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February 20, 2008

the Shadow of the Dragon

Fish the volcanoes of India's Andaman Islands for an unforgettable adventure

Fishing the Andaman Islands - It's Not for Everyone!"

No, that's not the official India Tourism slogan. 
 
But as I sat on a plane midway through 30-some hours of airplane/airport time, returning from a trip to these remote islands - India's easternmost sentinels in the Andaman Sea, not far west of Myanmar (formerly Burma) - it occurred to me that such an adage would fit.
 
After all, to reach the Andamans from the United States, you have to fly about halfway around the globe. I can tell you up front that it's not a trip for anyone without a sense of adventure as well as a fair dose of patience, good humor, and the optimism that you will get there.
 
Nor is it a trip for anyone not up for a totally different experience. When, ultimately, eventually, triumphantly, you find yourself in Port Blair, the small and only port city serving the islands, you may as well have landed on an outpost of a distant planet. It's far removed from the sights and sounds most of us know from our corner of planet earth. 
 
Or, put another way, brother, you ain't in Kansas anymore.
 
But for an angler, the real trip is then just beginning. If you're fishing with Capt. John Pearce on the Reel Blue, as I did, there's a good chance you'll be exploring waters far to the northeast. Here, from the vast and lonely Indian Ocean, rises the steaming tip of Barren Island, one of India's two active volcanoes.
 
"Active" is hardly a stretch: Barren blew its top in 1996 and again in 2005 -- in fact, just after Pearce had visited the island on a multi-day fishing trip. Anchored up at night in its shadow, he says, was simply eerie: "We could see orange sparks and hear it all night long, grumbling and groaning like a huge dragon!" 
 
But of course, Sport Fishing readers would want to consider such a trip not just for (or perhaps despite) all these other-worldly experiences, but for world-class fishing action. That, to be sure, is what prompted me to make the long journey in the spring of 2007.
 
I found that - and more. 

Abundant Challenges
On the first of six days out of Port Blair, Pearce pointed the bow of his new 47-foot, second-generation Riviera northeast, as his crew set out a four-lure trolling spread that would dance in our wake for the 70 miles to Barren Island. Putting out lures was no mere afterthought since these waters have, during the seven seasons that Pearce has fished them, proven to hold good numbers of blue and, especially, black marlin. Just a year earlier, Simon Coe - one of the anglers aboard on this trip - had been in the chair for an estimated 800-pound black that inhaled a lure just 20 minutes out of Port Blair.
 
Though these waters are rough much of the year, we enjoyed a flat ocean - typical for March and April - as we made our way up to Barren. In fact, we couldn't have asked for better weather for six straight days. 
 
That's all the more fortunate in light of abundant challenges, large and small, and routine for anyone operating a boat out of Port Blair. I noted that Pearce patiently accepted the various, regular inconveniences such as the necessity to fuel up in the harbor from 50-gallon drums and the Indian government's requirement that he maintain daily radio contact (not always an easy task) to apprise authorities of the boat's whereabouts/movements. We had to wait a bit our first morning for permission from authorities before even weighing anchor to leave Port Blair. The presence of a large Indian naval base here seems to create additional layers on top of the usual bureaucracy.
 
Pearce is philosophic, figuring these inconveniences help keep competition at a minimum. When he brings his boat and crew west from Phuket, Thailand, each year from late February through mid-April, Pearce knows there will be only two or three other sport-fishing charters working offshore waters in the entire region. 
 
In several days out, I saw not a single boat of any kind - not even a freighter on the horizon (nor for that matter did I hear airplanes or other indicators that we weren't the last living souls on the planet). Also, many spots (like Barren) require a long run, another reason so few really fish those waters.