Bucks Spearfishing - Vanuatu.

A land based search for fresh fish and adventure on route to our Island style wedding for the hundreds…

“Trying to pull together a land based dive adventure with a limited window of time is hard enough, add to that challenge the simultaneous creation of a large out door beach wedding to be shared with hundreds of families from different Islands and you have a task of mind bending proportion that even the greatest optimist among us would shudder at the thought.”

After almost a years worth of planning, organisation and funding for a “local style” Vanuatu

wedding to be held on my soon to be wife’s (Devnie) Island, Ambae. Our plans were turned

on their head with the huge volcano that dominates the Islands landscape bursting into

action.

The decision had to be made, postpone the whole thing for another year, or try and pull

it all back together… After talking to all the invited families who had purchased travel and

accommodation (of the non-refundable type) it was clear that we had to make it work.

Finding the funds for the second time that year was not going to be easy. With our now

heavily reduced budget and no location with the infrastructure available to cater for the

volume of people or food needed, it took all of the remaining few months before leaving our

home on Norfolk Island to get everything to a point where we thought pulling it off would

even be possible.

Some how these few months of re-organisation flew past in what seemed like the blink of

an eye and we were now in flight, Vanuatu bound… The plans had come together in a way

that should have only left face to face meetings and our own ground work to pull it off…

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As for our more immediate plan, everyone should have arrived in Port Vila on the same

plane, however as always, plans have to be adjusted, this time because one of “the boys” had

purchased the 11:00pm flight rather than the 11:00am flight that the rest of us had arrived

on…

A couple of adjustments and eventually we all had come together, the girls destined for a

weekend of eating, socialising and dancing at the clubs… The boys headed North with a

combined total of 90kg of dive/spear gear as well as tents/camp gear.

The scene was set. Through local family’s friends I had arranged that we head up to

their family village, pitch tents and have a quick scout of the surrounding land and seascape.

Our family friend had talked to me about his uncle and his fishing exploits off shore

from their village. He had told me that for a set price we could explore the near by Islands

and the FAD which held large Dog Tooth Tuna, Marlin, Wahoo and Yellowfin Tuna.

Before leaving “town” I had bought loads of tinned food, rice and fresh vegetables,

giving them to the people who would be our adopted family for the weekend.

Normally when traveling I make sure that I never hand over money before the service I

am paying for has been received, however this time with the word of friends being given I had

opted to be rid of all the cash that would otherwise sit in a tent all day while we were diving.

This was one less thing to think about, when all that I really wanted to do was have a total

break from the mind and just loose myself in the free diving and hunting within these clear,

warm, tropical waters.

Our family friend who had organised the whole thing, had his sister cook us two large

meals a day, in the middle of and after the days diving and “Uncle” was to take care of

everything else, boat and ocean related.

Whilst the former materialised, the latter became something less than agreed. “Uncle”

had decided that the wind was too great, the fuel too expensive and the distances too far to

follow through with any exploration of the Islands and/or the F.A.D.

Probably already receiving the cash had given him opportunity to think in a business

sense, looking at maximising profit by minimising cost. (ie. fuel)

Here in lays one of the biggest challenges that you will face when trying to make land

based diving a success!

Aside from the fact that you are at the mercy of the weather, you have to have a trust

worthy crew, who know the waters/reefs and fish, who understand where to place a diver,

relative to the conditions and to the fish they want to target…

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You need all this and you also need to strike a balance between what is a fair, good value

arrangement for yourself and for your local guide…

This is very tricky, on the one hand you don’t want to be paying more than you would

on a similar charter in Australian waters, where the cost of living and maintaining such a

business is far greater…

On the other hand you need to try not to cut down the cost so low that your guide will

risk loosing money or the ability to support their family.

So you need to think about what is fair, make an offer and make sure your guide is

totally happy… Because, at the end of the day your life is in their hands!

Sometimes it’s easier to find this balance by working out what is a good days wage for a

local in the present climate, offering that amount to your guide, plus taking into account

maintenance for the boat etc. Then taking it upon yourself to fill all the fuel tanks required for

your journey. That way everyone wins and there a good vibe going into the day/days diving.

