Tails of the South Pacific: Part 2
By: Rick Crawford
Tails of the South Pacific: Part 1 left off with my wife and I leaving the beautiful island of Moorea and taking the ferry back to Tahiti. While there were no “tails” in Part 1, Rangiroa is an entirely different story. They have plenty of exotic species and monster bonefish, so come along and escape to Rangiroa in “Tails of the South Pacific: Part 2”
We caught a one hour flight to Rangiroa, which is the largest of the Tuamotu Atolls, and is a string of islands that form a massive circle. Inside this atoll is a blue lagoon with diverse marine wildlife. Rangiroa means “immense sky” in the local language, and there is good reason because it is the second largest atoll in the world, meaning there is an endless horizon no matter where you look.
Our host, Norbert, picked us up from the airport and there was a lot going on in the streets on the way to Norbert’s bed and breakfast. He informed us that the supply ship had just arrived today, which was a good thing as the store had been void of fruits and vegetables for a couple of weeks. Rangiroa is resupplied monthly by a container ship that brings fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods and other grocery items amongst other things. There is only one road in Rangiroa, which makes it easy not to get lost, but this should provide you with an idea of how small and remote of an atoll Rangiroa is. However small the island and well-stocked the grocery store was didn’t really matter to us because Rangiroa is a beautiful place with friendly people and no shortage of exotic fish species or amazing views.
November 25, 2016
Rangiroa is stunning, but in a different way than Moorea because Rangiroa is completely flat whereas Moorea has huge mountains jutting out of the Pacific. Norbert’s bed and breakfast is called Tevahine Dream, and is a fantastic place to stay if you enjoy a laid-back vibe. Tevahine Dream includes breakfast and dinner prepared by Norbert and four cozy bungalows that are right on the water. The bungalows are open-air, and with a nice ocean breeze blowing all day and night and the sounds of waves crashing out the back door, falling asleep isn’t a challenge.
Upon arriving we settled in, made cocktails and relaxed on our porch enjoying the view. Ain’t life grand?
November 26, 2016
After breakfast, we rode bikes around the island, relaxed in the afternoon and I walked out the back door where I got lucky and found some tailing triggerfish. I even managed to fool one with a Crazy Charlie fly!
That night, we had an interesting discussion about local conservation issues at dinner. Our host, Norbert, told us about the declining lobster population and that, in general, fish populations that were once abundant aren’t anymore. It was strange to think that an atoll this remote would have a fisheries management problem, but Rangiroa is no different than anywhere else as we do live on a planet with finite resources.
It made me start to think about the impact we were having on Rangiroa just visiting. For example, the supply ship that was coming in every month was filled with items that were packaged in plastic. I know they burn a lot of trash on Rangiroa because they don’t have a waste management system, but what about the rest of it? Is it thrown out to sea? They most definitely do not have a recycling facility, so was plastic pollution another reason they were starting to see a decline in their fishery? Does my demand for goods wrapped in plastic back in Charleston, SC impact the people of Rangiroa? Am I part of the problem? I still don’t know the answers, but like any good travel experience, I began to question myself about just how far I’ve got my hand in all of this.
November 27, 2016
We crossed the Avatoru Pass, which is one of two ocean passages on the atoll and spent the day fishing, snorkeling and taking in the local culture. While on the atoll, we met an old Polynesian man named Punua. He had long black and silver hair and a beard down to the middle of his chest and if I had to guess was in his mid-sixties. Norbert later explained that Punua is a very traditional Polynesian, and is the only remaining person on Rangiroa that still knows how to navigate by the stars. In fact, he built a traditional Polynesian sailboat and sailed to China and back. A testament to the skill of the early Polynesians as they discovered islands in the South Pacific. His daughter, Leticia, was our host for the day and she was a lovely person. She prepared a delicious lunch and also told us the history of the island and how to make a basket out of palm leaves, which can be seen below:
It was a surreal experience when she began asking about my fly rod and flies. She had never seen flies before, so I showed her my fly box and how to cast. Leticia was curious to know what types of fish eat the different types of flies. There was a bit of a language barrier, but she would pick out a fly and excitedly nod her head for flies that she thought would work well on her island. Here is a picture of Leticia inspecting my flies:
After lunch, I walked the flat that you see behind Leticia above, and caught a lot of exotic species there, but the most beautiful was the Picasso triggerfish:
I also managed to get a picture of quite possibly the most awkward fish pose of all time with a species that I still haven’t identified.
