, there’s every chance I wouldn’t have been able to stop it, but given it’s position on top of ledge, all I would had to have done was stop it from getting back to the deep water and we could have hauled it up before it even knew what was happening. Anyway, all academic – it wasn’t to be.
Blew a chance at another decent bluefin on the inner reef on the walk back to the boat with an atrocious cast and that was the end of my Anaa week. I’m sure a better fisher/caster than me would have fared much better, but as a relative newcomer to the saltwater fly, I left with a whole lot of new knowledge and one truly memorable fish. Had the weather been kinder, who knows how it would’ve panned out – but hey – that’s fishing.
Thanks James for booking and organising the whole trip. You did an excellent job – great pre-trip info and the itinerary ran as smooth as clockwork.