Gulf Harbour to the Three Kings!
It's been some time since my last post, years in fact! But what better a catalyst to put pen to paper, or fingers to keys in this case, than a trip to the Three Kings!
I've been lucky enough in recent years to do some work aboard the charter boat Exodus, and I would count the owner and skipper Gary as a good friend. Gary has always been generous in offering his vessel as a mother ship, where on trips to the Barrier myself and a motley bunch of keen fishos and divers could, at the end of the day come back to the real luxury of a hot shower, a proper bed, and a delicious meal!
With my 30th birthday approaching I asked Gary if he would be over at the Barrier again this year, and would it be possible to take a crew over to join him for my birthday. His reply 'Josh you're turning 30, why don't we head north? Why don't we go to the Three Kings'! I wasn't quite sure what to say, but I managed to blurt out a 'are you sure that'd be okay'? followed by a few more 'are you sures', 'Great Barrier would be good enough you know' and finally some, 'you don't have to do thats'. Gary insisted that it was a done deal, we were going to the Three Kings just as soon as a weather window opened up!
The Three Kings is a place I had only dreamt of going, often reading wonderful reports on here of both wild weather and giant catches. More recently I had become enamoured with the charter boat Enchanters social media uploads of clients battling the great giants found at the Kings.
In no time at all I had rounded up a crew who had the time, desire, and gear to travel from Gulf Harbour to the Three Kings and back. Crew tasks were delegated, food and gear meticulously prepared and packed ready to go. Then the last, and perhaps most important detail fell in to place, the weather. A large high predicted to hold over the top of the North Island for over a week! The switch was flicked, leave passes signed off, and soon we were pulling plastic past Little Barrier on our way to the Kings!
The crew set to depart GH on Exodus
It didn't take long for our first encounter with a fish either, a bill fish at that. The reel clicker sounding off as a marlin shook its beaky nose on the short corner lure. We were hooked up already with the gear wet only and hour or so, and just outside Little Barrier!
Being the only one on the boat yet to land a marlin I would be on the reel, and as the guys cleared the gear I put on the gimbal and harness preparing to strap in for the fight; but then silence, and slack line, we were hooked up no longer. A shout from the flybridge 'he's coming back in!' brought us quickly back in to action, and I looked out back to see a marlin lit up and attacking the lure once more, again the clicker began to scream... and then again it fell silent. What was going on??
Now I obviously know very little about game fishing, but it was explained to me that although the drags had been set appropriately for the light gauge hooks, and 15 kg set ups, the 90 degree angle of the rods had not been accounted for (we did not have the correct bent butt attachments for these holders) and therefore the increased and unexpected drag pressure had resulted in this.
Although we couldn't entice another bite from a bill fish on our way up, we did happen across some Mahi-mahi who darted out from their home, a large clump of seaweed as we trolled past. The next half an hour was spent gleefully throwing stick baits and soft-baits at these wonderful tropical creatures. We had hook ups on both soft-bait and stick bait, ensuring dinner in our anchorage of Whangaroa would be a tasty one.
Arriving in Whangaroa we picked up my Dad who had driven up from Tutukaka to join us for the trip. With a primo dinner of Mahi washed down with a few beers, we deployed a barley bomb and set about the work of filling the live bait tank with XOS macs. I'd never seen them this big, and had a blast late in to the night filling the tank. As much as I enjoy my jigging, I reckon a live bait or two would not go a miss over 4 days of fishing at the banks!
A tantalising array of Kahawai, Macs, and Koheru
As we left Whangaroa now entering day three of our trip, the decision was made to head to Spirits Bay rather than the Kings to allow a small front to pass through. This would mean we had time to warm up the shoulders with some jigging, and test the gear out on our way up to our next anchorage. A pin was selected not far out from North Cape, and we got stuck in to a mixture of bottom fish and kings. The skipper had his first taste of what was to come with a rather large king locking him to the rail for a blistering 30 second run, with the inevitable bust off to follow.
Having spent most of my time fishing for snapper and kingfish over the years, it was great to crack in to a few of the bottom species including a couple of very nice Gem fish.
First Gem Fish
Some type of Perch??
Brad with a nice King
As we rounded the cape we all took time to take in the sights of the isolated and majestic landscape that is the uppermost point of NZ. Hunkered down in Tom Bowling bay I had to pinch myself, not only was this the furthest north in NZ i had ever been, tomorrow we would be cutting a direct line for the King Bank!
Day 1 - King Bank
With a couple slices of toast and marmite down the hatch, anchor retrieved, and a heading set for the King Bank, we left the relative comfort and safety of the top of NZ excited for what was to come.
I must admit to being somewhat anxious as to the seas we might encounter up there. I had spoken to numerous Three Kings travellers who made mention of the treacherous weather conditions as much as the tremendous fishing! I had been sea sick on day 1 of the voyage, encountering some big swells and 20 knots winds close to the Poor Knights, I hadn't taken any sea sickness medication as I never normally get sea sick, however the roll of a large launch is somewhat different to that of a trailer boat. In the midst on an uneasy stomach and a pale white complexion, I remembered thinking to myself this wasn't going to be particularly pleasant if similar conditions were to meet us at the Kings. So I was pleasantly surprised by the oil slick like conditions that greeted us as we approached the bank, conditions that would only get better over the next 5 days!
