22 June, 2012

Samoan charter fleet developing rapidly

By Grant Dixon

My first visit to Samoa, before NZ Fishing News days, was in the early 1990s – part of a NZ Community Newspapers Association’s exchange programme.

Apia, Samoa’s charter fleet and marina facilities has expanded rapidly in recent years. I spent three weeks in Apia attached to the Samoa Observer, one of the few independent publications at the time, where I helped advise their newsroom.

During my stay I was keen to do a little fishing, but there was nothing obviously available. None of the hotels had any fishing brochures on their tours desk and the Visitors Bureau couldn’t help. I asked around about game fishing, and always drew a blank from the locals or was pointed towards the small commercial fleet of drop-lining boats that supplied the domestic market with albacore and skipjack.

Since that first trip and my secondment to this magazine more years ago than I care to remember, I have enjoyed 18 trips to Samoa and have seen the recreational sport fishery grow to be a good as any of its Pacific island neighbours.

Samoa has many fond memories for me. It was where I caught my first marlin, a 149kg blue from one of the first ‘official’ charter boats Ole Pea, a 7.6m Ramco Sportsman operated by Samoa Marine. Later trips produced my first decent yellowfin, a 68kg specimen, which was the Samoa International Game Fishing Association’s 37kg record for a while, as well as my first-ever sailfish.

Initially my visits involved assisting with the running and promotion of the first SIGFA tournaments, which saw many of the visitors fishing aboard the local aleas – the twin-hulled commercial fishing boats then involved with a fledgling commercial long-lining industry.

What the Samoans lacked in fishing expertise, craft and gear was made up for by their legendary hospitality, a feature that has remained right through to today’s tournaments.

Getting enough boats of a suitable quality was a serious issue though, and the local crews struggled to come to grips with the IGFA rules on which the tournament – but not their day-to-day fishing – was based.

Fortunately, over time the spirit of IGFA rules was appreciated and understood, and sponsorship remained strong. The outstanding issue was therefore the number of suitable charter craft available,and as a consequence the ‘bring your own boat’ regime was instituted.

This got off to a bit of a shaky start. Not all the government departments were singing from the same song sheet, resulting in the odd hidden cost or two, and one of the boats rolled off a ship while in transit in Fiji, the stern leg getting damaged when it crashed onto the wharf.

I am pleased to report the whole process has been tidied up and the Samoan Government has done a fantastic job of making it as easy as possible for Kiwi crews to bring out their own boats (thanks also to Pacific Forum Line, who played a major part, too).

When the original committee first dreamt up the SIGFA tournament, few could have envisaged the large number of boats and international anglers contesting the event today. I am unaware of another Pacific destination, other than Hawaii, that has a gamefishing contest of such significance, especially as it now combines with neighbours American Samoa to bring two good contests back-to-back (see Sam Mossman’s report of the Pago Pago leg elsewhere in this edition).

Just as the tournament has grown, so too have the facilities and charter fleet. From those early days of Samoa Marine on Ole Pea, along with a handful of locals such as Alfred Schwalger, Max Rassmussen, Peter Meredith, Roy Lee and Seb Kolhase successfully operating smaller charter boats, there is now a good number of choices offering both half and full days, as well as live-aboard charters.

This latter option has come as ex-pats arrived and brought bigger boats. Australian Greg Hopping was one of the first, shipping out a 35ft Bertram Reel Indulgence after being a frequent visitor to the SIGFA tournament and seeing the island nation’s sportfishing potential. Also, Steve Campbell, how based out of Tonga’s Ika Lahi Gamefishing Lodge, spent a winter in Apia with Reel Passion before moving on.

American Chris Donato arrived on the scene too, operating a 9.75m centre-console sportfisher Black Pearl out of the island’s south side in conjunction with Salani Surf  Resort. This boat was subsequently sold to Roy Lee, who until then had been running charters out of his catamaran Great White. Chris invested in a 13.1m Luhrs Southern Destiny, from which he caught Samoa’s first ever ‘grander’ blue marlin last year. Both he and Greg operate out of the relatively new Apia Marina, offering both day and live-aboard charters on good quality larger craft, complementing the smaller boats in the fleet.

The latter have been scaled up. Alfred now operates an eight-metre Kingfisher alloy boat and both Seb Kolhase and son Kevin also charter fish from Kingfisher boats, with Kevin’s being a nine-metre catamaran. The south side is the intended home for another Kiwi boat, Extreme Measures, operated by Johnathon Barlow. The big Bladerunner catamaran will be based at the Sinalei Resort, where another, smaller Bladerunner Fish the Dream arrived several years ago.

While the above is a thumbnail sketch of the development of gamefishing and the charter fleet in Samoa over the last two decades, it is by no means a comprehensive list. It covers the main players based Upolo. There are other options available, mainly with smaller local village-based boats, on the island of Savaii.

Like to fish Samoa with NZ Fishing News?
In September, 2013, the magazine will be hosting a week-long trip to Samoa to sample a wide range of fishing for pelagics such as marlin, tuna, sailfish, mahimahi and wahoo, as well as exciting inshore species that include dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, coral trout and the like. While the final details have yet to be organised, the trip will involve five days of fishing on the best charter boats available while staying at a quality resort. Only 20 fishing spots are available, but there will also be a partner’s programme. If this sounds like a bit of you, contact Grant Dixon to register your interest: Grant.dixon@fishnz (09) 634 9851 or grant.dixon@fishnz.co.nz

Source: NZ Fishing News