Every now and then a fishing adventure comes together and ends up etched in the memory banks for a lifetime. I will always remember Saturday, July 8, 2017, as one of those days.
I’d seen signs of bluefin tuna in the Bay of Plenty in winter before. We were coming back from Mayor Island one evening, tracking towards Tairua on dusk in 120m, when we came across massive numbers of sea birds, accompanied by the oily odour of baitfish carnage. Then I looked down at my Furuno sounder it was marking four huge fish. (At the time I thought they were late-season marlin; now I know better!) I’ve also seen likely bluefin sign in 400m while bluenose fishing the middle ground off Whitianga the last couple of years. Apparently the real migration happens a lot wider...
Last year I was lucky enough to spend time at sea with Tony Walker (aka TK) and pick his brains on the bluefin migration while chasing one or two around the Double Knolls. On this occasion we came up empty handed, being a couple of days behind their movement.
This year I was determined not to miss out, so kept my ear to the ground. We’re lucky in New Zealand to have a bunch of commercial fishermen who are also avid rec fishos, such as Ben Carey, who wrote the preceding article, as well as TK and John Lifton-Jones. These guys openly share information with keen rec fishos, so were the first people I got in touch with while planning a mission with my good fishing mate, Anthony Honeybone. The news was good, with exciting numbers of southern bluefin out of East Cape. Not too much decision-making had to be made – we were going!
I’ve got a cool little project going with film maker Mike Bhana, called The Provider, documenting the life of a fishing guide, so I put the call in to see if he was keen to join us and hopefully capture it on video. At that point I also started noticing that a convoy of like-minded fishos would be heading down, too. This had all the hallmarks of a great social event; all we needed now was the weather and fish to play ball.
After and overnight drive trailing my Senator 770, we arrived at Waihau Bay boat ramp at 4am – and found several boats waiting to head out already. More followed while we got organised, and around 5am most of us set out past East Cape in the dark, aided by radar.
By sun-up the radio started spreading the good news. Luke Davis caught one using a stick-bait on the boat Black Jack; Optimistic was hooked up – and Hard Yakka was on a quadruple! Boom! I didn’t want to be the boat that missed out!
Then the ‘rigger attached to the Red Gill RG2 Kohe popped and watery holes appeared in the lure spread, but only the Bonze Darter set from the shotgun position stuck, the Shimano Tiagra left howling. Ants was hooked to his first bluefin!
Forty-five minutes later we had it circling below the boat, got the gaffs into it and hauled it aboard to a huge roar of jubilation! Yeehaa, we’d done it!
Then, while cleaning up and sipping a celebratory Steinie, the bilge pumping out an oil slick, a boat came past us and hooked up. Time to put the lures back in boys!
No sooner had we set the lures than bluefin were climbing all over them. The Bonze Darter got hit first, stuck once more, and then the RG1 lumo went off, too – DOUBLE!
Ants and I were forced to do the Waihau Bay shuffle while taking turns at driving, and Mike captured the chaos in between driving stints.
Eventually Ant’s fish came boat side. So, holding my rod in one hand, I placed a gaff shot with the other, and somehow managed to knock one of the spare rods into the drink – in freespool! Ah, bugger! We roped it off on a fender so we could come back to it.
Now it was time to chase down my tuna; about 20 minutes passed before I put my first bluefin into the boat. Wow, what a day!
We certainly weren’t the only successful ones though, with the radio staying hot throughout the session, advising of more hookups and the usual stories of success and failure.
So, with the All Blacks set to play the Lions that night and karaoke at Waihau Bay, we were in for one hell of a full-moon party!
While the fishing will remain with me forever, the other memorable aspect was how readily GPS marks and hook-up information was shared between the boats. Later on, everyone was at the boat ramp congratulating each other. It was such a cool, spontaneous fishing event, and I can’t wait to do it again on the first full moon in July 2018.
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