(Click through all the photos in the above gallery for more Tahitian action.)
For the last 30 years, the pages of Marlin have documented the finest marlin fishing in the most virgin waters on the planet. Yet the world’s oceans were fished, explored and critiqued for many years before Marlin published its first issue in 1982. From Hemingway to Lerner, McClane to Ted Williams, all the way up to the modern writers of today, few had the opportunity to fish truly pristine waters like those encountered by Zane Grey during his early expeditions. I first read of Grey’s international fishing quests in Tales of Tahitian Waters. Published in the early 1930s, this book provided a punk junior high school kid looking for book report material a glimpse into the world of big-game fishing. Not only did I get an A on the report, but I also became fascinated with the prospect of going to the South Pacific to fish virgin marlin waters myself. Little did I know that some 40 years later I would find myself on one of the most custom sport-fishers ever built fishing remote Tahitian waters that Grey himself never reached.
Tahiti boasts some amazing blue-water fishing; Grey caught the world’s first 1,000-pound sport fish on rod and reel — a blue marlin — off the main island of Tahiti back in 1930. The account of the capture of that fish in his book is mesmerizing, as was the opportunity to fish the very same waters and land blue marlin 80 years later. But the real adventure of fishing the untouched waters that Grey experienced lies in the outer French Polynesian island groups: the Tuamotu Archipelago to the east and the Austral Islands to the south.
Luckily, I’ve enjoyed the honor and pleasure of fishing Tahitian waters for the last two years and did so in style. I fished aboard Ultimate Lady, a 90-foot custom catamaran sport-fisher built in New Zealand. Owner Fred Lewis designed the boat to be the world’s ultimate long-range fishing platform — I’m pretty sure that he succeeded. Sporting a 33-foot beam, a top speed of 32 knots, a clean wake and great fuel economy, Ultimate Lady backs down at 12 knots and sports an advanced side-scanning sonar.
In February 2012, my film crew and I flew 500 miles east of Tahiti to the island of Hao to meet Ultimate Lady. This coral donut in the middle of the South Pacific (literally 4,000 miles from Los Angeles and 4,000 miles from Sydney) is not much more than an airstrip, a few houses, a school and an awesome French bakery. We boarded Ultimate Lady, and Capt. Tom Francis gave me a rundown of what fishing adventures we could expect.
Our plan was to fish the blue-water walls and drop-offs surrounding Hao for a few days then head west in a zigzag pattern for a few hundred miles to fish some other coral atolls for a variety of tropical game fish until hitting the island of Fakarava.
Joining us on the trip was Daniel Siu, a local Tahitian businessman and very serious sport angler. He warned me of the giant dogtooth tuna and huge giant trevally we would be catching in and near the coral reef habitats. But no warning can prepare you for what you see and feel when one of these bites. The crystal-blue waters and steep drop-offs are literally covered with wahoo, skipjack and yellowfin tuna, so we knew our chances of finding blue marlin would be a nonissue. Add to that modern side-scanning sonar and a captain well versed with its use, and the chances increased exponentially.
We raised four blue marlin on our first day of fishing, getting three bites and catching two. Both were respectable fish in the 300- to 400-pound range, and Francis assured us that 700- and 800-pounders were common, hence the four Shimano and Accurate 130s tethered to our lures. Although Ultimate Lady accommodates tunas from 5 to 30 pounds in its elaborate set of tuna tubes, the marlin seemed happy chewing on the lures, and we never felt the need to spend time catching and dropping back a live bridled bait.
Over the next eight days, of which we committed only four to marlin fishing, we raised 17 fish (15 of which were first seen on sonar), got 11 bites and caught and released six. Our lures of choice for the trip were Stemsons 14-inch Reflex and 17-inch Mouthful, Black Bart’s 1656 angle nose and Blue Breakfast, and Moldcraft’s Standard and Magnum Wide Ranges.