Jim Siers and Anglers Paradise the lovely and exciting gateway to GTs on poppers!
The big white popper arced through the air and landed with a splash in the shallow waters covering the sun-bleached reef. After winding in the slack I whipped the Penn Sabre rod up firmly, thrusting the big 'chugger' forward, and even from 80 metres away the big 'BOOF' of the shifting water could be heard. "Come and eat me!" the popper was saying in fish-type language "Now!"
A few turns of the reel handle brought the popper over the reef edge and into the brilliant turquoise of deep, ocean water. I hauled back on the rod again: BOOF! A momentary pause and a few more turns of the reel handle. BOOF! Wind, wind
I was with charter skipper and resort owner, James (Jim) Siers, and his right-hand man, Govind Reddy, and the above action took place on the first morning of the first day. Jim specialises in catching giant trevally on poppers and although the giant trevally 'season' for the year was supposedly over, Jim doesn't let that sort of thing worry him (and it certainly didn't worry all the giant trevally we hooked, either!).
By end-of-play that day we'd caught (and mostly released) around eight or nine giant trevally to 12kg (and lost several more), taken a bunch of solid 6-kg barracuda, a nice red bass of 7.5kg and I boated a real bruiser of a mangrove jack. In fact, the latter was so big I almost didn't recognise it.
Australians rave about catching 2-kg jacks; this one was around 7kg! It was hooked just a short distance from the narrow creek estuary that led to Jim's private ramp and jetty, and was hanging around a school of baitfish called salala, a species well known for attracting the attention of giant trevally.
For five hectic minutes, every cast in the nearby vicinity provoked angry crashes and strikes on our lures, but for various reasons only the jack was actually landed. Still, a great way to finish off a memorable day! Although our second foray was not as productive for GTs from a landed-fish point of view I don't think that I've ever seen more fish activity in one day. Making the scenario particularly unusual was that all the big coral dwellers appeared to have temporarily vacated the premises but the amount of baitfish and attendant pelagic predators more than made up for their absence!
Everywhere we looked, hour after hour, schools of rippling baitfish were being raided by an assortment of barracuda, walu (Spanish mackerel), long tom and assorted tuna. These forays mostly occurred as long, slashing, ribbons of foam across the water's surface or as high-speed airborne leaps and pounces while the occasional, much larger, watery explosion suggested big yellowfin and/or sharks. (As Jim said: "Murder, murder, everywhere!") Cruising schools of long, slim predators could be seen ghosting under the boat throughout the day and although not targeting these fish, we still hooked quite a few of them on our poppers and jigs. Their sharp teeth ensured that casualties occurred on both sides. On our way back in, we again found the right baitfish ("GT food") and had some very exciting action, landing four or five nice GTs to 13kg in less than an hour. One fish, which ended up breaking me off, was well in excess of 24kg. It struck amidst a patch of mushroom-shaped bommies, and crashed my popper so hard it was almost scary.
The action carried on through to the short session on the last day, which was nothing short of mind-blowing. We fished the nearby channel often casting out into seemingly featureless water and were rewarded by strike after smashing strike. It was just like casting into a minefield: you could never be sure where an explosion might be triggered. Again, bommies were everywhere and hard to see, so ensuing fights were all fast, furious and very, very exciting. Twisting in and out the obstacles made for demanding 'slalom'-type manoeuvres from the man at the wheel, and the occasional shortfall in Outrage's manoeuvrability saw us scampering around her walk-around deck in a effort to prevent being cut-off. Although mostly successful, my 120-lb 'braid was still broken three times that morning, with both Jim and myself suffering harsh treatment from a GT each in the 25-30kg league.
Jim's 'Anglers Paradise' operation is based on a 20-acre seaside plantation that cultivates sugar cane, pineapples and hybrid mangoes an hour and a quarter from Fiji's Nadi airport. It is located on the edge of Bligh Water, a 1000 square kilometre network of coral reefs bordered by the island of Viti Levu in the South, the Yasawa Islands in the west and Vanua Levu in the north. The area is full of fish and is lovely to look at. Just going out there can be a real buzz. Jim says the main concept behind Anglers Paradise revolves around accommodating and catering to the needs of keen anglers, from the time of excited arrival through to reluctant departure. Every effort is made to provide the best possible fishing out amongst the coral structures and main channels.
