"Get bloody stuck in Clarko". "Come on wind, mate, wind, this isn't some harbour fishing trip, COME ON CLARKO."
Greg "Hoppo" Hopping from Samoa's "Troppo" fishing adventure charters is possibly the most Australian man I've ever met. A real good Australian too, the type of bloke who could easily have played an uncle in the movie The Castle. Perhaps an uncle who had "shot through, Blue", escaping the flaming rat race to wind up in the tropics, a few skeletons neatly tucked away. Probably.
I liked him instantly, as I did his deckhands Sal and Daniel. As I often remark ad nauseum, a fishing trip is never about the fish you come home with, but the adventure of the day. The company you are in is a large part of that. So as we pulled away from the wharf in Hoppo's trusty launch, I knew I was already off to a winner.
As was eluded to in this column last week , Samoa was my sleeping giant when it came to its potential for fishing. After six trips over and never having heard much about its fishy status, albeit one disastrous boat trip with a crew without a clue, I held exactly zero expectations.
So to find myself attached to a giant trevally less than 40 minutes after leaving the wharf at Apia, caught on a popper while casting over shallow reef, came as a real surprise. When I say attached, it was literally heading for the horizon as if my 80lb braided line was dental floss.
Landing, weighing and releasing that 60lb fish while still a bit dazed from the speed of it all, I shrugged/told myself it was a fluke/picked up my line and cast again. Bang, hooked up. It turns out that the reef up and down from Apia is alive with these GTs, one of the most sought-after tropical game fish. This was heaven.
But that wouldn't be the largest fish of the trip, not by a long shot. I knew Hoppo was keen to show the area off, and on the way to our next fishing destination, he convinced me to put out some of his famous "never fail" lures from his mate at JB Lures.
Now I have "pulled plastic" (the term salty fishing pirates give to trolling skirted lures for big game) many times, and the one thing I know is that you have to put in the hours to get a chance at a big fish. So I just thought this was something to do as we travelled between spots, but it turns out that Samoa didn't get that memo.
No sooner had we set a spread of special lures bubbling away behind us, with Hoppo settling into another bloody good yarn about bloody something or other, when the over-engineered Penn gold game-reel snapped into life, its ratchet screaming murder at about 1000bpm. Whatever was on the other end was significant and heading in the opposite direction. What, exactly, wasn't all that clear, until about 650 metres behind the boat a shape exploded out of the water, leaving a car-sized hole.
All sorts of salty words started to flow subconsciously from Hoppo's lips, which I took to be encouragement, but could have been abuse, or perhaps even poetry. To be completely honest my sheltered upbringing meant I didn't even know what half of the words were, but that could just have been his thick accent.
After a considerable period of shouting, winding, shouting and more winding, we finally caught and then released a blue marlin so large that, based on length, it was predicted to have weighed around 170kgs. Poetically the lure that caught it was called a "Dingo".
Please bear in mind this was all before we had even arrived at our "proper" fishing spot. Here it went up another gear, catching everything from dog tooth tuna, huge coral trout and lots of other finned oddities that only live in warm water. Fish like the long nosed emperor, a prized eating delicacy on the island. It was a heck of a session, especially when given the chance to get in the water with my spear where I nabbed a Spanish mackerel and a couple of barracouda for deckhand Sal to take back to her village to round out the day.
Having a debrief beer at a ramshackle bar next to the wharf that evening, Hoppo regaled us with talks of further offshore spots, where the fishing was even more impressive. I instantly started planning my next trip, knowing I could never look at Samoa the same way again. Fair bloody dinkum.
Samoan Tuna Poke (Raw fish dish)
Take a fillet or more and cut into small cubes all the same size (about 2.5cm across)
Place in bowl and refrigerate.
1/2 cup Kikkoman soy sauce
1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce
5 x garlic cloves finely chopped
1 x small chopped onion
3 tsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp brown sugar
Fresh chilli to taste
1 diced spring onion
1 chopped green capsicum
Mix ingredients together in a large bowl, refrigerate for 30 minutes then remove and mix with tuna. Allow to stand briefly before serving.
Serving Suggestion: Place into half a split coconut and enjoy.
Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, Sundays at 5.30pm on Three