When Bryce Helms’ planned overseas fishing trips were cancelled due to COVID, he didn’t waste any time booking the next best thing – a mission to the world-famous Three Kings Islands.
There aren’t many places that conjure excitement for New Zealand anglers quite like the Three Kings. These rugged rocky outcrops sit right on the meeting point of the Tasman and Pacific Oceans, with wild weather, geographical isolation, huge currents and limited shelter combining to make a trip to the Kings an extreme adventure not for the faint-hearted! However, it is these same features that create the perfect combination of rich waters and lack of fishing pressure, making these islands a world-class destination and a must-do for serious anglers.
After an attempted trip a few years back was largely spoiled by the weather and two overseas trips chasing GTs were cancelled due to COVID-19, the time seemed right for another crack at New Zealand’s version of Jurassic Park. With most of the country going stir-crazy during the middle of lockdown, it took all of half an hour to assemble a crew, hatch a plan and book a trip with Andrew on Te Ariki Nui. Over the next six months, gear was assembled, rigs were tied, crew were swapped and anticipation levels soared. The trip also doubled as the perfect opportunity to properly test the new range of CD Rods and Okuma kit that had just arrived into the country, and our high expectations of the gear were definitely met and exceeded!
A few days out from the trip, it became clear that it may not be all smooth sailing. A huge weather system was forming up to the north of the Kings and pushing its way down. With time off work sorted, flights booked and everything already in motion, the call was made to continue with the trip and deal with the weather as it came. Andrew (skipper) was absolutely brilliant, rushing to get the boat ready early and even spending the morning catching livebaits for us in an attempt to get us out of port before the storm arrived.
When we arrived in Whangaroa, it was clear the weather had in fact already arrived, with a solid 25 knots whistling through the harbour. We had to make the North Cape to Three Kings Crossing before it became too rough, so the small mountain of gear was hastily thrown on board and Andrew got us underway in record time, with the crew of Nick, Mike, Jake, Ben, Ryan and I absolutely fizzing with anticipation.
As soon as we had left the shelter of the harbour, we were met with conditions that could only be described as awful, and within 10 minutes we had our first casualty with Mike having to lean over the side. From there, conditions steadily deteriorated and the next 14 hours were some of the most uncomfortable any of us had ever experienced, so we were all grateful to be in the hands of such a capable boat and skipper. By the time we reached our anchorage at around 4:00am, the gusts were reaching upwards of 50 knots and the crew were well and truly battered, having been ejected from their beds several times during the journey.
As day broke the next morning the spectacular surroundings revealed themselves, and berley was quickly deployed. What ensued was a manic session with no less than ten different species landed. The highlights were a couple of 6-7kg trevally that got the little Helios reels singing – you know you’re in a special place when the fishing at the anchorage is this good!
Everything is big at the Three Kings!
By late morning the wind had dropped enough to attempt some slow trolling of livebaits around the sheltered side of the island, and after a slow start we came across a solid patch of fish. Within a couple of minutes, something inhaled the jack mack and line starting peeling off the Makaira 10000. The circle hook rolled in and I was connected to the first Three Kings freight train of the trip. The scrap was short but very intense, with over 20kg of drag testing both the angler and gear to the absolute limit! After some nervous moments and some frantic pumping and winding, the fish was brought under control and slid onto the deck. Plenty of yahoos and fist bumps ensued as the 35kg king was quickly photographed, weighed and released – what a way to kick off a trip. The rest of the morning session was a bit of a mixed bag with some modest fish to around 20kg landed and a couple of bigger models lost.
Fish like this, caught by the writer, will test any gear to the max.
The rest of the afternoon and the following morning were predominantly spent hiding from the weather. A brief bottom fishing session produced a solid hapuku for Ryan and a couple of very odd-looking fish on the jig for Jake, later identified as eyebrow perch – a first for everyone on board. Some surprisingly good soft-baiting in the wash for snapper kept the crew entertained, as did a manic session on the trevally with dozens hooked, plenty lost and a heap landed up to around 8kg on the little Helios 40.
By the afternoon of day three, the weather finally started to ease, allowing for us to have a crack at the kingfish around the Princes Group. The fishing was uncharacteristically tough for the first couple of hours before someone flicked the switch and it was all on again! Ben was first up this time, with the Makaira 10000/CD Haku set again doing the damage. It was immediately obvious it was a serious fish, but it had been hooked in gnarly territory in shallow water. Plenty of boat work was involved in getting it out into the deeper water in what was a tense game of tug of war for the first few minutes. Eventually the fish rolled over and came to the boat. It was another horse of a fish, tipping the scales at 35kg and smashing Ben’s previous best by at least 15kg.
