We were bruised, battered and beaten up. There were bags under our eyes and heavy lines running across our foreheads from a lack of sleep. A few of us were hunched over sporting war wounds and sore backs from a big week competing for national honours. A lot of preparation had gone into the campaign and we’d given it our all. Our opponents had broken our lines many times and wrestled and fought til the bitter end. Sounds like we’d spent a week in a rugby tournament right? But no, we were competing in something far more serious, NZ’s fishing champs of course!
The NZ Nationals run every year in the last week of February. The competition is organized by the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council and runs nationwide with anglers reporting their catches daily into their local club. There is none of the booze ups and socializing each night associated with most fishing competitions, just pure unadulterated fishing! With the results reported daily online, it is like a virtual competition, each day you can see where you stand against boats from right around New Zealand with most of the big guns of New Zealand’s charter fleet like Pursuit, Te Ariki Nui, Striker and Independence all fishing in the Nationals. Pretty much all of our top sportsfish have a category and each of the species have a top team prize and line weight honours for each applicable IGFA line class.
One guess as to what our game plan was – kingis of course! We wanted to take out top honours in the kingi section and researching what the top team had scored in the two previous years it looked something like this – 2008 Pursuit 2,841 points, 2007 Pursuit 2,477 points. Tough competition alright so there was only one thing for it, we set ourselves a goal to top 5,000 points for the week.
The first step of the preparation was to assemble a crack team. Just like Graham Henry we were going to adopt a rotation policy, and with ten people allowed in the team we were going to bring on some fresh arms every so often. And a little like a one dayer, we brought in the equivalent of Nathan Astle for the first two days to get some runs on the board early! More on that later!
An order for 200 tags was put in to my local club. The only way to score the sort of points we were after was to tag a whole lot of kingfish, as only your top three points-scoring weighed kingis count for team points and then a standard 25 points are amassed for any tagged fish irrespective of line weight (as long as the line breaks under the IGFA maximum of 60kg). We very keen to take out some of the line class trophies along the way as well though and so we set ourselves up with 15kg, 10kg, 8kg and 4kg IGFA mono rigs to target each of the line classes.
The build up to the Nationals wasn’t superb, apart from a good early bite, the kingis had lock jaw through the end of January and start of February on a lot of our usual haunts, but the week prior to the Nationals it all started firing again and I had a good feeling it was all going to come together. Even better it looked on the long range forecast as if at least 7 of the eight days were going to be fishable.
The Friday prior to kick off I drove to Auckland and the first stop was to pick up two boxes of goodies from YeeHaa fishing tackle. I’d put in a very long order with them for the week ahead – lots of flurocarbon, a new handtagger, lots of my favourite jigs, 50 assist hooks, new spools of mono, plenty of livebait hooks and sabikis. I just love being able to go to one place and know they have everything you need to do the job and Tony and John never let you down, everything I needed for the week ahead was packed up and ready to go. Next stop was the airport to pick up Anthony Honeybone. Ants had taken out the trophy in last years tourny for the most tagged kingis and had spent the next twelve’s months chomping at the bit to get back up from Christchurch and have another crack at the kingis.
That night we had a very quiet rum with Sean Cummings and his mate from Australia Scott Bellette who made the trip over especially. Gear was rigged, reels were spooled and tactics were discussed. I had invited Sean to fish with us on the first couple of days as Sean is a gun jigger and I knew he would get us off to a cracking start.
The first day we were on the water nice and early. The last team member for the first two days was Brett Collins. The Nationals were going to be Brett’s swansong in Tairua, as he and the family had packed up their house in Tairua and were heading off to Perth to live. Brett was keen to get a serious dose of fishing in before he left, and so he’d sent the wife and kids off to Perth a week earlier and stuck around to fish the Nationals with us. That’s what I call dedication to the cause!
The sea wasn’t pretty at all with 20 knots of northerly and 2metres of sea but we had plenty of time before lines in the water and approaching our first spot we had awesome sign with kingis redding out the Raymarine sounder. We had 15 minutes to wait until official lines in the water so all we could do is look at the sounder and double check all our gear. When the second hand switched over four lines descended and instantly we had four fish hooked up. “Let the chaos begin fellas!” Sean, our Nathan Astle was cracking them out of the park and setting an awesome run rate. They were not small fish either, most of them between 15kg and 23kg. “Man these Tairua fish fight harder for their size than any fish anywhere in New Zealand.” I had two hours of absolute madness as kingis came over the side of the boat, were measured, tagged, photographed and tag cards filled in.
To add to the fun and games early on Black Pearl ran in close to us without realizing we were there. All of a sudden there were people down in their cockpit clearing gear “I think they’ve got a marlin on guys” and sure enough a call came over the VHF to let us know a marlin was heading our way. So we had two boats side by side, one playing a marlin and the other with a triple hook up of big kingis! Merv and the guys did a great job on their stripey and had it tagged in no time.
