A year ago I was sitting in my office talking to a mate about tropical destinations. I identified Fiji as somewhere I really wanted to go and he mentioned that another mate had said that Cameron Kirkconnel, the current dog tooth tuna record holder, had told him that Kadavu off the South coast of Fiji was the best spot he’d seen for big doggies, spanish mackeral and wahoo. As is so often the case these little games of Chinese whispers sowed the seeds of what turned into a great adventure.
After a bit more research I got in contact with Jaga and Heather from Freedive Fiji, booked a week on their boat and set about finding some mates. Over the next couple of months more and more reports of monster fish being speared around Kadavu surfaced and a quiet desperation entered my days as our departure date neared.
Finally Chris, Marcus, Pete, Andy, Timon and I were being collected from the Nadi airport. A quick stop off at a local Chinese restaurant for the traditional hot beef and we were on our way south to the Coral Coast.
We pulled up at our resort where Jaga and Heather met us to discuss the diving. There were a few nervous conversations that night about whether the gear we’d brought was actually going to be up to the type of fish we were likely to run in to.
Unfortunately there was some serious wind blowing that was destined to muck us around.
Day one was shake down day and we smashed out through the white caps. We paired off into flasher teams to try and find some of the spanish mackerel the area is famous for as well as some other reefies.
When you’re diving for gamefish in these sorts of areas the game is to try and entice them close enough to take a shot. The two tools we use for this are flashers and berley and it takes team work to get it working properly. You can work in teams of three or four divers but my preference is to work in pairs. One guy will be keeping the berley trail going while giving the flasher a jiggle and the other is shotgun and should be under the water ready for anything. Working in pairs means there’s absolutely no confusion as to what you should be doing – you’re either on the surface flashing or you should be underwater hunting. As soon as hit the surface you swap over.
The mackies proved elusive but the chilli was steadily filling with trout and other bits and pieces so we were having a good time. About the time I began wondering if the buffet breakfast of cocoa pops then plates of baked beans, eggs and bacon was really what I should have eaten before a rough dive day Ratu, I opened the lunch box and started handing out cup cakes.
Day two was just as windy and a change of plan was needed. We had five dive days booked with the first two based out of the main island and the last three out of Kadavu. On Day Two we were meant to be heading miles out to a sea mount to chase wahoo but it would have been madness in the conditions and the crossing to Kadavu also looked unlikely for Day Three as well. Luckily we had a late flight home with no diving planned on our last day in Fiji so we decided to have a day off on day three and head south a day late.
Despite the forecast claiming 12knot winds on day four the coconut trees were still heeled right over and there were white caps scudding past the harbour. A couple of hours after our planned departure we began the 60 odd nautical mile crossing to Kadavu. The high winds and seas had us slowed to a crawl so it was a little over four hours before we arrived at our first dive site.
We geared up for our first drift along the coral walls. Dog tooth are a deep-water fish, you only have to look at their big eyes to know they prefer deeper water and that means you have to get down deeper to find them. We were diving in pairs with the flashers and berley to try and coax up some of the local residents into divable depths but we were still having to aim for a ledge down around 28m where most of the fish life seemed to be concentrated. We’d dive all the way down as fast as we could without paying much attention to what was around on the descent then level out for a few seconds and if there were no fish immediately present begin a slower ascent hoping to bump into a mackerel or wahoo nearer the surface. On one of my dives I noticed that the reef was jutting out a little further than
elsewhere creating a pressure point and was holding plenty of fish. Sure enough as soon as I leveled out I had a group of three small doggies drift in to check me out. Nothing larger came by so I headed back to the surface and we swam up current a bit in order to get another dive on this little hot spot on the reef.
The extra effort of swimming upcurrent was worth it and on my next dive I leveled off at 25m just in time to see a fair mob of big doggies swimming along the ledge straight for me. I pointed my gun and silently started praying that they’d pass by close enough for a shot. Sure enough they rolled past broadside only a metre or so off the end of my spear and I pushed the red button…
The fish powered off into the depths as I began the long climb back to the surface. I was running a breakaway rig with a 30m bungy that was attached to two 35lt floats on the surface. The beauty of shooting doggies on deep walls like this is that you can use bungies to gradually put the breaks on them without the fish tearing themselves to bits to get off. By the time I hit the surface my bungy was stretched right out and the first float was half submerged. I grabbed the floats and swam as hard as I could away from the reef to prevent the fish from being able to tangle me up. Eventually the fish began to tire and I was able to start pulling it up. Although you can just let the fish totally knacker itself pulling against the bungy and floats it becomes easy prey for the sharks that were now circling so it’s a fine balance between pulling the fish up too soon and tiring yourself out or leaving it down too long just to get eaten by sharks. About 10 minutes after first firing the fish was coming back into view as I pulled it up. My buddy Marcus was swimming around trying to scare off the sharks and he swam down and put a second shot in the fish as soon as he could. As I hauled it up the silver shape just kept getting bigger and bigger and I was truly surprised just how big the doggie was once I got my arms around it.
We eventually got it onboard and the high fives begun. We never got a chance to weigh it but figure it would have gone at least 45kgs so I had my 100 pounder.
That night we pulled into a resort on Kadavu and managed two beers before passing out about 8pm.
Day two on Kadavu was our best chance. We had a whole day and good conditions in one of the very best spearing sites in the world. I saw lots more fish in the 20kg range but as Jaga said “to shoot a record you have to let a 150lber swim past first” so it was a dot day for me. Not so for the Wellingtonians, Chris and Timon who were smashing fish left right and centre culminating in an absolute munter of a sailfish to Chris but I’ll let him tell that story.
“Day two on Kadavu we drifted the first wall again and spotted two good wahoo between us but couldn't get a shaft in. Off to the other wall and all sorts of things started showing up. Four sailies spotted near the surface and a (probably) big yellowfin came in on the flasher but left quickly before we could get a closer look. Doggies and spaniards made their appearances occasionally, but it was mostly quiet apart from some jobbies and sharks hoovering the burley. Late in the day, we tied a small doggie up to a line to drop down to flasher level to encourage some inquisitive fish and boy, did it work! Kicking down, I saw just off from the fish and flasher a light blue shape quickly turn into a big sailie, sitting about 18m down. Breaking eye contact, I swum an intercept path and levelled out as the fish approached. The moment of truth. He went straight at me (which caused some concern) before veering off and offering a 45 degree shot from behind which I took with enthusiasm. The shot was good and the fish flashed before twitching it's way towards the surface. Stoned!
...or not. Seconds later, the floatline was ripping past me and it flew off. Ti Grabbed on at the floats with me ahead and we did some waterskiing for what seemed like a long time. Eventually it tired enough for Ti to get a second shot in, just making it less keen to stick around. At this point, I started to wonder what to do next. I called for another gun and tried to get a kill shot in, but duffed it. What now? Ti handed me my knife which just caused laughter. How was that going to put a stickface down? Quite easily in fact. With some relief we high-fived, untangled gear and got some photo-ops done. Success was ours!”
With a big dog and a saily onboard the last box to tick was a wahoo. Jaga and his mate had shot two over 40kg in a huge mob the week before we got there so hopes were high. We had flashers a heap of berley and the right area but alas the fish never showed. While diving in the berley to try and nail one of the rainbow runners on the reelgun I got lucky with a big Mackie and that was it.
In the end, despite getting slammed by the weather, Kadavu more than lived up to expectations. For the place to give up two truly special fish in such a short space of time is incredible and in the months I’ve spent diving around in the islands I’ve never seen anything like it. That 40kg wahoo box is still unticked though so I don’t think it’s going to be too long until Kadavu lures us back again.