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May 28, 2008

Island of Surprises

Discover New Caledonia, French Jewel of the South Pacific

Virgin Bonefish
Bertin decided that my group - the Yanks - would fish the lagoon and passes on the west side of the island each day, departing from the resort after breakfast with a local fisherman who runs a water-taxi service, while he joined the Australian anglers each morning for the 25-minute drive north and east, over the top of the island, to fish bonefish.
The primary area of northern New Caledonia flats is on the east side - and that area is mighty impressive, according to one who saw it firsthand.
"The flats there are incredible, with literally hundreds and hundreds of acres to fish!" Harnwell marvels. He calls the potential "tremendous."
"I'd never caught a bonefish before this trip." (Australia has no real bonefish fishery.) "But here I was catching a  10-pounder," Harwell says. "And that was despite poor conditions with overcast skies and lots of wind. And we saw fish every day in excess of 12 pounds." Pakula says he saw bones that, he's sure, went far larger than 12 pounds.
Nor are bonefish the only likely quarry on the flats. In addition to catching various trevallies and spangled emperors, "I saw some GTs I was afraid to cast to!" says Harnwell. "They were setting up a foot-high bow wake, mate!" he laughs.
Still, world-class fish seldom come easily, and NC's bones are still very much in that trés difficile category. In addition to the wind (NC is generally a pretty windy place), a limiting factor is the lack of boats and experienced guides to really take advantage of the fishery. There's no such thing as a flats skiff in NC yet, and the  concept of poling anglers to fish is  completely foreign. At this point, bring your best wading shoes because you'll be using them every day you fish the flats. The upside, of course, is that most of these virgin bonefish have never seen a fly or lure.
Another surprise on this trip: Bertin couldn't take our designated bonefish anglers to the very best flats as he'd hoped. Why? Tribal politics. The Kanak natives who own the land to access these flats (access/launch areas are few and far between) had recently closed them to  fishing. Bertin hoped to regain access in the near future.

Idyllic Isle
Bertin and others have taken large bonefish at the south end of NC as well, around Ile de Pins (Isle of Pines), situated about 50 miles south of the main island. We did get the chance to try bonefishing there for a few hours on two days (we made a half-hour flight to get there and returned in just under three hours via a fairly high-speed cat.) Neither Bertin nor our group could score on bonefish, but local fly-rodder Henri Morin described his best bonefish day ever, here: four bones  in the teens, with the largest estimated at 16 pounds.
Reefs and passes around the Isle of Pines offer a wealth of opportunity for larger species. Whether fishing these areas or the flats, you may encounter a brisk southeasterly trade wind that requires targeting areas that offer some protection.
In terms of the idyllic, everyone in our group agreed that the Isle of Pines may truly be one of the most perfect, tranquil and beautiful spots on Earth.
In fact, we came away from our visit to New Caledonia - its lonely north end, the lovely Isle of Pines in the south and its vibrant main city, Noumea - agreeing that it is one of the most appealing vacation spots we'd visited. The physical beauty, climate, cuisine, safety and varied recreational opportunities all make New Caledonia a land worth experiencing. The fishing generally waits for more exploration and opportunity; there's little doubt of the potential. As infrastructure, equipment and expertise improve, it's likely that more and more anglers will discover this French jewel in the South Pacific.