In 2021, a group of keen junior anglers from across the country came together to form the NZSFC ‘Youth Committee'. One of their first projects was to help design a tournament with a structure similar to that of ‘The Nationals’, but for junior anglers. Hayden Speed shares his experience of the first ever Youth Nationals.
The NZSFC Youth Nationals focuses on getting kids out on the water to experience all things fishing. The inaugural, nationwide tournament took place for two weeks over the April school holidays, and fees were kept to a minimum to ensure minimal barriers to entry.
The event included all-tackle, measure-and-release, and a points-based scoring system that encouraged anglers to fish lighter line classes. Daiwa provided some epic prizes for the winning anglers.
After a bit of planning, Cameron, Tyler, and I set off with hopes of competing well and maybe even placing in the final standings. Fortunately, opening day brought some good weather that allowed us to get out for our first mission – trying to tick off a snapper and kahawai on 1kg line.
Arriving at our spot, it was evident that there were many small to medium kahawai about. After a frustrating couple of hours, it was proving too difficult to get past the kahawai, with each fish taking upwards of 10 minutes to land. It forced us to lift anchor and find a new location.
When fishing ultralight line, we usually set our anchor up using a ‘three buoy’ system. After fixing one right on the surface directly above the anchor, we then feed out about 25 metres before attaching the second buoy, and then another 25m (approximately) before attaching the last buoy to the end of the anchor rope. Setting up in this way helps to hold the anchor line away from the boat and the area where we are fishing. It also lets the anchor drop quickly once hooked up to a solid fish.
Patience is vital when fishing ultralight line.
After repositioning the boat, we were again met with a school of small kahawai. Fortunately, after a bit of perseverance some snapper did show themselves, and before long, Tyler had hooked up to a solid fish. The skipper made the call to follow it as it ran directly behind the boat. Chasing the fish helps to recover some line, reduce the angle, and hopefully prevent being busted off on the bottom. Too much string in the water increases the drag on the line, which can be enough to break it. After an hour-long battle, a solid snapper surfaced which, at 3.265kg, is a pending NZ record in the Small Fry section. It was a great effort.
With better snapper on the bite, we boosted back and picked up our anchor line. Unfortunately, getting through the kahawai and the pannie snapper to the bigger fish below proved difficult, so we made the call to head for home. On the way, we headed out a little wider and towed a few of my homemade skutes on some 2kg line trolling sets, hoping for a skipjack tuna. These proved to be very effective, providing some excellent sport fishing! While these aren’t the biggest skippies globally, they were great fun and added points to the tally!
The following 10 days were mostly a write off for us, with a family holiday planned and some windy and unsettled weather preventing us from getting out. In the middle of the second week, we spotted a nice little weather window that would allow us to scoot along Papamoa Beach and hopefully tick off a few more boxes. We pulled up at ‘Spot X’ and the sounder lit up instantly, resulting in a continuous line of snapper all morning. Most of these fish were in the 35-40cm bracket. However, as fun as this was, it wasn’t providing us with any more points for the tournament. Fortunately, a few trevally turned up. Tyler hooked one on 1kg line, and after a good hour-long fight, he boated a 1.4kg specimen. This fish was big enough to surpass the previous NZ record in his age group, giving Tyler a second national record for the event.
Typically, we like to use a recurve strayline rig when fishing ultralight line. This consists of a 1.5 metre 20lb trace, with a 5/0 recurve hook attached. A small ball sinker can be added if needed. However, on this particular day, the snapper weren’t giving the bait a chance to get down to where we knew the trevally were. Changing to a single hook ledger rig with a one-ounce ball sinker got me through the more undersized snapper – trevally on!
Long story short: the battle ended with the hook pulling out when the fish was only centimetres from the net – bugger! Luckily I didn’t have to wait long to hook another trevally. This fish stripped a lot of line out and didn’t look like slowing up, so we dropped the anchor and chased the fish, recovering some valuable line. I don’t like to be directly over the top of the fish on light tackle while over the sand, as it can be hard to ‘lift’ it. Instead, I like to keep a slight angle on the fish as this helps with leading it up through the water column. It also helps the skipper keep the angler (and the fish) in one corner of the boat where they can see what’s happening. Fortunately, the hook was well set, and 30 minutes later I too landed a solid trevally, putting some good points on the board.
We headed back and reconnected onto the anchor line in the hope of upsizing one of our species. Cameron, one of my mates who was fishing 2kg line, had also ticked off a trevally earlier in the morning. He was now fishing some big baits targeting larger snapper, and his efforts were rewarded with a lovely snapper of about 10lbs. With some boxes ticked all around, we pushed off to one of the many kahawai workups around us, hoping to find some better-sized models. When targeting a kahawai out of a school on an ultralight line, I like to troll one of my self-tied flies. These are deadly on the schooling kahawai and have caught numerous fish for me. I’ve found that the most effective colour is a black and white fly about 40mm long, tied onto a size 3 BKK O’Shaughnessy hook. These hooks have an excellent long shank, making them ideal for tying saltwater flies.
Cameron with a lovely snapper caught on 2kg line.
Soon after, a nice-sized kahawai took my fly and headed off towards the beach. Kahawai are a significant challenge on 1kg, as they put up a very impressive fight and can be tricky to land. Fortunately, I managed to tire the fish out reasonably early on, allowing Dad to scoop the respectable specimen up in the net – good result! By now the sun was setting, so we headed back to make a plan for our final day.
We decided to head out a bit wider and try to land a kingfish – first on a jig and then on a lighter line. After loading up on livies on our way out to the kingfish grounds, we were interrupted by a massive workup of gannets and dolphins. This was impossible to ignore as the prospect of landing a late-season yellowfin was too good to turn down. However, after a couple of hours of towing lures with no luck, we decided to stick to the plan of targeting kingfish.
We marked some good kingfish sign upon our arrival and dropped a couple of jigs into it. It was all on as the first drop resulted in Tyler and I landing kingfish just under the one-metre mark. The beauty of the Youth Nationals is that we had crafted various sections to suit everyone’s different fishing styles, one of which was a ‘measure and release’ section. These fish were great candidates for this as they were caught on heavy tackle, meaning that they wouldn’t score many points anyway. Tyler and I both measured and released our fish.
As it was evident that there were kingfish present, we proceeded to drop some livies down on 6kg line (to begin with). My live bait got smashed, and I immediately started losing line. I survived the first run but without gaining any line. We chased this fish for over an hour, but just as I was beginning to make some good progress, the fish got sharked. It was a bit disappointing, especially as time was running out! I quickly grabbed the 10kg set, desperate to put some points on the board, and bombed another bait back down. Another instant hookup and a much quicker fight resulted in a 90cm fish for me. Not quite the points fish that I needed, but beggars can’t be choosers!
Knowing that Tyler was probably better positioned to win his section than I was, I helped him bait up for the final drop. There was a bump, a run, and then a solid hookup! But, as luck would have it, the fish pulled the hook after only a few minutes and won its freedom.
That concluded what was a very enjoyable tournament for us. The different sections to cater to everyone’s interests was brilliant. Tyler managed to win the Primary division, while I came runner-up in the high school division. A huge thanks to Helen and the team at NZSFC for putting the tournament on, and congratulations to Emily for taking out the high school section as well!
July 2022 - Hayden Speed
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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