Every year for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve chartered at least one multi-day trip with well-known skipper Rick Pollock aboard his equally well-known boat Pursuit. Quite simply, it’s a combination that’s hard to beat, especially if, like me, you enjoy sport-fishing versatility.
Our most recent trip to the Three Kings Islands was a good example. By the time we reached the stark, jagged rocks that are the Three Kings, we’d tagged and released two out of three stripies hooked, along with a decent mako – a promising start.
Then came the reality check. We’d been looking forward to a day out at the King Bank doing what Pursuit does best, with everybody lined up live-baiting for marlin, sharks and kingfish. But a nasty 30-knot-plus weather forecast made this an unattractive prospect, so we decided to stick around and sample some of the local attractions instead.
And why not? We’ve hooked several marlin close to the islands in the past, including a very big black, and the kingfish here can be as big as those at the world-famous King and Middlesex Banks.
Rick recommended fishing in the relative shelter of the Princes Group, an area that’s been good to us in the past, but which can receive a bit of pressure at times. Even so, the basic menu (a la Pollock) sounded good: put down the anchor, berley up a storm, and target whatever fish swim up the trail with lures and baits – usually a mix of trevally and kingfish. Much better than getting tossed around for hours at the King Bank, that’s for sure.
At first though, things didn’t go quite according to script. Despite a trail of berley goodies drifting down and away towards the spectacular coastline, nothing showed in it. Usually we’d see at least koheru and trevally milling in the fishy soup, but not this time. Absolutely nothing.
Then fishing companion Mark Jorey cast a lightly weighted strip of skipjack tuna well away from the boat, feeding out line to give the bait a natural descent – until something substantial sucked in his offering and wanted to keep it. Topside, this resulted in a buckled-over rod and screaming reel, which wasn’t surprising, as several minutes later a lovely trevally of around six kilos was brought to the boat for netting.
And this was just the beginning, with monster trevally hook-ups occurring every five to 10 minutes or so afterwards. Both stray-lined baits and soft-baits proved effective, but since these techniques work better when lighter lines are used, landing the turbo-charged mini-bulldozers proved quite a challenge. Not only are trevally strong and stubborn, they also have a natural inclination to head straight for the nearest rocky, weedy structures, which saw us busted off on several occasions – and a very soft mouth meant the hook fell or ripped out at times, too.
I had an absolute ball on my soft-plastics outfit. One moment I’d be working a 5-inch baitfish imitation back to the boat (‘Evil Shad’ worked a treat), the next everything would come up solid, my rod dragging down and my little reel shrieking hysterically.
In addition to desperately trying to pull them up before they could bust me off deep down, I was regularly forced to scoot after them up to the bow, which then meant having to pass my fully loaded rod under Pursuit’s substantial bowsprit from one outstretched hand to the other to clear the anchor rope.
Around eight or nine big trevally had been landed and released by this stage, all around 5.5–6.5kg. I’d rarely seen so many trophy-sized trevally caught in a row before, so started thinking about the salt-fly rod I kept dragging around with me, trip after trip, for situations such as this. These slab-sided beauties were so much fun though, I couldn’t resist battling another two or three before finally putting my soft-plastic gear away and changing over to the fly.
There was nothing fancy on the end of my tippet, just a standard Deceiver, a flashy, streamlined pattern that imitated a small baitfish. Next, I placed myself in a reasonably clear position to cast, then whipped it out, thankfully missing all of the boat’s fittings and its occupants, before feeding out as much extra line as I dared to get the fly down deep enough.
At this point I was joined in my fluff-and-feathers endeavours by John Rae. John and I have a friendship cemented by many, many years of mutual verbal abuse. Over those same years, John’s also invested huge amounts of money, time and effort to finally show a glimmer of angling potential. In fact, he’s even fluked the odd record – and the national salt-fly 8kg tippet record on trevally is one of them.
“Whatcha got on the end there, Marky?” he said, voice sugary-sweet.
