Falling for the lure of Guam

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 1998, 12:00am

It gazes down with a chilling eye as black as onyx, the broad shoulders and tapered body conjuring up an aura of strength and invincibility. It's one thing seeing pictures and videos of a marlin weighing more than 500 kilograms, but eyeballing a three dimensional representation is another.

Is this what could conceivably be on the end of my line in a few hours, I thought, as I gazed up at the 524kg Pacific blue marlin which majestically looks down upon visitors at the Guam International Airport as they impatiently wait for their baggage to roll by.

If an angler needed any more incentive than simply being in Guam for three days of game fishing, this world record catch from the waters off this speck in the Pacific Ocean certainly provided it.

Guam's far-flung location makes it a mecca for a wide range of pelagic fish and over the next three days I hoped to tangle with the best of them.

The sun was just edging over the horizon as we left the denizen of the deep to continue his steely gaze over new arrivals and headed for the Hilton Hotel and a quick nap before the first round of piscatorial action.

Mother nature was clearly in a huff as I gazed out from my fourth floor balcony. Ranks of foam-crested breakers crashed upon the shore, whipped up by a steady 20-knot breeze.

Ten Club Charter operator Masao Tenbata, an effusive Japanese with a ready smile and an easy-going disposition, greeted us in the lobby like long lost relatives and then dismissed the wind as a minor hindrance.

Four members of Hong Kong's Mandarin Game Fishing Club - Irene Hayashi, Vergil Lau, Eric Sampson and Joseph Vicic - and I were not quite so convinced.

Skipper for the day, Tim Hanley, who has lived in Guam for the past 24 years, appeared equally unperturbed by the weather as we motored from the shelter of the marina on board a Topaz 36 game-fishing boat.

Hanley gunned the Topaz through a gap in the fringing coral reef, conveniently blasted away by the Americans during World War II, and we were slammed by the full brunt of a succession of Pacific rollers.

He had set a course for Ritidian Point on the far northwestern tip of the island, and with outriggers set and five lines skipping in the wake off the stern, it wasn't long before a dorado inhaled a skirted lure, wildly tail-dancing towards the horizon.

Vergil Lau was first to sample the action. The stiff breeze and lumpy seas conspired to make his task more difficult, but five minutes later the fish was on the deck, its sleek yellow flanks speckled with blotches of electric blue.

My imminent bout of sea sickness was quickly shrugged off as Irene Hayashi was next to hook up - another dorado - as line melted from the spool like an ice-cream on a hot summer day.

Two from two as the rest of the crew switched to spinning tackle as hungry dorados followed their just-caught brother to the stern of the boat.

Another hook-up. If we had any doubts about the potential of light tackle sport fishing in Guam it was erased an hour later when Sampson hooked on to a sailfish around the 45kg mark.

Sadly one frenetic tail dance saw the strike leader give way - that's the price you pay for using light tackle.

The Mandarin crew all opted to bring their own light tackle gear but a full range of 30 and 50 pound Penn International reels and matched rods are provided along with 20-pound spinning tackle by the operator.

Hayashi had finally succumbed to sea sickness and retreated to a bunk to ride out the rest of the afternoon as a steady stream of dorados came aboard.

A following sea made the return journey a relatively comfortable one, but we all had a weather eye to the horizon hoping that flatter seas and lighter winds would allow us to fish Galvez Banks, about 40kg southwest of Agat, the following day.

Our fears were unfounded next morning as the unruly seas turned docile and the wind dropped away.

Hayashi opted out of the full-day's fishing still nursing a delicate stomach leaving four of us to tackle the best the local hot-spot had to offer.

We were also on board the pride and joy of Tenbata's three-boat charter fleet, his 12-metre, self-designed walkaround fishing platform appropriately called Ten III. This monster sport fishing boat was built in Florida last year.

Tenbata proudly tells us all as we cast off: 'She's the biggest walkaround sport fishing boat ever built . . . there's plenty of casting and fighting room for all of you.' You don't realise just how large the boat is until you get on board, the stern is enormous - we would be running seven rigs off the back later in the day.

Our skipper for the day is ex-Californian surfer and self-confessed fishing nut, Mike Rendall.

Like Hanley, Rendall came, saw and stayed in Guam. He's been on the island for 19 years and can't see himself leaving any time soon. It's about an hour's run to the banks and Rendall had ample time to map out the plan of attack.

'The bottom comes up steeply from about 3,000 feet to 60 feet [915 metres to 18 metres] in places. We'll troll the drop-offs and then try some jigging in 90 to 100 feet [27 metres to 30 metres].' The pent-up enthusiasm was rising as Rendall's GPS way-point indicator alarm sounded and it was only a matter of minutes before five lures were splashing across the waves.

Crash, bang, boom, a triple hook-up, two yellow fin tuna and a bonito. Not large but a clear indication that we were very much where the action was.

A double hook-up was soon to follow as kawa kawa (a local variety of mackerel tuna), dorado and barracuda came on board.

Jigging also provided plenty of fun. I hooked the 6.40 am express train from Lo Wu which wasn't stopping for anybody, particularly me. It wasn't long before a sharp crack of the line signalled the parting of our ways.

While inexperienced anglers may opt to fish with the heavier tackle offered by the charter skippers, there's no doubting the fun light gear offers in these waters.

Lau was to rue not having heavier tackle on the final day of the three-day odyssey when a black marlin of nearly 100kg melted the strike leader of his 20-pound (9kg) rig.

But another dozen dorado, some around 10kg, offset the frustration of the one that got away.

There's no doubting that light-tackle game fishing off Guam is world-class and with a 40 per cent decline in business in recent months due to the financial troubles in Japan, charter boat operators are eager to please.

If there is a downside, it must be the cost. At around US$120 (HK$930) an hour, chartering a game-fishing boat is not cheap.

Against that, Tenbata takes up to six people at a time and fishing begins literally five minutes from shore.

There are 10 specialised game-fishing boats which operate out of Guam and all charge pretty much uniform fees. They offer a full range of options - trolling, live-baiting, jigging and bottom fishing - for experienced and amateur anglers alike.

Continental Micronesia flies three times a week to Guam. An economy air ticket is $4,290. The Monday and Friday flights are via Saipan while the new Wednesday service is direct.