As for us, by 11am that morning we had tagged and released thirty kingfish. “Well fellas” I pronounced “if there is ever a day we are going to top 100 fish in a day, it’s today.” That certainly put the cobwash on the fishing, which slowed down almost as the words left my mouth and by midday and it was time to move spots. We moved to a reef close to the Aldermen Islands and changed to small pencil jigs from YeeHaa which work really well in the shallow water and instantly we were into quadruple hook ups again. We fished two more reefs south of the Aldermen Islands that afternoon and by the time we got back into port we had tagged and released 49 kingfish – a huge effort for the first day.
First drop the next day and Sean was pulled to the rails on another huge fish. “Oh, not another day of pain!” Sean complained! There were a few anxious moments as it got its head into the reef but eventually Sean worked him up and we snapped a good photo of a 25kg kingi which went back into the drink sporting a new yellow accessory on his back. We worked the same circuit of the Aldies and by the end of day two our tag tally was 74. Two very tired Australians walked off the boat that night. Sean had tagged 28 kingfish in his two days with us and I know he would have darely loved to stay for the rest of the week but work back in Auckland beckoned.
Ants and Brett were fishing with me for the rest of the week and for day three it was just the three of us. Day three was earmarked as a livebaiting day and we were planning to put a few fish in the bin today to weigh. To weigh a fish they have to go over line weight and over 1m in length. On the change of light we were sitting just off the bar filling the bin with livebait – jack mackeral, koheru and trevally.
By the time we got out wide the kohies were not in a very good state and they were even less happier when two anglers fed them into a school of kingis who hadn’t had breakfast! Koheru have to rate as the best livebaits for kingis in my mind, they always tempt the bigger fish into biting if they are around and unlike kahawai you never have to wait long for them to get nailed. Anyway the first two hookups did not go well at all. Kingfish 2 Team Tairua 0.
The next two hook ups followed the same route. Kingfish 4 Epic 0. Then Ants got one to stick. This time the fish hit a dead kohie chin hooked. Ants was fishing my Daiwa Sealine 50SLH with 10kg line on a CD Gamecaster rod. Its got a lovely action in the deep water fishing light line for kingis and all held together and 10 minutes into the fight we had drifted off the reef and Ants could settle down into the fight without too much worry that he was going to be busted this time. Half an hour later we had colour and the gaff went into a 17kg fish on 10kg – sweet!
The rest of the morning we had an unexpected deviation from our gameplan. We had about four livies in a row get nabbed without hooking up by what we thought were kingis. Anthony decided to stick on a decent sized trevally and that might provoke a better strike, blow my down if 2 minutes later he didn’t pull up a 3kg snapper that had hit the live trev! The next hour Brett got whacked by one snapper after the other and finished up with a cracker of a 7.7kg snapper on 10kg line, that took a live jack mackeral. What was really interesting about these snapper was that they were hitting livebaits in 30m and we were fishing in 80m of water!!
We were fishing our livies on Berkley Coral Mist 80lb flurocarbon. I’ve fished this fluro right through summer and rate it at as one of the best I have come across in terms of takes when the fishing is hard, especially on those cagey summer kingis. It has a red ting to it which makes it super invisible, obviously these snapper thought so, and for 80lb fluro it holds together very well under pressure.
There were lots of kingfish under 1m caught on livies that morning that went back sporting tags and we finished the day off with some more jigging on the heavy stuff to put some more tagging points on the board, and plenty more fish round the 20kg mark. The arms were really starting to feel heavy!
I preservered on and off with 4kg through the day with numerous bustoffs and one fish which stuck for close to 20 minutes only to go on another blistering run and do me over. It was either a very nice kingi or a monster snapper. We’ll never know. Mental note – fishing 4kg for kingfish is just bloody stupid!
The first of two people to come off the bench joined the team the next day, Weimin Gan otherwise known as ‘Max’, and Gang Liu or ‘James’ are two guys who do a lot of jigging with me through the year and it was great to have them on board for day four. James put a fish on the board quickly and then both him and Max both got snapped off on the strike by two big fish in quick succession, after loosening their drags off a fraction they started adding to the tally with some big fish. Ants started to complain about me not putting them on to small fish, “every fish is 20kg, find us something smaller.”
After an hour of mayhem first thing, Ants and Brett switched to livebaits. Ants was fishing 8kg today while Brett had my Daiwa 10kg rig. A koheru was once again the bait that got nailed by a big fish on Ants’ 8kg rig and so the other boys had to sit back and enjoy the sun and calm seas while Ants did battle for close to an hour with a fish on 8kg.
There was a bit of banter about taking his time on another snapper but Ants soon had a whole heap of colour underneath the boat and the gaff went into a fish that looked like it would go over 16kg – a great fish on 8kg line! Next drift and Ants repeated his feat with a slightly smaller 14.5kg fish.
Max got great amusement out of dialing his jigging rod up to full drag and kindly offering it to Anthony to try out on the next drift. The result was hilarious, after fishing light line earlier, Ants got pulled to the rail, slammed against the side of the boat and there was squeel as a kingi dished out maximum punishment on a rather tried angler.
