2016 Season Round Up

We had a very busy season chartering between July to Mid-December and ended up with a
year end tally of 99 billfish – 94 blue marlin, 1 black marlin, 1 striped marlin, 2 sailfish & 1 shortbill. The average weight of the blues was 135kg versus 119kg last year.

BMM never missed a beat during the season and she is now up on the hard for a few months, recieving some TLC in preparation for 2017 season.

Sincere thanks to my angler clients for the support and in accounting for some awesome catches this season which included 12 blues between 300-450kg …. notebly my best big fish season for many years.
Special thanks to Murray Winks (Muz) my business partner for the support and free hand to keep chasing the ‘blues-dream’. Muz spent a few weeks chasing blues and to his credit tagged a beauty … est. 380kg. On that day there was just the two of us on board. Muz set the pattern, cleared the gear on hook-up, played the fish, lead the fish and then tagged it. It doesn’t get much better than that …. a bloody good effort to say the least.

Last year, our first season with BMM, we ended up with 83 blue marlin with eight between 200kg-300kg …. and this year an increase in average weights over all and of particular note, twelve fish 300kg plus.

We took out the Top Tagging International boat for the NSW tagging program (1st July – 30 June 2016)… a great start for BMM and based on this years result we should do a litte better for the pending season.

2016 was a VERY unusual season …
1. Water temperature was on average +2 degrees warmer than last season
2. Skipjack biomass was notebly absent for most of the year … big runs only began late in November
3. Yellow fin schools were present but not concentrated … average size 8-12kg …. bigger fish (60kg plus) arrived late November
4. Mahimahi were scarce all season … week after week went by without sighting any concentrations
5. Wahoo …. similarly scarce all season
6. Current dynamics …. significant changes during the season and we never got the usual upwellings of cold water from the Tonga Trench ….. hence the high water temperature all year.

It is difficult to get a handle on dramatic changes over a normal season but I think it was related to an extended regional El Nino cycle.

I don’t get billie skunked all that often …. but this season I was knocked off my perch …. more in one season than the previous 15 season’s together. They say fishing is a great leveller ….. I am now a believer!

Overall we had a brillant season with some very impressive blues in the 300kg-450kg range and amazingly, all were caught off the long-rigger-positions …. a complete contrast to the previous years where most bigger fish were caught off the short corner or long flat positions.
I am not entirely sure why this occurred but early in the season we had a run of bigger than average fish smashing long rigger lures and in response I started running bigger lures in the spread but still retained big lures running off the short and long flat positions.

2016 was a mile stone for me personally …. having passed the 2,000 blue marlin tally since fishing Tongan waters. We start the 2017 season with 2,034 blues under our belt.

2016 Blue Marlin Catch Stats …..

29% were under 100kg 55% between 100-190kg 4% between 200-290kg 10% between 300-390kg 2% between 400-450kg

The average weight this season was 135.78kg. This represents two consecutive years of significant increase over the previous decade which averaged around 100kg.
Given the high water temperature all season and the lack of primary skipjack bait …. I have no idea why we had a run of much larger fish other than the impact of a prolonged El Nino cycle.

On yellow fin catches, our heaviest fish was 73kg plus six fish between 50-68kg … the balance of fish were all between 8-40kg. We had more school size (7-10kg) yellow fin than skipjack this year and this is now the 2nd consecutive year recording significantly reduced biomass of skipjack.

Lure Performance …. Top performers were Red Gill RG4, RG8, Bonze Hercules, Illander, BTK, Mongel Dog & Here for the Party, Fathom – Pepal Grande, Meridian Demon & Ahi and Bart 1656. A few very good fish were also caught on a Shane Wilson Custom Lure – est. 350kg, a Top Gun Angle Face – est. 370kg and a Black Magic Pusher – wgt. 303kg.

A special mention for angler John Lea …. an est. 450kg blue, so close to the magic 1,000lber.
An epic battle that lasted some two hours with Stu McNicoll and Zanek finally holding on to the bill being tossed around like rag dolls. You never forget a fight like that no matter how many blues you encounter. The sheer power and stamina was simply awe inspiring. Stu McNicoll also released our 2nd heaviest blue for the season … est. 400kg.

We never got to do much live-baiting for most of the season due to the lack of skipjack …. when the run finally kicked in we baited with Stella 30000 gear and had a ball. It is a different technique using spinning gear and with the continued advance in fishing gear technolgy designed to handle bigger fish, I can see this aspect of the sport will become very popular. The biggest fish we caught was est 170 kg … it was a very tough battle and thankfully the blue never went deep. I doubt we could have lifted the fish with the standard switch rod.
From this experience, a shoulder harness is a must have. The rod needs to have harness clips and I would love to see the Stella with a refined drag adjustment system (the drag itself was fine)… it just takes too long to adjust the drag …especially when you need to back it off under considerable pressure. A refinement similar to the bait runner system would make it more functional.

I am hoping IGFA will ratify the proposed changes to the current standard line class regulations. For example … running any backing line of choice (e.g 60kg) then top shotting with the line class (15, 24 or 37kg) as an example. With the advancement of reel, rod, and line technology, anglers will be able to legally fish using much lighter weight gear. We should have a decison early in the new year.

