The first time I spent three days on a live-aboard boat, fishing 20 hours a day, marked the first time I really understood what hard-core fishing meant. My back ached and my hands cramped, but I felt a surreal peace as we sank into a blissful routine of baiting, dropping, horsing and rigging, followed by a few hours of comatose sleep when the boat moved.
Of course, not all live-aboard trips are so focused, but all live-aboards and mothership operations cater to anglers who want to eat, sleep and breathe fishing. To offer a glimpse at some of the better operations in various parts of the world, we dipped into our own staff experiences and asked a premium list of our top global contributors. For lack of space, we can describe only five. These five don't necessarily sell luxury, nor do they offer cheap rates or guarantees. But they do serve the hard-core element while also opening up exotic and hard-to-reach places.
1. Le Poisson Banane
Port: Noumea, New Caledonia, South Pacific
Vessel name: Jack Yvans
Capacity: Three to four anglers
Length of trips: Up to 10 days (trips of more than five days require one day off for refueling)
Getting there: Fly into Sydney, Australia (a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles); then Sydney to Noumea (about three hours) with Qantas or Aircalin. La Tontouta International Airport is about 32 miles north of Noumea; transfers to the marina are available. Visas are not required for stays up to a month.
Vessel description: The Jack Yvans, a 40-foot Antares, sleeps four guests in two cabins, with a separate shower and head. Freshwater capacity allows for six days of showers. The vessel comes with a small galley and dining area. The Jack Yvans is powered by twin Volvo turbo-diesel engines and comes equipped with a GPS plotter, sonar, VHF, radar and satellite phone.
The 27-foot Edgewater, GT Monster, powered by twin Suzuki 250 four-stroke outboards, makes tandem trips with the Jack Yvans as well as separate land-based trips. The captains run guests to an island tent camp about an hour away from port. They fish each day and return to camp each evening.
Crew info: Brothers Rudy and David Boué-Mandil are both captains for the live-aboard and the Edgewater. The brothers come from Marseille, France, but emigrated to New Caledonia eight years ago. They have fished all their lives, working briefly as deckhands before studying aquaculture. They left school to start their guide service in New Caledonia six years ago.
LPB also carries at least one deckhand besides the captain.
Location description: LPB runs out of the French port of Noumea, New Caledonia, in the South Pacific/Coral Sea. Its boats access the large main island and several smaller islands about 900 miles east of Australia.
Most of the 230,000 New Caledonians live on the 310-mile-long main island, which is divided lengthwise by a mountain range. To the east, the island is open to trade winds and features lush tropical vegetation, rivers and waterfalls. The west coast is drier and more temperate, though it offers beaches as well.
Geologists say New Caledonia is a fragment of an ancient continent; much of its flora and fauna evolved in isolation and is thus unique. Surrounded by a 1,000-mile-long coral reef that comes within about a mile of the coast in places, New Caledonia boasts the largest lagoon in the world. The territory also includes outlying islands to the south and east.
New Caledonia's warm season runs December through March, with temperatures averaging 77 to 80-plus degrees with periodic rains (cyclone activity is a possibility). The cool season runs April through November, with temperatures averaging 68 to 73.
LPB guided the north end of the main island for about three years then moved south to shift the fishing pressure to different areas. The boats now run out of Noumea, the capital, at the main island's south end and fish both the east and west coasts. At the island's extreme south end lies Le Grand Lagon Sud (The Great South Lagoon), measuring 75 square miles. Full of reefs, cays, seamounts and islands, the lagoon attracts everything from giant trevally and dogtooth tuna to marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and wahoo.
Fishing description: LPB specializes in fishing for giant trevally; its current record weighed more than 145 pounds. While giant trevally fishing remains good year-round, the best months for GT, yellowfin and dogtooth tuna fall from November to April, and sometimes in June and July. Anglers can expect yellowfins from 15 to 150 pounds on poppers or jigs and GT from 35 to more than 130 pounds on poppers, plus coral trout (grouper), bass (snapper), dogtooth tuna and a variety of trevallies.
LPB anglers also catch Pacific sailfish from 65 to 170 pounds on poppers or trolled skirts, which also pick up marlin - blue, black and striped.
Anglers skilled at fishing with poppers can expect as many as 15 giant trevally a day - ample opportunity to hook a true beast.
Tackle info: Most anglers bring their own gear, but LPB has two popping combos and two jigging combos as spares or to rent (40 euros per trip/$57 at press time). Captains recommend anglers bring the following gear for popping and jigging (ask the operator for a complete list of recommendations, including light-tackle options):
Braided line (65- to 80-pound for jigging; 100- to 130-pound for popping)
200- and 400-pound split rings
150- to 300-pound shock leader
500-pound grommet rings
5/0 to 11/0 hooks
High-quality popping and jigging rods
Shimano Stella 20000, Saltiga Dogfight 6500Z, Saltiga 6500Z Expedition spinning reels
Poppers, stickbaits and jigs from Fisherman, Orion, Heru, Prokick, Craft Bait, Hammerhead, Adhek, Yo-Zuri, R2S, HOT, Smith and Shimano
Cost in U.S. dollars: Transfers from the airport to the marina (32 miles) and return cost $480 for a group of four people.
Two-day live-aboard trips start at $550 per person per day for a party of four people. LPB can arrange to take both the live-aboard vessel and the Edgewater at a base rate of $862 per person per day based on a party of four.
Three- to 10-day live-aboard trips start at $540 per person per day. A trip with both boats starts at $842 per person per day.
Prices include food, water and soft drinks but do not include flights, trip insurance, transfers, ancillary hotel nights, food on land, alcoholic beverages or tips.