NZ islands produce giant yellowtail


(Published in the July 2018 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)

Article by Stuart Lacon-Allin, photos by Roy Skea

TOUCHDOWN in Auckland at midnight on Wednesday night was followed by two nights spent in Auckland city getting our bearings right and acclimatising after 24 hours of travelling. I say acclimatising, however the New Zealand conditions are extremely similar to Durban conditions in summer.
Seven of us were on the trip of a lifetime to fish Three Kings Islands off New Zealand, but before we got fishing there was a lot of travelling to be done.
From Auckland our group embarked on a five-hour minibus trip up through the KZN Midlands-like North Island of New Zealand, passing through the small towns of Whangarei, Kawakawa, Kerikeri. We finally reached our destination of Mangonui which is a small historic fishing village found in the far north of North Island. It’s well-known for its water-based activities, 150 year old buildings and the Mangonui harbour which is the main centre of Doubtless Bay.
Our trip really began that night when we took board on Enchanter, our fishing boat. We were going to spend the night on the boat and depart the Mangonui Harbour in the early hours of the next morning. Onboard we met our captain, Lance, senior deckhand, Nayte, and junior deckhand, Phil. They ran us through the proceedings, and for the rest of that day and well into the night we were catching livebait and enjoying a few drinks with our crew.
We’d been told that it was vitally important that we filled our livebait wells with kahawai, so we each picked up a small, light rod with a Sabiki and were given strict instructions that bed time was only once the wells were full.
Towards the late afternoon this seemed near impossible as all we had caught was a stingray and about three kahawai, but the crew assured us that as soon as the sun went down we would be surprised at how quickly we would fill up our wells.
So we stuck it out and as soon as the sun dropped behind the mountains it was a feeding frenzy like I’ve never seen before. Before we had flipped the bale back over we each had no less than three kahawai on our traces and then it was a race to get them to the boat before the small sharks got them. A little competition started between us South Africans and the Aussies on the boat next to us, and in no time our livebait wells were full.
We were up bright and early and departed the harbour at first light. Our destination — the Three Kings Islands — was approximately 280 nautical miles out to sea and would take us around 12 hours to get there. The waters off the North Island are rich with blue-, black- and striped marlin, so the whole way to The Kings we trolled for marlin with konas, using smaller konas to target skipjack tuna. These “skippies” were wild and would serve as good bait later on in the trip. We were unsuccessful with the marlin but managed to boat about eight skippies.
While we were watching the sunrise out at sea we noticed the ocean was as flat as a dam; there was not a breath of wind the whole day which was very surprising to us as Cyclone Gita had hit there just a few days before we arrived.
We finally reached The Three Kings Islands at about 6pm and anchored in a sheltered bay. Before it got dark we set up a few popping rods and thought we would have a few casts because gamefish often enter this bay for shelter; unfortunately we had no luck.
That night when it got pitch black we fished for squid which is also extremely important bait for the yellowtail. We had to ensure that we covered all our bases in terms of bait and fishing techniques as the yellowtail can get shy of certain baits and jigs if they are frequently used.
This time we were each given a light rod with a squid jig and then it became a waiting game. The lights on the back of our boat were angled down into the water to attract the squid and we let our jigs out between the edge of the light and the darkness. The aggressive squid would attack the jigs on the surface and get themselves hooked. This was a first for the majority of us on the boat as fighting a squid is not a common thing.
Phil, our junior deckhand was put on squid removing duty by Captain Lance and we soon realised why this was known as a dirty job. When you lift the squid out the water the first thing they do is squirt as much ink as they can and in as many directions as they can.
The squid fishing was a little harder than the kahawai fishing, but we still managed to boat about a hundred squid. That was it, we had all of our bait and now we had to set up the rods as we would depart from the bay at first light the next morning and head to our first fishing spot.
Our main target on the trip was yellowtail, known by the Kiwis as kingfish. Our main priority was to catch these yellowtail on jigs, but if the fish were jig-shy we would change to the bait we had caught to try and get them on the bite.
We were fishing with Jigging Master reels ranging from PE 7 to PE 8 matched with Jigstar Battle Royal medium/heavy rods, with 100-130 lb braid, 170-200 lb leader, and jigs ranging from 400-800 grams. A handy innovation was having our braid colour coded in ten metre sections so that we knew what depths we were fishing at.
When we were nearing the mark Captain Lance would tell us how deep we should let our jigs down and how many colours we should jig up, then once we reached the mark he would give us the go ahead. It was vital that everyone taking part in the down let their jigs out at the same time to avoid any tangles.
The actual jigging has a lot to do with technique which involves putting the butt of the rod under your arm and — whilst reeling in — whipping the rod in an up and down motion. The harder and quicker you jig the more movement you get on your actual jig and the more chance you have of attracting a fish.
We fished in depths ranging from 80- to 160 metres for the yellowtail, and this really took its toll on the fishermen. The most important part of catching a yellowtail is the first 20 seconds after it’s hooked, as you have to pump your rod as hard as you can and reel in to ensure that the fish doesn’t get back into the rocks on the bottom and cut you off.
It wasn’t long before each of us had boated a yellowtail, and although we were happy with our success, we were all searching for a trophy yellowtail over 25kg.
The fishing was extremely tough because once you had caught one yellowtail your arms were burning, your back was stiff, and all you wanted was to lie down, but Captain Lance was adamant that we had to go straight back to the mark for another down. His tactics worked, and by the third day each person in our group had caught a trophy yellowtail, with the biggest being 37kg.
On one of the days we decided that we would try to catch some different species, so we targeted hapuka and bluenose, which we found in depths of up to 350 metres.
During two of the nights spent on the boat we also fished for broadbill billfish — pound for pound the strongest fighting fish in the ocean. That was when we put our skippies to good use as nice big baits. We let our baits down with glow sticks attached to try and attract these fish, and we took shifts waiting up during the night to keep watch on these rods. On the second night we had some huge excitement when one of the rods went off; fortunately it was my turn on the rod. We were sure that it was a broadbill as this fish was really giving me the gears.
Soon everyone on the boat was awake and the excitement was building as none of us had seen or caught a broadbill before. This turned out to be a two-and-a-half hour fight, but unfortunately it turned that a 250kg bronze whaler shark had taken the bait. Nevertheless it was a great fight and good fish to land. One of the other anglers caught a striped marlin which was also the cause of much excitement.
Our trip was very successful and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Special mention must go to our crew and captain as they made it the experience of a lifetime. Many thanks also to Jigstar Africa for organising the trip and our fellow team mates who each got a trophy fish and made this an unforgettable trip.

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