The battle on imposing international regulations for sustainable commercial fishing is not going well and in Pacific waters, the international commercial fleets are increasing in numbers especially with the recent expansion of Asian operators. In our region there is a significant reduction of skipjack, big eye tuna is near collapse and yellow fin catches now account for 60% of the world catch… 15 years ago the figure was 30%. The regulatory authorities are simply being rolled over by the big commercial players and the small pacific Island nations are selling out for ‘mere crumbs’. I don’t know what the solution is ….. but we all need to fight harder to gain more recreational fishing voice in the decision making process.

To one and all have a great Xmas break and prosperous New Year …. come fish the Blue Tongan Warriors ….. tight lines.

Best Wishes
Capt. Steve

2016 … Ready to rock & Roll

With 3 months on the hard, BMM is finally on the water ready for a very busy 2016 season. Achieved all the jobs I needed to do to set the boat up the way I wanted. Installed a new 12 volt fridge/freezer and separte freezer unit, 2Kw transducer and structure scanner to interface with a new Lowrance 2- Generation sounder – very impressed with the unit … 1,000m cystal clear and for shallower waters/drop-off fishing … you can count the fish. Spent three solid days re-rigging lures, live-bait traces and associated fishing tackle. I love just mucking around with tackle and like most keen fisherman have enough gear for a life-time but can’t resist adding new tackle all on the promise of catching fish of a life-time.
As at Mid June, the weather is still far from settled .. the heavy rain and gusty conditions should have all abated .. more akin to our traditional May wet season … it seems like the climatic cycle is a month out of phase. The skip-jack are late but we still have plenty of schoolie size yellow fin and mahimhai are just starting to concentrate, especially west of our main grounds. Based on our charter committments this season we are hopeful of adding another 120 blues to our tally, togther with a few S/Marlin, B/Marlin and Shortbill. We have a few charters to concentrate on Broadbill …. and if the weather is good will do a few trips farther a-field … Capricorn Sea Mount some 130nm east of Vava’u. It rises out of 4,500 meters to a large platform and spot-x sits 275m below the surface.
I am like a cat on-a-hot-tin roof… roll on fishing …

BMM’s first Season In Tonga…….

It has been a hectic year with the normal ups and downs …. ‘welcome to the world of boating and fishing …. as they say.
The delay in getting the boat to Tonga was one of those downers and on arrival in Samoa finding the boat had been broken into at LA Port … so much for a secure port facility. We lost a lot of stuff .. the most annoying items, spares for the generator and engines, a brand new canopy and safety gear.

We finally started chartering late August …. no time to set the boat up the way I wanted but that all said, we had a great first season with the final tally as follows:

83 x Blue Marlin … average weight 119kg (up 20% on the last decade average)
3 x Striped Marlin … average weight 130kg .. most likely related to the cooler water temperatures
2 x Shortbill …. average weight 25kg … most likley released a close to world record fish est 35kg
2 x Black Marlin …average weight 90kg
2 x Sailfish .. average weight 37.5kg

We didn’t quite maintain our average blue marlin daily catch rate of 1.5 but got pretty close recording 1.3, so given the late start, I am very pleased with the boat’s first season in Vava’u waters.

The significant increase in average weights for blue marlin in 2015 is a bit of a puzzle … the water temperatue was significantly cooler right up to the end of November and during this period we also caught a couple of very big striped marlin 160kg & 140kg range – very rare to have this sized fish in our waters, so it most likely points to the impact of an El Nino influence.

We caught eight blues in the 200-300kg range and lost a few bigger fish, most taken on the short corner and long flat positions.
In a normal season we usually catch around 80 percent of lure caught fish on purple/black skirting combinations (last 14 year stats) but this year …. only ten percent. The hot colours were fruit salad, lumo and gold variations which matched the run of yellow fin we had throughout the season.
Hardly saw any good skipjack schools this season …and that clearly supports the low catch rates on purple/black skirting.
I love the south bank grounds …. and normally it accounts for 80 percent of all my caught billfish and this year only 39 percent …. we had persistent trades 20kts plus, so we didn’t get down the bank as much as I would have liked and consequently we didn’t do as much baiting as normal.

Caught a few blues on the new Stella 30000 switch gear … and even had a go myself. I have to say it was bloody hard work and the biggest fish I nailed was around 90kg. Can’t imagine taking a 200kg fish on the gear …. the body would fail … if not expire!

The consistent hot spots other than the south bank grounds were Hunga Island drop-off, 171 sea mount and slightly west of the middle ground area. I prefer to work structure which has current and food web dynamics working for you and this year I pulled my biggest average fish from Hunga, working an area no more than a mile or so long, right on the 500m contour.

Fished the outer Islands a few days – Toku and Fornulea Islands in particular …. I have to get back there more often, the fishing was pretty special with bigger than average blues, a few blacks and yellow fin, not to mention the reef fishing.

During the low season I will be working on the boat to get it set-up the way I wanted from day one …. then of course I will have to do ‘test-days’ out on the water … exploring and just fishing hard out always looking for that special fish of a life time.

Well that’s about it for the 2015 season ….. special thanks to all clients and my crew members for your support. All the best for the new season and hope to see you back soon.

Bobby Brown …. should have his sea legs in a few months …. we will see if he lives up to his name!

Capt. Steve