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Friday, 4 May 2018

So he gave up heavy topwater...

The face of pain... and a lovely rod
A 3 man lift... not sure how much use Mark is however

So he gave up heavy topwater...
By Mark Harris

(Editors note - Mark Harris needs no introduction as a heavy tackle topwater GT angler.  Sadly due to the recurrence of a serious shoulder injury, Mark was forced to give up heavy casting early in 2018.  What was still in scope to a point was an ability to jig in moderate to heavy tackle as a new focus)

The pictures and video of this fish have been widely shared already but I really wanted to get the full story recorded… so here we go.
This was my third trip to Eastern Fields with Sportfishing PNG, having first visited this amazing reef system as part of their initial exploratory there back in late 2014. So there is no doubt that Eastern Fields has a special place in my heart.
This time I went along as part of a group trip organised by my great friend Nick Lee – how nice it was to have someone else doing the organisation for a change!  And Nick did a fine job. The group comprised of five anglers I knew well – Nick himself, Jason Tan, Eric Lee, Hong Qixian and Nick Wykeham Martin (all from Singapore), plus Dan Milton who traveled all the way from Canada, and two late “replacements” Rob Powell and Jay Kim from Sydney.  An excellent group who bonded well and shared a lot of laughs as well as some fine fish.
This was something of personal watershed trip for myself. Serious GT fishing had been off the cards for some time due to a serious shoulder injury and this was the first big trip I had done where this was the case. Well there had been a trip to Oman some two months previous, but that was specifically a light tackle trip. Before hand, I gave a great deal of thought as to how I would fish at Eastern Fields, and especially as to how I would tackle jigging for dogtooth, protect the dodgy shoulder etc.   I never imagined that all of that thought and planning would be tested so incredibly violently on this trip.
The first 5 days of the trip provided some very mixed fishing results really. GT fishing was tough for the guys (being unable to cast GT sized lures, I only did some half-hearted PE5 fishing for GTs myself) and although a couple of nice fish were caught, it was mostly small stuff and not in huge numbers compared to what this site normally offers up.  A few small doggies were caught and inevitably some big ones lost, and Napoleon wrasse were their usual difficult selves at this reef system.  Light jigging for reefies was off-the-charts good especially at night from the mothership, and the yellowfin tuna fishing very good indeed. We were also hampered by some truly foul weather on days 2 and 3 especially.
Impressive proportions
So day 6 dawned as our final chance to catch something notable before the long steam back to Port Moresby that evening. As on day 5, I was fishing with Hong who is always excellent company, and we were together on one of the small Panga tenders with captain Fikai.  Both Hong and I thought that we should give Napoleon jigging a real go and we spent much of the morning bouncing jigs along various reef walls in about 30 to 50 metres of water. Lots of the usual suspects caught but not a Napoleon in sight. Around mid-day a huge group of terns of noddies drew our attention to a large bust up in deeper water, and yep, it was not just rainbow runners and bonito, there were some solid yellowfin in there also. Complete mayhem ensued as it turned out there were probably as many sharks as yellowfin. Hong did manage to get one lovely yellowfin to the boat. In the meantime I had lost 5 lures in as many minutes to sharkings. It was lots of fun but rather expensive fun.
So back to the reef walls it was and after a few drops lunch seemed in order.  That helped in providing one final burst of energy, and while Hong was content to continued slow bouncing for a Napoleon, I decided to give it a final blast for a doggie as we drifted away from the reef wall into about 80 metres of channel. 
81kgs of prime dog tooth
With a 250 gram Fisherman Andaman jig on I decided to give it a fast rip from the belt, and on my second drop had a shuddering super heavy take.   This was clearly something big and for a few seconds it just sat still as very heavy weight prompting my exclamation that I had hooked a “f**king big shark*.  Then it just went. And boy did it go. The fastest run I have ever felt. I was fishing about 12-13 kgs initial drag on a Stella 20000 and my line just flew off. Obviously a big doggie.  Line just disappeared from the spool so fast it was hard to think. With only about 40 metres left on the spool I tightened drag for the final quarter turn that was left. Line continued to peel and I said to Hong not make sure he had the spool on video as a spooling would make for fun footage (!) ….. it seemed inevitable. Then the fish just stopped. There was less than 10 metres of line left and backing was showing. Quite remarkable really. Another second or two on the run and it was a spooling. Instead I had a fish that not only stopped but also gave me its head for a minute or so, and it was almost straightforward getting about 40-50 metres of line back.  It did not stay that way for long and it was a real battle with periods of a truly massive dead weight feeling on the set up combined with bursts of intense pulling.
Management of my shoulder injury was critical if I was to have any chance of getting this fish to the boat.  Whenever I tried a classical straight-arm position during the fight it felt as if the shoulder could blowout at any time. Instead, I had to use an awkward and physically draining technique of bent arms that put most of the strain onto forearms, elbows and biceps and lessened pressure on the shoulder. This is highly not recommended unless you have to!  But by thinking it through in that way, the battle was won.
It was a mental battle as much as anything else. Physically I was done after the first half of the fight really and there were clear signs of redlining with my left hand side shaking significantly and key muscles turning to jelly. But no way was I ever going to accept offers of help. I have never handed over a rod in my life and was not about to start! I just kept telling myself that it could not hurt any more than it already was.
That is a LOT of line out!
The fish arrived at the surface some 15 minutes after the initial take and immediately popped from barotrauma.  My elation was somewhat tempered by the fact that this magnificent alpha predator had killed itself in the fight.  This is almost unavoidable with big dogtooth and a key reason why I stopped fishing for them for many years.  These days I limit myself to one per trip – do the responsible thing.
It was far from easy getting the fish onto the boat but Hong and Fikai eventually managed after tail roping it. I was completely useless – little more than a quivering mass of jelly. Once onboard the tape measure gave us a lip to fork of 178 cm.  I was fearful of any weight estimate, especially as I knew we could weigh the fish on a crane back the mothership. Fikai did mutter both 80 and 90 kgs.  News of a 178 cm fish went out on the radio and the airways were soon full of loud chatter. Head guide Cameron was quickly to the scene and soon taking photos.
Defeated, but victorious
Within about 2 hours of capture the fish was back at the mothership and being hauled on board by a crane. The needle on the scale was swinging violently but we decided that given the extent of those swings plus the HUGE amount of (vile yellow!) fluid the fish lost when raised, that 81 kg seemed about right.  Within 30 minutes the fish was fully filleted by chef Alex with the meat plastic wrapped and into the freezer for later distribution to PNG villagers.

