||For nearly 10 years I have been looking for
a place in the South Pacific where you could get plenty of fly rod shots
at bonefish. I have fished for them in the USA and the Bahamas but that
was definitely a once in a life time trip, restricting factors simply
being that its a long way away, and way to much money to make returns
trips ever possible. Continually wanting to get a regular "sight
casting" fix on the holy grail of the flats, I researched plenty
of promising locations but for many reasons they never panned out. The
areas were either to small to hold big numbers, the flats to deep to make
spotting them viable or mostly, wherever there was potential they were
actively hunted with nets by locals for food.
Well late last year I finally found what I was looking for miles and miles of unfished flats simply crawling with bones. Not only does this place exist, there is the added bonus of the fish being truly big and the location being with -in easy reach of east coast Australia.
As you read this plans are in place to return and for the many people who have asked for more information I offer the following report on New Caledonias bonefishing.
A little background
After spending a week fly fishing with Philippe Leroux in NC mid December 2000, I am firmly convinced he has established one of the best places in the South Pacific, possibly the world, to sight cast for big bonefish on the flats.
Phillippe is an extremely talented fly fisherman and a well regarded long time European sportfishing photojournalist. When he saw the sportfishing potential of the area he migrated there and has spent the last 4 years researching, exploring and developing the many components required putting in place the foundations for a first class fly and sportfishing operation to cater to all serious travel orientated anglers.
A nice New Caledonia bonefish.
His work thus far has established New Caledonia, both in the far south and the north, that there is a wealth of unlimited and un touched sportfishing opportunities and I look forward to being apart of Philippe's team to help him develop things further, in years to come.
Currently my main interest lays in the remote northern coast and islands and the 100s of unfished flats crawling with big bonefish but believe me there is a million trevally to take on fly and unbelievable giant trevally fishing plus mackerel and the like for popper fisherman as well.
My December 2000 trip
After many months corresponding with Philippe I finally got the time to fish with him for his bones and was extremely pleased with the results. It was not so much the numbers of fish we caught but more to do with the amount we saw and about the overall good feeling I got from the place. It is one of the more remote areas I have ever fished but there is sufficient infrastructure and accommodation in place to make it extremely comfortable, relaxing and relatively easy to get to. The people I met both ex-pat French and the local Nouvelle NC people where extremely friendly and although they don't really understand why we want to catch these inedible fish on a long rod just to photograph and let go, they are eager to ensure that Philippe, his fishing venture and his clients are successful.
For the record fishing friend Warren Smith and myself were the first Australians ever to fish the area. Along with Philippe the 3 of us in 5 days saw around 500 bonefish, while wading we cast to about 100 in water from 1 to 5 feet deep, got interest from 50 of them, hooked 20 and landed 12. The smallest we saw we caught weighed 4 1/2 pounds on a Boga grip the largest weighed 9 pounds. The average seen, hooked and or landed was 6 - 7 pounds and I figure that personally I cast at 8 or 9 fish, 10 pound plus. We also collectively saw one fish that we estimated was 14 or 15 pounds actively feeding by himself on a flat that spoked when yours truly dropped the fly line over his back! Currently the biggest Philippe has taken on a fly-weighed 12 pounds.
Other species we caught sight casting on the flats were big gold spot trevally to 20 pounds and small golden trevally to 6 pounds, we saw bigger but did not get shots at them. Every time we saw a stingray mudding on the flats (we saw hundreds) a cast would produce trevallies from 2 to 6 pound and Philippe often pulls nice bones blind casting to the rays. There was also some nice mid size GTs sneaking across the flats, fish around 20 - 30 pound that we did not bother casting to with bonefish rigged rods. During a guided trip I would ensure I had a 10 - 12 weight on stand by, rigged with a deceiver or popper and shock tippet to take advantage of these guys.
"Relais de Poingam"
"Resort from Poingam" was under construction when we visited but should, by now be complete and ready to receive guests. I found my stay there was almost as enjoyable as the fishing. Owned and built by French - New Caledonians Jeanet and Joselte Brardissou, who have in the past won awards for excellence with past resort development projects in NC offer Philippe's clients a superb base for their fishing activities. Set in beautiful gardens there are 6 spacious bungalow style living quarters each with its own indoor/outdoor bathroom. Each bungalow is uniquely different built with a combination of local materials and more traditional brick. Its classic sophisticated, French/South Seas culture where excellent meals and fantastic French wines are served in the central - main bar/court yard dinning area with water views and a mere 50 paces, via the pool, to the water's edge.
It really is a great place to stay - one where you will be made to feel like part of the family but more importantly have the option to 100% privacy if that's the way you want to go.
Last but not least "Resort from Poingam" is only minutes by water to some of the area's best bone fish flats and with-in half an hour of many that have yet to be fly fished.
To get to the flats Philippe runs two new South Wind long boats, powered by 75 hp Yamaha out boards. They move 1, 2 or 3 anglers plus a guide easily around the sheltered waters of the region. They are also excellent for general trolling and working the flats fringes, reef edges and bommies for GTs casting big poppers or flies. The boats also worked very well for us with two fly fisherman, one forward and one aft, drifting and poling flats once the incoming tide made them to deep to wade for bones.
