It was in early February that I took up the chance of doing a gamefishing trip out of my childhood haunt, Mercury Bay. I had been rumbling about this idea for some time, and had a particular boat in mind, and finally the scheme came together.
The boat was the Amarillo, owned by Warren Harris, skippered by Danny Bowers, and about the best boat operating out of Whitianga. My brother Bob had actually arranged the trip, but for one reason and another, he and all his crew had to pull out of he trip, so it was left to me to come up with the guys to fill it. Organising charter trips can be a bit of a bind you know, so if anyone out there is ever keen on going out sometime, send your names into the magazine, or me, and I’ll put you on my invites list!
Anyhow, luckily I was able to put together a crew. Myself, regular fishing pal Russell Jeffries, who brought along his good mate Mike Sayers, and Murray McFadyen. Also along for the trip came Russells step-son, Ben Portman, a fifth former from Matamata College.
We all loaded aboard the Amarillo at around 6 PM on Friday night, meeting Danny and sorting away our gear. It felt strange not to be loading an armful of Rods with me, but Amarillo has all its own game gear, so my meager resources were not needed at all- All around the large cockpit of Amarillo was a range of lovely shiny Gold Penn and Duel reels- flash stuff!
The Amarillo is a very nice boat, only four years old, and immaculately maintained by Danny and Warren. A 40ft Aztec game Charter boat, she has a very spacious cockpit, and all the normal mod cons you expect in a decent boat these days- heaps of comfortable seating in the flying Bridge, a comfortable salon, and adequate sleeping quarters-- you can’t have such a good working area without sacrificing something, so for 5 anglers, you have a couple of guys required to sleep on the salon sofas- which is fine by me, as they are more than comfortable.
It wasn’t long before Danny had the 306 hp Volvo motor flashed up, and we were motoring out of the Whitianga Marina, into a flat calm sea, bound for Home Cove at Great Mercury Island.
After a short stop just past Devils point to play with some schooling Kahawai, which nailed with gay abandon the small bibbed minnows we were trolling, we eased our way into Home cove just as dusk was falling. Just to keep ourselves occupied for a wee while, we got out some light tackle gear, with Murray and Ben soon getting into some serious live-bait catching as well as a few small snapper and a decent sized Parore.
Still, we had a big day ahead of us the next day, so it wasn’t long before we all hit the hay, as Danny had a 4 AM start in line for us the next day. Four AM! Cripes, what was Danny thinking of? There is no such time in the Captain Asparagus Time Scale. Well, there is now.
It’s that horrible time in the disputed morning (Hah! still night if you ask me) before even the sparrows have their famous early morning cough, when the rumble of starting diesels and loud clanging of pots and pans drags sleeping superheroes from their well merited slumbers. Get the idea that I’m not exactly an early morning riser?
Still, the one bonus of rising at such an awful time of the morn was to be on the glass calm waters well wide of Great Mercury just as the sun rose over the Eastern horizon- really beautiful, even I had to admit that the early start was worth this sight.
We were heading out to the 200m line, through a lot of bait and surface activity, heading for an up-welling area where Danny had picked up some good marlin action over the last couple of weeks, peaking with the landing of a new Whitianga line class record of a 265kg Blue Marlin the week before. We didn’t want to put Danny under any pressure, but we did make it clear that a repeat was most certainly expected.
It was not long before the first hit of the day broke the calm in the cockpit, as the port out-rigger cracked free, the Penn 80STW roaring into life- fish on! This was a very good start, only just gone 6-30, and already a fish hooked up! Too bad it was only a little “Rat” Mako of around 25kgs. This wee fellow was soon tagged and set back on his way, and the trolling pattern was re-set- after I re-rigged the Mako -mauled trace.
So, off we set again, the next fish, Danny prophesied, was bound to be a Marlin. Well, he got the first two letters right- it was about half an hour later that another Mako blasted the same Black Magic Soft-head lure. This was a substantially larger fish, the spool of the big 80wide reel was emptying with alarming rapidity.
For this fish young Ben was on strike, as Murray had discovered much to his dismay that he was actually prone to the dreaded Mal-de-mer. While I had dosed him up with some of my Paihia Pharmacy Bombers and ordered him to his bunk for an hour or two, Ben was taking his place in the Chair.
Young Ben is a very keen young fisho, having become a regular at Bill Hohepas fishing camps, and as such was pretty much able to handle the hard grind of bringing in this apparently large fish.
After about an hour of fight, the fish still seemed to be pretty green, and Ben was starting to feel a little put upon- he had been abandoned by his support crew as a short, heavy shower of rain passed over the boat. One minute he had guys swiveling his game-chair for him, patting his back, offering him fruit drinks, the next moment not only was he getting soaked, but all us support crew were sheltering in the salon, shouting out helpful comments like “way to go, Ben!”, “Doin’ good fella”, and “cripes, that rain is pouring down out there!”. Gosh, we felt bad. But DRY, it’s important to keep your mind on the important things, eh!