Usually always ending with a good vibe at the end when parting ways.

“Uncle’s” business based decisions to stay closer to port, instead of exploring the outer

Island had us dropped off above a broken coral, sandy gutter, between two sections of reef

where the depth ranged between thirty five to well over forty meters.

There he said we would see big Dog Tooth.

After a few drifts and dives in the raging current, that brought with it strong pockets of

turbulence and down current, I asked that he take us to an area with better structure in the

form of shallower coral with deep drop off’s at the edge.

A short run later, we were dropped into an area where the current was still running

pretty strong. However this time the bottom coral and sand was a more workable twenty three

to twenty eight meters, as we drifted toward the “Sand Island” the reef rose up in many

different shapes, with gutters and ledges. This was to be our hunting ground for the next three

days.

At the beginning of the first drift I had dropped between some deeper coral bommies on

the sand, seeing some reef fish near by.

Coral Trout and a Buffalo Emperor had my attention for the duration of the dive, as

they sat well out of range, keeping a watchful eye on the new comer invading their grounds.

It wasn’t until my assent that I noticed out in the middle of the distant sandy flats a big

“Jobbie” (Green Job Fish) this fish had to be thirteen kilos or over?

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I surfaced and let the boys know of the fish’s existence and location. By which time we

had shot right past the main structure and out off the side in another tide swept trench.

Re-grouping and moving back up current in the boat we made a game plan, trying to

position our entry so that we would this time drift onto the outer edge of the shallower reef.

Right away this new line had us floating above some really interesting coral structure at a

depth of twenty three meters, it was broken by sandy flats that became covered in a higher

density of fish life the closer we got to the main Island/reef.

Not wanting to waste an opportunity on a potential Jobbie of a lifetime I had opted not

to take a shot at a nice Long Nose Emperor on my first drop, after which finding myself

manning the flasher as my Buddy Ben dropped to the edge of another interesting looking set

of reef surrounded by sand.

Watching his decent, I noticed as he landed atop the reef that there was another big

Jobbie out on the sand to his left. I willed it to come in at Ben as I jigged the flasher sitting

about twenty one meters deep just above and behind where he was laying.

A short few seconds later the fish did the unthinkable, not even noticing Ben as he

pulled himself along the bottom toward it, instead mesmerised by the flashing silver shapes, it

moved closer looking upward until it was too late.

Ben took what was an extremely long shot for a small rail gun set up with reel and only

one rubber, which hit the fish low, the shaft not penetrating out the other side of the gut cavity.

The fight was on… As Ben surfaced the fish swum hard out on it’s side dragging the

shaft and line along the coral and sand trying to free it’s self.

I watched Ben as he surfaced, head breaking the surface, then as soon as I knew he was

fine I took a deep breath and headed down to make sure that this fish was coming back to

camp with us.

After noticing the shots position, I wasted no time, putting a second shot into the fish’s

head.

Absolutely stoked, we had our first fish of the Buck’s trip and it was an absolute cracker

Jobbie that had to be close to fourteen kilos!

For the rest of the morning we made drop after drop in the current, learning more

about the terrain and where the fish were holding with every drift. Eventually ending our first

morning with a great mixed bag of Coral Trout, Parrot Fish, Midnight Snapper and a few

Jobbies.

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Back at camp, fish filleted, we took turns having a quick rinse in the outdoor tin shack

shower by which time the aroma of freshly cooked rice and grilled fish was filling the air.

Luckily for us the sister of our friend was a great local style cook and we quickly sat

down to recharge our bodies with the goodness of plantain (cooking banana) poached in

coconut cream together with rice, boiled local cabbage and super fresh crispy Job Fish.

A short retreat to our tents for a nap, then we were headed back out.

Same reef, totally different feel. The tide was now high and the current running the

opposite direction, we moved to the other end of the reef and drifted toward it.

