There are not many sweeter things in life than the prospect of eight full on days of fishing ahead of you. I had been looking forward to Nationals 2010 ever since the last competition finished, and as the days drew closer, I got even more excited. The VHF had been abuzz with pack attacks of marlin, there were patches of mahimahi everywhere in 22 degree water and the kings and snapper were playing ball as well.
Personally, I think the Nationals is the ultimate tournament.
Over the last week in February each year around 1300 anglers and close to 400 teams fish out of their respective clubs right throughout New Zealand over eight days. All club results are collated every night and published online, with prizes in each IGFA line category over ten species. Everyone gets a shot at taking a placing regardless of whether they fish off the rocks, a little tinny or a 5o foot Riv at the Kings and there is a great sense of being part of the New Zealand fishing scene together with hundreds of boats right around New Zealand.
The Game Plan
The previous Nationals we had stuck to our guns and targeted a team win in the kingi section. Having pulled that off in 2009, and having spent the last year smashing kingis day in and day out I was keen to mix things up a lot more this time and just have some fun with some fishing mates.
First on the crew list was Anthony Honeybone who had done the hard yards in the last two Nationals. I picked Ants up from Auckland airport the night before fishing started and as soon as we were on the road we started talking about a game plan of sorts. I said that I was really keen to get a Blue Marlin for the boat, and that alone would be a good result from the eight days. Ants eyes lit up “Cool, I’ve brought my Tiagra 30’s, lets catch the Blue on 15, surely that would be a great points scoring fish if we could pull it off.” I said something along the lines of “yeah right, if we get a Blue on 15kg line I will come home naked on the hardtop.” Words I would live to regret later in the week.
We decided we would target a range of species and target the top prize for the club, where your top scoring fish in each species are added up. Other than that a club record would be nice to knock off as well, and a line class win in a species or two. Ants had his 8kg set as well and a marlin on that would be the icing on the cake. Game plan sorted.
First stop was YeeHaa fishing tackle where John and Sato had been slaving away all week, stripping braid off my reels and replacing with mono from 2kg to 24kg, servicing the odd thrashed reel and filling a box of goodies from my long order. The boys had done a meticulous job of organizing everything as usual and all my reels were marked with the type of line and its breaking strength. One last look around the shop, I grabbed three packets of Decoy Jig Hooks. I had been thinking for a while about how finicky the stripeys had been this year and whether a small strong sharp jig hook might be the answer for a better hook up in my game lures. It was worth a crack.
We got back to Tairua and there was plenty of work ahead before we hit the hay. Over a couple of Stenies, we tied doubles, put on wind on leaders, matched up rods to reels, tested drags and sorted out all the goodies from YeeHaa.
The first day dawned and we picked up Brad Burden at the wharf who was fishing with us for the first two days. Brad was a logical person to ask to fish with us in the comp, he’s keen as beans, never gives up, always has a great time on the boat and this usually translates into big fish coming aboard when he is with us.
Ants hadn’t fished for a while and was pretty keen to have his arms stretched first up, so we set a course for the Aldermen Pins to get him get a dose of Tairua kingi therapy. We had loaded all our jigging reels with Berkley Trilene 24kg low stretch mono. The first drift it was evident a very exaggerated mechanical jigging style was going to be needed to hook any fish as there was still a fair bit of stretch in the line, but both Brad and Ants were into fish on the first drift and both of them were squeeling in pain as the kings tried to take them to the cleaners. They were both solid fish around 18kg, which we popped tags in and released.
We tagged a few more kings and had a couple of dustings on 8kg fishing livebaits before we decided to go and find out where the bait schools (and marlin) were.
All the action the week before had been in close to the back of the Aldies so that is the area we started working and pretty soon my Black Magic Freedom Grand Slammer in Evil colours, which was set on the long corner went off and a bright blue shape was dancing behind the boat – mahimahi! Brad was on the rod and got it to the boat quickly, Ants slowly leadered the fish keeping the leader as low as possible so it didn’t go bananas by the boat and then stuck the gaff in – some sweet mahimahi for dinner!
All of the bait seemed to be around the 140m – 180m mark in an area south east of the Aldermen Pins, we worked it hard put raised nothing and then called it a day. There had been a hot marlin bite on the VHF in the morning while we were fishing for kingis, so we aimed to be back in this area the next day with marlin lures in the water – time to stick to the game plan!
