Kerre Woodham and Tom McIvor with a 26kg Mahi Mahi they caught in the waters off the French Polynesian island of Moorea.
Kerre Woodham and Tom McIvor with a 26kg Mahi Mahi they caught in the waters off the French Polynesian island of Moorea. Supplied

Moorea: Fight to the finish

WHEN it comes to fishing, I'm just as happy spending the day on the water with a good book without so much as a nibble on my line. Reading or reeling, it's all the same to me.

But while I was on Moorea, I decided to give real fishing - game fishing - a try on the basis that if I ordered mahimahi for dinner I should be prepared to do the dirty work in catching it.

So the Irishman and I headed down from our fabulous eyrie at Legends Resort to the dock at the InterContinental to meet Chris, our fishing guide. As a young American surfer, Chris followed the waves to Tahiti 30 years ago and for the past 20 years he's been on Moorea, taking tourists fishing when he's not surfing.

As he made final preparations on the Tea Nui before we headed out, Chris told us that sport fishing in Tahiti is ideal for fresh-water fishermen who want to branch out. French Polynesia's warm waters never get below 26C and year-round you can fish for tuna, wahoo, mahimahi and, occasionally, marlin.

We headed out against a southwest swell, fresh from New Zealand, to try our luck. I was on the lookout for boobies and terns, seabirds which would give a clue as to where the schools of fish might be lurking, although Chris also puts his faith in a fish-finder.

I was put in the chair, the rod was thrust into my hands and then it was simply a matter of playing out the line, trying not to allow for any slack, and winding it in until one of us tired. It was not going to be me. As soon as the battle began, I understood the sport of game fishing. The competition might be weighted in the human's favour once the fish has grabbed the hook, but there are plenty of fishermen who come home empty-handed.We had four trolling lines - two big lures to attract the big game and two smaller lures on the spreaders to get the attention of the smaller fish. Chris said he gets the best results by trolling artificial lures at 6 or 7 knots - and he was on the money. Less than 30 minutes into our trip the line went. It was a shot of adrenaline all round, not least, I imagine, to the fish at the end of the line.

After about 10 minutes of hard work my fish was in sight. He was a skipjack tuna and Chris put the net under him to bring him into the boat. A couple of swift blows to the head and it was all over.

"Do you want to try for another?" Chris asked, but I was happy. We had our dinner and that was all we needed. Besides, my Irishman was suffering from seasickness in the choppy sea and from the blazing sun. So Chris turned the Tea Nui and we headed home.

Then the line went again. It fairly flew out. Take the chair, Chris ordered the Irishman, who obediently lurched into place. He was handed the rod and Chris barked instructions. Whatever was on the end of the line was clearly a big deal. I'm sure it's a mahimahi, muttered Chris. But it just seems too big and too strong.

"Reel it in," he urged the Irishman, who was giving it everything he had. This was a real battle and the sweat was pouring off my bloke. I cheered him on supportively but after 20 minutes I thought he might be losing the war.

Then suddenly the fish jumped into the air and we saw him for the first time. He had the most beautiful colours - "Yes, that's a mahimahi," Chris said. And what a size. His leap was his last hurrah because shortly afterwards, my Irishman landed him. A screwdriver into his brain, a couple of twitches, and he was gone. We all paused respectfully and admired him. Mahimahi go through a kaleidoscope of colour when they die and it's sad but beautiful to see.

As we pulled up to the InterContinental we could see a group of people waiting on the dock who turned out to be a family of fishermen from Kawhia. "You weren't out long," one of the boys said. "Bit choppy for you?"

"Nope," I replied nonchalantly. "Just took what we needed and headed in." I held up my skipjack tuna and they whistled appreciatively. "That's a good size skippy," said the young one.

"Wait til you see what else we got," I said. And we hauled the mahimahi out of the boat. It took two of us to lift him and there was admiration all round from the Kawhia crew. A catch doesn't count as a catch unless you get independent witnesses and we were lucky we had the home team to vouch for us.

Chris weighed our fish. My skippy came in at 8kg and the Irishman's mahimahi at 26kg, one of the biggest mahimahi Chris had seen. Under the boat rules, Chris kept the catch, although he gave us a side of my tuna, and the mahimahi hadn't died in vain - Chris reckoned he'd be feeding the village for the next month.

Maybe we had beginners' luck - or maybe it was our great guide.

Chris doesn't promise the same success every time he goes out, but a day on the water in paradise is hardly a day wasted.


* Go fishing with Chris Lilley of Teanui Services

* Stay at Legends Resort

* Get more info from Tahiti Tourisme

Kerre Woodham was a guest of Tahiti Tourisme, Air Tahiti Nui and Legends Resort Moorea.

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