The next 45 minutes were crazy with jigs and livebaits being hammered most drops. Again some big fish were dropped and some decent ones landed with Mike, Nick, Jake and Ryan all putting solid fish on the deck. However, things went off the boil just as quickly, which was unfortunately the story of the trip when it came to kingfish, so we shot away to a deeper pin about 15km away for another crack.
When we arrived at the pin, Nick sent 50-ounces of lead and a couple of big baits to the bottom while the livebaits were being deployed. The sinker had barely come to rest on the bottom when the Deep Dropper keeled over. The drag was pushed to sunset as we attempted to pull the fish off the pin, with over 25kg of drag pressure making it impossible to move the rod from the holder. Despite the best efforts of the skipper, gear and angler there was nothing we could do as the big bass made a series of blistering runs back to the reef, eventually breaking off in the structure below.
After possibly the most comprehensive spanking by a fish I have ever witnessed, gear was rapidly re-rigged, drags were adjusted and harnesses fitted in preparation for battle with these incredibly powerful fish. A couple of big tarakihi frames and butterflied golden snapper were then quickly sent to the depths. The results were almost instant. I hooked a freight train and was immediately busted off, with the big bass shredding the 400lb leader on the reef. The crew was beginning to wonder if it was actually physically possible to stop these fish.
Another drift was hastily set and new baits deployed, and almost instantly I was tight on another serious fish. I was wrenched to the back of the boat and had to hold on to the rail for dear life as line was stripped from the Makaira 50 at 30kg of drag! This time, however, everything held together for the initial run, and after a seemingly endless scrap the fish finally came up behind the boat. As soon as the big bass broke the surface the cheers from the crew rang out – it was a beast! After a few photos with the exhausted angler, the fish was lifted on to the scales which quickly bottomed out at 45kg – the skipper estimated it to be well north of that mark. After another few drifts which resulted in a 20kg bass for Nick and a few sharks for Jake, we headed back to the anchorage to recover for the following day.
The bass action was relentless.
Day four dawned with near-perfect weather and huge expectations of what the notorious King Bank would provide. The first port of call was a pin in 80m of water that usually provides excellent kingfish action; however, apart from one early bust-off, it was all about the bass again! What ensued was the most hectic session of bottom fishing any of us, skipper included, had ever been a part of. Nick was first up, with another beast of a fish in the mid 40kg range being dealt to with relative ease by the Makaira 20 and Titan Deep Dropper, followed by a solid fish around 35kg for Ryan on the next drop – not a bad way to kick off the day!
Ben and Jake were next in line, with neither having caught a bass before. After a couple of missed bites, Ben came tight on a truck of a fish, with all 6’7” of him being manhandled around the back of the boat by this monster from the deep. Eventually the fish was brought under control and the hard slog to the surface began. The fish were all fighting the whole way up in the shallow water and this one was no different, pushing Ben to the limit before eventually breaking the surface. Again the hollers went out as it was another donkey of a fish. It’s hard to get an accurate estimate of these fish without scales but this one was easily in the mid-late 50kg bracket, possibly more.
We made the call for one more drop to try and get Jake his bass. Another tarakihi carcass was sent to the depths and was again inhaled by a huge fish. The fight was intense, with Ryan having to grab the back of Jake’s harness a couple of times to keep him in the boat! Once the fish was eventually subdued and on the deck, it was clear that it was in a similar size bracket to the previous one, and rounded out an insane period of bottom fishing in which every angler landed at least one huge bass.
The rest of the day was dedicated to kingfish, which were being incredibly difficult with short bite times and very little sign in the usual haunts. Another kingfish session the following morning produced some better results, with Ryan landing the best one at 27kg, although not before it put a hole through his lip spilling blood all over the back of Te Ariki Nui.
With the kingfish still biting, we had to make the call to pull the pin and head back to the shelter of North Cape as another very unfriendly weather system was moving in. Once again, the crew were in for a beating as we passed through that treacherous piece of water with both gear and anglers occasionally being ejected across the cabin in some absolutely horrific seas. Eventually, we reached the shelter of North Cape and after processing and vacuum packing a mountain of fish, the crew settled in for our only calm night’s sleep of the whole trip before the steam back to Whangaroa.
It wasn’t until we were back on mainland that what we’d just experienced began to properly sink in. Despite terrible conditions and a shut-down kingfish bite, we’d managed some crazy inshore fishing, some donkey kingfish over 35kg and experienced the hottest bottom fishing you could possibly imagine. It certainly left everyone on the boat itching to get back up there again for another crack.
A very special thanks has to go out to Andrew from Te Ariki Nui. His extra effort getting the boat ready a day early at late notice, catching livebaits before we arrived and willingness to drive the boat through the night in gnarly conditions made all the difference. Without this extra effort, we would have been stuck in the harbour for at least the first two days of the trip, and his skilled skippering meant we were able to make the most of the time we had at the legendary Three Kings.
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