Like most saltwater fishing, tides play a big part when stalking the NC flats for bonefish. Philippe has a total understanding of this fact but more importantly understands these tidal movements in relationship to the NC fishing areas.
Philippe hooked up on a small NC flat only 10 minutes boat ride from the accommodation - Relais de Poingam
During the majority of his preferred bonefish tides he can move from one to another to ensure maximum time is spent looking for bones (if that's what you want to do) On one flat we waded it took us 3 hours to cover, maybe 1 % of the fishable area, and we had a ball for another 3 hours drifting across another 5% of it, casting to and catching trevally (gold spot, giants & goldens ). An hour at the end of that particular fishing day saw us blind casting to shallow grass beds and rocks for various kinds of small to medium size reef fish and snappers.
At times when the high tides make bone fishing tough there is always somewhere to cast flies and poppers for giant trevally. We actually spent very little time doing this as bonefish were our target but whenever we cast poppers on spinning tackle to likely looking spots we raised hooked and also sometime caught monster GTs from 30 to 80 pounds. One no bonefish fishing session was spent casting flies to the deeper channels linking some of the flats for dozens of trevally of all species, as well as barracuda and snappers.
Fly rods from 7 to 10 weight would cover every NC bone fishing situation but if I could only take one it would be a 9 weight. These are big fish and the flies we used were much bigger than anything I have used in more traditional bone fishing destinations. The 9 & 10 weight rods also made quick short casts easy when the wind got up a little. On average a 7-pound bonefish hooked up on a 12 pound tapered leader would take you 10 to 15 minutes to land, the whole fight totally visual. Philippe often uses heavier tippets and a 10 weight rod to give himself a chance on the big bones he knows are there and to also help land the bigger trevally that he cant help himself casting at.
Big Crazy Charlies and variously weighted shrimp patterns tied on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks worked well for us, but as with a lot of sight fishing, as long as it looked something like flats food and was put in front of a feeding fish with out them knowing, they would eat it.
Warren Smith with a gold spot trevally caught sight casting from a drifting boat.
We used Intermediate fly lines for most all our bonefish fishing and for wading found the Scientific Anglers clear sink tip with floating line by far the best to help with stripped line management and quick presentations. Ideally an intermediate and floating line to match each rod you have would cover all situations. Reels should have a minimum of 250 meters of fine diameter backing and super smooth drags. These outfits will handle the other species encountered on the flats such as trevallies, gold spot giant and golden.
For the giant trevally a 12 weight would be the smallest rod you would want to use. The GT's there are numerous and big, Philippe often has popper fishing clients locked up to these monsters all day long and I will definitely be taking a stack of big poppers and bloopers next trip along with a serious bluewater spinning outfit for these guys which range from 40 to 80 plus pounds.
A light graphite spinning outfit with 2 to 3 kilo line and small buck tail jigs would also be a real lot of fun for the bones and trevallies on the flats. The average fish there runs 150 meters on its first take and that's dragging a WF fly line around. I cant imagine what that first run would be like on 3 kg mono.
Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia and its just a little over two hours flying time from Sydney. Upon arrival in Noumea we were met by Philippe and taken by road (4 hours) to Poingam in the Northern Province of the country.
Big bad GTs are found in huge numbers in New Caledonia, this is a relatively small model.
At this stage NC is not a place to catch cricket scores of small bonefish that are often talked about by anglers fishing known bonefish spots such as Christmas Island, the Bahamas and the Seychelles, In fact Philippe is still working on where all the small fish are as it stands to reason that if you have plenty of big ones you should have plenty of little ones! We honestly didn't see a small bonefish, the smallest one we caught was one pound bigger than the biggest I caught in 6 days fishing Andros island, but they just have to be somewhere. I suspect that Philippe just hasn't fished the flats where they are concentrated yet and with so many left to explore they may take some finding.
What New Caledonia has to offer is plenty of shots, each day, at truly big bonefish that have had next to zero fishing pressure, but let there be no bones about it (excuse the pun), big bones are not easy to catch whether they have seen a 100 flies in their lives or like the NC fish, never been fished to before. Every one we caught was a challenge and for me worth 20 of the smaller Andros bones I had caught before.
For any fly fisherman who wants to experience the thrill and ultimate challenge associated with stalking the flat fishing's 'Holy Grail NC is a place I can certainly recommend. Whether youre a beginner or expert with the fly you will earn your fish and in turn gain far more satisfaction from your success.
Relais de Poingam is a superb base for non fishing activities, pictured here is one of the unique bungalows.
If you are just getting started with the fly there can be no better way to see the results of a super steep learning curve while also catching a million hungry trevs in the 3 to 10 pound range eager to take flys along the way. If you are keen to cast big poppers at big giant trevally you will find them just as challenging, all be it, in a more brutal sort of a way. For big GTs I can honestly say I have never seen a better place to chase them.
But maybe the best thing of all is, that if you choose to fish New Caledonia you can be sure that all though the facilities are first class, it is way off the beaten track and you will be amongst the first to fish these waters and for me anyway that's at least as big an attraction as the superb fishing itself.