COOK ISLANDS: Offshore Fishing
Cook Islands – South Pacific
History of Cook Islands
The Cook Islands were first settled in the 6th century AD by Polynesians who migrated from nearby Tahiti. Spanish ships visited the islands in the late 16th century, and as a result of the first European landing on Rakahanga in 1606, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros named it Gente Hermosa (‘Beautiful People’). British navigator Capt James Cook, after whom the islands are now named, arrived in 1773. He returned in 1779 and named them the Hervey Islands. They were renamed the Cook Islands in 1824.
The islands were declared a British protectorate in 1888 and came under New Zealand control in 1891. They were granted independence in 1965, and nowadays are a self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand.
Where is Cook Islands
The nation of Cook Islands comprises 15 small islands spread over 850,000 square miles of ocean smack in the middle of the South Pacific between Tonga (to the west) and the Society Islands (to the east). These islands consist of two distinct main groups, one in the north and one in the south. The southern group is nine ‘high’ islands mainly of volcanic origin, although some are virtually atolls. The majority of the population lives in the southern group, which includes both Rarotonga and Aitutaki, the most accessible gamefishing locations for visitors. The climate is moderate to tropical, cooled by gentle trade winds.
What is Cook Islands Famous for?
The Cook Islands epitomise, in my experience, the essence of relaxed South Pacific island living. Beautiful beaches, turquoise lagoons, gently swaying palms and the regular greeting of Kia Orana: wishing you the prospect of a long life.
The local people have a strong cultural identity, which has been moulded over the centuries. Part of the culture lies in the performance of song and dancing, which is fast and frenzied with much dynamic hip-swinging to the rapid accompaniment of rhythmic wooden drums. Cook Islanders are proud of their heritage, which is reflected in their everyday friendliness and generosity.
For much of the male population, fishing is an important activity. While living on Rarotonga, I frequently joined the groups of young men who, armed with hand-spears, stealthily patrolled the crystal waters of the inner fringing reef, locating and spearing octopus and small fish. The fish were immediately gutted, scaled and eaten on-site, as it were.
The various islands offer exceptional opportunities for bluewater gamefishing, as well as saltwater fly and light-tackle, and remain relatively undiscovered by the international angling fraternity. Both Rarotonga and Aitutaki enjoy the advantage of immediate access – right outside the tiny harbour, the fishing begins. Superb diving and snorkelling opportunities are also always on hand.
Target Species in Cook Islands
The Cook Islands have a very large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends from 5 degrees S to 25 degrees S. As such, the seasonality of the various gamefish species varies depending on the latitude and the prevailing oceanographic conditions. Blue marlin are the most prevalent billfish species in the area with lesser numbers of striped and black marlin, shortbill spearfish and sailfish being encountered at certain times. Broadbill swordfish are caught by commercial longliners, but not recreationally thus far.
Other target species include yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dolphinfish, barracuda, other tunas and sharks. The Cook Islands record is 616lb for blue marlin, 386lb for blacks and 183lb for yellowfin. Recently, a black marlin originally tagged off Cairns was caught 212 days later off Rarotonga – a travelling distance of 5600km.
Aitutaki’s magnificent 12,500-acre lagoon of pristine, crystal water is particularly suitable for fly, lure or bait for world-class bonefish, as well as trevally, cod, snapper and other reef species. The All Tackle World Record for humphead maori wrasse was set here in 1989.
See attached (scruffy) table
The IGFA-affiliated Cook Islands Game Fishing Club, just out of Avarua, is a good place to begin enquiries.
Tel: +682 21419
PO Box 183, Rarotonga
Tel: 682 55096
2 x 26ft Sea Ray walkaround vessels
Tel: +682 54355
Pacific Marine Charters
Reel Time – 35ft sportsfishing boat specialising in large pelagics
Fisher’s Fishing Tours
26ft catamaran specialising in reef fishing
Tel: +682 23356
Aututaki Fishing Club
PO Box 102, Aitutaki
Vaikiore Fishing Charters
specialises in bonefishing inside the giant lagoon
Aitutaki Sea Charters
10m vessel Foxy Lady specialising in deep-sea angling
Jason or Don Watt
Tel: +682 31281
GETTING TO COOK ISLANDS
The only international airport in the Cooks group is on Rarotonga Island.
Virgin’s Polynesian Blue from Australia, Air New Zealand from NZ, and Aloha Airlines from Hawaii all make regular scheduled flights to Rarotonga.
Air Rarotonga (www.airraro.com) operates daily flights between Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Author and photography: John Cahill
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