Samoa YOUR WINTER GAME FISHING GETAWAYIf I were writing my memoirs about my fishing travels, the chapter on Samoa would probably be the biggest, says Grant Dixon. I have travelled there a couple of dozen times in the last 30 years and have seen it as a recreational fishery grow from almost nothing to one that now boasts its own international IGFA-based tournament.I first visited Samoa not as an angler but as an editor, on an exchange programme with the NZ Community Newspaper Association. During that first three-week visit, I quickly developed an affinity for the Samoan people, having been shown a considerable amount of kindness and hospitality. I enquired about fishing at the time, but the charter fleet was almost non-existent and what opportunities there were proved unreliable and expensive.Fast forward 5-6 years and I had a new job with NZ Fishing News. I became involved with SIGFA – the Samoan International Game Fishing Association – helping with the organisation and execution of their first-ever IGFA rules-based contest. What an eye-opener.Tournament director Alan Stark at the briefing attempted to explain the IGFA system; the quizzical looks on the faces of the mainly sustenance-based local fishers were some indication as to what, as an assistant weighmaster, I would be in for.And so it proved. One of my first jobs was to disqualify a crew who had landed two 50kg+ sailfish – great captures in anyone’s language – except that they had been caught on Alvey deck winches spooled with 400lb mono and the lures had double-claw hooks on them.Geoff Peake with a jig-caught dogtooth.Blue marlin can be caught year round.The boys were quick learners though, and these issues aren’t so common today at an event that is now 20 years old and counting. There’s now participation from Pacific-wide teams, several of whom brought their own boats to the event. The availability of local boats has always been an issue, so Kiwi anglers shipped their trailer boats as deck cargo for several years. For more information go to www.sigfa.I have had the pleasure of fishing with many of the charter operators, past and present, over the years. I have experienced various angling opportunities, from pulling plastic for the big pelagics to targeting the hardfighting reef dwellers – dogtooth tuna, GTs, spanish mackerel, and coral trout. Even the barracuda scrap above their weight.As well as the SIGFA event, NZ Fishing News hosted several events there, including ‘Fish Samoa’s South Side’ contests where we based ourselves at the Aggie Grey’s Resort and Spa, with the boats fishing the productive south side of Upolo and Savaii Islands.The charter fleet today is a mixture of launches and wellappointed trailer boats. One of the first dedicated sportfishing boats was a 26ft Ramco Sportsman, Ole Pe’a, operated by Peter Meredith and the late Max Rassmussen, from which I caught my first billfish, a 154kg blue.The fish was taken and shared among the crew and the old folks home – the head I presented to the Premier at Government House in the traditional manner of respect. After a few Vailimas, ‘the old man’ as he was affectionately referred to out of earshot, thanked me for my gift and discretely suggested that next time I might dispense with the formalities and bring him a tuna loin. It was duly delivered a few days later along with more Vailima – Fa’a Samoa at its finest!1) This respectable GT hit Andrew Pearson’s jig.1 2) Paul Davies with a topwater caught coral trout.2 3) Pure Indulgence has undergone a major refit and is ready to get among the action.3 Aussie ex-pat Greg ‘Troppo’ Hopping, who runs several boats out of the Apia marina, is one of the driving forces behind the charter fleet and promotion of the fishery. He is just about to relaunch his 35ft Bertram Pure Indulgence, which has undergone a significant makeover and refit during the border closures. Greg has also been doing a little commercial fishing, catching some tremendous spanish mackerel from his dedicated topwater boat and selling to the local market.There are several Kingfisher and White Pointer boats in the fleet. The biggest vessel is a former 18-metre commercial longliner named Yellowfin, which does everything from commercial fishing to charters and, more recently, fishery patrols.There are some big fish to be caught, and the charter fleet is geared up to catch them. The first grander blue marlin has been landed, and some XOS yellowfin are available seasonally. Masi masi (dorado) are a staple charter fleet catch, especially around the FADs, and they are often good-sized. Closer inshore around the outer reefs you will regularly get sailfish and wahoo, along with the aforementioned Spanish mackerel, which are great fun on light gear.Most of the charters are full and halfday trips, with some limited stay-away options. As time went on, the boats became better equipped tackle-wise. Any fish caught usually belongs to the boat, but the skipper will often share a slab or two with guests for the resort chef to prepare for their dinner. Samoan raw fish (oka) is to die for.Regardless of what the fishing is like, the one guarantee is the warmth of the welcome. Samoans are known for their hospitality. They love their music, food, and a good time, and will always do their best to ensure their guests enjoy the same!4) Billfish action just out from Apia.4 5) A marlin on the trace – let the fun begin.5 6) Samoa offers some great seafood cuisine.6 7) Visitors checking out the tapas cloth at a local market.7 A Fiafia show with music and fire dancers at Return to Paradise resort on Upolu Island.The famous To Sua Ocean Trench.About Samoa Even when you are not fishing, the water is never far away, with many tourist attractions involving water in some shape or form.Whether you’re lounging around Lalomanu Beach, taking in the views from the shade of an open-air fale; marvelling at Savaii’s Alofaaga blowholes, or cooling down under the Afu Afu waterfall; swimming in the Sua Ocean Trench; sliding down the Papas’ea rocks; snorkelling in a marine reserve such as Apia’s Palolo Deep; or just relaxing beside a resort pool – water will always be part of a Samoan sojourn.If kayaking, diving, sailing, and paddleboarding are your gig between fishing trips, Samoa has plenty to offer. You can snorkel off most of the resorts’ beaches. The dedicated charter operators on both Upolo and Savaii will take the more adventurous scuba divers to check out many exciting sites.For those who like to get a bit of a sweat up before their sundowner cocktails, there are a variety of walks available. The O Le Pupu-Pue National Park runs inland from the southern coast and has some good hikes through the rainforest, with guides available. Closer to Apia, there is a short but steep walk up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s memorial tomb above the national museum. Stevenson was a famous writer, known to the locals as Tusitala – the teller of tales.Much is said about Fa’a Samoa – the Samoan Way. It refers to the village hierarchical structures that Samoan society is based on, and customary skills. Tradition is alive and well in Samoa, and the people love sharing their culture with visitors, be it preparing an umu – not unlike the Maori hangi, but in an above-ground earthen oven – cooking traditional dishes such as palusami, octopus, taro and roast pig; demonstrating carving and cloth-making; or performing the daring siva afi (the fire knife dance at a fiafia night). These are all things that are still important in everyday Samoan village life.Samoa is one of those island destinations where you can be as busy or as laid back as you like. Apia boasts several cafes, bars, and restaurants, and the accommodation can be as simple as a fale on the sea shore, or a full-on resort with all the services and comforts you would expect at home. The pace of life is slower in the pacific. My best advice is to just go with the flow – it will happen, just maybe not immediately! Enjoy your surroundings, the culture, and most importantly, the people.The stunning Fuipisia waterfall.There are plenty of views to enjoy in Samoa when you’re not out on the water.
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