I hadn't been out to the Hen and Chicken Islands for years, so a chance to
fish there with Paul Butturini aboard his six metre Circa-design was gratefully
accepted. Paul is based in Whangarei, usually fishing the productive waters from
Bream Bay to Cape Brett and specialising in kingfish and snapper - particularly
snapper - often big!
Right away, Paul earned some pretty big brownie points, managing to get up
and wake me at 4 am in the morning, despite the going-away party we'd gone to
the night before. Joining us was another party participant, Alistair McRae,
importer of the very innovative Centreline rods (different-actioned blanks are
screwed into the same butt section depending on the need at the time).
We launched from a ramp at Whangarei Heads and made our way over to the
Chicks, the wind slowly gathering strength as the journey progressed. I was
impressed with Idyllic's sea riding capabilities into the slight chop and
moderate swells: despite being made from aluminium and a little inclined to
porpoising, her deep vee carved easily through the waters and never pounded. She
was possibly the smoothest-riding aluminium boat I've been on.
Upon reaching our destination, the wind was puffing in at around 10-15 knots
and still building. As a keen advocate of drift fishing for snapper, Paul set us
up for a few drifts at a likely looking spot, the waters roiling on the surface
as they pushed up and over a submerged reef. It was a good place to start, as I
later learned that Paul had previously fished here with his friend Steve Bowling
and caught some huge snapper, including a magical 30-lber for Steve, a victim of
pilchards on a borrowed rod.
Unfortunately, as so often happens when 'Charterline Pressure' is present,
this normally consistent possie didn't fire - in fact it didn't even pop,
encouraging Paul to look for greener pastures after 20 minutes. Further
increasing the urgency for success was the impending U-turn of the tide an hour
away and the wind continuing to build in momentum. This forced us to sneak
around into partial lees and try to find drifts that weren't too fast to be
effective. A few small snapper ended up in the boat but for some reason the
larger snapper were reluctant to play that day.
While big baits were taken, toyed with and mangled, any hint of pressure and
they were dropped like hot potatoes. A slight consolation was that the other
skippers talking on the radio were also bemoaning similar scenarios up and down
the coast, with only one good snapper caught between them. Although it's good
for the fishing population that the snapper can still resist our attempts,
despite all the technology and accumulated knowledge, it's frustrating to
competent skippers like John and keen fishers like me and Alistair!
The wind was now 15 to 20 knots and making things a bit difficult. We'd
anchored up for a while on a small spot that obviously had fish in the vicinity
(we'd had strong runs from snapper as we drifted over each time), but upon
anchoring - nothing. John pulled the anchor up and as soon as we started to
drift off I caught another pan-sized snapper. What a dilemma - too much wind to
effectively drift and the fish unwilling to bite when we anchored. Before giving
it away at this usually magical location, we did a couple of last-ditch,
high-speed drifts, resulting in a hooked kingfish for Alistair which snapped the
line just under the boat. It wasn't our day. Time to try some spots closer to
With the swells and wind quartering behind us, Idyllic again impressed
although we did get a little wetter this time. The protective canopy had been
removed to give us plenty of casting and fish-fighting room. We parked up near
the entrance to Whangarei harbour and Paul did his usual major berley effort,
the warm water thawing the frozen block to produce a thick stream of fishy bits.
This seemed to do the business as, after a short time of inactivity, the tidal
current picked up and we started to get some bites, some of which were converted
into snapper to around 2kg in weight - enough for us all to take home a feed.
With winds now gusting to over 25 knots, we pulled the plug early and wended
our way up the harbour - but not in such a hurry that we couldn't act on Paul's
suggestion to cast poppers and jigs around some of the marker buoys on our way
through. Unfortunately, in keeping with the ambivalent attitude of the fish that
day, our random selection proved unproductive. As we drifted past the last in
the line, Paul, with his 'never say die' attitude, suggested that it was
probably worth giving this buoy a repeat visit, so we did. Two casts into it I
thought I saw a bow wave - and then a large swirl erupted behind the fleeing
Cotton Cordell pencil popper: a nice kingie! Then it slowed, placed a pectoral
fin to its nose and blew a fishy raspberry before turning and going back to its
man-made shelter. It couldn't be tempted again.
I felt sorry for Paul: several people I've spoken to both before and since my
trip with him have expressed respect for his fishing capabilities and
professionalism. It seems unfair that this reputation wasn't transformed into
some bigger fish on the deck. Certainly from what I saw that day, he's doing
everything right but the fish just weren't keen to play ball. It's these tough
days that prevent us from taking our snapper fishery for granted and keeps our
interest, I suppose.
Paul has equipped Idyllic with several sizes and types of Penn gear, enabling
those on board to fully utilise prevailing conditions. Bait is supplied, as is
the ice to keep your catch fresh, and he has enough electronic aids on board to
give his customers the best possible chance for success. Although he loves
fishing, Paul is also a keen diver and has put a lot of time into exploring the
areas along the coast and out to exotic locations such as the Hen and Chicks and
the Poor Knights Islands. Being fast and sea-kindly, the boat is also perfect
for sight seeing.
As far as I'm concerned, although Idyllic is an exceptional tinny for its
size, it is Paul who makes the charter. He's very approachable, friendly and
easy to fish with, and has a real love of the sport. All in all, he provides a
package that is excellent value for money and as we used up his day of bad luck,
those who follow are likely to benefit!
For more information, phone 0-9-434 6688 or 025 370 573.