Some fairly random observations:
·        I have always said that you do not need wire for dogtooth fishing. Those things snipping your leader or slicing your assist are not dogtooth. A quick examination of the teeth of this fish confirmed this to everyone who looked.
Fisherman Andaman
·      MC Works 556 MS is just the best heavy jigging rod ever. The rod helped me so much during the fight.  It’s parabolic enough to not brutalise the angler but still has immense mid-section strength to deal with lifting a fish of this magnitude. Also the relatively soft tip injects life into 200-300 grams jigs which so many heavy jigging rods cannot do.
·       There is a very spooky moment which is captured at 40 seconds into the video when the spool is almost empty. I had no recollection of saying this until listening very carefully to the audio some 4 days after the event. After explaining to Hong why I could not move the fish (LOL) I said “it is like an 80 kg fish”. A real WTF moment!
·         I have never ever felt power or speed like this in a fish before.  The moments when the fish was pulling very hard but just not hard enough to take any line were absolutely body breaking.
·         Mentally it is a very tough moment when you realise a huge fish has dumped 300 metres of line, and you have to get it all back.
·         It’s a corny old adage but I will say it anyway – never give up when fishing. This fish was landed with just 4 hours of fishing left of a 6 day trip.
So many thanks are due. To Sportfishing PNG for making remote reef systems like Eastern Fields not only fishable, but fishable in great comfort on board the magnificent K20. To all of the crew – Cameron, Jed, Mia, Billy, Alex, John, Jia An (who really should have been there but wasn’t), and especially Fikai who once again proved he really is Captain Big Fish. And of course to my friends Nick x 2, Jason, Eric, Hong, Dan, Rob and Jay – fantastic company throughout.  Extra special thanks are due to Hong for not only helping me through the fight with constant encouragement, but also managing to record the event so expertly.

One of the best dog tooth jig / hook combinations

Tackle used:
Rod: MC Works 556 MS
Reel: Stella '08 20000 loaded with YGK Jigman PE8
Leader: FG Knot to YGK 130 lb fluorocarbon, 3 turn uni to NT 2/0swivel
Hook: De-barbed Shout Kudako 9/0, self-tied assist with Varivas kevlar to JM figure 8 ring and Carpenter 350 lb split ring.

Please feel free to take a look at the video - watch in HD