November 28, 2016
My journal reads…”This will go down as the greatest Monday of all time!” That is true to this day as I booked a guide from Oviri Excursions in search of the large bonefish I had only heard about from the locals and read about in magazines. I was so excited I could barely eat breakfast, but managed to pull it together and realistically manage my expectations. I told myself, no matter what happens, remember you are damn lucky just to be here. Appreciate your surroundings and enjoy the experience. That morning we headed east for an hour and a half boat ride, which as it turned out, was one of the most heavenly flats these eyes had ever laid eyes on.
The water was absolutely gin clear and gorgeous. It was truly a perfect bonefish flat and the bonefish were not schooled up like I have seen in the Bahamas or Belize, but instead were large singles roaming the flats. There were a lot of lemon sharks and black tip sharks that were aggressive and over six feet long. I was instructed to not land the fish if sharks were near because they would try to eat the bonefish and may mistakenly bite me. While I was fighting the bonefish seen below, my guide was throwing sand at the sharks to keep them away.
I will never forget when this bonefish began tracking my fly, which was deceived by a white “Crazy Charlie.” The first run was easily 75 yards and line peeled off so fast that I feared the PVC fly line would melt! I was well into my backing before the beast needed to slow down and catch its breath. The bonefish made several more sizzling runs before I was able to land the “ghost of the flats.” We estimated this bonefish to be around eight pounds, which was my personal best and a memory I will always cherish.
We continued to walk this miles-long flat and I had shots at another ten fish or so, but the bonefish were spooky and I managed to land just one more for the day, which I was more than content with.
On the way back in, we passed many islands that had just one hut on them made from scraps found floating in the ocean, and whatever else was available on the island to build makeshift huts to protect its inhabitants from the sun and foul weather. My guide told me that they were coconut farmers and only live there when its time to harvest the coconuts and live off the land. They build fish traps, which I didn’t fully understand, but basically they are a corral that the fish can enter, but can’t get out. Since they do not have a way to keep their fish cool, these fish corrals double as their refrigerators and a way to keep their dinner fresh.
Anyways, we trolled a popper over some reefs to try and catch jack’s, and I hooked a couple, but only landed one barracuda.
It really was the best Monday ever and fulfilled a lifelong dream to catch a bonefish in French Polynesia. Dream your life…live your dreams!
November 29, 2016
Ugo from Oviri Expeditions took Jodie and I on a half day guided trip. Jodie relaxed and took some photos while Ugo and I walked the flats looking for more beastly bonefish. He was an excellent guide and I highly recommend them if you are ever considering going to Rangiroa!
We headed West this day to another bonefish flat that was equally as stunning as the first. It was a bit overcast making it difficult to see the bonefish and we only saw three. Ugo said that he usually sees more bonefish on this flat, but recently there has been a problem with commercial fisherman netting entire flats and wiping out any fish unlucky enough to be cruising that particular flat. Of the three we saw, I was fortunate enough to land one.
It was a wonderful day on the flats and I will never forget this opportunity to realize a dream, and put eyes on a place that flirted with my imagination for so many years.
The South Seas…The Isles of Enchantment
What can be said about a trip like this? Travel has a unique effect on everyone. Experiencing different cultures, meeting new people and seeing unfamiliar places has enriched my life in infinite ways. I would trade travel and experiences over “things” any day of the week. As a result, I am more grateful for the “things” that I do have because I realized that “things” don’t make you happy. How did traveling to French Polynesia change me? Here is a qood quote that sums it up:
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
I realized that this trip was more than just living a dream. There is a big, beautiful world out there and I am just a small piece in the puzzle. This trip also provided me with time to reflect and think about not only how wonderful it was just to be there,but many other things besides my own selfishness of living my dream.
As I walked the flats in Rangiroa, I also wondered what would become of the people I met in Rangiroa? Would conservation measures be put into place so that the lobster population would rebound? Would commercial netting be regulated so that bonefish populations could thrive? Was it even any of my business to tell anyone who is using their fishery as a source of protein how they should manage it? I still do not have any of the answers, but I am glad that I am asking myself these questions, which is probably the greatest gift of all.
Who would have thought that a travel poster in a dingy college store that specialized in catering to eighteen year olds experiencing their first taste of freedom by selling posters, comic books, CDs, bongs, and any other odds and ends that every college student must have, would have made such a profound impact to see for myself that the South Pacific and its islands are indeed “The Isles of Enchantment.”