The month of May this year will see all keen fishermen holding tight to their rods once again for the Vanuatu Marlin Classic. The tournament came to be in the most unlikely way. It was an unfortunate fishing accident that gave it birth and Charles has ‘the scars to prove it’.
In late 2003, Charles Wheeler, Vanuatu game fishing charters operator, was speared through his calf by a marlin. It was during his period of convalescence that a group of friends, keen fisher people involved in tourism, came to visit him and started brainstorming ideas for a fishing tournament. “May is a quiet month for visitors to the country and we were trying to come up with ideas to bring more visitors to Vanuatu during this time,” explains Troy Lee Neel, one of the tournament’ founders and co-owner of Reefers Restaurant Bar and Grill. As Charles nursed the sizeable hole in his calf, his leg propped up, friends all around, it was on that fateful afternoon that the Vanuatu Marlin Classic came to be.
Ron Pattenden, Troy Lee Neel, Charles Wheeler and Doug Bailey were in the room that day and it has been this small group of people who have been in the room ever since, keeping the Marlin Classic going till today. “It is a lot of work and we have all taken turns throughout the years organising the tournament,” explains Charles. Charles and Michelle from Crusoe Fishing have taken part in the tournament every year with their three boats. Cyclone Pam took one out in 2015 but was kind enough to spare two, and this year Nevagivup (three times winner of the tournament) and Reel Capture (one time winner) will be joining in once again for a great week of fishing and social ‘intercourse’. “One of the great things about this tournament is the social side of it. Every night there is something happening and it is a lot of fun and a great opportunity to share fishing stories with like-minded people,” explains Michelle. A great fisher woman, Michelle, has also brought a couple of all-girl teams in past years to compete as more and more women join the sport.
One of the new comers to the tournament this year is 40ft Blackwatch custom built in Australia ‘Nambas’. Nambas commenced operations last year. Her captain Russ Housby however, far from new, is a veteran to the sport in Vanuatu. Russ has taken part in the tournament almost every year as either captain or crew, on Nevagivup, Reel Escape, Outlaw and Escapade amongst others. He has won the tournament twice, once wining first and second place aboard Nevagivup and also winning first place aboard Escapade from Escapade Charters owned by Herve Picarda, another veteran of Vanuatu sport fishing and this tournament. “What I love the most about the tournament is that you never know what is going to happen. No matter how good you are, there is always an element of luck, and anything can happen when you are out there,” explains Russ. Russ has been involved in numerous world records, his biggest catch ever a 1,142 pound Marlin, which, unfortunately was too big to be released, “but it fed three villages and two passing ships,” said Russ.
The Vanuatu Marlin Classic is a tag and release contest when it comes to Marlin and the rules are strict. The tournament has been a qualifying event for the IGFA (International Game Fish Association of America) World Series for many years. Commanding a big winning prize, as well as numerous smaller prizes, it has aimed to bring international attention to the industry, “When we first dreamed up this idea, back in 2003, we wanted to be able to put together enough prize money to draw anglers from overseas,” explains Troy Lee Neel. In that, they have succeeded, with an average of fifteen teams each year and over twenty teams in some of its biggest years, and anglers coming from Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and America to take part in the event.
Of course, none of this would have happened without the help of the many sponsors throughout the years who have given generously to make the not-for-profit event a reality. Ron Pattenden has been a main sponsor of the event since its conception. The owner of Blue Marlin Lodge and Fishing Charters, and the War Horse Saloon Restaurant Bar and Grill, Ron has been pouring money into Vanuatu game fishing for over a decade, being the main sponsor of the event for many years. For the past two years, he and his wife and master fisher-woman Louise, have been in charge of the event’s organization. “We are passionate about this tournament and want to continue to see it grow and succeed,” explains Ron, “This year, we have a purpose-built weigh station at Blue Marlin Lodge, which will no doubt make that part of the tournament much more efficient. Boats will be able to easily moor off the jetty at the lodge and offload their catch ashore.” Blue Marlin Lodge caters for fishing people as well as groups, couples, families and boat enthusiasts and also has six moorings available free of charge for visiting boats during the event as well as facilities for boats to refuel. “We have one of the fastest diesel fuel pumps in Vanuatu, able to pump up to 7,000 liters an hour,” explains Ron. Ron and Louise’s latest venture is the new restaurant and bar, Blue Marlin Club. Built just in time for the event, adjacent to Blue Marlin Lodge, right on the harbour and with fantastic views over Iririki Island, the restaurant’s specialty is, you guessed it, the freshest seafood. “For years we have been building the infrastructure necessary to be able to take this tournament and sport fishing in Vanuatu to the next level. This year, we are very excited to be the official host of the Vanuatu Marlin Classic and to put all our infrastructure to great use during the tournament,” explains Ron.
Blue Marlin Fishing Charters will enter the tournament with Caribbean 40ft Flybridge cruisers Reel Escape and Reel Affair; both favorites at the Calcutta night. Reel Affair won the event last year with a New Caledonian team aboard. Ron and Louise also took first place in the 2013 tournament.
The event this year carries a total prize pool of 5,000,000 vatu plus a chance to win a Nissan Navara, courtesy of Aon and Carpenters Motors. The tournament commences on May 25th, with the briefing and holding of the Calcutta at the War Horse Salon. All boats competing must be registered by 6.30pm on that night.
Fishing commences with the official sail past and shotgun start at 6.30am on May 26th with teams able to fish on three designated days out of seven- till June 1st. Daily weighing and the final presentation night on June 2nd will take place at the Blue Marlin Club.
For more information contact [email protected].
The Vanuatu Marlin Classic would like to thank the following sponsors: Bred Bank, Law Partners, Jon Law, Tusker, Geoffrey Gee & Partners, Vila Marine, Turtle Bay Resort, AON, ITM Fishing, Carpenter Motors, Saltwater Fishing, Pacific Petroleum, Coral Quays, Beach Bar, Port Vila Hardware, Body & Soul, Wilco, Buzz FM, Top Signs, Vanuatu Cattle Company, TVL, Vila Distribution, Shades of Summer, Vanuatu Helicopters, Kingfisher Plumbing, Off Road Adventures, Vila Handprints, Switched on Electrics, War Horse Saloon, Blue Marlin Lodge, Crown Insurance Services, Shimano Fishing Tackle, Unelco.