The visibility had gone from the mornings thirty meter, glass to about eight meters with

chop. We had jumped in on a section where the bottom was close to forty meters. As we

drifted toward the structure I saw what looked like a school of fish just on the edge of visibility.

I dropped and as they came into view I was startled, realising they were all Jobbies and

they were all as big or bigger than the one Ben had speared in the morning.

As I drifted into their space they all moved off just on the edge of, or out of range, they

were not interested in anything I was selling. It became apparent that chum was the only

thing going to tip the balance in our favour.

I spent the next few deep dives trying to get a surgeon or one of the small GT’s that

occasionally darted past along the bottom.

By the time I had shot a surgeon it was time to move up current again and of course no

matter how much chum I dropped on this drift, the Jobbies had disappeared.

So the rest of the afternoon was spent taking a few more reef species, it was great fun

moving through the gutters between towering reef/coral structures, getting close to Emperors,

Large Eye Sea Bream (Mu) as well as the flighty Mouri Sea Perch (MSP)… In fact I became

so obsessed with landing a MSP that I dedicated the rest of the afternoon to hunting them. It

didn’t seem to matter how you approached them, how well you hid after dropping or how

long you waited, these fish were seriously clued up!

By this time, everyone else was dived out and had returned to the boat that was drifting

beside me as I floated in the current. I was determined not to give in, I had to get a MSP.

It was right on dark and after countless drops that had failed to get me anything more

than a passing glimpse on the edge of range, when I finally saw a few nice fish swim into a

gutter on the other side of the reef I was drifting toward.

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I dropped to the bottom and stalked along the sand, all the way around the reef, then up

the rock wall on the other side, just in time to see the last couple swimming past in open

water.

I took a very long shot with my Aimrite roller/reel gun hitting the fish mid body, it took

off straight into a cave. I let off all pressure as I made my assent. I knew there was little chance

of the shaft penetrating fully…

Upon surfacing I swum against the current trying to breathe up, also calling out to the

boys that I had shot a MSP that had caved up.

Matty got dropped back up current by the boat and dived on the fish pulling it from the

cave with force, the shaft ripped and my heart sank.

I watched the fish swim into another cave as I re-loaded, took a breath I dived what felt

like thirty meters to edge the reef that actually was only fifteen meters deep. Through the

darkness I could just see movement at the back, I recognised faint shape/marking as a MSP

tail and guessed where the head would be, taking a blind shot into what I thought would be

the middle of the fish. I pulled the fish free, noticing that I had hit it again right where the first

shot had ripped from. Upon landing the fish I realised just how big it was. An estimated

twelve to thirteen kilos… I was seriously stoked!

What a way to end the first day of our bucks weekend spear adventure!

Unfortunately my celebrations were cut short soon after and I was left feeling pretty

disappointed that I had dedicated so much energy into hunting such an intelligent, beautiful

fish only to be told that it was inedible in this area, especially at that size as it would defiantly

have ciguatera.

Re-charging back at camp with more freshly prepared local food that showcased our

catch, we ate a great meal and gave all the remaining fish from the days diving to the Chief of

the village as well as his family and friends.

This gesture was made as a thank you for letting us stay on their land also fishing their

waters, something that should never be taken for granted.

The waters we were diving are the communities lively hood. The place where they go to

get food for their families, which they depend upon for their very survival.

Unfortunately the gesture turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing, as despite

their local knowledge and the fact that they eat fish from the same reef every day, all who ate

the Coronation Trout, Parrot fish and Snapper had a bad case of ciguatera poisoning.

Including the family dog and cat, who I am pretty sure both died after we had left.

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The next day we made a new game plan.“Uncle” was again hesitant to take us

anywhere that required any real time motoring and using substantial fuel, so we opted to go

right back to the ground where we started off so well the day before, this time targeting Dog

Tooth Tuna. We chummed the inedible fish and the frames from the day before and drifted

toward the deeper drops on the edge of the reef.

Making several dives each on every drift we had managed to secure a good mixed bag of

reef species once more. During this time, only seeing one passing glimpse of a small Dog

Tooth.