This is a small, highly focused operation that specifically targets anglers who have some casting skills and who enjoy pro-active fishing for giant trevally. (This means casting or jigging with lures as opposed to bottom fishing with hunks of bait or aimlessly trolling with lures.) Along the way, many other well-known species of tropical thugs tend to be encountered, including walu, wahoo, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna, as well as a wicked assortment of 'coddy-type' fish such as 'snapper', coral trout and bass.
Yep, the fishing's usually very good and Jim wants it to stay that way. This means only keeping one or two fish to eat (generally coral trout or red snapper, or a yellowfin tuna for sashimi) while the rest are returned to live and fight another day. Jim has big plans for the coming summer and it's real pioneering stuff especially so for the first few punters. He intends taking small groups of lucky fishos on two- to three-day fishing adventures to Vanua Levu and the Yasawa Islands.
After fishing some areas that have never seen a fisherman, let alone a popper, intrepid fishos can stay at bures in Fijian villages overnight, and are fed by their own cook. A few 'mod cons' (such as airbeds) will be brought along for added comfort. Jim currently owns two very practical and uncluttered boats: the 7.5-metre Boston Whaler we enjoyed, along with an 8-metre Haines Hunter walkaround. The Boston Whaler is powered by two, 90-horsepower 4-stroke outboards, and the Haines Hunter by a 165hp turbo-charged Volvo duo-prop diesel and a 9.9hp 4-stroke auxiliary. Both operate from Jim's own private ramp and marina, and are fast, seaworthy and reliable. (Hope I haven't jinxed them!) While experienced anglers tend to bring their own equipment, Jim has some of the best specialist casting gear I have ever seen, let alone used. It consists of Shimano Trinidad reels (loaded with 120-lb 'braid) with 7' Penn Sabre rods. There's also a threadline (spinning) option, too, for those who prefer them. Understandably, in all instances it's a case of 'user pays'! Jim has a large house with a massive sundeck that looks out to the sea and the exotic Yasawa Islands. It's a great place to be at the end of the day, so meals and refreshments are often served here. The meals are great. Prepared by Luisa 'Bubu' (pronounced Boomboo Fijian for 'grandmother') Qaluma, her food really gives anglers something to look forward to on their return.
Approximately 200 metres further down the property, and past the toweringsugar cane, is the anglers' guesthouse. It's far enough away from the main house for some privacy, but close enough for meals and a chinwag with Jim if desired. It also looks out over the sparkling sea and is almost surrounded by a spiky pink carpet of pineapple plants. Spacious and airy, the building consists of two, naturally cool (thanks to modern building methods) double bedrooms, each with two double-beds and ensuite bathroom, with a shared (very comfortable) lounge and kitchenette between. The walls are adorned with some of Jim's own tropical photographs. (Jim's a well-known photographer with several superb books to his credit.) A large sundeck runs along the length of the building.
Jim was born in Poland and arrived in New Zealand as an eight-year-old war refugee. Always a keen angler, he worked school holidays to buy his first trout rod, and so began a passion that has raged unabated to the present day. He first came to Fiji on a journalistic assignment in 1962 and found himself returning most years thereafter. This eventually led to the purchase of his current property in 1997 and he's worked hard to turn it into an operating farm and a fishing lodge. He's well read and has enjoyed a very varied life. This makes him an interesting and entertaining companion.
Somewhat understandably, Jim is a very accomplished popper fisherman. He's absolutely passionate about this type of fishing and taught this crusty old fella a thing or two, the most important of which was how to fully utilise chugger-type poppers so they are even more effective than pencil poppers (my usual favourite).
He makes all his own poppers, too or, more accurately, he has casual worker 'Charlie' make them for him. They're based on a highly effective lure from Asia and the copy doesn't seem to have lost much of its powers in the translation. Simply varnished or painted red or white, they really push the right GT buttons!
Anglers Paradise is a very appropriate name. Jim apologised for action that I consider some of the most exciting I've seen, so I can't imagine what really good fishing might be like there. He's well set up, has good accommodation, is thoroughly enthusiastic and I like his staff. So for those anglers who want to discover a slice of lightly touched tropical paradise while simultaneously getting smashed over by some serious hoodlums with fins contact Jim.