About a half an hour before our predicted bite time, a couple of calls started coming in of boats hooked up, we were in 140m dead south of the Pins and out of nowhere a huge shape came in on the port rigger from the clear blue water. There was no mucking around, his shoulders came right out of the water and he devoured the same Evil Grand Slammer. The Tiagra 30 started howling and we were on. A marlin was dancing away from the boat not happy in the least, in fact he was going beserk! Then all of a sudden the reel went quiet, next thing he was dancing side on to the transom and we got to see just how big the fish was – and it was BIG and BLUE, all of 250kg, probably closer to 300kg.
The gas went on to keep the pressure on and the monster took off to starboard towards another boat trolling past in a wall of white water! Ants and Brad cleared the corners, then Brad grabbed the rod and got ready to start winding while Ants cleared the riggers, I turned the boat and drove down on the line and Brad soon had a lot of line back on the reel and we were not far off working out where the fish was holding. We were soon on top of the fish and in very hot still conditions Brad got into the hard graft of trying to raise it up, sweat dripping off him. It was baking. Ants muttered something about the earlier bet, along the lines of “mate, your butt is going to fry on the hard top coming back into the harbour today……” We used all sorts of angles with the boat, circling hard on the fish, and this went on for about half an hour before we had our first inkling that the fish was hard on the bottom and dead. We kept the encouragement going for Brad and kept the fingers crossed we could lift him up. We motored until the line was straight down, marked it on the GPS then got some angle and tried to plane it up as much as we could on 15kg line. We tried everything and Brad did an awesome job on the rod but 3 hours in we were coming back on the same mark each time. With no option but to lock everything up and drive off in an effort to get him up we pinged the line. The boat was pretty quiet for the rest of the day, it was awesome to have hooked and seen a fish of these proportions but a bit soul destroying to have him die and lose him. Over the next few days plenty of people suggested maybe we should be targeting them on heavier line but we decided to stick to our plan of 15kg on the riggers and hopefully the next one would play ball. Coming back to the wharf Brad was beaming from ear to ear, and stoked to have had the chance to tustle with a fish like this. On a positive note as well, the Decoy Jig Hook, a bit of a trial had hooked up solid first time and had held through 3 hours.
Brad went back to work the next day to rest the arms and we were joined by John Pellew from YeeHaa. Ants and I went out and caught some livebait first thing, tagged a kingi in the process on the bait grounds and then picked up John. We put in a big day trolling, and while we raised nothing we found another great patch of bait out deep and dead east of the Sugarloafs, in about 400-500m. We finished the day off at the Pins, where John and Ants tagged some more kingis. Then I brought out the 4kg for some fun. A nice 3kg snapper nailed a livie first up and then I had an awesome tustle with a nice kingi, which was good fun on 4kg and my best of 4 to date, but got slipped back with a tag in his back.
We headed to the area where we had found the bait the day before and just before arriving at the waypoint all of us turned around. There is something about a marlin coming up in the gear, all of a sudden everyone seems to just know it is there. Everyone yelled “marlin” at the same time and a stripey did its typical little stagger in behind the short corner, which had Ants home made “Big Blue” pusher on. He wasn’t lit up, and didn’t seem overly interested, so I gunned the boat and turned to starboard, nothing, then slowed the boat and let the lure sink a little before gunning the boat again, this got a strike but just a bill wrap and he fell off pretty quick. Ah, well we still had four days to work at it I thought, and we had a replacement Evil Grand Slammer that had turned up on the courier! It was a long two days without one!
John went back to YeeHaa and Dion Wills joined the boat for the day. Dion’s a top fella and was buzzing about being out chasing gamefishing, something he hasn’t done before. It wasn’t long before the shot gun rigger went off and you guessed it, the Evil Black Magic Grand Slammer was devoured and a mahimahi was jumping behind the boat. It was a nice sized mahi of about 7kg and was put on ice. Once again the 15kg running ‘that’ lure was the one getting all the action and the same lure got bit a bit later on and a nice 12kg albacore joined him in the bin. No marlin seen today though.
Glen van Hellemond aka Bill Collector joined us for Day Six. We motored to the same hot spot and just south of these marks a small skippy came clear out of the water a good metre high in the lure pattern. Something was clearly chasing him and thirty seconds later a striped marlin came in all lit up on the long rigger, knocked the Lumo Grand Slammer down but didn’t stick. An hour later we had another bite, maybe a blue this time on the Evil Grand Slammer. By this stage I was starting to think this marlin game was pretty nuts. And, with the forecast starting to pack in we weren’t shore we’d get out wide again.
