Sometimes the first catch of the day ends up being the most important one.
In case of the Yellowfin boat and its female visitors of ANZ, this became true in two different ways.
When S.I.G.F.A.’s Ladies Tournament started on Monday morning, it might not have been as glamorous as the opening of the big open tournament that kicks off this morning.
There was no starting shot, but there were six boats full of ladies longing for the biggest catch of them all and that was all that counted. At that time, nobody might have expected the team sponsored by Australian and New Zealand Banking Group to become the winners of the day.
But the signs were already there in the dull morning that would soon transform into a sunny day on the South Pacific: they had hired Roy Lee and his boat, the Yellowfin.
With this man as a skipper and his experienced crew behind them, they counted on a true expert for Samoan waters, having for instance won the international game fishing tournament of 2011 with his other boat, the Black Pearl.
The first lesson he taught the all-female visitors on board, was that the early angler does not always catch the biggest fish.
With their departure in Apia’s harbour around nine o’clock in the morning, the Yellowfin was amongst the latest boats that went for fishing at the Ladies Tournament, but in the afternoon they would come back as the day’s champions.
Their trip commenced with the rattling and vibrating engines of the boat that soon would become a familiar side effect, along with Roy Lee’s shouted orders for the crew, searching for the perfect spot in the South Pacific to get a decent fish on the hook.
However, soon another important part of game fishing verified itself: the waiting. Changing the fishing rods, the colourful baits and constantly reeling the fishing lines was the major part of the crew’s work in the beginning of the day.
Along with that, the chair at the boat’s back was in constant occupation, taking turns every half hour to give another lady the chance to land a big catch: “It is the usual way in game fishing to do it like that.
With this strategy, everybody has the chance to hopefully catch a bite within its time frame”, explained Bernie Poort from Tonga, who besides from his work for ANZ is an experienced angler, having known the Yellowfin and its crew for more than six years.
But as the harbour of Apia slowly started to disappear on the horizon and the sun almost reached its highest point on a cloudless Samoan sky, the first catch was a long time in coming.
With the boat’s crew shouting and pointing out in the sheer infinity of the steel blue sea, the process of waiting was suddenly interrupted: “Birds!”, they yelled, explaining that with the appearance of dozens of seagulls in the open water, the presence of some big fish in the area was not unlike. Soon after that first sign of prey and almost three hours since the departure, the desired noise of the buzzing fishing rod suffused the boat’s deck.
The first catch of the day had just begun, and it was Matilda Meredith-Tapusoa’s turn on the chair, where she waited for the boat’s crew to hand her the unrolling fishing rod, quickly isolating it from the others.
What followed was a gigantic act of exertion for the female angler: being strapped to the chair, Ms Tapusoa repeated the procedure of giving the fish line and trying to reel the same over and over again for an endless duration of more than half an hour until Roy Lee’s loud voice cut through the almost electric atmosphere on board: “It’s a marlin, a big one!”, he determined from his higher positioned place at the boat’s steering wheel.
Shortly after that, he turned the boat aside to exact the last possible bit of power that the fish had saved in this wrestle for life and death. The crew and Matilda Meredith-Tapusoa succeeded, pulling out a marlin so massive and impressive in his whole appearance, that one would feel like shifted into Ernest Hemingway’s famous literary piece “The Old Man and the Sea”.
Being way too large to be simply put on ice in one of the boat’s refrigerators, the fish had to be covered with a blanket and constantly cooled with fresh water, after it was killed by a well-aimed hit conducted by Bernie Poort, that made sure that the giant sea dweller did not suffer longer than necessary.
The fish’s catcher, Matilda Meredith-Tapusoa, could not be happier with the sudden success, revealing a surprising fact: “This is actually my first time catching a fish at all”, she told Samoa Observer on board of the Yellowfin moments after the catch. “I’ve been on this boat two years ago, but I didn’t catch anything back then. This was just great, because in between I had the thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it.
It is not as easy as you would expect it, it’s quite hard work”, Ms Tapuosa explained, still cooling the lower part of her arm because of the exhaustion caused by the marlin’s fight for survival.
At this point and with a first catch in two different ways in mind, the team could not yet have a guess that this was the crucial fish that would make them the tournament’s champions.
Compared to the long wait for the first catch, the ANZ team did not have to wait for a long time until the next one. This time, Nicole Stoffel sat on the chair. Despite being the youngest participant on the Yellowfin, she surely was not the least experienced: “I’ve done game fishing a couple of times before, but as always, I am excited to sit on that chair”, she stated moments before her fight for the catch would begin.
The fight took Ms Stoffel approximately ten minutes until she was able along with the crewmember’s support, to draw a marvellous Masi Masi out of the South Pacific.
But fortunately, this was not even the last catch of the day for ANZ’s women’s team. Just one hour before the planned return to Apia and with too big fishes on board, one of the rods on board of the Yellowfin started buzzing again, with a fish on the bait that would live up to the boat’s name itself: A yellowfin tuna. On the chair, a familiar face could be spotted, as Matilda Meredith-Tapusoa had taken seat again.
But as the struggle started, the angler delivered a proof for the comradeship that differs fishing from other sports: She passed on the opportunity for a catch to Raema von Reiche, who took over the fishing rod and showed off her ability to fight the tuna. Von Reiche made it a short but exhausting struggle.
After a couple of minutes and the skipper’s warning that there might not be much time left for the catch, the angler from the village of Motootua finally pulled out the yellowfin, making it the day’s last catch for team ANZ.
“It felt like a monster and compared to that, they pulled out such a small fish! But it was fun for sure”, she said afterwards. When having returned to Apia, the boat unloaded the three fishes. With the day’s first catch, the marlin with an overall weight of approximately 67 kilograms, the team won the Ladies tournament. But more important was the experience itself for the ladies.
“It was a great time on the boat and of course, the fact that we won our tournament makes it even more worthwhile,” explained Melissa Greig Callaghan, who was one of the lady anglers on board of the Yellowfin.