Still, as soon as the rain had cleared away, we were back out there, mopping young Ben down and wringing out his hat. The shark was slowly wearing down, and in another half hour or so, Russell grabbed the trace while Danny slammed the flying gaff into a very respectable 112.5kg Mako shark, a very good effort for a Junior Angler.
After the excitement of bringing a very much alive Mako aboard and subduing it, we again set the gear. In this 90 minute battle, we had lost a lot of the prime bite-time for Marlin, but our hopes were still high for a billfish. Approaching the “Spot X” again, suddenly a big copper and blue blur crashed through the pattern hitting first the corner flat-line Big-T Lumo Kona Head Lure, before shooting across and seizing on a large Lumo Black Magic Soft-head lure- Hook-up! This time it was a Marlin, and even better, I was on strike!
Before we could clear half the gear though, the fish dropped the lure, Damn! I leapt on the reel, winding furiously to try and tease the fish back up, and blow me down, if it didn’t again grab the lure, striping another 50 to 60 metres of line before again dropping the lure. Oh Bother. I guess that fish was just meant to grow a little more, eh.
That was the closest we got to a solid marlin hook-up, with only one other strike from a bill-fish a couple of hours later to keep our interest up- it only whacked the lure, again the Big T Lumo, leaving the tell-tale scuff marks on the lure from the sand-papery bill.
As the heat built up, the early morning start began to tell on the crew, as one by one we hit the bunks between our shifts in the Chair. It wasn’t until mid afternoon that things started to heat up again.
We were working an area over some deep reef, marked by a commercial fisherman working several Hapuku Long-lines, when the call came over the radio from another boat working the area, Sirius, that they had a very very large Broadbill on the surface near them.
This fish had probably followed the Hapuku up from the deeps, and now on the surface it was every anglers dream catch. In the macho world of game fishing, the Broadbill rates as the biggest and baddest bully in the play-ground, every angler wants a crack at one.
A week or two before this trip, a huge Broadbill had been landed at Whitianga, caught on 24kg line, it was a World Record fish, a matter of great pride to the Boat, Angler and the entire Whitianga/ Mercury Bay Gamefishing fraternity. It is only unfortunate that the weighmasters on duty at the time at the game-club were for whatever reasons ignorant of the proper procedures for correctly weighing this mighty fish, so sadly due to this lack of competence, the world record so richly deserved by the Club has been declined.
The people on Sirius though were well aware of the size of this previously caught fish, and judged the Broadbill lazily swimming next to them to be far larger.. so they did just what any red blooded angler would do-- they fed it a bait.
As they reported it, it took about 45 seconds for this big Broadbill to empty their spool of 1000m of 37kg line, snapping them off at the spool. Ah well, thems the breaks!
They also reported seeing a big Mako loitering in the area, so we headed off to avoid having anything to do with this toothy beast- but too late. We were all in the cockpit, and were watching the lures bubble and splash behind the boat, when a big Mako barreled out of the water, in a long purposeful leap rising about only two metres out from the water, but with a long “Hang-time”, seemingly hovering over the nearest lure to the transom.
The tableau of stunned anglers gaping at this awesome fish hanging two metres in the air above the lure of its choice seemed to go on for ages, before the Mako angled down, seizing the BigT Lumo on it’s re-entry, and solidly hooking up. Unbelievable. Immediately we leapt at the rods, clearing gear in a frenzy of activity, while Russell got himself strapped into a harness and got ready to start fighting this big beast of the deep.
To help get the shark clear of the gear, Danny gunned the motor - only to hear a deep, alarming “Bang_Thud!!” as he did so- something serious had gone wrong in the Amarillo’s innards- Oh boy, just what we needed right now, I don’t think!
Still, we had a job to do, a Mako was by now bouncing round several hundred metres behind us, and Russell got down to some serious fish-fighting. While he was sorting out the Mako, Danny disappeared below, only re-appearing a few minutes later with the alarming news that the drive shaft coupling had sheared several of it’s connecting bolts- this meant a tow job back to Whitianga to repair it. After, that was, Russell got his fish!
This was not quite as easy a job as it could have been, as we were very wary indeed of using the boat to help fight the fish. Danny clarified the position for us wonderfully, when he said “if that shaft busts the bearings, we’ll sink guys!” A statement such as this is just what you want when you’re bringing a couple of hundred kilos of annoyed Mako to the boat!
I suppose it was fortunate then that, after getting this good Mako up close enough to almost reach the trace, the large white pointy teeth worked their inevitable magic on the nylon trace, and the fish swam free. Whereas Russell was disappointed at not tagging this fish, I was even more disappointed at loosing My BigT Lumo!