Ben had decided that he was dived out and was ready for an early lunch, so we headed

in and again ate a great fish meal accompanied by tasty fire baked local dishes with coconut

rice.

After a short rest Matty and myself headed back out to continue looking for Doggies.

It was on the second drift of the afternoon after dropping yet more chum that I saw a

pair of nice fat little Doggies moving through. I dropped, angling my decent slightly away

from them. This did the trick, gaining their interest as they swum right past giving me a great

broad side angle to place a solid holding shot with my Aimrite roller/reel gun.

The fish went hard and had me concerned that I may be spooled before swimming the

full twenty four meters back to the surface.

Upon resurfacing I put as much pressure as I could on the fish whilst swimming forward

trying to win back line, whilst being towed along the surface and pulled under again and

again.

After a short hard fight I had the fish mid water and Matty decided to place a second

shot. Causing the fish to gave up… Soon after we had the first doggie of the trip on board.

Though not huge it was a great eating size and we were all stoked to try yet another great

tasting fish species that night!

After a few more drifts and many more drops in the testing current we had again

secured a nice mix of reef fish including Coral Trout, Mu, Emperor, Barracuda and

Trevally… Not seeing any more Doggies we decided to head in as the sun set.

That night after dinner I had a call from my soon to be wife, after some mishaps with

their accommodation and some night club drama both she and our one year old daughter

had fallen seriously ill with a gastro virus or food poisoning. Too exhausted to look after

herself and our little girl, it was time for me to make an early departure from the Bucks

weekend.

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I let the boys know, made sure all their diving and meals were organised with the

families and after packing all my dive gear and tent etc. I was headed back to “town”.

A day of rest had the girls recharged enough. So much so, that we decided to go on with

the pre-planned events… We hired a ute and picked up all the other girls as well as the boys

from the village camp site and headed on a drive all the way around the Island, stopping at

waterfalls and fresh water swim holes, making a fire and cooking lunch along the way.

It was a great day and the best way to finish out our time in Port Vila.

Next stop, Santo where we had the mammoth task of not only organising a wedding but

also taking charge of peoples relocation/moving all of the families who were still stuck on

Ambae Island, with no Government support in the middle of heavy volcanic activity.

Rendering the once fertile forests and streams into an uninhabitable acidic mass of ash.

After chartering a ship for their voyage, we hired another Ute and picked them up along

with their belongings, moving them to a church where they would be camping for the

foreseeable future. This venture took us well into the night leaving us all exhausted.

After a couple of hours sleep we began the main wedding preparations. Moving up

North to the site where we would be holding the wedding as well as hopefully diving to find

fish for the day.

“Lonnoc Beach Bungalows” would be our new home for the next two weeks. The boys

helped out where needed and spent the rest of their time paddling a kayak out to the close

reefs looking at the fish life and relaxing on the beach.

During this time, we (Devnie and myself) were flat out, digging into a mountain of

wedding preparations, which included driving the highway back and forth to “Town” each

day for over four hours behind the wheel.

Half way through these organisations, we were asked by the Amabe families if we could

come with them on a boat guided by the Chief of an Island near Town to shoot some fish for

the camping families to eat.

Happy to oblige this request the boy’s and I headed down to meet them…

The plan was that we would dive from the boat whilst the Chief took a group of the

Ambae people to his Island to pick vegetables and cabbage helping out the displaced

Islanders.

Unfortunately, again money corrupted the arrangement and instead of going to the

Island with the full boat of Amabe people. They were instead dropped off half way on a beach

for what we were told was a short break whilst we hunted a near by reef.

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Three hours passed with the Chief telling us to keep diving one section of pretty

unhealthy looking reef, we managed to get another good mixed bag of smaller (safe to eat)

reef fish. Before finally the Chief took us back to the beach. Picking up the Ambae people and

taking us all back to town.

It was probably the most disappointing let down of the trip, with promises being made

to people who where forced from their homes, now camping with little food to go around.

