There is something about the male psyche that has us eternally fixated on adventure, especially when it involves all the challenges, possibilities and excitement an excursion into the great outdoors promises. Whether it is a simple day trip that provides the fix, or a more fulfilling multi-day escape, there is little doubt that fishing trips can soothe the souls desire for adventure suggests Josh Darby.
Like many fishermen, my adventure fixation has me regularly checking multiple weather forecasting apps to see when the next great escape might take place. Most often, I’m on the lookout for a single day that will allow me to get out on the water – sometimes it’s been so long (say a couple of weeks!) that even a small morning’s weather window inshore will suffice. Though, I’m also on the lookout for those multi-day weather windows that promise the possibility of a true adventure far away from familiar territory.
Many great adventures are shared, and as luck would have it, an exceptional weather window in the Far North coincided with the availability of one of my best fishing buddies, my cousin Eli. In no time at all the boat was hooked up and I was off to pick up Eli who had left his place in the Kaipara to meet me at the bottom of the Brynderwyns. Three hours later, with darkness upon us, we arrived at our destination in Doubtless Bay and met our regular hosts Mark ‘The Minstrel’ Delacy and his wonderful wife and head chef Chrissy.
The next morning our mission began in earnest when we both awoke at 3:30am before our alarms were set to sound – the subconscious obviously aware of the adventure that awaited. We launched the boat soon after and pointed the bow to our fishing destination. An hour or so later we had arrived at the northern most part of the country just as a dim light began to emanate from the horizon. While this wasn’t my first time at these hallowed fishing grounds, it was Eli’s. I shared in his excitement as our first soft-baits touched down in a weedy area that spanned a couple of hundred square metres. With plenty of current and a depth ranging from eight to 15 metres, I was confident we were going to be into the fish. Two hours later, despite fishing this prime moocher area, we had little to show for our efforts (even isolated hot spots require some patience and perseverance). We continued to move our way around the coastline, peppering the inshore zone of 3-18 metres with an array of soft-baits for limited success.
With the change of light opportunity lost, I decided to try a new style of soft-bait – the Z-Man DaterZ in ‘Purple Death’. This change in soft-bait coincided with the identification of some solid arches on the sounder as we drifted off the foul and onto the sand (a common scenario, as weed lines are often excellent areas to target snapper). Now in around 14 metres of water, I whipped out a long cast, utilising my 8’6 soft-bait rod. My cast angle was bang on, about 45 degrees to the port side of our drift line, allowing good contact with my DarterZ as it descended enticingly into the bite zone. Suddenly, the small amount of belly in my line came tight and a half wind of the reel confirmed the lure had been picked up. A solid strike and I was on! My anticipation was high as the fish took off; I knew any bite in this territory could lead to a fish of a lifetime. The first run eased fairly quickly and not long after a solid, but not lifetime worthy, fish appeared on the surface. Netted and in the boat, we both noticed a rather large octopus tentacle protruding from the snapper’s jaws. A quick pull on the tentacle and an almost complete octopus of considerable size emerged from the snapper’s mouth – the greedy bugger had obviously decided to grab a snack while still in the midst of devouring his main course!
Another solid snapper which fell prey to the DarterZ.
The next few hours produced some exceptional soft-bait fishing with solid snapper feeding well up off the bottom in shallow waters. The bites were tentative though, so it was essential to carefully watch our braid on the descent. The line descent stalling, or the belly tightening, indicated a potential pick-up. I had only recently convinced Eli to switch over to a longer 8’6 soft-bait rod and he was struggling with the change. I know the feeling when you’re fishing next to someone who seems to be getting all the bites and you can’t seem to do anything right. Knowing his time would come, I made sure not to rub it in as several substantial snapper hit the deck in quick succession. As the tide turned, we decided to find some territory foreign to the both of us. Before heading off, we got hold of our friend Charlie Guy, a well-known Far North fisherman, who was fishing close by and let him know our plans. He wanted to jump in the water to free dive for crays, so we wished him luck and set out on our way.
Roughly 15 minutes later, we were in some completely new territory. The fish were on the chew and all was well with my soul. A couple of hours later and with the fishing slowing, a call came over the radio, “Do you guys want some crays?” Of course, the answer was “Yeah bro!”
Charlie Guy provided Josh and Eli with a feed of crays.
After collecting a couple of nice crays from Charlie, we made our way back to the area we had fished earlier that morning. The day was getting on and I knew if we continued to fish much later, we would be arriving home in the dark. Yet, I had a strong sense that Eli’s luck was about to change.
“Mate, I reckon if we stick it out here for a while, there will be a 20lb fish for you,” I said.
He didn’t need much convincing, though as the evening’s light faded, the possibility of a 20lb fish faded with it. With last casts being called for, Eli’s line suddenly came tight. I wondered if it was a snag, such was the weight over the rod’s fore section. My fears soon subsided as a couple of violent nods preceded a blistering run. It would have been easy to jump to big snapper conclusions; however, there had been a number of rat kings landed throughout the day that can sometimes be mistaken for large snapper, at least initially. Still, as the fight went on the distinctive tail beats of a large snapper could be seen and felt reverberating through the rod. Shortly afterwards, a large shape appeared underneath the boat. “Yes boy!” With the snapper boated, it was time for a quick measure and weigh; at 82cm and 10.2kg it was the one we had come for. Eli then released this stunning fish back into its home waters and with the sun fading, we set off for our home away from home more than satisfied with the day’s adventure.
Eli's trophy snapper, which was released to fight another day.
Day two began in much the same way as day one, albeit with new destinations in mind. Arriving where we had left off the day before, we noticed huge schools of baitfish on the surface. In fact, bait and predatory fish could be seen breaking the surface as far as the eye could see; what an incredible place! The fishing was consistent, and Eli was certainly coming into his own having got the hang of his new rod.
Eli with the final fish of the trip.
Wanting to change things up a bit and take in some of the scenery, we began making our way south close in against the Great Exhibition Bay coastline. I was enamoured by the beauty of our surroundings; idyllic sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters are a feature the whole way down the coast and it is not a stretch at all to think you are in the tropics. If the surroundings weren’t enough, every few hundred metres fish could be seen breaking the water. As we moved down the coast prospecting different spots, we suddenly came across hundreds of birds frantically working the water above an area that looked promising on the chart plotter and sounder. Eli was on fire today, with any rust truly shaken off, and his first snapper of the new spot was impressive – but not as impressive as the multiple 20kg+ kingfish following it up. Alas, there were no takers on the jigs or stickbaits. Then it was my turn to get into the action. I landed another substantial snapper and took a picture or two before sending it back home. We finished the day off closer to home and Eli landed a solid trevally in sublime conditions – oil slick water, a stunning sunset, and that inner warmth generated by a fulfilling adventure.
July 2021 - Josh Darby
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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