Bali: The Land of Milk and Honey

I recently returned from Bali… let’s just call it the land of milk and honey! Warm water, incredible waves and massive fish! We first stayed on the Bukit peninsula where I surfed the major breaks of Bingin, Uluwatu, Dreamlands and Impossibles. The waves are amazing, the crowds are big and the reef is sharp!

I did one shore dive at Uluwatu and there were a lot of fish around, but it was difficult to figure out which fish to shoot as there are so many species to choose from. I didn’t see many big fish on that first dive but it was still a great experience. We then went to Nusa Lembongen which is a 40 minute boat cruise away. We stayed there for three days and I surfed Shipwrecks (a crazy right hander that can give you the barrel of your life) and Laceration. I also managed two trips over to Nusa Penida, the island that used to hold the world record for Dogtooth Tuna. Needless to say I was really excited.

The currents in Bali are hectic, and when I say hectic I mean really, really dangerous… I’ve never seen currents moving that fast in my life! I was diving in a small bay and moving with the current (you don’t have much of an alternative) and in some places the current actually pulls down so you really have to be careful and watch your depth. The water is super clear, I’m talking 30 to 50m visibility, so it’s impossible to sneak up on the reef fish. They see you doing your duck dive 30m away and immediately start moving off. I managed to shoot a small Doggie (more of a puppy really) but I saw 2 GT’s of +15kg, which got my heart going! Unfortunately they headed off long before I was even close enough to get a shot in.

After we left Lembongen, we travelled around a bit. When we got back to the Bingin area I met up with a South African and an expat American, and joined them on a charter to Nusa Penida. This expedition was one of the highlights of my whole trip. 

It was an hour’s journey in a fast boat from Bali to Nusa Penida and the first spot we stopped at looked amazing. It was like something out of Jurassic Park, with massive cliffs hitting the water and this ‘pinnacle’ island sticking out of the water. We jumped in 800m in front of the small island and drifted towards it at quite a speed with the current. I was diving with a Freedivers 1.2m with two 16mm rubbers and a double wrap, but it felt puny compared to the other two divers who each had 1.65m guns with five 16mm rubbers and 8mm spears.

On the first drift I saw Wahoo about 200m in front of the island and then as we got to the island I saw GT’s… but not just one or two or twenty. There were hundreds and they where MASSIVE! Our main target was Dogtooth Tuna and Wahoo but on the first drift I couldn’t help myself and put in a great shot into a big GT, stoning it with a spine shot. It was over 20kg and as I was pulling up on my line I saw my spear pull straight out. My shot had killed the fish but didn’t have enough power to go all the way through after hitting the backbone… so I helplessly watched the biggest fish I had ever shot drift away in the screaming current. Not a great way to start the day!

The next few drifts were similar to the first, with sightings of Wahoo in front of the island, schools of small Doggies (2-3kg), huge GT’s, and plenty of other fish. I did see two Doggies over 30kg but they were beasts and were not interested in me, which is probably for the best because I could have ended up in real trouble shooting such powerful fish without the proper gear! In front of the pinnacle there was a ledge with a ‘dead spot’ in the current. If you got it right, you could hang there for a bit and wait to see what would come around without the current pulling you away. On one of my dives, I saw a nice Doggie of about 10kg come in and I slowly swung my gun towards it while I looked the other way. When I turned to look again, he was right in front of me giving me a perfect shot… as I pulled the trigger I saw the spear go all the way through and I knew I had placed a good shot and could put some pressure on the fish. Nothing can really prepare you for the power of these fish! Within seconds I was being pulled down one side of the island by the current, but the fish decided to go the other way so he pulled me around the island against the current and down the other side. I was so happy when I finally got my hands on him!

A few minutes later I lost a nice Wahoo. This trip was the first time I had ever seen these fish and I had no idea how to approach them. It was a real learning curve. I managed to pull the trigger while aiming slightly behind the head of one. By the time the spear struck the fish, it hit him just in front of the tail. I really should have fought it more gently as it quickly pulled out and left me longing for another opportunity that just never came.

On my last drift I had decided that I really wanted a GT so I did a drift on the wildside of the island where there was a lot of white water, because on the calmer side the GT’s were staying really deep. While I was drifting in the clouds of white water I went through a clear patch and saw a beautiful GT coming towards me. I quickly lined up and took a good shot. The fish put up a bit of a fight but I could see that the shot must have been near the spine and as the fish came up quickly. Between the 3 of us that day, we had one Wahoo (despite seeing so many), two Doggies over 10kg and one GT of 20kg… a perfect day!

A few days later I was off to G-land… We were greeted by 4 to 6ft waves as we arrived and I was straight in for a three hour surf session. The next day was also filled with surfing, but then the waves dropped off. I was told there was good spearing in the area so I decided to have a look around. On the first dive I shot some local reef fish, but I was actually looking for some decent game fish. On my next dive, as soon as I cleared the surf zone and loaded my gun, I headed off to search for some good structure.

I found some promising structure in 3m of water and dived down. As I looked to my left, a beast of a GT came straight in at me and almost started rubbing his back on my spear tip. Needless to say I wasn’t going to argue with the fella and I planted a good shot just below the spine, which depleted all of his energy. I had him in my hands quickly, a great fish somewhere between 15 and 20kg.

The next day I was out again hoping for more of the same and blanked completely, much to the disappointment of the crowd back at the surf camp! The following day, just as I loaded my gun after fighting my way through the strong current and swell, I had a beast of a GT with a serious suicide wish almost impale itself on my spear. This one gave me a serious fight and dragged me first into the slightly deeper water and then straight back into the surf zone. It was a crazy fight and I was blown away when I got my arms around him. The fish weighed over 20kg and fed the whole surf camp and staff that night!

If you are planning a trip to Bali, you need to know exactly where you want to go because if you charter a boat the ‘captain’ generally won’t have much of a clue. You need either a map or GPS to direct them. You need to be ready to deal with ‘broken’ engines. If the captain doesn’t want to travel further for the day, he will suddenly discover all sorts of ‘problems’ with the boat. Many of the charter companies don’t look after their boats properly, so keep this in mind when trying to find a charter.

The gear you will need:

The most difficult part of a trip to Bali is deciding what gear to take. For a shore dive, a 1.2 reel gun is fine (I used a belt reel as back up) but when hunting pelagic fish you need something bigger. I’d suggest a 1.4m gun with two 16mm bands and a double wrap. When diving off the boat you need a float line. The main reason for this is safety as the current is so fast that it’s easy for the skipper to loose track of one of the divers. While I was there I was told a scary story of a guy who had to swim 8 hours through the night when his boat lost him! You will want to have some bungee to help absorb the shock of fighting bigger fish. I traveled with an inflatable float, which was great because it doesn’t take up a lot of space. You will also need a flasher to entice the fish closer in. I took my Freedivers carbon fins along, they are lightweight for travel and were perfect for my needs. You will need a wetsuit. I used a short surf suit for all of my shore dives, but used a 2mm Spetton suit for boat dives. A 3mm suit would also be suitable.

I can’t emphasise enough how dangerous the currents in Bali can be, as well as the risks of hunting really big fish. Make sure you have the right gear and dive within your safety limits (and rather watch a 50kg Doggie swim away than risk losing your gear or your life!).


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