I watched gleefully on the sounder as the sea bottom began to rise abruptly, and sporadic fish sign dotted the sounder. With none of us having fished the area before, it was a matter of looking for likely topography and bait to go with it. 'This looks good enough to me' one of the guys remarked, and with that jigs and live baits were deployed to the depths below.
The afternoon started of slowly with a few King bank rats warming up the arms.
Myself with a KB rat
Toby with a KB rat
But it wasn't long before we started to crack in to some better fish; first the skipper with a new PB and a further introduction to the rail.
Gary with a PB
Now at this point I should probably mention I had invited my father along, a casual fisherman at best, who yet has an uncanny ability to knock over large fish with minimal time committed or effort expended. Just weeks earlier I had talked him in to joining me for a few hours snapper fishing, were his first drop of a small 80 gram jitterbug produced a stonking 10 kg snapper! Well, this trip would be no different, and soon he was hooked up to what we presumed to be another rat, as he took his time gently winding it in and absorbing the short runs. This however was the result, and another PB for the boat.
Dad with a PB
Finally with daylight subsiding, and the skip keen to get in to North West bay to check out the anchorage, last drops were called and underway when suddenly Brads deployed livey became...well very lively! Hooked up, his fish set off on a blistering run, and it looked like this fish would have him to ground in no time at all. Brad dug in however, with short pumps of the rod and half winds ensuring the fish's head would turn. Unfortunately the tax man had already collected a number of nice fish in the previous minutes, so the crew put the pressure on brad to ensure this one was not also lost - 'dig it in'! 'don't let hime get this one'! With a frantic last few meters fought with a rather large Marko in pursuit, we hauled on the leader pulling Brads fish on deck. The fish of the day!
Brad with a PB
With that we set sail for NW bay and out first night at the Three Kings Islands. I think we had been suitably introduced.
Sunset at anchorage
Day 2 - Main Island/King Bank
Before the sun poked its head up over NW bay on day two, the boys were up prepping for another trip out to the bank. However not before an exploratory dive for some crays! Guzzo, Gary, and Brad geared up and took to the water, while I decided to see if I could capture a few more live baits for the days expedition. No sooner had my sabikis touched down than my reel exploded in to action, drag screaming as the rod tip loaded up, with a bust off to follow. A quick upgrade of rig, and the mysterious string pullers of below began to appear.
A nice Porae
Having a complete blast bringing an array of different sea life to the surface, I almost missed the appearance of Nemo. Not in need of finding, he brought with him a bag of kai moana, as did the other two slightly more normal looking crew mates!
Brad, Gary, and Guzzo with a few bugs.
With dinner sorted we made our way back to the bank to explore another part of it in the hope of some more large kingfish. On arrival the conditions once again were superb, and it wasn't long before the Macs were on the way down courtesy of a few 8oz ball sinkers. Again things started off slowly with a plague of rats, but slowly we started to get in to some better fish as we drifted along the bank.
Toby with another rat
Dad with an upgrade
Guzzo had brought enough gear with him that we could have very well set up a small floating tackle store. Included in his array of on board goodies were two Beast-masters electric reels which very quickly caught the eye of my father who didn't see himself lasting another day of manual winding. Soon the whizz of the electric reels could be heard as a bottom harvesting session started to produce some nice king tarakihi and a few pup bass.
Brad with a string of three tarakihi
Dad not to be outdone
Guzz with a nice little pup Bass
Time goes especially quickly at the banks and with that we were back on our way to NW bay. Our livey stocks were looking somewhat depleted, and so once more a burley bomb was deployed and in no time at all Kohis were being slung aboard, often two at a time.
It was then i noticed what looked like to be some rat kings lurking just outside the bait lights. I had heard of good kingfish being caught at anchor up here, and decided I had best set out a live bait. It wasn't long before Mr Jack came under duress from one of the long slender shapes, but try as I might I couldn't seem to hook him! It was then one of the guys remarked that they weren't kingfish, they were squid! Big ones! So out with the squid jigs, and what ensued was a squid session that persisted late in to the early morning hours.
These things were string pullers, and laughter broke the silence of the bay as arrow squid armed with water or ink were brought in for some transom roulette. Aiming your catch at the nearest angler was the name of the game, and the fun that ensued would end up being a highlight of the trip! Not to mention dinner, and some prime puka and bass baits!
Chef Antonio turned these boys in to a great feast, and with that we were settled in to another night at the Kings
Day 3 - Princess Group
Morning of day three and the crew chucked on their JY memorial shirts. A close friend, and brother firefighter who passed away after a short battle with cancer. He had designed the logo for our NZFS fishing club, and we wore them proudly toasting a drink to our fallen comrade.
