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“My friends and I have fished Micronesia for some time now, in the old days, more often than not, by dragging kona heads behind motorboats in the early part of the year for mahi mahi and wahoo and big skirts for billfish in the summer months. We are all occasional fly fishermen, but these days we pretty much confine our fly fishing to freshwater, specifically to trout and steelhead on the West Coast. We still cast these days when we go to Palau, but instead of artificial flies, we throw wood. It was our discovery of topwater spin casting for trevally in Palau that inspired us to get organized and really start pushing this kind of fishing. This year will be our 11th consecutive year holding an annual catch-and-release tournament in Palau that we have dubbed the Hemingway Invitational. Most of us who take part in the tournament live in the area (Saipan, Guam, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Australia), but a few come all the way from the exotic United States, including Alaska.
“Palau is a very special place for fishing. It is comprised of more than 250 islands, the vast majority of them uninhabited and unfished. The islands are separated in some cases by hundreds of miles of open ocean and coral atolls. The entire population of Palau is only around 21,000, with most of it located on a single island, Koror. In 2009, Palau became the world’s first shark sanctuary, which means that any kind of shark fishing or harvesting there is illegal.
“Much of Palau is surrounded by distant coral reefs that give the impression that the island nation is surrounded by a placid lake instead of the Pacific Ocean. The calm seas provide the perfect conditions
for casting from a boat in waters ranging from about 10 to 90 feet deep. It is not, however, a place for the underequipped. I flew there in late January from Manila with Peter, a fellow Hemingway member, for a four-day fishing trip and to set up the tournament to be held this June. We both came armed with Daiwa Saltiga and Shimano Stella SW reels, medium and heavy casting rods between six and seven feet long, and 80-pound braided line with 120-pound shock leaders. On this trip we mostly tossed six- to nine-inch wooden minnows and 150- to 200-gram dumbbell poppers. With this setup, some knowledge, a good Palauan boatman, and a high tide, it is not unusual to catch and release 15 to 20 species during a single trip. Our main target was giant trevally (25 to 80 pounds) but we also hooked large golden trevally and some blues as well. As is the norm, the excitement peaked in the morning and evening hours. During the heat of the day and a waning tide we searched out schools of yellowfin tuna, which are quite common. A storm of yellowfin tuna hitting surface poppers results in complete and utter chaos.
“One day, Peter and Melvin, a Palauan member of our club and our boat captain, spotted some yellowfin jumping just off the outer reef, about seven miles from shore around 3 p.m. The cloud of birds following the baitball was large enough to shade our boat. Peter and I both had instant strikes as soon as our poppers hit the boiling surface. Melvin grabbed my jigging rod and dropped the lure down about 70 feet. He immediately hooked a monster yellowfin and hung on for dear life until the big fish broke off, pulling off 100 yards of expensive PE braid in the process. [Editor Note: PE refers to polyethylene, the fiber used to make Dyneema and Spectra braided lines.] Damn! These fish are huge. Shark? Maybe. There are lots of sharks here. No, I don’t mean reef sharks. I mean all kinds of sharks. This place is special. A few years ago we were fishing in a tournament on the west side of Palau in a 32-foot flatboat about three miles offshore in about 90 feet of crystalline water. Suddenly, a giant shadow formed under the boat. I looked down at the largest shark I have ever seen: a monster tiger keeping pace just under our boat, obviously coming inside the barrier at high tide to check things out and to see what was edible.
“There are dozens of shark species here, plus barracuda, big snapper, and mafuti, Napoleon wrasse, big groupers, Spanish mackerel, and a host of others. We even had two sailfish hookups last year on surface poppers. And because trevally and shark like to hunt together, it is not uncommon for two fishermen to have hookups with both species simultaneously. Palau can be fished on a budget by booking inexpensive lodgings online. Tell the locals, many of whom really know about fishing, that you’re looking for a boat. They will set you up. Grab some cold, local Red Rooster beer to throw in the cooler, and you are set for a unique and rewarding fishing experience. Just bring big gear.”
Postscript: Leavitt says Palau can be accessed from Guam or Tokyo, but he personally gets there on a United Airlines flight out of Manila. He says his latest four-day trip cost him $3,000, including his share of the boat cost. Subscribers with non-fishing spouses may want to note that there are lots of activities available in Palau other than fishing, such as diving, kayaking, touring many types of World War II sites, viewing saltwater crocodiles, and so on. You can get a sense of the Hemingway Invitational participants by visiting the Web site the guys have created at www.hemingway-invitational.com. They have a very unusual sense of humor, as witness the “And Finally” item about hotel fishing in this month’s issue.