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By Emily Nixon

Every muscle in my body tenses, and with a white-knuckled grip I make a rigorous effort to reel in the aquatic beast. Words of encouragement from my deep sea fishing guide assure me that the fish on the end of my line is just as exhausted. And then I see it-a quick glimpse of its steely-blue scales, bobbling out of the waves and thrashing in an effort to get free. The fight is on. Now I'm more determined than ever to bring this formidable brute onboard.

"That's a Wahoo, Mate," Mike exclaims, in his strong Kiwi accent. "It's one of the fastest fish in the sea!" Our New Zealand-born leader lugs the creature onto our skiff, and I cringe when its slimy sandpaper-like skin makes contact with mine. In spite of a severe overbite and razor sharp teeth, it's quite the looker-an iridescent sapphire blue colour, much like the hue of its South Pacific homestead. With this prize catch safely stowed, we reset the lines and wait with anticipation for the next bite.

The fifteen fabled Cook Islands sprawl over two thousand kilometres of pristine ocean between Tahiti and Fiji, and offer all anglers endless opportunities. With Air New Zealand's direct flight from Los Angeles, they are easily accessible to all North Americans.

Both the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki are in close proximity to thriving reefs, and just beyond their steep-drop off points there's immediate access to fertile fishing grounds. The currents and aquatic topography are also ideal habitat for large seagoing game. As well as my friend, the Wahoo, there's barracuda, dolphin fish (Mahi-mahi), yellow fin, shipjack tuna, sail fish and marlin.

For centuries, fishing in the Cook Islands as been a popular pastime, both for sport and subsistence. However, long gone is the era of the traditional outrigger canoe; these days, angling adventures come with the creature comforts of purpose-built sport boats and industrial-strength fishing gear. Lucky for me! Yet, even though equipped with all the conveniences of modern technology, the open oceans of the South Pacific can test the saltiest old seadog. While I'm reeling in this big one, my partner is sitting very still-and looking a little green around the gills!

He'd likely be more comfortable sticking closer to shore. No problem. There are options galore! Both the reefs of Rarotonga and Aitutaki teem with sea life. As the tide goes out and they're left exposed, he'll be able to engage in a rhythmic dance with the incoming waves and actually walk to the coral beds. His stomach will be grateful. He'll come eye to eye with urchins, sea snails and sea cucumbers, all of which may find their way into traditional and tasty Cook Islands buffets. For a sampling, take in one of the famous Island Nights-it's another must do!

Unique to Aitutaki is the breathtaking 12,500 acre lagoon, heralded by locals as 'the jewel' of the Cook Islands. With a bevy of bonefish, trevally, cod and snapper, this vast natural aquarium can provide fly, lure or bait anglers with endless opportunities.

Maybe fishing isn't exactly the thrill you're after. If you're more intrigued by the idea of getting up close and personal with critters that swim beneath the deep, you've come to the right spot! The bejewelled reefs are also underwater playgrounds for snorkellers and divers. The crystal-clear, bath-warm lagoons and labyrinth of coral canyons boast a vibrant display of sea life and aquatic enthusiasts of all levels are treated to a tropical extravaganza. Saucer size angel fish, spectacled parrot fish and multi-striped clownfish are just a few of the supporting cast that perform on this underwater stage. A lagoon cruise, operated by Aitutaki locals, is one of the best ways to catch this show and with a snorkel and mask you'll have a front row seat!

The salty sea kisses our faces as we skip over the ocean waves. With ear to ear grins, we bask in the setting sun, savouring the success of the lucrative morning catch. A fishy feast will soon be prepared. It will be a scrumptious reward. And though the thrill of the day is now behind us, before we're even back to land we realize how much we're hooked on The Cooks.


How to get there:
Air New Zealand

Where to Stay:
Tamanu Beach Resort
Edgewater Resort & Spa

What to Do
Black Pearl Fishing Charter
Cook Islands Tourism

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PHOTOS by Jeff Dicken:

1. Reeling in the big one
2. The reward-an iridescent sapphire blue Wahoo
3. Snorkelling next to saucer size angel fish
4. Close encounters with multi-striped clownfish
5. Skipping over the ocean waves


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