Well, with the fight over, Danny called over Sirius (another Aztec built game/cray boat) to take us under tow for the 4 hr tow back to Whitianga. When we got there, after a very late weigh in for Bens Mako, our main concern was to find somewhere in Whitianga we could find some food, as Danny had engineers deep in the bowels of Amarillo, and wasn’t wanting a bunch of ya-hooing fishos trying to cook dinner in a now very crowded galley.
So, off we wandered about the town. The Fish and Chips bars were all closed, but we finally found a bar-and-grill that was possibly open. All we needed was a good excuse to get them to re-open the kitchen, so out came the full honest truth about how we had needed a tow back to harbour after our boat was savaged by a massive Mako. The beast was so big (went our story) that it attacked our prop, shearing all the bolts on the shaft, pulling us backwards until finally we managed to beat it off with clubs and gaffs. Such a tale of woe (and total and utter bull-crap) was judged worthy of a meal by the grills highly skeptical owner, so it was that we were, finally, fed.
Getting back to the boat at around eleven, we found Danny and the engineer still hard at it, getting the last of the new bolts sorted out etc, so Danny suggested we head down to the wharf for a while, and he’d come pick us up in he boat- Amarillo would need a short run just to make sure everything was O.K.
This suited me and Ben just fine, as we could take some light tackle along and play with the heaps of Mackerel that always seem to gather around the wharf. So it was that Mike, Ben and I had a great time for an hour or so catching heaps of these fish. Also on the dock were a family of Asians, who were having notably less success than Ben and I, so we gave this family all the fish we caught. Greatly appreciated. It was sometime after midnight when Danny pulled alongside the wharf, and we all headed back to the marina for a few hours kip.
Our early morning start the next morning was much less... well, early! It was 6AM before any of us cracked open an eyelid, so it wasn’t until about 7.30 or so that we put a lure in the water. Once we did though, the result was pretty predictable. Wham, bang, another Mako crashed into a lure. Darn.
Still, Russell was pleased, as this time he was hoping for a better result than the previous night. All looked to be going well, after an hour or so Russ had the fish pretty much beat, the double was at the rod tip, ... when everything went slack. Again. Russell said something unprintable. So did I, another BigT/Black Magic Lure of mine was spiraling to the bottom a couple of hundred metres below. Ouch!
Still, things looked promising, we were in an area where Danny had chased a Broadbill a couple of days before- when what should he spy, but a Fin! “Broadbill!” he cried, setting us off in a mad scramble to haul in the out-rigger lines to re-rig for baits.
While Dan and I set about rigging the skippies we were using for baits, we were scanning the area Danny saw the fin for any further sign. Then only 30 metres from the boat, the fin raised clear of the flat calm waters again. A big fin. A square fin, a Sunfish.
Oh, boy. All that panic, all the bait rigging, all for a useless Sunfish. Danny may never recover from this dreadful loss of face. The only skipper to try to run baits for a fish that eats only Jellyfish! Well, off came the baits, and back out went the Lures.
For the rest of the day we trolled, heading South this time, past the Aldermens, half way to Mayor, but not a Marlin did we see. Sharks though, heck yes, Sharks we saw in plenty. In fact, everytime we saw a shark, Danny would speed up and veer away from it- we’d had enough of those lure-wreckers!
We weren’t fast enough once though, when a Mako nailed a large Evil Animal coloured Big-T lure. Murray was on strike this time, so he finally had a shot at a Gamefish, his first ever. At the time we all thought it was a Marlin, as we’d seen what looked to be a bill in the huge explosion of white water that engulfed the lure, but it must’ve been a fin. Darn it all.
Still, a fish on, and before long it was nearing the boat. This fish was a fair bit smaller than Bens the day before, and our first choice was to tag and release it, so as soon as it was close enough, Danny slapped in the bright yellow tag, and drew the Mako to the duck-board to remove the hooks. This turned out to be, not impossible perhaps, but certainly very difficult and even more dangerous, as the shark had both hooks of the double hook rig deeply embedded in its mouth.
The way these hooks are rigged, this meant one was in the top jaw, the other in the lower- it’s mouth was pretty much sewn shut. You can’t release a fish like that, unable to eat, so reluctantly we gaffed the fish and brought it aboard.
Later at the weigh station it turned out to be an 84 kilo fish, which certainly isn’t too small, although the weighmaster was certainly less than gracious about having to come and weigh it. This was a bit of a shame really, as it was the first Gamefish for a new angler, and not too bad a one at that, perhaps a little more effort on the P.R. would’ve been nice.
Still, this had no bearing on what had been an excellent trip. We’d had our chance at a Marlin, we’d landed three Makos, lost two at the boat, and all in flat calm seas, which was a real treat. Oh, and don’t forget that real big shark that tried to eat the prop, massive it was, honest.
I’ll go fishing again on Amarillo with Danny anytime, indeed, as I write this we’re sorting out another date, and this time, hopefully, we can fend off the Makos long enough to find a Marlin!