The morning of day five was one that I would rather forget, but probably won’t. Three rather blurry eyed blokes had packed the boat up completely for fifteen minutes while failing to notice that the boat was not actually attached to anything - until we went to leave. My 4WD had been stolen! We had prepared for anything the fish might dish out at us during the week but hadn’t quite expected for some lowlife scumbag to foil our plans! After a bit of deliberation and a few swear words and the odd mad chuckle (about all I could do!) a call was put into local fisho Aaron Thomas who kindly put us in at 5am for the remaining mornings. Cheers Aaron!
We had some more fresh arms today which after our start to the day was probably a good thing. John Pellew, who also writes for this mag and is the Haa in YeeHaa fishing tackle was our man off the bench today. Tony had just got back from a month visiting family and tackle shows in China and after a month running the shop solo John was chomping at the bit to get some jigs in the water again. Between him and Ants we had plenty more tags going into fish this morning. Meanwhile Brett preserved on 15kg and got a run of fish that went just under a metre and just shy of line weight that went back sporting tags. He finally hooked one that peeled off heaps line and with the help of some thumb pressure got stuck into a good fight, the end result was an 18kg fish which was put in the bin, the best fish caught on 15kg in the comp at that stage and looking good for line weight honours.
Half way through the day things went a little quiet and so we tried a new strategy which seemed to work a treat for when the kingis develop lockjaw. There was plenty of good kingi sign but with a very bright day, the sun straight overhead and a calm ocean I think the kingis were just a little jigshy.
What worked? We started cubing up mackeral, trevally, pillies and koheru as we drifted slowly along. No jigs in the water, just cubing. Then we went back to the start of the drift, cranked the Fusion stereo up to full noise and with fresh arms we all went hard and what was the result – instantly five rods were all bent over on kingis! To any boat steaming past it would have looked something – Muse blasting out of the boat at full noise and five guys getting peeled back on big fish!
Day six was the earliest start we did all week, after deciding to motor out in the dark and see if we would get a hot bite before the sun came up. We had plenty of fish hitting the jigs but they were either red snapper on the bottom or albacore half way up – both great eating but no good for our points tally! A few early starts like that at the right time of year has to produce a yellowfin on a jig – the alberts were certainly hitting them left right and centre early in the morning.
The kingis slowly cranked up later in the day and after a dozen or so fish we called an early halt to proceedings with JP keen to get back to the shop to tidy a few things up and the boys keen for a well earned kip on the couch!
Day seven looked like it would be our last, there was a big storm coming that night with 40knot winds from the east and by the time we got out to our spot it was already hitting 20knots. We were down to our last tags and hoped to hit 200 tags for the week. I had forgotten my mental note about never fishing 4kg again and we stopped at the wharf on the way out to fill up the livey tank to take out. A kahawai chased a jack mackeral in and I thought it looked like a tournament winning kahawai so I stuck the mackeral back out on 4kg. It got all of 5 metres before the balloon got ripped under water and line was peeling off my reel. This was no kahawai, it was a very decent sized kingi which would be great points if we landed it on 4kg. Orders were barked for the guys to get the boat started and chase the fish down and I worked my way up to the bow of the boat in the dark. Ants was soon chasing the fish down and it was swimming back towards to harbour entrance into the current. “Right now we only have thirty boats to avoid and we are in the clear” I thought. We dodged the first ten boats well, keeping the fish right off the bow and steering him in between the moorings. But then the inevitable happened. A yacht was the next boat moored in front and the kingi must have spotted the big keel and there was nothing I could to do stop him. Words were muttererd again about 4kg, never again, and we headed back out for another day of carnage on the high seas.
It was just the three of us on today and by the time we got to 30 fish for the day and 183 tags for the week at 3pm the boys lay down in the bottom of the boat in protest “We’ve had enough mate, are you going to let us go home now?” We motored in not sure whether it was enough to do the job, not knowing whether any of the big boys from Whakatane had been out slaying them too.
Turned out we needn’t have worried. We’d scored 5122 points. Our three best points scoring weighed fish alone were enough to take out the top team for kingfish, our other 183 tagged fish were just icing on the cake and we had managed to score the most points ever in the kingfish section of the Nationals by a long shot.
Brett had taken out best kingfish in the 15kg line class, and the best snapper in the 10kg class. Anthony had taken out best kingfish in 10kg and 8kg line classes. We’d taken out top team in the kingis and most tagged and released kingfish by a team. Anthony had tagged 60 fish taking out honours for most tagged and released kingfish in the Nationals.
Of the kingis Ants caught on jigs nearly all were on the same green and gold spear jig from Katch1. Other jigs that worked really well for the rest of the guys over the week were the River2Sea spike jig in green and gold or pink, the Blue or Black Broken Arrow, Purple Zest curved slider and the Jigging Master Rockets.
After a big feed of red snapper and albacore that night and a few celebratory rums Ants went to bed a shattered man and the rest of us took off to Punters for a few well deserved drinks. Blow me down if the police didn’t call while I was there to say they had located my 4WD! You beaut!
That just topped off what was a pretty amazing week, I had my 4WD back and we had achieved what we set out to do. There is nothing like setting a plan and sticking to your guns. Now I just have to break the news to the guys that we are going after 10,000 points in 2010!