“Eight-kilo tippet, Johnny – better kiss another record goodbye!” I replied.
“You @#$%&*@! Well, I’ll get Mossman’s then!”
That Mossman happens to be Sam, who sits at the desk next to me at work. Salt-fly can seem a little incestuous at times. However, as readers might realise, saying you’re going to get a record and actually doing it are two entirely different things, as we were to find out (yet again!).
Things looked good initially. While unsuccessful on my first cast, the second retrieve suddenly came to an abrupt halt, and fortunately my old training kicked in: ‘Don’t whip your rod upwards! Strip-strike! Strip-strike!’ To my slight amazement I was on, the retrieved line whipping from around my feet and searing hotly through my hand, before slamming up against my reel and jolting it into shrieking life. Feesh awn!
But only for a couple of minutes, with the trevally eventually finding freedom amongst the sharp rocks amidst another powerful run. Back for a new tippet and fly.
Cast out again … strip-strike – fish on again! Damn! Lost another fly! Back to the fly box again.
And so it continued. I think I lost three in a row and John four or five, jolting us back to reality. These records sure were tough to beat. In fact, the situation seemed so futile that I was looking for a place to safely store my fly rod again, when I heard a cry go up from the stern.
“Yee-haa – here they are!”
Sure enough, upon racing over for a look, big silver, green-and-gold shapes flashed everywhere, large lips extending to casually slurp down the skipjack morsels floating around. Rick’s crewman Mark had smashed a whole skipjack on the deck and washed the resulting scraps over the side with buckets of water – crude but effective!
This was too good an opportunity to ignore. No big casts necessary now, just a lob to get the fly out amongst the cruising fish (wow – some were seven, possibly eight kilos), where it was allowed to drift around as naturally as possible. Then a nice one sucked it in. Yes!
Hooking such a fish from the surface really lifted my hopes: it had to charge almost 40 metres straight down against maximum drag to even reach the seafloor, and then go further to find a nice sharp rock.
Sure enough, I avoided a bust off, but to my chagrin the big fish dragged me up Pursuit’s side towards the bow with its dreaded pulpit, where I once again had to pass my well-loaded rod from fingertips to fingertips, thanks to my somewhat stumpy arms. (A very good way to eventually lose a rod I’d say!)
That done, I was shuffling back down towards the stern when the full appreciation of the situation suddenly flooded over me. Here I was at the world-famous Three Kings Islands, huge swells smashing onto the cliffs nearby, hanging onto a potential salt-fly record with possibly hundreds more monstrous trevally swimming around, some of them banging into my line at times. There were some very nice kings to 25 kilos cruising amongst them too, just waiting to be caught. Talk about angler’s paradise!
Then came the moment I’d been hoping for: that big silver-sided fish was finally up on the surface, and moments later Rick’s ever-vigilant crew netted it – or most of it, with the tail left sticking out of the net hoop. It looked to be a nice fish, probably over six kilos.
To John’s credit, he was the first to congratulate me, and seconds later, having re-rigged yet again, he came up solid.
The fight went on and on, but for a man with very limited skills and handicapped by an injury to his hand caused by an eagle ray barb several months earlier, he did really well, eventually landing another beauty. (Later, at the Mangonui weigh-station, his fish proved to be heavier than mine, despite the lighter tippet he was using, so while he lost a couple of battles along the way, he certainly won the war.)
Then, very strangely, although the trevally appeared to be even more numerous and the kings were hunting for something decent to scoff, a strange feeling of complete satisfaction fell over all on board. We didn’t feel like hooking another fish – it would spoil the moment.
So, throwing the last of the skipjack into the water, resulting in a feeding frenzy, we retrieved the anchor and headed off for a late-afternoon snapper fishing session.
Best of all there was another adventure to look forward to the next day: perhaps out at the King Bank after monster kings, marlin or bass – or maybe even a broadbill drift. That’s what it’s like when on board with Rick and his crew at the Three Kings.
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