Happily the fish made a difference and we went to the market and bought bulk rice,

tinned food and cabbage, to get them through till it was time to drive them all north for the

wedding.

After a solid weeks organisations it came time to move everyone North and so the hours

passed, on what felt like an endless highway, driving back and forth in a Toyota Ute, packed

with fifteen people at a time as well as their camp gear, over two days.

One last attempt at diving for the fish component of the wedding catering was made

with all of us taking the long drive back down to “Million Dollar Point” where I had met a

friendly local to the area who sent us out on his boat.

Unfortunately his brother, who I had been out with a couple of years earlier was away.

Had he been there the day could have been a great success, however our guide knew little

about the areas he was taking us and we spent the whole afternoon bailing the leaky tinny and

diving deep, countless times onto pretty quiet reef with average vis and nothing worth taking

for the wedding. So disappointedly, we headed back up North for the final crazy rush to get

everything done.

The Big day was now here and thanks to all of the Ambae families pulling together in a

way that only the best, most self-reliant, crafty people of the land can do. The plans somehow

materialised into a perfect Island style wedding that all of the visiting families, friends and

local’s alike fully enjoyed!

It was truly one of the most memorable and beautiful days of my life, moving me to

tears more than once!

After all the craziness and a quick overnight escape by myself and my Wife we began to

unpack and move all the Ambae people and visiting guests back south, finishing out this

portion of our journey.

The next day Matty and I finally got to dive Lonnoc’s waters, at the back of the Island

where we had planned to get fish for the wedding “Elephant Island.”

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It was truly beautiful and soon after entering the water it became apparent that, had we

managed to find time to organise the diving there/pre-wedding the outcome would have been

very different!

Matty and I quickly filled the esky with a tasty selection of many tasty reef fish, then

moving to the edge of the coral Atoll I chummed some small Trevally I had shot for the

purpose, it defiantly looked like a place where big Dog Tooth should be.

Our driver for the day was the “Custom” owner of Elephant Island and he told us that

had our local friend organised that he pick us up before sunrise, we would have arrived at the

reef drop, to see it filled with huge Dog Tooth!

He went on to tell us of the last diver he took out there only a couple of weeks earlier,

had shot a big Doggie first thing in the morning, having it take down two large floats into the

abyss, never to be seen again.

During our time there we dropped a good amount of chum and made many drops to

thirty meters, laying on the edge of the coral where it then dropped to what must have been

well over sixty meters.

Ignoring the quality reef fish that were swimming by finally paid off as a solid “Doggie”

swum from the depths and out in front of me, out of range and not looking like coming in. I

pushed off the bottom and made a slow approach head on, not looking directly at the fish.

Pushing as close as I could without spooking it, I got a shot from behind on an angle forward.

Letting the shaft of my Aimrite King Venom railgun fly. It punctured the lateral line,

clipping the spine and lodged the slip tip deep into the skull of the fish.

Partially immobilised, the fish couldn’t fight as hard as it should have been able to,

repeatedly shaking it’s head in an attempt to free it’s self, rather than heading for the depths…

So after a short hard battle the fish was secured and again we were blessed with an amazing

feed back at the bungalows.

My wife and I enjoyed the last moments with the few remaining families and friends

before they too moved on.

It was great to finally relax without having a mountain of organisations to think about!

That was until we put our next series of plans into action, moving all the remaining families

even further north for a massive Christmas camp and lunch at a new amazingly beautiful

location on the beach that had laid out in-front of us countless Islands and reef bommies to be

explored!

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That is another story though, so I leave you here with the idea of new adventures yet

untold.

I hope that you enjoyed hearing of our Vanuatu adventures. Thank you for your time!

If you enjoy this story keep an eye out on this page for our future adventures and

video’s.

See more of our video content @South Pacific Spearfishing/YouTube.

and also @nfislnder/YouTube.

Words and footage by,

Jamie Ryves.

Additional footage by,

Benjamin Watts.

Additional images by,

“Stuck On A Rock Photography” (Zach Sanders) And Wesley Souier.

Travis Hogan