'Crows Nest' - Tauranga by Mark Kitteridge

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Although my first encounter with Crows Nest was back in her Bay of Islands days, I really took notice after she changed owners and locations, and took up residence in Tauranga. This was all because of one fish, albeit a very large one: 424kg of black marlin is hard to ignore...

Although it would’ve been great to have a shot at trying for another monster with skipper Craig Parnwell, l wasn’t too disappointed to find that my trip was just before ‘the season’, and that we would be targeting snapper and kingfish around Mayor Island.

We left from the Tauranga marina at the super early time of 4.30am. On board with us was deckhand Andrew Padlie and super-keen fisho, Jonathan ‘Finn’ Newman. Still a little bleary from lack of sleep, I was somewhat overawed by the sight of Finn charging around at high speed, putting gear together and fine-tuning rigs. I respect that kind of attitude because it reminds me of myself a few years ago. Nowadays, I still put the preparation in, but in a more leisurely fashion. I went back to bed for another hour’s sleep.

This time I woke up refreshed — and worried: Finn was still rummaging and sharpening and tying knots. Was I going to find my butt well and truly kicked by this lad? This thought ignited fishing pride and in no time we’d produced a forest of rods between us, all set up and ready to go. Bring on the kingies! Pausing to pick up 60 live mackerel, Craig then took us to an area of reef a few hundred metres off the island. When we got there, we were just in time to see a 15kg specimen coming to the side of another boat. It looked promising.

I opted for a 15kg outfit first-up, conscious of the fact that we needed landed fish for photos, and, just as importantly, to provide something for my flatmates to eat back home. We all love fresh kingfish! I have a similar feeling about Raider jigs, so attached a well-proven 200g model onto the end of my line. Dropping it down for the first time, I felt it hit bottom, lifted quickly to avoid snagging, saw an overrun, dropped again (pulling off line as I did so), engaged the reel and...Bugger! Snagged! Then the ‘snag’ pulled back. A solid tussle ensued and finished when a 3.5kg trevally hit the deck. The first fish within a minute — not a bad start!

That was it for the next hour and a half. Despite plenty of kingfish sign on the sounder and us winding our arms off, we couldn’t get them to bite. Finn even dropped a livie down, but still no go. At least the other boat was having no luck either. I started to feel a little anxious and that helped keep my jigging speed up.

Suddenly everything stopped. I lifted my rod and line began to whistle off through the guides. Yes! Thirty metres of line later the hook pulled. Damn! The pressure was still on. Five minutes later it was time for a different strategy. As we began a new drift, I grabbed a big yellowtail mackerel from the livebait tank, carefully placed an 8/0 hook through it and dropped it down. Although it survived the drift proper, just as we were given the call to wind in, I felt the bait begin to panic. By letting out a little line, I succeeded in provoking a couple of hard knocks followed by a steady run. I struck and watched with satisfaction as line ripped from the reel — I’d forgotten how much I enjoy catching kingfish. After surviving the first couple of runs, the heavy drag slowly prevailed and a 13kg kingfish found itself hoisted aboard on the end of a big fixed gaff. It wasn’t a fluke, either. The next drift was also successful, producing a slightly larger king of 16kg for me. Although Finn hooked up at the same time, he unfortunately busted off.

Andrew took the opportunity to show them who was boss, using a 37kg outfit to land two in quick succession, the largest going about 11kg. Both were released.

With large baits dwindling, I changed back to the Raider jig and hooked up again within a few minutes, eventually weighing in a fish around 17kg. It was a good way to finish the session, especially as it was released. Time for a bit of a snapper fish and lunch.

Well, the lunch was certainly on, but with blazing sunshine overhead, the larger snapper were reluctant to come out and play. We gave it an hour and a half of heavy berleying before returning to the kingie spot and having another few rounds. This time the fish were significantly smaller, but we still had a good time on our lighter outfits. Finally we were sated and the call was made to try the snapper again. It was a lot different this time. Early in the piece I found that the small livebaits remaining were just what the snapper wanted, landing a 5 and a 6kg fish in the first half hour. Then Craig stole the limelight as, after a spirited fight, he succeeded in bringing around 7 kilos of bronze-flanked snapper to the stern for netting.

After that, it was a blur of caught and lost fish, mostly long, skinny and very toothy. I spent most of my time rerigging lost tackle, but for some reason the others weren’t as badly affected. They caught eight or nine snapper to 4kg. Happy with the excellent day’s fishing — and with the three outfits behind me all chopped off — I just sat and watched the guys enjoying themselves for the last twenty minutes, the sun sliding down behind the horizon.

Crows Nest is 42 foot of Pelin Challenger, owned by Frank and Craig Parnell. I found her a very comfortable boat to stay aboard and she later proved to be very seaworthy. Surveyed for extreme limits, she’s able to travel to the Three Kings and Ranfurly Banks, the 475hp Detroit motor giving her a useful 15 knot cruising speed and a top of 18. Inside she’s very spacious and capable of accommodating up to eight anglers, but five or six is better. Although I slept on board, I don’t recall as much of the internal layout as I usually do. I believe this is a reflection of how much time I spent fishing instead — she’s a truly wonderful fishing platform! There was a ton of room for the four of us to do our thing and the area absorbed a lot of hastily abandoned tackle without impacting on our ability to fish. Although she does not have the perfect walk-around deck, access to the bow is still reasonably easy for those times when fish go the wrong way.

Other features include a fully-enclosed hard-top flybridge, 20 rod holders, a large in-board live bait tank, a dive compressor, loo and shower — along with an absolute stack of fishing accessories and high quality fishing tackle from 4 to 37kg — nearly all of which is Shimano.

Catching the big black marlin was not a fluke. Craig makes a point of using his heaviest gear around potential black marlin locations, hoping for this exact eventuality. It is currently the 37kg New Zealand record and, interestingly, it is one of two that he has hooked, as well as a good number of striped marlin.

Craig is a born fisher. As well as big game fishing, he also enjoys all other forms of recreational angling, including light tackle and saltwater fly — and happily accommodates the needs of those who wish to dive. He’s a friendly bloke and his heart is in the right possie. Judging by my day with him, he’s prepared to put plenty of time in to keep punters happy, and told me he’s always bemused as to why people want to go back home just as the light is fading and the fishing really coming on. Keeping 'banker’s hours' does not interest him.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of fishing available at Mayor Island, too. I would love to go out there again. Although Craig does very well in the area around Tauranga, he’s also looking forward to fishing the legendary Three Kings and Ranfurly Banks a little later on. Those who join him on the expedition should do well.

Anyone thinking of fishing the areas above on a nice boat with a good skipper, phone 0-7-575 6270.

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