Today the crew was myself, Ants, and Sato from YeeHaa. Sato jumped aboard and you could tell he was buzzing about the prospect of chasing a marlin, he was just keen to see and learn a little. Both Ants and I were in the “we are going to kill a marlin today” mindset. About an hour with the lures in we had a fish in on the Lumo, I turned the boat and zigzagged the boat twice, a minute later we had the biggest marlin I had ever seen come into the spread, all lit up, he was massive! “Don’t bite the 8kg!” was rolling through both Ants and my head. There was a big smile on Sato’s face, “I have had a good day already….” he told us beaming and I think hoping the next one didn’t jump on while he was on strike. Then another fish came in and hammered the Evil Grand Slammer on the shotgun. The Tiagra started howling and we were on, I looked down at the time and I was in the seat. Time for some pain! I gunned the boat a little to starboard as the fish took off towards the port bow, the boys had most of the gear cleared and I grabbed the rod and got ready to wind, Ants spun the boat to starboard rather than chasing the fish so he could drive down on the line and pretty soon we had most of the belly in the line back and the fish decided to take off again, with some big jumps – YeeeeHaaaa!!! Sato got me in a harness and I got the full feeling of a nice Blue loading up on the rod as he took off into the deep. We kept changing the angle on the fish and pretty soon we were zigzagging along with the wind swell, with the Blue cruising along about 40-70m down. About an hour into the fight the Blue came up and we saw him to the side of the boat. There were a couple of nervous moments as he took off in front of the boat, I came out of the harness, backed the line into freespool as the line touched the boat as the wind blew us around, and luckily he swum back off to starboard. About one and a quarter hours into the fight, I went up over strike in an effort to get him up a bit, pretty soon Ants could see him on the sounder, “he’s at 40m”, a little later “he’s at 27m”, then a few different angles “he’s at 40m again Carl, pull your finger out” all the while we were motoring along at a couple of knots keeping ahead of the fish with a little angle on. I’m sure Ants appreciated all my suggestions on how to drive the boat as I started to get a bit shagged and grumpy, secretly I was thinking I was glad Ants was on the wheel as he has done it plenty of times on Blues before.
We got out first shot on the leader about two hours in, Ants had done a great job getting the fish boatside and with the wind on on the reel Ants ran back and grabbed the leader. The fish didn’t like it much and took to the air, greyhounding beside the boat. Ants got him under control and the call went in “Stick the gaff in him” There might have been the odd f word thrown in amongst it as well. Sato had never seen a marlin before let along sunk a flying gaff into one, and it didn’t go to plan, Ants had to let go and the fish motored off and my heart sunk a bit hoping we would get another shot. 45 minutes later he was boatside again, Ants leadered the fish he dug in under the swimstep, I leaned down and took a grab of the leader, rod in the other hand, Ants got another grab, we got him boatside and Sato did an awesome job of sinking the flyer in this time. I sunk a fixed handle gaff in around his anal fin, next the flyer rope was tied off and my arm’s started cramping up big time. We dragged him over the back of the boat and then I let out a Yaaaaaahoooooooooooo. What a relief. We had our Blue on 15!
We got some photos, my arms were jelly, Sato took off for a sleep, he was a bit shell shocked, and Ants was like “Lets do it again, lets get that big one” . We worked the area for a little while but the conditions were pretty messy, we set the boat for home a trolling speed.
That afternoon reporting’s of a beached whale on top of a Blue Stabicraft hardtop were rife around Tairua…..man of my word! We weighed the Blue, which went 137kg and was a new club record on 15kg.
There was a fleet of boats working the same area with us the next day. Ants pulled in another fat albert round 12kg and we had a double header of mahimahi. By 2pm we had three hours left to fish and we made the call to get some fish on light line to take out the club prize. We motored back to one of the reefs north of the Aldies, I stuck out a pillie on a worm hook Cyclops rig, which was devoured half way down, I was really impressed with how the 4kg line peformed over the week, and you can really spring the kings and snapper up on a light drag without them feeling it too much, a big red colour came out of the depths and we had what looked like about a 5-6kg snapper on 4kg. Right, a kahawai on light line to finish up will do it and we were off flat tack to Castle Island, where we found acres of fat kahawai. A slight spanner in the works, my two favourite kahawai lures had no hooks in them, luckily the editor had sent me two packets of Kaptura hooks to try out and they were split ringed on to my little kahawai jigs and we were away. We had our kahawai with about ten minutes to spare, and made a track back to Tairua in time to weigh all our fish for the day.
The Blue ended up the best on 15kg line for the Tournament and 3rd Billfish on points overall. We took out the club prize and a new club record for the Blue, so we’d pretty much ticked off everything we wanted to do in the Nationals and had an awesome time doing it – even that the yards seemed pretty hard at times. We still have to get Ants a marlin on his 8kg set, I think that is going to be the goal for next year. I can’t wait to chase those marlin again!