With that we set out for the Princess group of islands renowned for they're ability to produce excellent top water fishing. We set up a
few deep diving X-rap Rapalas, slowly moving around the islands. It wasn't long before the stella 20,000 sung under the weight of a Princess group king. This helped us lock on to a nice patch of fish, and soon we were jigging the shallows being owned by hard fighting shallow water kings. Here the fish had the advantage, and I was busted off of my first drop after hooking a weighty fish. Triple hook ups ensued, but unfortunately little in the way of photographic evidence as I did not want to miss out on a single drop!
We continued around the island casting stickballs in to likely looking white wash areas and guts. Suddenly a shout from the flybridge 'kings, BIG ONES'! A pack of large kingfish, a number 30 kg plus saw our stick baits deployed at the direction of the flybridge. Soon we were enjoying some spectacular sights as large kingfish finned up behind our lures, in one instance a kingy launching itself clear out of the water as it fought to devour a stick bait.
Again the battle was in the favour of the kings with Toby loosing a nice fish in the shallows. However myself and Brad managed to nail a couple of smaller fish, and you could not have wiped the smiles of our faces after this session of close quarters combat.
Next we had a large school of massive trevally swim past the boat, these things were huge, some must have been 7 or 8 kg plus! I jumped in with a spear gun, but only managed to scare them down, and with the kingy action slowing we decided to prospect some pins out the back of the Princess group.
Princess group of islands
Toby dropped down a jig as the rest geared up some bottom rigs. He was rewarded quickly with a nice fish giving him a hell of a scrap.
Not long after Dad thought he had hooked the bottom, but it turns out he had just hooked his first Puka.
The day finished with another Guzzo special, fish three ways including some fresh kingfish sashimi, beer battered bass, and tarakihi el natural. He was the only one to take up his own dessert recommendation though!
Day 4 - Middlesex Bank
With our final day at the Three Kings upon us, Ken from Gladiator had joined us at the anchorage and suggested the night before we may want to give the middlesex bank ago for some bottom fishing. Why not we thought, and we made our way out to this new territory.
Ken was already out there, and remarked on the weather '1 in 1000 day our here guys, enjoy'!
It was immediately clear that his suggestion to fish the Middlesex had been a good one, the fish sign was prolific! My first jig dropped down in 100 meters was demolished about 30 meters in to my retrieve. There's nothing quite like moving your jig as quickly as you can towards the surface to suddenly feel the impact of a hungry predator determined to take that jig in the opposite direction. This predator was especially determined, and as the lactic acid began to build in my forearms as I pumped the rod in attempt to turn it's head, I wondered if this would be another story of the one that got away. Luckily the determined runs began to subside, and I soon had a new PB king for me on board the boat.
Attention turned to filling the larder, and multiple bottom rigs began to hit the floor. Circle hooks embedded the arrow squid that had kept two of the crew up again till 2 am, giggling like little school girls as the roulette battles had continued. There efforts however worth it with prime puka baits ready for deployment.
Gary with a small bass.
Guzz with a nice Blue Nose
While the guys continued to pull up the bottom fish I continued with the jigging, managing to pull a few new specimens on jig for me while I hunted a further kingfish.
Donkey Blue Cod
The jig was retired soon after as I began to see the boys hook up to these powerful bottom fish. Having never bottom fished like this before, I couldn't help but enjoy the technique and takes. Dropping a two hook ledger rig down with a whole squid on each large circle, you would drag the sinker bouncing it along the bottom. The weight would suddenly come on, like you had hooked a large piece of weed, however then the tail beats would come, and the larger fish would start to accelerate away like a bulldozer. You were left with little option but to lock and thumb the drag hoping for the best!
Brad hooked up
Guzzo with a nice eater
Dad wanted in on the action but dared not go manual. Hooked in to his now favourite rod and reel combo, he put the beast master to work, reel and angler struggling to get this piece of 'weed' of the bottom.
The resulting fish, and a lie down to follow!
Not to be outdone, I was up next with another nice puka greeting the deck
The last drift was called for as we had a long steam back to the cape ahead of us. As fate would have it, the largest of fish would be hooked, first with Antonio. I turned around to see his Stella 20000 screaming, and enchanter special rod doubled over. 'She's a big one'! Too big it would seem, and a few minutes in to the fight the fish had won its freedom.
Guzz trying to slow the turn of the spool
I was next to take a punishing, with my Jigging Master reel put to task. Drag to sunset and thumbing the spool, nothing I did would slow this fish down. The others reeled up and out of the way as this monster pulled me down towards the stern. Just when I thought I was in charge another bulldozing run and my 100 lb. braid snapped midline. gutted!
What would a trip to the Three Kings be without a couple of stories of the one that got away though. A massive processing session began as we made our way home, sun setting, big smiles, and tired arms.
Big thanks to the skip Gary whose enthusiasm and generosity were greatly felt!
And also the crew who put in a lot of work each day! (beware of 10 days at water without a woman!)